Tuesday, 20 September 2011

So what constitutes a "Great"

(This piece was originally written for www.BadgerGP.com but I figured I may as well post it here too)

I'll admit I was intrigued by the Badgers' latest question: "Does Vettel already belong to the Greats of Formula One?"

When you're as pedantic as I am though, the first thing to do is to define what "Great" means. Is there, for example, generally at least one Great in action at any given time, or should they be ranked like eternal Olympians, and only three can ever count as being truly Great?

It's acknowledged that it's impossible to compare drivers from different eras on an objective basis. So here's my first pass of my own personal list of the best drivers from each of the seven F1 decades. There's no consistency as to whether a driver is listed in the decade they started or finished their career, but that's half the fun.

1950s Fangio, Moss
1960s Clark, Stewart
1970s Fittipaldi, Lauda
1980s Piquet, Prost Senna
1990s Schumacher
2000s Alonso
2010s Vettel

Note that the list doesn't include drivers that have one more than one title. Graham Hill, for example never dominated the championship, and while you could never say he was lucky, Jim Clark was clearly the man to beat in both the years when Mr Monaco (as Graham Hill was known; he is definitely a Monaco Great) won the championship.

Jack Brabham too, doesn't make the list, despite winning three championships. He simply spent too much time tinkering and building his cars and I can't imagine that Moss wouldn't have beaten him in similar equipment. H√§kkinen was perhaps the hardest to leave out, but somehow, I never felt he was "better" than Schumacher - fairer yes, but not better. Ascari? A double world champion and stood on the podium in over half of the races he started. But it was that strange Formula 2 era, and I simply can't rate him as highly as Fangio. 

So then, Sebastian? Where does he rank? For me he is the Jim Clark to Webber's Graham Hill. Somehow you know he is going to be just that bit quicker and make fewer mistakes. He's already definitely in the top ten – I could leave out Alonso and either Fittipaldi or Piquet. But he's not quite ready to break into my top three yet.

And who would my top three be? In alphabetical order: Clark, Fangio, Senna and Stewart. You're thinking that's four? That's because we not only have to define "Great", we also have to define "three"! For an explanation of "Option Base Zero" see http://vb.mvps.org/hardcore/html/optionbasezero-basedarrays.htm

So who's in your top "three"?

Photo Credit: As published on http://www.jsolana.com.mx/reportaje/lotus.html