Seven F1 heroes who never won the title

07th August 2020
Ben Miles

In motorsport, crossing the finish line first is all that matters. But is that really true? Of course it’s not. While winning is important, you can go down in motorsport legend just for being brilliant, and plenty of drivers have been world beaters without that final world crown. Here are a few of our heroes who deserve to have won the F1 title.


Sir Stirling Moss

Where else do you start on this list than with Mr Motor Racing himself? Stirl’ finished as runner-up in the F1 standings an amazing four times and in third place a further three. Out of 529 races entered in so many different disciplines he won 212, and in Formula 1 he still sits 17th on the all-time record wins list with 16, despite racing in an era with fewer than 10 races a season on average. Moss was regarded by his peers, and by the media, as the very best in the world at what he did. But Moss himself didn’t feel like he needed to prove anything by going for the title. So, instead of making sure he had the best car underneath him, like so many others did, as soon as Moss was satisfied of his own ability, he sought out challenge instead.

After his legendary year with Mercedes in 1955, and the following year with Maserati, Stirling spent the rest of his career racing only British cars. He should have won the title with Vanwall in 1958, only losing out to Mike Hawthorn after Moss himself protested his rival’s disqualification from the Portuguese Grand Prix. In the same year he became the first driver to win a Grand Prix with a rear-engined car. He produced incredible solo efforts in underpowered Lotus machinery through 1960 and 1961 to take Monaco GP victories that are the stuff of legend to this very day. And then, in 1962, at Goodwood, it all ended. A famous off during the Glover Trophy lead to months in hospital, and what was probably a very premature decision to retire. He was still the very best, but he was gone, and in reality, he was satisfied. He didn’t need that tick to tell him how good he was. Moss knew. And so did we.


David Coulthard

David Coulthard’s career in Formula 1 is that of an unsung hero. Sure he won 13 races in a sparkling career with Williams, McLaren and Red Bull, but did he ever receive the recognition he deserved for what he actually did? Between Damon Hill’s decline from 1997 and Jenson Button’s eventual rise in the mid-2000s there was only one person holding up the end of British racing drivers in Formula 1. Coulthard finished third in F1 in 1995, ’97, ’98 and 2000, and second in 2001.

During 2001 he presented the only challenge to a dominant Michael Schumacher that anyone could muster. While Schumacher won nine races to absolutely dominate the season, his team-mate Rubens Barrichello didn’t win a single race. Coulthard’s team-mate Mika Hakkinen won two, but they came at the very end of the season, when it was already done. Schumacher’s brother Ralf pitched in with three wins, but with Williams and BMW’s partnership still in the early days he failed to finish seven times. Coulthard was the only one even getting near the German legend. He finished on the podium 10 times out of 17 races, winning two. Through the rest of his career he won the British Grand Prix twice in two years, handing some hope to home audience bereft of talent to cheer. He won the Monaco Grand Prix twice as well and was a consistent challenger for wins from 1995 until he joined the brand new Red Bull team in 2005. Even then he helped to drag what was in reality a re-painted Jaguar up to some impressive finishes, helping to lay the foundations for the modern force that is Red Bull Racing. DC is 22nd on the list of all-time F1 wins and is one of the most successful British racing drivers of all time – oh, and he won his class at Le Mans (before the car was disqualified).


Andre Lotterer

The only current racer on this list. We think Andre Lotterer deserves more recognition than he gets. The pure stats bear out his quality. Three times a Le Mans winner, 2012 World Endurance Champion, double Super GT Champion, 2011 Super Formula Champion and multiple Formula E podium finisher. Oh, and in 2014 he had a quick go in Formula 1.

That actually underplays his F1 experience which was, albeit brief, impressive. He took part in the 2014 Belgian GP to replace Kamui Kobayashi. At the time Lotterer was 32 years and 288 days old, and became the oldest F1 debutant since 1995. Because of testing restrictions FP1 was the first time he had ever driven the car. Come qualifying he proceeded to out-qualify his team-mate – who had been driving the car for all 11 races so far that season – by the small matter of a whole second. During the race he was running well, before the car failed and he was forced to retire. So impressed were the bosses at Caterham that he was offered a drive at the next race in Monza, and what did Lotterer do? He turned them down. Caterham wanted to run their third driver in one of the FP sessions and Lotterer didn’t feel the pull of F1 enough to turn up and sit around for half a day.

That alone would be enough to give him status as a bit of a legend in our eyes, but it’s the rest of Lotterer’s exploits, plus his performances in Cobras in the RAC TT celebration over the last two years, that show exactly how good he is. He might actually be the best all-around racing driver in the world right now. Hopefully we’ll get a demonstration of that come SpeedWeek in October.


Carlos Reutemann

Carlos Reutemann raced in F1 146 times. He won 12 races (putting him 24th on the all-time list) and stood on the podium 45 times. He was championship runner up in 1981 with Williams, third in 1975 with Brabham, 1978 with Ferrari and in 1980 with Williams. With Ferrari Reutemann held the team together through a tumultuous period. First through the departure of Nikki Lauda and then the rise of a talented, but at the time accident-prone Gilles Villeneuve.

