Who is the greatest racing driver of all time?
The most decorated Formula One driver of all time. Michael Schumacher set the statistical benchmark by which all race drivers, both past and future, will be measured. He is the owner of a record seven Formula One World Drivers’ Championships (no other person won more than five). He won a record 91 Formula One races in just 307 starts, a modern-era win rate record of 29.64% that will likely never be beaten. His relentless, almost psychotic obsession with racing greatness has been compared to the pathological athletic genius of a Tiger Woods or a Kobe Bryant, and Schumacher’s career record places him squarely among that kind of elite company. With contributions to the record book that include most consecutive titles (5), largest winning margin (67 pts), and most podium finishes (155), any race fan would be crazy to talk about the all-time greats without paying special attention to the one and only Michael Schumacher.
Formula One – Championships: 7 – Wins: 91 – Starts: 307 – Win Rate: 29.64%
Notable Formula One Records: titles (7), consecutive titles (5), largest winning margin (67 pts), race wins (91), wins in a season (13, 72%), different Grand Prix won (22), podiums (155)
The greatest motorcycle racing driver of all time. Giacomo Agostini is the most gifted and accomplished driver to ever ride a motorbike. Whether riding in the 350cc or the 500cc discipline, he laid wake to the competition with an overpowering intensity and precision that the sport of motorcycle racing may never see again. In a sport where a split-second can be the difference between life and death, Agostini managed a robust 13 year career largely unblemished by dangerous crashes. This rare ability to push the limits of speed on a bike, while also keeping both wheels on the ground, helped lead Agostini to an abundance of motorcycle records, many of which are unlikely to ever be broken. He moved from bikes to cars in 1978, showing limited success in the British F2 and F1 circuits, but it was Giacomo’s accomplishments aboard a motorcycle that place him squarely among the greatest racing drivers of all time.
Grand Prix Motorcycle – Championships: 15 – Wins: 122 – Starts: 186 – Win Rate: 65.59% – Isle of Mann TT Wins: 9
Notable motorcycle records: most Grand Prix wins (122), most World Championships (15)
Juan Miguel Fangio
The greatest Argentinean racing driver of all time. Juan Miguel Fangio represents the oldest generation of driver on our list, and while our pictures of him are blurry, his influence on the sport of auto racing is crystal clear. Fangio was nicknamed “El Chueco”, or “The Bowlegged One”; perhaps he made up for a lack of speed on his feet with an abundance of speed behind the wheel. The man completely dominated Formula One from 1951 to 1957, winning 5 titles, and narrowly missing a 6th in 1953. He won 47.06% of the races he started in his career, a number completely off the charts when compared to any other driver in history. Fangio qualified in the pole position 55.8% of the time, and if he missed the pole, he was a virtual lock to start from the front-row, he did that 92.31% of the time! Fangio’s five championships was a record that stood for over 45 years until Schumacher broke it in 2003. Advancements in technology always make a study of GOATs difficult, but we are confident that Fangio would have become a legend behind the wheel of any make or model.
Formula One – Championships: 5 – Wins: 24 – Starts: 52 – Win Rate: 47.06%
Notable Racing Records: highest win percentage ever (44%), highest percentage of pole positions (55.8%), highest percentage of front row starts (92.31%), championships with different teams (4 – Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes, Maserati)
The most gifted French racecar driver of all time. From 1981 to 1993, Alain Prost was the most consistently elite driver in the entire world of auto racing. His placements in the Formula One standings over that 12 year span are as follows: 5th, 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 5th, 1st. It was a dozen year run of racing dominance that can be matched only by Michael Schumacher in the entire history of the automobile. A driver who was truly as talented as the vehicle and team surrounding him, Prost won his 4 titles with three different teams (Marlboro McLaren International in ’85 and ’86, Hondo Marlboro McLaren in ’89, and Canon Williams Renault in ’93). He idolized the silky smooth style of two other’s racing GOATs, Stewart and Clark, and many credit his success to a similar calm, intellectual approach to driving. Senna and Prost gave the world some incredible clash of the titans theatre in the late 80s and early 90s, and the Frenchman’s successes must place him under consideration as the greatest racing driver of all time.
