Top 10 drivers in Formula One history: Positions 3-1

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The run up to the United States release of “Rush” is on, and to mark the occasion, the NBC Sports team has assembled a countdown of the Top 10 drivers in the history of Formula One.

We’ve been revealing our list in increments, first with Positions 10-7 and then with Positions 6-4. But now comes the grand finale: The three greatest Grand Prix racers ever.

source: Getty Images
Juan Manuel Fangio – Getty Images

3. Juan Manuel Fangio

Long ago, back when no one in their wildest dreams could have imagined Formula One’s evolution into the glitzy, technology-driven phenomenon it is today, Fangio forged a legend that continues to be revered by racers and fans alike. Even though he often faced competitors far younger than him, the gentlemanly Argentinian claimed five World Championships in seven full seasons (1950-51, 1953-57) and won 24 of the 51 Grand Prix events he competed in – often using the skills he honed earlier in his career in South American endurance events to triumph. In his time, there were no such things as DRS or KERS to fret over; it was all about strength to wield beastly machines and courage to tackle very dangerous circuits. Consider that, and you’ll realize why the “Maestro” is regarded by many the world over as one of the greatest to ever climb into a race car.

source: Getty Images
Ayrton Senna – Getty Images

2. Ayrton Senna

When one looks back on the late, great Senna, that person is compelled to think about many, many things. On the track, the three-time World Champion was utterly ruthless, leaving all who watched him race in awe at his otherworldly talent and his ability to go beyond the limits. Off the track, his charismatic and intelligent personality made him a worldwide star but his deep religious faith kept him grounded, as did his quest to provide a better future for the underprivileged in his homeland of Brazil. Senna may forever stand as one of sport’s most complex champions – a man so thoroughly driven by the ambition of being the best, but also one that grappled with the paradox of his profession. “The same moment that you become the fastest, you are enormously fragile,” he once said. “Because in a split-second, it can be gone. All of it. These two extremes contribute to knowing yourself, deeper and deeper.”

source: Getty Images
Michael Schumacher – Getty Images

1. Michael Schumacher

Out of all the drivers that were skilled and lucky enough to truly rule a certain era in Formula One’s timeline, Schumacher may be the one that was the most dominant. The seven-time World Champion left an eternal impact on the sport with a staggering run at Ferrari that saw him claim five consecutive driver’s titles (2000-2004) as well as 56 wins from 2000 to 2006. His career was not an altogether glorious one, as his championship controversies at both Benetton (1994) and Ferrari (1997) plus his ill-fated comeback with Mercedes can attest. But in his prime, Schumacher was nothing short of spectacular in using his skills to capitalize on rock-solid equipment. In that time, his combination of speed and consistency was simply too much for his rivals to overcome.

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”