His decision to leave Ferrari after the 1978 season is a bit of a sliding doors moment. The Scuderia had produced an OK, but never world-beating car through the season, and Reutemann took the opportunity to leave for Lotus. Jody Sheckter was more than happy to jump into the vacant Ferrari seat and duly won the championship. He and Villeneuve were close, they won three races each, and you wonder if the experience and level head of Reutemann would have strolled to victory that season. We’ll never know. His year at Lotus was lacklustre and so he joined Williams looking for a competitive car. He found exactly that, but also a team-mate in Alan Jones who he never quite got on with. Reutemann refused to hand Jones victory at the Brazillian GP in 1981 and the pair never saw eye-to-eye again. Reutemann would finish second to Nelson Piquet, after a disastrous last race of the season saw him start on pole but finish eighth a lap down. Two races later he retired for good, citing the tense politics involved in the Falklands War (he being Argentinian and the team British). Patrick Head however said that “his heart wasn’t in it any more”.


Rubens Barrichello

“Rubinho” as he is known in Brazil, won more Formula 1 races than Jody Scheckter, James Hunt, Denny Hulme and John Surtees and as many as Jacques Villeneuve. But he did so over the course of a, frankly bonkers, 322-race F1 career. Rubens place in this list is not gained by being someone who should have won a title, but by being a driver we all wanted to see do so. When he burst onto the scene in the early ‘90s he was hailed as a future champion, but the reality was that he spent the rest of the decade middling around in mid-table teams. His eventual move to Ferrari, to play second fiddle to Michael Schumacher, didn’t come until the start of his eighth full F1 season. To put that into perspective, the current “next big thing” Max Verstappen, was in a top level team in only his second season and Lewis Hamilton joined McLaren in his very first race.

Rubens was an able deputy, but that spark from his early days was never quite there, and the more time he spent at Ferrari, the more beaten down he seemed. In fact the longer that went on, the more we loved him for it. We loved the passion of his first F1 win – an incredible performance in the rain at the proper old Hockenheim, after which he wept tears of pure joy on the podium – we felt he was robbed in Austria in 2002 and humiliated in the USA later that year when Schumacher tried to execute a dead heat and accidentally handed him victory. But Rubens smiled through it all. When he joined Honda it instantly turned from potential world beater to nobody, and he toiled with them to try and help the team get back, then he stuck with the team as it became Brawn and we sympathised as he suffered constant clutch problems at the start and then seemed to have wins taken away from him. Rubens was just the guy we all loved.

And you know something else? He was probably the last F1 driver to right-foot brake.


Gerhard Berger

A lovable rogue, Berger is famous for his sharp tongue, witty responses to journalists and fearless driving style. But he also won 10 Grands Prix, and raced for Benetton, McLaren and Ferrari through a pretty stellar career. In everything that went on that year, it’s very easy to forget that Berger finished third in the 1994 championship behind Schumacher and Hill, after having done the same in 1988 behind Senna and Prost. It seems that every time Gerhard’s career hit its heights, focus was always elsewhere. It’s pretty amazing to think that his Ferrari and then Benetton team-mate from 1994-1997, Jean Alesi, is probably better remembered despite winning 90% fewer races than the Austrian.

Berger’s career spanned the most mighty engines F1 has ever seen – where he wrestled the incredible BMW M12 in the back of the Benetton B186 to victory in the 1986 Mexican Grand Prix – through the active suspension revolution of the early ‘90s, past the safety push following his former team-mate Ayrton Senna’s death and into the height of the V10 era. Even now he is heavily involved in motorsport, having once run Toro Rosso, he now runs the DTM and was a trusted advisor to Bruno Senna when he raced in F1. Gerhard Berger deserves to be on this list as he was a proper, old school racing driver, and man who just wanted to race and wanted to race hard.


Jacky Ickx

Jacky Ickx has said that he is glad he never won the Formula 1 World Championship. The man nicknamed Mr Le Mans, before Tom Kristensen came along, raced in F1, at times sporadically, from 1966 until 1979, featuring for Ferrari, Tyrrell, Frank Williams and Ligier. His F1 exploits today are little remembered, but they should not be forgotten.

Ickx finished second in the championship in 1969 for Brabham and in 1970 for Ferrari. The first title he was comprehensively beaten to by Jackie Stewart, but it is the second title that Ickx professes to be pleased he didn’t win. Firstly, and more obviously, it is because he feels his non-F1 exploits (six Le Mans wins, one Bathurst 1,000 win, one Dakar win) would be overshadowed by an F1 title. But more poignantly it is because 1970 was the season Jochen Rindt won his title... posthumously. Had Ickx taken that title it would have felt tainted, a victory because the better man failed survive in such a terrifying era.

And it is a mark of the man Ickx is, and why we wish he could have won a title that he cares so little about. Jacky has nothing to prove to anyone, but because his exploits were outside of the Formula 1 bubble his name doesn’t trip off the tongue to the casual fan as well as someone like, say, Eddie Irvine – a great driver no doubt, but not in the league of Ickx. Thankfully, the man himself is not bothered by this fact.

  • F1

  • Stirling Moss

  • David Coulthard

  • Andre Lotterer

  • Carlos Reutemann

  • Rubens Barrichello

  • Gerhard Berger

  • Jacky Ickx

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