Formula One – Championships: 4 – Wins: 51 – Starts: 199 – Win Rate: 25.63%
Notable Formula One Records: most wins at home course (6 @ French Grand Prix), most wins with different teams (4 with Renault, McLaren, Ferrari, and Williams)
The greatest Brazilian racing driver of all time. Ayrton Senna is a name that will forever echo off the walls of the auto racing hall of fame. A man who was killed doing what he loved, Senna is yet another example of an athletic legend abridged by tragedy. Born in 1960 São Paulo, Senna learned to drive in a Jeep on his family’s farm at the age of 7. He began racing go-karts at age 13, and eventually debuted in Formula One in 1984 at the age of 24. Senna was gifted with an almost un-human level of intuition and awareness when he was behind the wheel. He was able to detect minute, seemingly invisible details about the performance of his vehicle and the race-track; a technique he honed long before the super-computer telemetry systems that we see in cars of today. Senna fully harnessed his genius in 1988 with his first F1 championship. He followed that year with 5 consecutive seasons of unmatched dominance (2nd, 1st, 1st, 4th, 2nd). Senna was killed during the 3rd race of the 1994 season; it was the most recent fatality in Formula One. Senna’s raw talents, his racing record, and his lasting contributions to the sport are all compelling evidence that he was one of the greatest racing drivers of all time.
Formula One – Championships: 3 – Wins: 41 – Starts: 161 – Win Rate: 25.47%
Notable Formula One Records: most consecutive pole positions (8), most consecutive wins at the same Grand Prix (5 @ Monaco), highest percentage of front row starts (100% in ’89)
The most prolific Indy Car racing driver of all time. AJ Foyt is kind of like America personified in a racecar driver. His gregarious personality, appearance, lifestyle, and competitive career are a perfect analogy for the perceived excesses of post-war 20th century America. If it had a motor and tires, Foyt probably raced it. Foyt competed in, and often dominated, a wide array of racing disciplines, including: Indy, Formula One, NASCAR, Midget Cars, Sprint Cars, and Sports Cars. He’s the only person to ever win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a single career. Foyt’s strongest format was open-wheel Indy car racing, where he holds career records in wins, win-rate, and is tied for wins at the Indianapolis 500 with four. Thanks to his relentless search for victory with speed, and his wide-ranging and extremely productive career, AJ Foyt must be considered as one of the greatest auto racers of all time.
Formula One – Championships: 0 – Wins: 0 – Starts: 3 – Win Rate: 0.00%
Indy Racing – Championships: 7 – Wins: 67 – Starts: 369 – Win Rate: 18.16% – Indy 500 Wins: 1
NASCAR – Championships: 0 – Wins: 7 – Starts: 128 – Win Rate: 5.47% - Daytona 500 Wins: 1
Notable Records: career USAC victories (159), career Indy Car victories (67), most Indy 500 wins (tied with 4), only driver to win The Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The greatest Formula One driver of the 1960’s. Jim Clark was selected by the British Times in 2009 as the greatest-ever Formula One driver, and his death in a crash at age 32 leaves us wondering just how far he could have gone. Clark’s 1963 and 1965 Formula One seasons will go down as two of the most dominate single season performances by any athlete in any sport. Clark completely obliterated the competition in the 1963 season, winning an astounding 7 of 10 races on the way to the title. He added a second championship in 1965, behind the wheel of the Lotus 33, even sprinkling in a win at the Indianapolis 500 that year with the same car. In a famous story from the ’67 Italian Grand Prix, Clark punctured a tire, lost an entire lap with a pit-stop, and then proceeded to pass 15 consecutive drivers and regain the lead in the race. Unfortunately a fuel miscalculation meant his car would run out of gas within view of the finish, and he coasted to a third place finish. This is just one of the countless legendary stories of the raw talent for speed that made Clark so great and his talents place him squarely among the all-time greats.
Formula One – Championships: 2 – Wins: 25 – Starts: 72 – Win Rate: 34.72%
Notable Formula One Records: highest win share in a single season (43.75% in 1963), highest percentage of laps lead in a season (71.47% in ’63), highest percentage of championship points in a season (100% in both ’63 and ’65)
The most dominate Formula One driver of the 21st century. Our American media never gives the career of Sebastian Vettel the kind of accolades it rightly deserves. The 27 year old’s career resume is already littered with superlatives. He is the youngest winner of a Grand Prix event (He won the Italian Grand Prix just 2 months after his 21st birthday). Three years later he clinched the Formula One World Championship, again becoming the youngest person to ever hold the honor. And before you call it a fluke, consider the fact that Vettel reeled off 4 consecutive F1 titles from 2010-2013. His 2013 season was absolutely ludicrous. In that year, he won a record 13 times in 19 races, including consecutive wins in the last 9 circuits of the season. His Renault Redbull Racing team seems to have fallen a step behind the Hamilton-Rosberg led Mercedes Petronas team in 2014, but with plans to migrate to a Ferrari garage in 2015, Vettel seems poised to restart his ascent to the throne atop the world of auto racing.
