7 of the greatest German F1 drivers of all time
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German drivers have chalked up 175 wins in Formula One and 12 championships between them. But who is the best German F1 driver of all time?
Incredibly it wasn’t until 1994, nearly four and a half decades into the history of the Formula One World Championship, that a German driver won the biggest prize in motorsport.
Since then three German drivers have won 12 titles between them and seven Germans have won races.
In fact, in the 22 full seasons since Michael Schumacher’s first championship win in 1994, a German driver has claimed the F1 title 11 times.
So, who are the greatest German F1 pilots?
- Teams: Tyrrell
- Wins: Zero (20 starts)
- Career span: 1984-1985
Stefan Bellof’s ability behind the wheel of a racing car continues to inspire debate and awe over three decades after his death driving a Porsche 956 at Spa Francorchamps.
Bellof only competed in 20 Grands Prix and was confidently touted as becoming Germany’s first F1 World Champion.
The reason? In 1983 he set the fastest time ever around the infamous Nordschliffe Nürburgring, covering the 13-odd miles of ‘green hell’ in just 6m11s.
In 1984 he won the World Endurance Championship in a Rothmans Porsche and astounded the F1 world when he finished fourth in his non-turbo Tyrrell at a very wet Monaco Grand Prix.
Every German racing driver knows who Stefan Bellof was.
If the Monaco race hadn’t been red flagged the lap times showed the German as being quicker than both eventual winner Prost and second place driver Senna.
The fact that Bellof was killed attempting an audacious pass around the outside of Jacky Ickx's Porsche heading into the superfast Eau Rouge section at Spa underlines the reputation that Bellof had no fear and, like the legendary and tragic Gilles Villeneuve, walked a tightrope in a racing car.
He is the greatest talent I have ever met.
The ultimate ‘what could have been’ driver, Bellof had a Ferrari contract in his pocket for 1986 and with plenty of years ahead of him could have taken the fight to Senna, Prost and Mansell to become Germany’s first F1 champion.
- Teams: Jordan, Benetton, Ferrari, Mercedes
- Wins: 91
- Career span: 1991-2006 / 2010-2012
On paper, Michael Schumacher’s achievements at the wheel of an F1 car make him the greatest of all time.
All hail F1’s GOAT.
His seven world titles will be tough to match even by any of today’s crop of drivers, and behind the stats it is easy to forget just how fast, measured and ruthless Schumacher was.
The death of Ayrton Senna in 1994 robbed the world of a gladiatorial scrap between the legendary Brazilian and Schumacher, and the German, driving his unfancied Benetton Ford, took the title in 1994 and 1995 combining blistering pace with some pretty cutthroat tactics.
Schumacher joined Ferrari in 1996 and went on to win them their first title since the late 1970s and would go on to give the Maranello team five drivers’ titles and six constructor’s crowns.
Will he ever be beaten?
- Teams: Williams, Mercedes
- Wins: 23
- Career span: 2006-2016
Son of 1982 F1 World Champion Keke Rosberg, Nico Rosberg boxed clever to win the F1 title in 2016 and promptly retire without defending it.
Rosberg’s first few years in F1 with the Williams team were solid. A couple of podiums and regular points finishes showed he was more than a chip off the old block.
In 2010 Mercedes came calling and he helped develop them into the dominant force they are today. He even blew his Merc team-mate, one un-retired Michael Schumacher, into the weeds…
In 2016 Rosberg finally beat his quicker team-mate Lewis Hamilton to the F1 crown, and his decision to call time on his F1 career with the main prize fresh in the trophy cabinet will ensure that Rosberg’s legacy will not be tainted by twilight career years tooling around at the back of the F1 grid – a path so many champs have followed.
- Teams: BMW Sauber, Toro Rosso, Red Bull Racing, Ferrari
- Wins: 50
- Career span: 2007 - present
When 21-year-old Sebastian Vettel won the 2008 Italian Grand Prix in a Toro Rosso the Happenheim-born driver had truly arrived in F1 and quickly took over the mantle of top German.
