If like me you are a fan of motor racing and in particular Formula One and have been following it for many years, you are more than likely to know the names of many of the drivers that have competed for the World Championship. But do you know how many drivers have actually achieved the accolade of being Formula One World Champion? Well it’s a small club considering the Championship started 70 years ago in 1950. In fact, only 33 men have become World Champion. That’s quite a unique club to be a member of.
‘Formula One: The Champions – 70 Years of Legendary F1 Champions’, written by Maurice Hamilton and published this week, is a beautifully produced book with stunning photography by award-winning photographers Bernard and Paul-Henri Cahier, that brings together all these iconic motor racing champions from 1950 to the present day into these 240 pages.
Author Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was The Observer’s motor racing correspondent for 20 years. As well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio, he has written over 20 books, and currently writes a number of blogs whilst still continuing to write books about motor racing.
In the course of putting this book together, Maurice has interviewed the likes of current World Champion Lewis Hamilton and his former teammate Nico Rosberg, as well as the legendary Ayrton Senna and James Hunt over the course of his time working in Formula One. This book is a tribute to these incredibly driven and single-minded sportsmen who drive their cars to the absolute limit in pursuit of the ultimate goal and glory of being Formula One World Champion.
Photographers Bernard and Paul-Henri Cahier have created The Cahier Archive, which is the only photographic collection covering the history of the Formula One Championship that remains in the hands of the original authors. Bernard and his son Paul-Henri have two very different styles, Bernard being a reporter and Paul-Henri being more artistic, but together they have created something very special and unique which can be seen in this wonderful book.
The book opens with a lovely foreward by Bernie Ecclestone, who let’s face it, is the man behind what has become one of the most watched and successful global sports.
He starts by saying that “Seeing every Formula 1 World Champion gathered together in this book reminds me that, one way or another, I knew them all.”
He goes on to say “Each driver was different and appreciated for different reasons. Fangio, for example, is one of the very few drivers of whom I have a framed photo in my office; I knew him very well; he was a proper guy. Graham Hill drove for me, but I wasn’t as close to Jim Clark as I was with many of the others such as, say, James Hunt. I managed Jochen Rindt and that automatically made that relationship very special and different from the rest”
“When people ask me who was the best driver, I always say Alain Prost. It was the way he drove. From the moment the race started, he would be out on his own, looking after the brakes, the tyres, the gearbox, whatever. He’d bring the car back home. You almost didn’t notice him out front, doing the job. I always thought he was the best.”
Ecclestone finishes by saying “The fact is that every single driver in this book delivered when it mattered. They’re very special people and it’s been a privilege to have known them.”
The book opens with a brief history of the championship and the 33 men who achieved the ultimate accolade in motor sport, all of whom came from differing classes and backgrounds and made up from 14 different nationalities.
The current World Champion Lewis Hamilton is quoted as saying: “For any driver, you want to win anything you compete in – but the World Championship is the ultimate goal. It means greatness – but not just for the driver; it’s for you and your team. It’s an overwhelming moment when you finally do it. You suddenly think about so many things; the sacrifices that have been made; the support from your family; about what it means to so many people. And then it begins to sink in: Yes! You’re World Champion!”
The World Champions – 1950 to 2019
I wonder how many people would be able to tell you who the very first World Champion was in 1950. I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s not too many. Well is was in fact Dr Guiseppe ‘Nino’ Farina, who won the inaugural round of the Formula 1 World Championship at Silverstone in May 1950 and went on to become the very first World Champion.
In 1951 it was the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio who took the honours and went on to become World Champion in 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957. Fangio did not compete in 1952 but drove in 51 World Championship Grand Prix in his career, winning 24 for them. He claimed a remarkable 29 pole positions and 23 fasted laps. He raced for Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati.
Fangio once said: “Fear, I understand well. I am petrified of snakes and all my life I have always been uneasy walking alone in the dark. But fear in a acing car? No, I never once felt it. Of course, in my day there were fewer races but far more fatal accidents. Always I was very sad, but it never crossed my mind that I was going to be killed. Always I knew there was some force helping me.”
Alberto Ascari won the World Championship in 1952 and 1953 but was tragically killed behind the wheel in somewhat bizarre circumstances at Monza in May 1955.
Englishman Mike Hawthorne was the first British driver to win the World Championship, doing so in a Ferrari Dino 246 in 1958. His brief career was cut unfairly short by a tragic car accident near Guildford on 22nd January 1959 aged just 29.