Formula One – Championships: 4 – Wins: 39 – Starts: 136 – Win Rate: 28.68%
Notable Formula One Records: most wins in a season (13), most podiums in a season (17), consecutive wins (9), youngest grand prix winner (21 years, 73 days), youngest F1 champion (23 years, 135 days)
The greatest Scottish born auto racer in history. Jackie Stewart was nicknamed the “Flying Scot”; a fitting name for a man who won three Formula One Championships in his relatively short 8 year professional career. Stewart tallied 27 race wins in just 99 starts, a record that stood for 14 years before being broken by Alain Prost in 1987. After the death of his friend and teammate François Cevert in 1973, Stewart chose to retire at the relatively early age of 34. He went on to dedicate his life to promoting numerous safety improvements throughout the sport of auto-racing, and many cite this cause as his most important impact on the sport. We can only imagine how many more races or titles Stewart might have won, but his production in eight short years has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest auto racers of all time.
Formula One – Championships: 3 – Wins: 27 – Starts: 99 – Win Rate: 27.27%
Notable Records: Only auto racing driver to win the Sports Illustrated “Sportsman of the Year” award. Held the record for most wins by a Formula One driver for 14 years.
The most celebrated American stock car driver of all time. Dale Earnhardt, Sr was one of the greatest champions, and his death remains one of the greatest tragedies, in the history of American sports. His nickname “The Intimidator” was born out of a fierce and aggressive driving style; a style he honed under the tutelage of his father, one of North Carolina’s best short-track drivers. Earnhardt was a quick study, moving quickly up the ranks and winning Rookie of the Year in the Winston Cup in 1975. He followed that season with a Winston Cup Championship in his 1976 sophomore campaign, a feat that remains unequaled. Dale would go on to win a Richard Petty tying 6 more Cup titles, and his win rate of 11.24% still stands as one of the most impressive in the sport. The legacy of #3 lives on with his son Dale Jr, but with or without an Earnhardt driving in the sport, racing fans will never forget the memory of The Intimidator, one of the greatest drivers of all time.
NASCAR – Championships: 7 – Wins: 76 – Starts: 676 – Win Rate: 11.24% - Daytona 500 Wins: 1
Notable NASCAR Records: most championships (tied with 7)
The most decorated racing career of any driver in NASCAR history. Richard Petty won a mind-blowing 200 races over the course of his 25 year Winston Cup racing career. The young gun from Level Cross, North Carolina was many years away from owning his moniker “The King” when he burst on the NASCAR scene with a Rookie of the Year performance in 1959. With nine Top-10 finishes in that first full season, the potential of Petty was evident. He took the confidence from that first full season and rode away with it, going on to win 7 Winston Cup titles, 7 Daytona 500s, and 200 race wins, including an unheard of 10 in a row in 1967. The King and his trademark glasses and cowboy hat now oversee the Richard Petty Motorsports team, and his legacy and impact on the sport will forever place him among the true greats in the world of auto racing.
NASCAR – Championships: 7 – Wins: 200 – Starts: 1,184 – Win Rate: 16.89% - Daytona 500 Wins: 1
Notable NASCAR records: most championships (tied with 7), most wins (200), most poles (123), most wins in a season (27 in ’67), most consecutive race wins (10 in ’67)
The most versatile racing driver of all time. Mario Andretti is a veritable renaissance man of the racing world. He won races in nearly every vehicle-type he ever drove, including: Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscars, NASCAR, midget cars, and sprint cars. He is the only person to ever win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and a Formula One World Championship. He is said to hold 109 major career wins across all disciplines. Mario is the patriarch of a family name that is now synonymous with auto-racing, and his importance to both American and Italian auto-racing culture is without equal. In addition to breadth, Andretti’s career was so insanely deep he won IndyCar races in 4 different decades! Today, at the age of 74, Andretti could still probably drive the pants off 99% of the field in any racing format, and any list of all-time greats would be incomplete without the inclusion of Mario, the most gifted of the legendary Andretti racing family.
Formula One – Championships: 1 – Wins: 12 – Starts: 128 – Win Rate: 9.38%
Indy Racing – Championships: 4 – Wins: 52 – Starts: 407 – Win Rate: 12.78% – Indy 500 Wins: 1
NASCAR – Championships: 0 – Wins: 1 – Starts: 14 – Win Rate: 7.14% - Daytona 500 Wins: 1
Notable Records: One of only 2 men to win races in F1, Indy, World Sportscar Championships, and NASCAR. Only man to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and the F1 championship. Winner of auto races in 5 different decades.
GOAT Staff Score - Racing DriverThe candidates have been assigned a raw score across a range of criteria. The raw scores have been weighted to reflect the impact that each individual criterion has on the 'Final GOAT Score'. -->TURN DEVICE SIDEWAYS TO VIEW ON MOBILE-->
|Championships (25%)||Win Rate (25%)||Degree of Difficulty (15%)||Respect of Peers (15%)||Versatility (10%)||Longevity (10%)||Unweighted Total||Final GOAT Score|
|Juan Miguel Fangio||7||11||3||10||7||1||39||725|