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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Alain Prost only makes 5th in BBC top 20 drivers of all time

Can you understand the thinking?  A number of BBC F1 guys (no doubt of differing ages) sit down to write their "top 20 drivers ever" list and when they're collated we find Lewis Hamilton and No.15, just behind Mika Hakkinen in 14th and now Alain Prost is demoted to a lowly 5th on the list?

Who's ahead of him?  Schumacher and Senna obviously (given they don't appear on the list as of yet) as they  would both have to appear in anyone's top 5 but who else is there?

Ascari made No.11 but there's no Fangio so I'll assume that he'll be given one of the two remaining spots.

The trouble is that I can't really accurately rate either Ascari or Fangio so while, from an historical perspective, I appreciate their impact on the sport the actual footage isn't there for me to judge their relative skills inside the car.

Were Murray Walker to write his list he would be best placed to rank those guys alongside the current crop, but for me Prost, Senna, Mansell et al were my introduction to Formula 1: these were the guys that made me want to come back to watch every race of every season.  These were the guys who convinced me that Formula 1 was the greatest sport on earth.

So my list, even though I love reading about and watching footage of Gilles, Jim, James, Niki, etc, I can only really go on my own experience - of course now that I've put down the names I realise that the list compilers will have put Jim Clark in second place - and that experience is firmly rooted at the start of the 1990's.  My experience of the sport begins with Prost, Senna, Mansell, Piquet, Alesi, Berger, Warwick and, of course, Martin Donnelly.  Those are the drivers that evoke memories for me and, when coupled with the commentary of Murray and James Hunt on the BBC.

If you read the histories and the stats you can write any top 20 you care to, but the top 20 of the heart has to come from your own experience.  Clearing away the detritus of history and considering it as an experiential exercise my top 20 drivers must read as follows:

1.  Ayrton Senna (Sublime),
2.  Michael Schumacher (Dominant),
3.  Alain Prost (Brilliant),
4.  Fernando Alonso (strong and talented),
5.  Mika Hakkinen (Determined),
6.  Sebastian Vettel (Natural - but may need a dominant car [IMHO]),
7.  Nelson Piquet (only caught the end of his career),
8.  Nigel Mansell (never say die),
9.  Damon Hill (for 1994/1996 seasons but also for THAT Arrows drive and THAT Jordan Win)
10. Lewis Hamilton (Not fully formed), Jenson Button/Kimi Raikkonen (enthusiastic racers with huge ability),
13. David Coulthard/Mark Webber/Eddie Irvine (could have/Should have but were made lesser by their teams preferences),
16. Jean Alesi/Gerhard Berger/HHF (never got the right car at the right time),
18. JP Montoya (always exciting to watch and with talent in spades),
19. Robert Kubica (such a talent should be a lot higher but...Will we ever know? Could make a poor car look great),
20. Felipe Massa (should have in 2008, was Alonso's equal in 2009 until accident, will we ever see him re-emerge?)

Of course like all fans I have the guys that should be in the top 20 but couldn't get there on results and/or cars alone: guys like Thierry Boutsen - who had two promising seasons with wins and podiums at Williams before fading into the midfield pack, Jarno Trulli - the master of Qualifying, J.J. Lehto - never given a chance by Bennetton in 1995, Giancarlo Fisichella - only got the cars after his peak, Olivier Panis - for his filled-to-the-brim one-pitstop win in Monaco in a Ligier and his 1996/97 seasons up until he broke his legs in Canada, Rubens Barrichello - demoted himself to 2nd driver at Ferrari and never recovered,  and Riccardo Patrese - my opinion was coloured early by James Hunt's dislike and never recovered.

Having written this I now know where the Beeb are going with their list.  I expect it will be


But I have to say that, for me, Prost would make any top 3 for his Schumacher-like ability (or should that be Schumacher's Prost-like ability) to prepare himself, set up the car for each individual racetrack, and to create a winning strategy out on track by doing exactly what was required at exactly the right time.