What makes a truly great driver?


Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
I posted this in another place sometime ago but I thought it might be of interest to get some comment from people on here as, as you can imagine, an article which didn't call someone names didn't receive much comment. This was also written before Button's World Championship win.

Having managed to track down a copy of Autocourse from 1980 and there is a fascinating article by Alan Henry entitled "The driver still counts - or does he?". I think this proves that every generation questions the importance of the driver as the cars get more complicated but there is one paragraph on what makes a truly great driver that deserves rewriting here in full.

“There have been very few great drivers who have been unable to drive effectively in the pouring rain. One simply has to glance back over the lists of the acknowledged front runners – Fangio, Nuvolari, Moss, Clark, Stewart, Fittipaldi, Lauda, Hunt… In each case one can point to more than one truly outstandingly impressive performance in the streaming rain. That’s because the versatility which gives them the talent to race effectively in the wet is just one incidental product of their natural ability. By contrast, nobody would call Jean-Pierre Beltoise or Vittorio Brambilla a great racing driver – but each of them managed to summon up great reserves of courage to win World Championship GP’s in appalling conditions of rain and spray. The difference between the talented and the brave is the talented can consistently repeat the performance. The brave usually have one, perhaps a handful, of really great memorable races”

Based on AH’s theory, since this article was written I would add Prost (although with some reservations towards the end of his career), Senna, Schumacher and Hamilton as truly great drivers; it remains to be seen whether Vettel can continue to shine in the wet. Other than these 4 I can’t think of any other driver of the last 28 years who could be categorised as truly great.
Well, if wet racing is the question then Felipe Massa is not the answer!

I don't know about this 'truly great driver' stuff. I say let the results speak for themselves.

It doesn't really matter, its easy to get nostalgic but what is difficult is to not make arbitrary comparisons.
It's clear that some drivers seem to possess more skills than others or are perhaps better at certain aspects of racing than others.

Has there ever been a driver who excelled at most if not all of the skills required to be an F1 driver whilst at the same time having no or very few flaws?

I would say driving well in the wet demonstrates a good feel for grip and braking but doesn't necessarily mean much in the dry or at very technical circuits, for example.
And for me, being able to drive in the wet isn't the defining attribute of a great driver, it's a combination of things.

I think we all know which drivers we would put in a group of the "best 20" or so but the order might be somewhat more difficult to arrange.
Wet racing alone is not the basis for evaluating greatness IMHO. Too many other factors enter into the equation. For instance, Stewart's possibly most famous rain win, Germany 1968, was aided enormously by an absolutely huge advantage in tyres. The same was true at Holland that year, proven by the 2nd place finish of the Matra V12 car.

I always considered versatility to be the indicator of greatness. A great driver should be able to win in anything. Unfortunately, drivers today aren't allowed to compete in multiple series, so that method of measuring talent no longer applies.
Speshal said:
Balls of steel?
Might not be a good thing as carrying all that extra weight around is bound to slow you down..

On a serious note, it is a very difficult thing to define as it really does depend on the equipment and the mentality of the driver at that moment in their lives/careers, how long they decide to hang around etc..
A good driver? Most of the below points... A great driver? Well all of them, and probably more that I forget

  • Daring
  • Overtaking Skills
  • A cool head, and with it the ability to make the correct decision
  • A natural sense of the grip level available under all conditions
  • The ability to push the car to the limits, but not beyond
  • Compromising grip levels with quickest line
  • Braking ability, stability
  • Racemanship and the associated strategical know how
  • Evaluation of track conditions, and associated car set ups

Thats all I can think off now, sure there is more though ;)
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