Champions, But Not Greats


Lance Stroll Fan. Alfa Romeo Fan.
31 World Drivers Champions have tasted the nectar of the winner's champagne at a race that crowned them but some are mentioned as near deities in our pantheon while some only continue to receive the plaudits of their dyed-in-the-wool acolytes.
Others, I have an inkling, are footnotes in the sport's travelogue and it's these latter two types that really intrigue me.

You may like to be the first to note why I've indicated 31 Champions but my interest is this, which Champion or Champions do you consider NOT to be Great and why?

Here are my thoughts:
Jenson Button (lovely boy, and my favourite of the last 10 years). Innovative car, teammate without the skills to exploit it.
Mike Hawthorn. Benefited from the largesse of others in his championship season, retired before defending his title.
Keke Rosberg. Unreliability of competition, rivals' misfortune.
Jacques Villeneuve. Dominant car, personality.
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An interesting topic and one I'm sure will generate some discussion.

A case could be made for Phil Hill in this category. Most teams strongly resisted moving to a 1.5 litre engine but Ferrari, while on the one hand making murmurs of support for this stance, stole a march on everyone and built a superb machine to meet the new regulations. This meant that Phil Hill and his team mate Wolfgang Von Tripps were the only drivers in the hunt for the title.

Hill scored 5 poles and 2 wins that season and never scored another of either thereafter.
I couldn't possibly rate all the champions with any degree of certainty so I'm going to refer to F1Metrics' mathematical model instead. Note that all the drivers I know enough about to rate as not greats also fall outside the Top 20 in the models rankings, so consider the model to be adding to my own list rather than replacing it.

Three champions - Phil Hill, Hawthorn and Farina - are rated outside the Top 80 of all time and behind Maldonado of all people. These 3 are clearly not all time greats. Hill won his sole title in what the model considers the single most dominant car of all time, and when you consider the 1961 Ferrari had something ridiculous like 25% more power than it's competitors in an era dominated by engine power, this is hard to argue with.

Looking through the Top 60 list several other champions appear very early on - Brabham, Hakkinen, Piquet, Andretti, Mansell, Surtees and Hulme all fall outside the Top 40 despite all of them bar Andretti and Hulme usually being considered greats. When you look at the non-champions rated in the 40-60 zone I think it hard to justify this group of champions as all time greats.

After that it gets harder and depends on where you want to draw the line of "all time great" at. If we are going by the model then the Top 20 seems like a fairly safe bet for all time great status. Limiting it to only the Top 20 means the following champions also fail to make all time great status: Villeneueve, Graham Hill, Damon Hill, Keke Rosberg, Scheckter, Fittipaldi and Jones.

As I said before, all the champions I would personally rate as non-greats also fall outside the Top 20, so I have no problem using the model's rankings for drivers I don't know much about (mainly those from before the 80s). I don't consider just being a champion, nor a multiple champion as justification for being an all time great. That said, if we trust the model's rankings then 15 drivers in the top 20 are world champions, with Rosberg, Moss, Watson, Frentzen and Peterson being the only non-champions.
I have a problem with this question. It's a bit like the debate about deserving champions.

For example, I was tempted to agree with Siff' about Mansell but then I thought about it for a moment. Mansell's achievements were in spite of the fact that he was probably the least fit and heaviest among his contemporaries. He was possibly the least comfortable in an F1 car yet drove his guts and heart out, with back trouble plaguing him throughout his career.

As for whining, he was no worse than Senna. So what, then? With so many races and two, possibly three championships lost to unreliability and poor luck, it's no wonder he moaned but, lest we forget, the Brummy accent rarely sounds thrilled to anyone who doesn't hail from Birmingham. Disdaining that characteristic is our own prejudice, methinks.

So, back to the question. Hmm, me, I'll have to think about it some more ...:thinking: ... apples and oranges spring to mind ..

... oh, and then there is the essential fact that relatively few drivers ever win a Grand Prix let alone win championships ...
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Statistics have a way of erasing context and overblowing results.

Keke Rosberg had a much shorter career than his son but I would still rate him above him. There was nothing lucky about hi stitle in 1982. He was simply driving a normally-aspirated car which was nowhere near as competitive as the turbos but far mre reliable. Yet his turn of pace still allowed him to compete with and often beat them on any circuits that didn't have interminably long straights.

Within the context of the time Keke was eidely regarded as, if not necessarily the best, the single fastest driver in the paddock in the 1982-85 period in terms of raw pace. That reputation was somewhat suffered at the hands of Prost in 1986. but Nico never was never regarded as the fastest in F1, unlike his dad.

Won in a year where his closest competition imploded. Has some moments, but true greats string moments together to weave greatness.

Hill. He was very good, far better than many gave him credit for, however, made a meal out of winning his title, and but for an oil leak in Australia, may not have done so at all. Very good but not great.

I would concur with Jenson too.

