At the time of writing, it seems almost certain that Max Verstappen is going to win the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship. After 16 of the 22 Grands Prix, he leads the Drivers’ Championship on 400 points, with Sergio Perez a very distant second on 223. The incredibly dominant Verstappen has won 13 of the 16 GPs to date, finishing second twice and only once missing out on the podium.
Unsurprisingly – given they have the top two drivers – Red Bull are miles clear in the Constructors’ Championship too. In fact, Verstappen’s total of 400 points would, by itself, put him almost 100 clear of the second-placed team, Mercedes. It has been a remarkable season but not, given the pack of competition, a particularly enjoyable one.
Nonetheless, Verstappen, his fans, and Red Bull, won’t mind any of that. The Belgian-Dutch supremo is set to claim his third world title. He won’t turn 26 until the end of September and barring a miracle, he will move ahead of legends such as Fernando Alonso, Mika Hakkinen and Graham Hill in terms of overall world titles won. But where does the youngster stand in the wider scheme of things and who has won the most F1 Drivers’ Championships?
Two Drivers Tied on Seven
7 Titles – Lewis Hamilton
Sitting joint top of the pile is Lewis Hamilton. The Brit has had an incredibly frustrating 2023 season in which his car has rarely, if ever, been competitive. Even so, the Stevenage ace has eked out five podiums and currently sits third in the driver standings. That would be a great season for most drivers but when you have won the world title seven times, only the gold medal will do.
Hamilton will hope he can move clear at the top by himself by claiming an eighth championship but right now his team are well off the pace. He will be 39 by the time the next F1 season begins and it is hard to see him competing for too much longer.
He holds so many records in F1, ones that may never be broken, or certainly not for a long time. He has 103 race wins to his name and 104 pole positions and also holds the record for the most podium finishes and most career points.
He won his first world title in 2008, having finished second the season before. That success made him the sport’s youngest-ever champion, although rival Sebastian Vettel would take that record from him in 2010. He was made to wait for a second championship though, not claiming that until 2014, though he won again in 2015. He then won four Drivers’ Championships in a row, utterly dominating the sport between 2017 and 2020.
He was pipped in dramatic and hugely controversial fashion in 2021 when a win would have given him five in a row and a record eight titles overall. The dramatic denouement to the season involved the deployment of a late safety car. Many feel it was deployed incorrectly but it gifted the race and the championship to Verstappen. Hamilton’s history-making triumph was denied but no matter what, he will go down as a legend of the sport.
7 Titles – Michael Schumacher
Currently tied with Hamilton in terms of F1 statistical greatness is the German Michael Schumacher. The Ferrari legend won his first world title with Benetton in 1994 and defended his crown the following season, helping the team to their only Constructors’ Championship.
He then moved to Ferrari but things did not go exactly to plan as he finished the 1996 campaign in third place. It got worse before it got better too as he was disqualified due to what was deemed a deliberate crash in the final race in 1997. The following season he was level at the top with two races to go but ended up being beaten in Luxembourg and retiring in the last race, with Hakkinen winning both GPs and the world title.
Hakkinen defended his title but by 2000 Ferrari and Schumacher were very much ready to challenge. The German won the last four races of the season to beat his Finnish rival into second and “Schuey” would go from strength to strength after claiming his third Drivers’ Championship.
He won the title for the next four seasons afterwards, claiming five in a row from 2000 to 2004 inclusive. When he retired in 2012 he had the most race wins, poles and podiums – all records since taken by Hamilton. Tragically Schumacher suffered a terrible accident when skiing in 2013. It is believed that left him paralysed and with various mental problems, though little is known for sure and he has not been seen publicly since the accident.
5 Titles – Juan Manuel Fangio
Argentine ace Juan Manuel Fangio stands alone with five titles to his name, claiming victory in 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956 and 1957. Nicknamed El Maestro, he was the sport’s true first great and won 24 of the 51 races he started. The sport was very different back then and Fangio was an immensely brave and skilful driver. Revered in his native Argentina, Fangio has the best win percentage of any driver and deserves his place in the pantheon of F1 icons.
4 Titles – Alain Prost
French driver Prost was another with a pedagogic nickname, his scientific, intellectual approach to driving earning him the moniker, The Professor. He won 51 races from 1999 starts, claiming pole just 33 times and making the podium well over 50% of the time (106 from 199). His four championships came in 1995, 1996, 1999 and 1993. The first three successes came with McClaren and his fourth with Williams-Renault.
Prost was not, perhaps, the most popular man in the sport and his rivalry with Ayrton Senna in particular was nasty at times. Nonetheless, his skill cannot be denied and in some regards it is only a surprise he did not win more than four titles.
4 Titles – Sebastian Vettel
The second German on our list, Vettel won all four of his titles in consecutive seasons between 2010 and 2013. He won 53 Grands Prix in all, earning 57 poles and making it to the start line for 299 races. Comparisons with Schumacher were inevitable given his arrival so soon after his compatriot and he was briefly nicknamed Baby Schumi.
Vettel won all of his titles with Red Bull but moved to Ferrari in 2015. He was runner-up to Hamilton in 2017 and 2018, his best finishes since his last world title. Still driving in 2022, the 36 year old seems unlikely to move ahead of Prost but in this crazy world, never say never (again).