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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.