Dubbed ‘baby Schumi’ Vettel joined Red Bull Racing in 2010 and echoed Michael Schumacher’s ruthless skill on track and racked up four world F1 titles consecutively between 2010 and 2013, in the process becoming the youngest ever champ the sport had ever seen.
Vettel’s detractors claim he can only win from the front, but look back at his remarkable recovery from a first lap wreck in Brazil at the final race of 2012 to win his third driver’s title or how he has grabbed Ferrari by the scruff of the neck to challenge Mercedes and he is up there with the likes of Prost and Niki Lauda when it comes to combining speed and brains.
- Teams: Sauber, Williams, Jordan, Prost, Arrows
- Wins: Three
- Career span: 1994 - 2003
Heinz Harald Frentzen emerged from the same Mercedes sportscar programme as Michael Schumacher, graduated to F1 with Sauber and very nearly joined Williams in 1994 to replace Senna.
Frentzen’s renowned loyalty kept him with Sauber, and when Frentzen did join the Williams team in 1997 it was a case of wrong place, wrong time.
Heinz-Harald Frentzen. The man with all the luck, and it's all bad.
Team-mate Jacques Villeneuve won the ‘97 drivers’ title, consistently outpaced the German, and as the Williams team lost their powerful Renault V10 engine and struggled with underpowered Mechachrome power units, Frentzen struggled before an unlikely resurrection came in 1999 with the Jordan team.
Two very popular wins, four podiums and six points finishes put Frentzen third in the standings at the end of the 1999 campaign, his best result in a career muted by the absence of a ruthless streak possessed by his compatriot Mr Schumacher.
Wolfgang von Trips
- Teams: Ferrari, Porsche, Scuderia Centro Sud
- Wins: Two
- Career span: 1956 – 1961
In 1961 Wolfgang von Trips, the son of a nobleman, became the first German driver in the post-war period to win a Grand Prix and was first German to seriously be in the running for the F1 driver’s title.
In the swashbuckling, live-fast-die-young, slick-back-haired days of the 1950s, von Trips emerged as the top German driver of his generation, dicing wheel-to-wheel with the likes of Stirling Moss and Graham Hill.
By the time of the 1961 Italian Grand Prix at the superfast, banked Monza circuit von Trips had won two races and was leading the F1 World Championship. All the Ferrari driver had to had to do was win in Italy and the F1 World Championship would be going back to Germany.
Tragically, von Trips would not fulfil his destiny.
It could happen tomorrow. That’s the thing about this business, you never know.
On the second lap of the 1961 Italian Grand Prix, von Trips’ shark-nosed Ferrari touched wheels with Jim Clark’s Lotus at around 150mph. The contact sent the Ferrari spinning into the air and into the tightly packed spectator area killing the German driver and 15 spectators.
The race wasn’t stopped, and in an example of how brutal the sport was back in this period, von Trips’ American team-mate Phil Hill went on to win the race and the 1961 championship by a single point and give Ferrari their first F1 constructor’s title.
- Teams: Jordan, Williams, Toyota
- Wins: Six
- Career span: 1997-2007
When Michael Schumacher’s younger brother made his F1 debut in 1997 he immediately showed racing talent definitely ran in the Schumacher family.
Ralf finished on the podium, driving for Jordan, in just his third Grand Prix, but a move from Eddie Jordan’s team in 1999, just as they were to hit peak competitiveness to drive for the underpowered Williams team, just as they fell from their peak, took the shine of his early career promise.
Quick as anyone on his day (including his highly rated team mate Juan Pablo Montoya) but prone to bad choices at high speed and a tendency to get involved in accidents, Ralf did manage an impressive six wins with a rejuvenated Williams team between 2001 and 2003 before jumping ship to the big bucks operation of Toyota.
Three years with the underachieving Toyota team arguably sullied a decent career, and despite being neglected by the popular memory, the younger Schumacher deserves a place among the best drivers to come from Germany.