When Nico Rosberg triumphed in last weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos, he crept up the record books, but perhaps not in quite the way he was imagining. His 13th career win puts him joint second among those drivers who’ve racked up the most Grand Prix victories without ever lifting the world title. And, of course, the German is highly likely to top that list next season if Mercedes’ form continues; four more and he’ll be the most successful driver without motorsport’s highest accolade on his CV.
Who else, we wondered, appears on that list, and which driver is Rosberg close to toppling from F1’s infamous perch?
5 Felipe Massa (11 wins)
The popular Brazilian took all of his 11 victories with Ferrari during his first three years with the sport’s most successful team, between 2006 and ’08 – and on his day was a formidable foe for Michael Schumacher. His most recent win came on that incredible day, at his home circuit of Interlagos, in ’08 when he took his second Brazilian GP victory and thought he’d won the title. His dignity, when he stood atop the podium as race winner, having seen the title slip away on the last lap of the last race of the season when Lewis Hamilton snared the fourth place he needed, endeared him to many. The next five seasons yielded just nine more podium finishes, before he joined Williams for 2014. He came close to a 12th win in that year’s Abu Dhabi finale, also on a day when Lewis Hamilton took the title plaudits.
4 Rubens Barrichello (11 wins)
Much was expected of the smiley young Brazilian when he made his Grand Prix debut, aged 20, for Jordan in 1993. A surprise pole for the team at Spa in 1994, and another for Jackie Stewart’s eponymous squad in France in 1999, along with six podium finishes in those first seven seasons, were all he had to show for his efforts. Once he joined Ferrari in 2000, he featured more prominently at the sharp end, albeit as number-two to Michael Schumacher, obediently following him home on dozens of occasions and winning just nine times in six years at the Scuderia (Schumacher won 49 races in the same period). He would eventually become the most-capped F1 driver of all time, with 322 starts to his name when he retired at the end of 2011 after 19 seasons. He netted two more wins for Brawn in late 2009, after shadowing Jenson Button during the Briton’s successful title campaign.
3 Carlos Reutemann (12 wins)
Enigmatic Argentinian Reutemann was blindingly quick when all the stars aligned and nowhere on those days when it appeared he couldn’t really be bothered. He came closest to title glory at the end of 1981, with a shot at the title for Williams in the Las Vegas finale. Having qualified on pole for the sixth and final time in his career, he was mysteriously off the pace on race day, falling to eighth at the flag and losing the title to Brabham’s Nelson Piquet by a single point. People claim he wasn’t in the right mood that day…
Whatever the psychological whys or wherefores of his arsenal, Reutemann was a Grand Prix great. He took pole on his debut, for Brabham at home in 1972, and won four races in the fabulous Gordon Murray-penned BT44s in 1974-’75. He moved to Ferrari in 1977, winning five times across the next two seasons – against team-mates of the calibre of Niki Lauda and Gilles Villeneuve. A barren year with Lotus in 1979 reaped little reward, before a call to join Williams came for 1980. He played second fiddle to team-mate Alan Jones and theirs was a feisty relationship thanks to each man’s perceived status within the burgeoning British team. He won only once – on the streets of Monaco – before adding career victory number 11 and 12 to his tally in 1981, his last full season in F1.
2 David Coulthard (13 wins)
The Scot found himself parachuted into Williams’ race team after the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994. Coulthard had been impressive in testing – in the days when test drivers racked up thousands of weekday miles in the pursuit of weekend glory for the race drivers – and was handed a golden ticket in exceptional and tragic circumstances. He scored points in two of his first three races and proved a strong team player and wingman to Damon Hill – the team’s new title hope.
His first – and what would be only – win for Williams came in Portugal in year two, but by then he was off to McLaren, where he would stay for nine seasons and amass 12 more victories. During that time, he played a subservient role to double World Champion team-mate Mika Hakkinen, yet occasionally pulled performances out of the bag that had the measure of both Hakkinen and McLaren’s period Ferrari nemesis, Michael Schumacher. Who can forget his gesturing at the German with his middle finger while passing him for the lead in the French GP in 2000? ‘DC’ enjoyed the twilight of his career with the new Red Bull team; indeed he was the first driver to score points for the squad when he finished fourth in Australia on the team’s debut in 2005. Plenty more points and two podiums, in Monaco 2006 and Canada ’08, followed, allowing Coulthard to go out in style.
1 Stirling Moss (16 wins)
If ever you needed a way to discredit the worth of the Drivers’ World title as a barometer of brilliance, reminding people that Britain’s greatest driver never won it would be a good way to start. Moss finished runner-up on four consecutive occasions between 1955 and ’58, three times to Juan Manuel Fangio (claiming to this day that he’s extremely comfortable with the statistic) and once to his fellow Brit and friend Mike Hawthorn. The 1958 title loss came after Moss defended his title rival over the threat of disqualification following a push start in Portugal. Having finished second to Moss, and been allowed to keep the points, Hawthorn became Britain’s first World Champion.
‘Mr Motor Racing’ won 16 times at the top level – for Mercedes, Maserati, Vanwall, Cooper and Lotus – between 1955 and ’61, yet that figure would surely have been greater had he not displayed so much loyalty to the small, British ‘garagiste’ teams. In fact, a deal to race a Rob Walker-run Ferrari was curtailed by Moss’s life-threatening and career-ending crash at Goodwood in April 1962. Race fans of the day were denied the mouth-watering prospect of Moss going up against Jim Clark in 1963 and beyond, meaning Stirling remains the greatest driver to never win the World Championship.
Lead photograph courtesy of LAT