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OPINION | What makes a great Formula 1 driver?

2019-09-19 04:30

Junaid Samodien

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Image: AFP

Formula 1, 'the pinnacle' of motorsport, has seen many great drivers through the years, since the championship's inception in 1950. 

What makes a great Formula 1 driver? Is it their natural 'raw talent'? The strength of a team that hides the drivers' natural ability? Or, it is a combination of elements that make a driver great? 

Five-time World Champion Juan Manuel Fangio could be considered as the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time after claiming four of five World Championships in four different manufacturers - Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, and Maserati. 

Through the decades, we have seen greats like Guiseppe Farina, Jim Clark, Gilles Villeneuve, Niki Lauda, Sir Jackie Stewart, Nigel Mansell, Mika Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton to name a few.



Who do you think is the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time, and why? Email us and we will share your thoughts?




Niki Lauda, a three-time World Champion had the natural ability to feel issues with his race car, and how to improve the car to go faster. A famous line in the 2013 motion picture 'Rush' where actor Daniel Brühl portraying Niki Lauda says: "God gave me an okay mind, but a really good ass, which can feel everything in a car."

niki lauda

                                                          Niki Lauda - Image: AFP

Is it possible to compare drivers from different eras when technology has improved and circuits have evolved to include safety features? How do you establish a great or a legend? Is it based on the number of wins? Amount of titles? Pure Talent? 

It is possible to compare drivers through the eras, but it's virtually impossible to identify the greatest of all time (GOAT). Why, do I say this? It's rather simple. A fan would draw their conclusions based on what they have seen on TV, read online or seen in newspapers.

Growing up in the Michael Schumacher era, I would rate him as the greatest driver of all time. But, that would be short-sighted because then I would be discounting Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna, and all the other World Champions. 

Ayrton Senna

                                                       Ayrton Senna - Image: AFP

Do you need a World Championship to be great? Not necessarily. Gilles Villeneuve is one of the great racing drivers to have never won a championship. 

In the '00s, Michael Schumacher claimed five world championships on the trot for Ferrari. The V10 era of Formula 1 was without a doubt the best years in Formula 1 with McLaren, Ferrari, and Williams fighting for wins.  

David Coulthard entered the fray in 1995 with Williams but progressed to McLaren in 1997. In the year 2000, the Scotsman claimed three wins and eight podium finishes. 

He would race again Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Kimi Raikkonen drivers who all fought for race wins. 

Coulthard in attendance at the Red Bull City Circuit answered the question: 'What makes a great Formula 1 driver?'

"I studied many of these drivers when I was racing and I could win races and I could only beat them on occasion, but I never achieved the level of consistency that they had and I think that is the threat of anyone," said Coulthard. 

Do you only need the raw talent to be a great racing driver?

It's simple! No.

A F1 driver requires the equipment to do the job, and a good engineering team who can assist in making the car faster. A driver's raw talent will give them the ability to extract the maximum from a car and transcend its limits. But, raw talent can only get you so far. 

"This iconic world of individuals are somewhat mere mortals and are able to transcend others - and inspire people," he said. "I don't know what is it that makes someone have that ability more than others." 

Coulthard believes that as the human being evolves the generation becomes better than the previous. 

"Every generation should be better than in previous years because we are evolving as a species, so I wouldn't know the answer to what makes the greatest, so great," says Coulthard.

In the current hybrid era of Formula One, three drivers who are yet to win a championship stand out among the rest: Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo, and Charles Leclerc. 

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                                                                        Image:  AFP / John Thys

Max Verstappen has an X-factor about him. The Dutchman claimed his first win in 2016 at the Spanish Grand Prix, he can also drive around a troublesome car, and is a true racer who does not give an inch in a battle.

Daniel Ricciardo, also a race winner is another exceptional driver who can pull off the latest of braking overtakes. 

Charles Leclerc is another example of an exceptional driver destined for greatness. He turned personal loss and grief into his biggest strength 'mental strength'.  

The 21-year-old Monegasque has already had to deal with his fair share of tragedy and loss. Jules Bianchi passed away in 2014 after injuries he sustained in the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix and was Leclerc's godfather and mentor.

His father, Hervé Leclerc, died only a few days before the Formula 2 series race weekend in Baku. Leclerc raced that weekend, took pole by over half-a-second, won the feature race by 3.4 seconds and finished second in the sprint race. 

At the 2019 Belgian GP weekend, tragedy raised its head once more when Leclerc's friend Anthoine Hubert passed away in the Formula 2 feature race. 24 hours later, Leclerc claimed his maiden Formula 1 win despite coming under immense pressure from five-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton. 

These three exceptional young drivers are destined for greatness. 

In conclusion, there have been many Formula 1 drivers through the decades, but there aren't many factors that can separate them. One may argue some are better than others in certain areas, but they the ability to extract that maximum from their respective cars.

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