In the United States, IndyCar racing and NASCAR are the big car racing draws, with large oval tracks that seat hundreds of thousands at a time. Around the world, Formula 1 (or F1) racing reigns supreme. Indy car racing (which is a blanket term for the “open wheel” racing style), while popular here in the US, has been described by Jacque Villeneuve, an F1 and IndyCar champion, as “laidback,” with less pressure. To be sure, F1 racing is not only international, but a much more expensive endeavor, with individual teams employing high-tech engineers or building top-cost facilities that feature wind tunnels. That alone dwarfs the IndyCar budgets of the U.S. F1 cars are described as having better brakes, faster speeds and being all-around more responsive.
While IndyCar racing is confined mostly to the U.S., F1 is a truly international spectacle, with races held in many different countries and on multiple continents. We have such big-name celebrities as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on our shores, but F1, thanks to its international status and world-wide popularity, has brought forth legends of the track who thrilled – and continue to awe – spectators from around the globe.
Mario Andretti, United States, 1968-1982
Andretti is considered the most successful F1 racer to come from North America. A twin and an immigrant to the States who was naturalized in 1964, he is one of only two drivers to win not just F1 and IndyCar championships, but NASCAR and World Sportscar championships as well. After teaming up with the Formula 1 Lotus team owner Colin Chapman in the 1970s and contributing to the development of the Lotus cars, Andretti took the F1 championship title with six wins in 1978. It is a fact that no American driver has won a Formula 1 championship since Andretti.
Lewis Hamilton, Great Britain, 2007-2012
A relative newcomer to the F1 scene, this plucky Brit walked up to Ron Dennis of the McLaren team (at the age of 10) and announced, “I want to race for McLaren.” Twelve years later, he did just that, making his F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix in 2007 and finishing an astonishing third. He has aroused interest as the first significant F1 racer of African American descent, but his real draw is his gift for the sport. He placed first in back-to-back Canadian and American races after his Australian coup, then floundered in the last two races of his rookie year. But he came back the following year to claim the 2008 championship and demonstrated skill and wisdom beyond his 24 years in 2009. In more recent times, Hamilton has been criticized for his “excessive weaving,” while winning his third Canadian Grand Prix on June 10 of this year.
Fernando Alonso, Spain, 2001-2012
Another bright young star on the F1 stage, Alonso had the sponsorship of Italian businessman before bursting onto the scene in 2001 at the Australian Grand Prix for Minardi, as the third-youngest driver in the history of the sport. In 2005 and 2006, Alonso raced for Renault and won back-to-back F1 championships, edging out main rival Michael Schumacher, making him the youngest double champion in F1 history.
Niki Lauda, Austria, 1971-1985
Lauda, from a wealthy family who disapproved of his interest in racing, bought his way into the F2 March team in 1971 and was quickly promoted to F1. Though, his first season was a disaster that left him suicidal and in debt. It wasn’t until 1974, when he joined Ferrari that he secured his first world championship with a win at the United States Grand Prix. He won a second championship in 1975 but suffered terrible burns after an accident at the 1976 German GP where he was trapped inside his burning car. His final championship came in 1984 at the Monaco GP and Lauda retired for good in 1985.
Ayrton Senna, Brazil, 1984-1994
Senna is widely regarded as the greatest of F1 drivers. He won three world championships and is perhaps remembered as much for his rivalry with McLaren teammate Alain Prost as for his extraordinary wet weather driving and incredible skill. Tragically, Senna’s life ended on the track in 1994 with a fatal crash at the San Marino Grand Prix. He was beloved not just in his native Brazil but also in Japan, and in 2010 a critically acclaimed documentary was released, entitled “Senna,” detailing his life and death.
The author of this article is Grant Edmundson, who follows almost every auto racing program imaginable. Typically, he draws upon partsgeek.com – the dealer alternative to supply his needs.