Australian Sir Jack Brabham was a three-time winner of the World Championship, winning it in 1959, 1960 and 1966. Born in Sydney, Brabham was first and foremost an engineer who eventually went motor racing. He was quoted as saying: “I was more pleased with the championships coming together in 1966 than I had been with my previous two. I felt that the Constructors’ is just as important as the Drivers’ because the driver tends to overshadow the publicity which really ought to go to the people who make the cars.”
Californian Phil Hill was America’s first World Championship, taking the accolade in 1961, racing against his teammate Wolfgang von Trips in the Ferrari ‘Sharknose’. Hill raced in 48 Grand Prix, the majority of them for Ferrari.
It was the Englishman Graham Hill who twice won the World Championship, in 1962 and 1968. He said of his first win that “When I won the last race of 1962 with the BRM in South Africa and emerged as World Champion, it made me the first British driver ever to win the World Championship in an all-English car. The Championship Cup itself wasn’t all that imposing to look at – but it meant so much, it didn’t have to be.”
Tragically cut down before his prime in a relatively minor Formula 2 race, Scotsman Jim Clark won the Formula 1 World Championship in 1963 and 1965. Clark worked closely with Colin Chapman and raced for his Lotus team and once said that “It was never a matter of feeling I had to prove anything to myself or anyone. I was curious to find out what it was like to drive a car fast, to drive on a certain circuit, to drive a certain type of car. I found I enjoyed motor racing. I started as an amateur, as a hobby, with no idea or intention of becoming world champion.”
Englishman John Surtees was the only driver to be World Champion on both four wheels and two wheels, winning the World Championship in 1964. Surtees career was as remarkable as it was varied. He was also very outspoken and forthright in his views which probably hampered even greater success.
New Zealander Denis ‘Denny’ Hulme won the Championship in 1967 for Brabham. He raced from 1965 to 1974 and racked up eight career wins.
Legendary Scotsman Sir Jackie Stewart is perhaps one of the better-known names in motor racing, having won the World Championship three times in 1969, 1971 and 1973 and has been a big influence on the sport, in particular on the safety side of things. He was quoted as saying: “When I was a driver it would have been easier to have kept quiet about safety. I’d have been a much more popular World Champion if I’d said what people wanted to hear me say. I might mot have been alive, mind you, but more popular…”
The charismatic Austrian driver Jochen Rindt was World Champion in 1970 but it was Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi who became the youngest driver to win the championship in 1972 with Lotus. He then went on to win his second title with McLaren in 1974.
Austrian legend Niki Lauda was three times World Champion, in 1975, 1977 and 1984. Lauda racked up 25 Grand Prix wins in his career and considered his win in South Africa in 1977 as being the most satisfying. Lauda’s horrific accident in 1976 and the burns he received have been well documented. But the determination to get behind the wheel of a racing car again so soon after his accident, showed the sheer guts and determination that has made him such a legend both in and outside the world of motor racing. He said of his accident that “Bad though the crash was, I was lucky. Another ten seconds in there and I would have been dead. When I was motor racing, I had taken the decision to risk my life. But when you run an airline and more than two hundred people want to go from A to B and they don’t arrive – that’s a different responsibility. That was the worst time of my life.”
In was in 1976 that James Hunt won the World Championship for McLaren. A man who lived life to the full, he said of reaching the top: “Having won just One Grand Prix, I came from pretty much nowhere in 1976. Being pitched into the deep end, I was operating in the only way I knew, which was not to compromise myself and just get on with it. It was an absolutely fantastic year – and the next thing I know, I’m World Champion. Pretty satisfying I have to say.”
American Mario Andretti won the Championship on 1978 for Lotus. But it is his wider achievements that he is perhaps better known for. His career has spanned five decades across Formula 1, Indycar, NASCAR, Formula 5000, sports prototypes, sprint cars and midgets.
In 1979 South African Jody Scheckter won the title for Ferrari. A year later, Australian Alan Jones and Williams won their first championships together.
Three times World Champion Nelson Piquet won the title in 1981, 1983 and 1987. He won his first two titles with Brabham and the third in a Williams Honda. It was Finnish driver Keke Rosberg who took the title on 1982 in his Williams-Ford FW08.
Four times World Champion Alain Prost took the title in 1985, 1986, 1989 and 1993. Prost made driving a Formula 1 car look easy with his smooth driving style. He raced in 199 Grand Prix, winning 51 of them.
Three times World Champion Ayrton Senna, who won the title in 1988, 1990 and 1991 was, as the book says, an extraordinary force. There was an intensity about him and sense of deep introspection. Senna had a ferocious focus and commitment. His death was tragic and cut this legendary racing driver off at his prime. Senna would have no doubt gone on to win more Championships.