Controversially, I am going to put Hakkinen in here. The McLaren of 1998 was supreme, 1999 he nearly lost out to Eddie Irvine. Although a deserving double wdc, IMHO not a great.
I think we can include, pretty uncontroversially, these drivers as greats:
Fangio, Clark, Stewart, Lauda, Piquet, Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton.

So, the rest:
Farina - No, short championship.
Ascari - Yes, dominant car but fought JMF in other years.
Hawthorn - No. Poor Moss.
Brabham - Dominant cars but yes since he built one of them.
P Hill - Course not.
G Hill - Triple crown, lifted Lotus in 1968. Yes.
Hulme - Narrow no.
Rindt - Yes. Competitive throughout career.
Fittipaldi - Yes.
Hunt - Icon but not a great.
Andretti - Yes.
Scheckter - Beat Gilles, competitive elsewhere, yes.
Jones - Not quite.
K Rosberg - Lucky... no.
Mansell - Yes, for all the guts and near-misses.
D Hill - No, didn't look great away from Williams.
Villeneuve - No, nearly mugged at Williams.
Hakkinen - Nearly threw it away in 1999. Narrow no.
Raikkonen - No, beat by Massa!
Button - Yes, because he's close enough to both Hamilton and Alonso.
You have to remember, too, that back in the 50s and 60s, factory's placed as much importance on winning Le Mans and other sports car events as they did on F1. In that era, Phil Hill and Surtees were absolutely dominant in sports cars, so it is much harder to discount them as greats as it might appear at first glance.


Whose fault was it that Mansell was so unfit and heavy?
It depends how you define as great I guess

I wholeheartedly agree with JV whose career went faster backwards than a rewinded cassette

I am going to put into this category Nelson Piquet - :whistle: a 3 time champion he maybe but it achieved through superior equipment and when he had some real internal competition he moaned about not being no 1 . Then deciding he would be No 1 at Lotus with probably a bit more money offered rather than defend with Williams really ruined his reputation as Senna and Mansell were suddenly thought better than him

Jody Scheckter is another one who actually was a very fast driver and he got himself the Ferrari drive in 1979 when Reutemann made a switch to Lotus. He had G Villeneuve as his teammate and definitely found him tough as a teammate and owed more to his consistency and some bad luck to Gilles who probably was not ruthless enough to win at all cost. Come 1980 the car was awful and he was outshone by Gilles Villeneuve which probably made him retire
If you use "near misses" to qualify Mansell, won't you have to rate Nico as a great based on his number of near-misses, even though he isn't (yet) a wdc?
An equally interesting idea is WDC "should have beens", as I am sure that we all have rather strong ideas about THAT! What arguments we could have!!!!
A lot of these debates do hinge on personal opinion. I disagree with teabagyokel on his assessment of Damon Hill. He qualified a truly awful Brabham, he beat Prost, lifted the team after Senna died (much the same as his father did after Jim Clark), almost won the 94 title but for a number of suspect reasons, came oh so close to winning for Arrows and took Jordan's first win. It all sours a little when Frentzen showed him a clean pair of heels and Hill lost all motivation.

A great in the biggest sense no but a great champion.
siffert_fan - I forgot Surtees!

Mansell/Nico R - I admit some of my logic would probably bring Rosberg in. Nico has only had one near miss though, and one where he was utterly Barrichelloed.

cider_and_toast - Damon is on that borderline! Just made too much of a pig's ear of his open field in 1996 for my liking.
I think in the case of Nico R is the car and his team mate, when Nico is in front Hamilton harries him all the way, when Hamilton is in front he doesn't have that capability, in adverse conditions there are a number of drivers who can walk all over him or give him a hard time in inferior cars. It is more difficult to compare past drivers with the current crop and their car advantages, Stewart ruled the roost with an excellent car and achieved three WDC but he controlled F1 with safety rules and don'ts, an equal with Graham Hill possibly, no match for Clark and possibly lower than Rindt.
NR is no match for Hamilton, Hamilton, Alonso and Button are on similar skill sets and Rosberg didn't set the world alight in previous teams, if he was that good why did MB hire Hamilton rather than have a couple German drivers, one Rosberg and with another better than average journeyman, the car is superior enough to win with one /two's and less driver strife competition.To be a great one needs to be able to dominate other drivers to the point they get out of your way, not through fear of a collision like Schumacher, more that ones so quick it's a waste of time competing. There have been the odd one or two and maybe Senna wasn't one of them.
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When Mercedes hired Hamilton they were not a dominant team and were instead in the process of spiralling into mediocrity; in the second half of 2012 Mercedes were outscored by 6 other teams and only narrowly outscored the far weaker driver lineup at Williams.

Mercedes hired Hamilton because they had the chance to get one of the two greatest drivers of that generation in their team, they would've been positively insane to opt for a German #2 driver instead. It is also easy to flip your question around - if Rosberg is so underwhelming why don't Mercedes save money and internal strife and hire a different German driver to be a subservient #2? Hulkenberg is/was out of contract at the end of this year.
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