Since the first championship season in 1950 there have been over 30 different winners from Giuseppe Farina to most recently, three-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Behind every championship winner there has been a slew of brilliant drivers that have never made the final grade. In this list I take a look through the drivers who always played second fiddle to those more memorable faces.
The man nicknamed ‘The Pampus Bull’ after his determination to win in gruelling conditions even when running out of fuel was a very common possibility was the first driver to win for Ferrari in 1951 and floored the team by driving to an amazing victory in the British Grand Prix the same year. Although his plump appearance doesn’t seem to fit the mould for championship contenders he was just as competitive although arguably overshadowed by Juan Manuel Fangio, the Stirling Moss of his generation.
John Behra put himself in the best position to win a championship but for the frenchmen that wasn’t enough. During his drive at Maserati, the Mercedes W196s was the car to beat and a year later he was the partnered with Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio meaning all title hopes were lost as his job was to build up a steady tally of points for the team. His temper got him sacked from Formula 1 in 1959 and a couple of months later he tragically died in a driving accident.
To be regarded as a legend amongst drivers; you must be able to drive fast, take calculated risks and to always do their best within the limits. This man did it in abundance. Murray Walker considered him as ‘the most versatile racing driver of all time’. He is considered by all F1 fans to be a legend because at a time when racing was a truly dangerous sport and fatalities were common he knew when to stop before it was too late.
The erratic driving style that put him in the forefront of the action also caused some controversy during the years, most famously during the race in Monza 78’ when Ronnie Peterson tragically died during a risky overtake. Murray Walker proclaimed him to be ‘a good looking eccentric who just didn’t live or think like other people’, making him unmissable to watch.
During his six-year career in the sport he showed immense speed, especially in the wet. His best performance came in 1979; qualifying seconds ahead of teammate Jody Scheckter. At his funeral he said: “I will miss Gilles for two reasons. First, he was the fastest driver in the history of motor racing. Second, he was the most genuine man I have ever known.” Another reason why being a great driver is more than about lap times.
A driver who forcefully pushed Senna to his limits on-and-off the track; his speed, stamina and persona made him an outstanding driver. Being able to race competitively for the two most successful teams in F1, Ferrari and McLaren, shows how capable he was. He admitted: ‘You have to have (a) certain killing instinct – selfish instinct’ which made a champion a champion which he couldn’t grasp onto.
Being a racing driver in the era of Ayrton Senna must’ve been tough at the best of times and for Brundle, he was no exception. Brundle’s career was already limited down to the other drivers on the track with established names like Alain Prost, Jean Alesi and Damon Hill dominating the field but his lack of risk-taking was noted in him not being able to win a championship. During the two seasons leading up to Senna’s death in 1994, dangerous overtakes and calculated risks were a plenty, and Brundle was never involved in the action for 1st place.
With a career that lasted 18 years it’s expected that you would win one championship during your career but unfortunately that didn’t happen for Rubens although being 2nd in the driver’s championship on two occasions. One of the main factors that held him from winning a title was that he was too consistent for his own good, being a number 2 driver for too many younger, exciting names.
I remember him for his fiery temper and poor qualifying, some might say David Coulthard is a surprising contender on the list. The style of his victories put him up there with the best; he just couldn’t do it on enough occasions to count. Asked how he felt not winning a championship, “I am proud of bringing unique moments to F1 as, if you don’t win the championship, you have to be remembered for something.”
For two years being 4th and then 2nd in the championship you could assume it would be third time lucky for the Brazilian. The following year his horrific crash left him fighting for his life with critics saying he hasn’t been the same since. Even Ferrari had to concede that Massa transformed the latter half of the 2012 season, which resulted in a yearlong extension to his contract, giving him one last chance at glory.