Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Niki Lauda are among those who left permanent impressions in the minds of Formula 1 lovers.
And so will some from the current crop, including reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Among all forms of motorsport, F1 has particularly been intense and the glamour and financial elements have made it all the more exciting.
DH lists some of the most successful drivers in F1 history:
Michael Schumacher (seven-time champion):
Though he is the most successful driver in F1 history, there has been a lot of debate if he is the best. He lost some admirers when he deliberately rammed Williams Team’s Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve in the European Grand Prix in Spain in 1997. Villeneuve won the championship in ’97.
The German’s first race was the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix and the last was the 2012 Brazilian GP.
His first world title came with the Benetton team in ’94 and he retained the title in ’95.
Having joined Ferrari in ’96, it was an uphill battle for him and the team to gain success with Williams and McLaren being very strong. Ferrari had last won the drivers’ title through South African Jody Scheckter in ’79. Schumacher, with the brilliance of team principal Jean Todt and designer Ross Brawn, made it four championships in a row from 2000.
Schumacher quit racing for Ferrari at the end of ’06, but remained as an adviser for the next two seasons.
He was back racing for the Mercedes factory team (2010-12) but did not taste much success.
He holds the record for most drivers’ titles, most GP wins (91), most fastest laps (77) and most races won in a season (13).
At the end of 2013, he sustained a head injury while skiing in the French Alps. His current condition remains a mystery.
Juan Manuel Fangio (five-time champion):
Fangio was one of the prominent drivers in the early days of F1 that included world champions Alberto Ascari (Italy), Mike Hawthorn (Britain) and Jack Brabham (Australia).
The Argentine’s first race was the ’50 British Grand Prix and last was the ’58 French GP.
Fangio’s first drivers’ title was in ’51 with Alfa Romeo. He clinched two titles with Maserati and Mercedes in ’54 and ’55. The last two were with Ferrari and Maserati in ’56 and ’57.
Lewis Hamilton (five-time champion):
The Briton’s first race was the ’07 Australian GP. He has entered the 2019 season as the defending champion.
Hamilton is seen as one of the best drivers of the current generation and also by some as the one of the best ever in the sport.
Hamilton joined McLaren in ’07 and in ’08, he became the youngest world champion with the British team. The remaining years with McLaren were not very productive and he joined Mercedes in ’13.
In ’14, Mercedes and Hamilton were able to halt the winning run of German Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing). He clinched titles in ’14, ’15, ’17 and ’18. But his days with team-mate German Nico Rosberg were far from harmonious. Rosberg retired after winning the ’16 world championship.
Alain Prost (four-time champion):
The Frenchman’s first race was the ’80 Argentine GP and final one was the ’93 Australian GP.
He is seen as one of the greatest drivers ever.
Prost started with McLaren in ’80 but raced for just one season before driving for Renault from ’81 to ’83. He returned to McLaren in ’84 and continued to race till ’89. His first world title was in ’85 and he followed it up with a second in ’86. He won a third title with McLaren in ’89. He raced for Ferrari in ’90 and ’91 and took a break in ’92. However, his return to racing in ’93 and with Williams yielded another world title.
He had a fierce rivalry with the late Ayrton Senna and at a lesser level with Brazilian Nelson Piquet and Briton Nigel Mansell.
Prost and Senna had bitter rivalry even as teammates in McLaren and this included several clashes while racing.
Though their competition was cut-throat, Prost had famously said that “a part of him had died also” after the Brazilian’s death in ’94.
Senna too spoke highly of Prost when the latter retired after the ’93 season.
Sebastian Vettel (four-time champion):
The German first raced in the 2007 United States GP and is still active and racing with Ferrari.
After the end of Schumacher’s reign as world champion from 2000-04 with Red Bull Racing, Vettel’s string of four championship wins from ’10 to ’13 was another clear indicator that he was something special. He was in Schumacher’s shadow in the beginning and was known by the German media as ‘baby Schumi’ but the four world titles changed that perception.
Vettel was with BMW Sauber for 2006 and ’07. He joined Toro Rosso mid season in ’07 and raced with them in ’08 as well.
He then moved to Red Bull in ’09 and raced till ’14.
Ayrton Senna (three-time champion):
When this legendary Brazilian driver died following a crash in the ’94 San Marino GP, the world had lost someone special.
Known to be reckless and pushing the limits at times, he was extremely charismatic and caught the attention of the general public and media wherever he went. There is or has perhaps not been any other driver in F1 history that could match his personality.
Senna’s first race was the ’84 Brazilian GP and the last was when he passed away in ’94.
His career started with Toleman in ’84 before he spent three years with Lotus. From ’88-93, he was with McLaren and won world titles in ’88, ’90 and ’91. He was with Williams at the time of his death.
He is remembered for amazing qualifying speeds and excellent driving in wet weather.
He has 41 wins, 80 podium spots and 65 pole positions to his name.
Other drivers who have clinched three world titles are Brabham, Jackie Stewart (Britain), Niki Lauda (Austria) and Nelson Piquet (Brazil).