It was in 1992 that Nigel Mansell won the Championship. A well-deserved win in my opinion for his dogged determination. Mansell won 31 Grand Prix, driving for both Williams and Ferrari. He said of his time at Williams that “I had a great relationship and great trust in everything Patrick [Head] and Adrian [Newey] did. I just had a love affair with that car in 1992. I was on a high because I has lost weight; I was the strongest I’d ever been because I had spent my whole life waiting for this. I knew it would probably be my last chance to win the championship, I wasn’t wrong!” Mansell then went over to America the following year to compete in the IndyCar Championship, winning that title at the Nazareth Speedway in his Newman/Haas Lola-Ford to become the 1993 PPG Indycar World Series Champion in his first season, making him the only driver to simultaneously hold both the Formula 1 and Indycar title and also the first Rookie to win the Indy Series in its then 82 year history.
Pushing the records almost beyond reach, Michael Schumacher won the Formula One World Championship a record seven times, in 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004. In doing so, he rewrote the record books. The early years of Schumacher’s racing career were spent with Benetton, before he moved to Ferrari, and once said “I was repeatedly asked what my predominant feelings were at that moment (crossing the line to win his first championship for Ferrari in 2000), and on no single occasion was I able to find the right words. I didn’t what to do with this happiness.”
The articulate, thoughtful and determined Damon Hill finally became World Champion in 1996 with Williams-Renault. The son of Graham Hill, the two racing drivers were the first father and son to both win the World Championship.
A year later, Canadian Jacques Villeneuve won the Championship also in a Williams-Renault. Jacques was only eleven years old when his father Gilles Villeneuve was tragically killed during qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix in 1982.
Two times World Champion Mika Häkkinen won the title in 1998 and 1999. He won both championships driving for McLaren. Also winning the Championship twice, Spaniard Fernando Alonso took the title in 2005 and 2006 driving for Renault before switching to Ferrari where he stayed for five seasons. He is a hugely talented driver that should have gone on to win more championships. The following year Kimi Räikkönen won the World Championship for Ferrari.
Current World Champion Lewis Hamilton is considered to be one of the truly great champions, having now won the World Championship six times and looking like he may very well equal Michael Schumacher’s record seven wins and may even go on to overtake him to make it a record-breaking eight World Championships. Time will tell.
Fellow Brit Jenson Button won the Championship in 2009 for Brawn-Mercedes before it became the full works team it is today. He said: “Winning races is very much a living-in-the-moment experience – it’s awesome. But winning the championship was more of a relief, because the pressure I had put on myself. That pressure is agonising, but the euphoria when you finally cross the line is just incredible. You can finally breathe again. I totally love it.”
It was the German driver Sebastian Vettel who dominated Formula One at the start of the last decade, winning the Championship four times, in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, driving for Red Bull Racing. “Winning four titles? It’s such a big number, To join people like Michael [Schumacher], [Juan Manuel] Fangio, [Alain] Prost is very difficult to put into perspective. I’m way too young to understand what it means. I might be sixty one day; maybe then I will understand. It’s difficult to realise something that nobody can take away from you.”
The final World Champion in this momentous book is Nico Rosberg, who won the championship in 2016 with Mercedes, driving alongside teammate Lewis Hamilton. He is also the second father and son to both win the title after Graham and Damon Hill. “I didn’t drive just to receive credit for winning or whatever.” He said, “I drove to win the World Championship – and I achieved that. It was my childhood dream and that’s what I was so excited about. Afterwards I wanted to celebrate with the people who supported me. My dad and my mum played such a big part, my mum on the private side and my dad for the career steps. Their support all the way was massive.”
This is a book that once opened, you will not want to put down until you have thumbed through all 240 pages. I have enjoyed every moment and have had the privilege of meeting and speaking with three of these 33 champions: James Hunt, Emerson Fittipaldi and Nigel Mansell, as well as perhaps the greatest driver never to win the World Championship, Stirling Moss.
Publication date: March 3, 2020
UK Price: £35.00
Format: Hardback, 240 Pages, Jacketed hardback
Size: 9.764 in x 11.969 in / 248 mm x 304 mm
Pages: 250+ colour and black & white photos, over 50% previously unpublished
Author: Maurice Hamilton
Photographers: Bernard and Paul-Henri Cahier
Publisher: White Lion Publishing
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man Behind The Wheel, a member of The Guild of Motoring Writers, professional photographer and former saloon car racing driver.
Illustrations courtesy of The Quarto Group