Five of Formula One’s Biggest Legends

The recent news of the death of motorsport mogul Max Mosley marks the end of an era in many ways. In his role as president of motorsport’s governing body the FIA from 1993 to 2009, he oversaw a huge period of transition in the sport, in particular in introducing widespread reforms of safety procedures following the tragic death of Ayrton Senna in 1994. Although he has been the subject of much controversy over the years, Max Mosley was, ultimately, one of the most influential and important figures in motorsport over the last half-century. In this article, we take a look at some of the other most influential figures in Formula One.

1. Ayrton Senna

In many ways, Max Mosley’s career was inextricably tied to the untimely fate of Ayrton Senna, who deserves a very special place in the history of Formula One. The Brazilian had won the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship in 1988, 1990 and 1991, and had a total of 41 Grand Prix and 65 pole positions under his belt, a record that held until 2006. 

Red Formula One Vehicle with the driver's helmet visiible inside
Ayrton Senna

He died in an accident leading the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix driving for the Williams team in what was to be remembered as one of Formula One’s darkest moments. A furled Austrian flag was later found in Senna’s car, which he had intended to raise in honour of fellow racer Ratzenberger who had died in an accident during qualification the previous day.

2. Michael Schumacher

At the time of his retirement from the sport in 2012, German racing driver Michael Schumacher held the records for the most wins (91), pole positions (68) and podium finishes (155) – an incredible record which has since been broken only by Lewis Hamilton. Despite this, he still maintains the records for the most fastest laps (77) and the most races won in a single season (with Sebastian Vettel) (13), among others. 

Schumacher’s retirement was confirmed following the Italian Grand Prix in 2006, however he went on to make a surprise return to Formula One in the 2010 season alongside fellow German driver Nico Rosberg in the new Mercedes GP team. Schumacher has won many awards not just for his contribution as a driver, but also for his contributions to driver safety, both on and off the track. 

Michael Schumacher standing next to his red Ferrari Formula One vehicle
Michael Schumacher

3. Bernie Ecclestone

Of course, it’s not just the drivers who make Formula One what it is, and no list of legends would be complete without Bernie Ecclestone, former chief executive of the Formula One Group, which manages Formula One. Ecclestone’s relationships with Formula One dates back to the 1958 season, when he entered two Grand Prix races as a driver. He failed to qualify for either of them. Later, he became manager of drivers Stuart Lewis-Evans and Jochen Rindt and in 1972, he bought the Brabham team, which he ran for fifteen years. 

Bernie Ecclestone with a F1 badge superimposed behind him
Bernie Ecclestone

His control of the sport, which grew from his pioneering the sale of television rights in the late 1970s, was chiefly financial, but under the terms of what was known as the Concorde Agreement he and his companies also managed the administration, setup and logistics of each Formula One Grand Prix, making him one of the richest men in the United Kingdom – and also one of the most recognisable faces of the sport.

4. Lewis Hamilton

British racing driver Lewis Hamilton currently competes for Mercedes, having previously driven for McLaren from 2007 to 2012. In Formula One, Hamilton has won a joint-record seven World Drivers’ Championship titles (tied with Michael Schumacher), and holds the records for the most wins (98), pole positions (100) and podium finishes (169), among others. His Formula One career began with McLaren in 2007, making him the first black driver to race in the sport. He also became the youngest Formula One World Champion in history at the time. 

A prominent advocate in support of activism to combat racism and push for increased diversity in motorsport, Hamilton was listed in the 2020 issue of Time as one of the 100 most influential people globally and was knighted in the 2021 New Year Honours.

Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton standing on the podium
Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton

5. Max Verstappen

On May 15 2016, Dutch driver Max Verstappen rewrote Formula 1’s history books when he won the Spanish Grand Prix at the age of 18, the youngest driver ever and first Dutch driver to win a Grand Prix. In the five years that have followed his stunning maiden win, he has continued to make a mark on the sport. He had made his Grand Prix debut just two years earlier, practising for the 2016 Japanese Grand Prix just three days after his seventeenth birthday.

In response to Verstappen’s early rise, with concerns over his maturity as a driver, the FIA issued its first “Verstappen rule”, raising F1’s age limit to 18 from 2015 onwards. The result was that Verstappen would remain F1’s youngest driver for the foreseeable future. Later, his aggressive style of driving saw the introduction of another “Verstappen rule” that banned moving under braking.

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