From Teflonso to Britney: Top ten F1 driver nicknames

Top Tens

Britney, The Professor, Teflonso: What’s in a nickname?

Rather a lot, actually. F1 driver’s nicknames tend to tell us something about their skills, their physical appearance – or how often they get into trouble.

Here are ten memorable and revealing F1 driver nicknames.


Juan Manuel Fangio, 1955

The significant thing about this nickname for Juan Manuel Fangio is not just that it’s a mark of extremely high praise for the man who ruled F1 in the fifties.

This wasn’t just a term used by fans and pundits – this was how fellow drivers referred to their greatest rival. It shows the high regard the five-times champion was held in by his peers.

Can you imagine any of today’s drivers referring to the opposition in such terms?

The Professor

In an era of unpredictable fuel and tyre consumption, one man stood out as the best at playing the long game. Alain Prost was an expert at restraining the urge to drive at ten-tenths, preserving his car until the end of the race, and above all, making sure he did not run out of fuel.

This was easier said than done in the turbo era, when the maximum fuel limit was cut several times, forcing drivers to be ever more canny with their boost levels.

It made for a fascinating rivalry between himself and Ayrton Senna, master of the flying lap in qualifying.

Prost’s calculating style served him equally well outside of the cockpit. His astute political manoeuvrings landed him a seat in the best car in F1 in 1993 – with a veto preventing Senna joining him at the team.


Michael Schumacher, Benetton, 1994

Michael Schumacher, Benetton, 1994

Nicknames can be compliments or criticisms. This early appellation belonging to Michael Schumacher is clearly the latter.

But what’s particularly telling about the phrase is that it was applied by his own countrymen in his native tongue.

The word ‘schummel’ carries connotations of cheating and deviousness. It first appeared in German tabloid newspapers during the 1994 season, when Schumacher was repeatedly accused of bending or breaking the rules.

The charge sheet included the hidden ‘option 13′ menu on his Benetton, alleged to activate a banned launch control system; his disqualification at Silverstone and two-race ban; his team mate’s pit fire following the removal of a filter from Benetton’s refuelling rig; his disqualification at Spa on a technicality; and driving into Damon Hill to clinch the world championship at Adelaide.

It was with this cloud hanging over him that Schumacher eventually decided to leave Benetton and join Ferrari. But despite seven world championship titles and 91 wins, to some he is still Schummel-Schumi.


On similar lines to ‘Schummel-Schumi’, Fernando Alonso’s proximity to the two biggest F1 scandals of recent years has earned him the nickname ‘Teflonso’.

Polytetrafluoroethylene – better known as Teflon – is commonly used as a non-stick coating on kitchenware. It also has a rich tradition of being used to describe people tainted by allegations but never directly implicated in them.

One of its earliest uses was in reference to gangster John Gotti – the ‘Teflon Don’ – who escaped punishment in a series of trials in New York in the eighties.

In Alonso’s case it refers to his involvement in ‘Spygate’ in 2007, where emails revealed he discussed McLaren’s use of confidential Ferrari information, and ‘Crashgate’ in 2008, where his Renault team mate Nelson Piquet Jnr was ordered by his team to crash to help Alonso win.

It was after the latter that the name entered widespread use. BBC F1 commentator Martin Brundle used it during the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix after the real story behind the previous year’s race became public knowledge.

The charges may not have stuck, but the nickname has.

Il Leone

We’re back in the realm of more positive nicknames.

The quickest way for a new Ferrari driver to win over Italy’s passionate Tifosi is to win for them first time out.

That’s exactly what Nigel Mansell did for them against the odds at Brazil in 1989. In a year of McLaren domination, he added a second triumph at Hungary, racing through the field from 12th on the grid.

Though he only spent two years with the team his charging, battling style earned him the nickname ‘il leone’ – the lion.

Hunt the Shunt

Janes Hunt, McLaren, 1976

Janes Hunt, McLaren, 1976

Many are the drivers who’ve earned a nickname for their propensity for crashing.

The shunt-prone Andrea de Cesaris was dubbed, somewhat predictably, ‘de Crasheris’ for his efforts.

A young Jody Scheckter earned the more obscure nickname ‘Fletcher’ following a series of crashes.

This is one for more literate F1 fans – Fletcher is the name of a bird in the book Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, who persistently tries to fly before he’s ready and keeps crashing as a result.

But the best example of its type has to be the short-but-sweet Hunt the Shunt. Like Scheckter, James Hunt overcame his crashing ways to claim a championship win in the seventies.

The Pampas Bull

A sub-species of nicknames are those which are more like titles, or something you might imagine being used to describe a wrestler.

The stocky frame of Jose Froilan Gonzalez, the first driver to win an F1 race for Ferrari, earned him the name ‘The Pampas Bull’. This was at least more complimentary than the name those closest to him used – El Cabezon, ‘Fat Head’.

Other examples of this type include The Monza Gorilla (Vittorio Brambilla) and The Abruzzi Robber (Luigi Fagioli).

The Rat

Niki Lauda

Niki Lauda

Not the most flattering of nicknames, but Niki Lauda was dubbed The Rat more for his appearance than his personality.

This was less to do with the damage his horrific crash of 1976 did to his face than the profile of his head and bucked teeth.

As he amassed wins and championships, so the name became more adulatory, progressing to ‘Super Rat’ and ‘King Rat’ before he retired at the end of 1985 with three titles and 25 wins under his belt.

Black Jack

Jack Brabham had a reputation for his uncompromising driving on the track.

But the nickname ‘Black Jack’ owed more to his personality – he had a reputation for not being very forthcoming.

Like Lauda, his appearance was also part of it – Brabham’s dark hair matching his quiet personality.


Nico "Britney" Rosberg's passport

Nico "Britney" Rosberg's passport

And so it is today for Nico Rosberg.

His golden locks have led to him being dubbed ‘Britney’, in reference to Britney Spears, since his days as Mark Webber’s team mate at Williams.

Following last year’s season finale in Abu Dhabi Rosberg turned up at Dubai airport to discover someone had substituted the photograph in his passport for one of Britney Spears.

Who says modern F1 drivers don’t have a sense of humour?

Over to you

Which are your favourite F1 nicknames? What about the ones not in this list such as ‘Iceman’ Kimi R??ikk??nen and ‘Mike the Bike’ Hailwood?

Other names have been applied to more than one driver, like ‘The Flying Finn’ and ‘Rain-master’.

Which other drivers on the grid do you think deserve nicknames? Have your say in the comments.

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303 comments on From Teflonso to Britney: Top ten F1 driver nicknames

  1. Sam3110 said on 10th August 2011, 23:45

    Custard for Jerome D’Ambrosio

  2. Fat Keith said on 10th August 2011, 23:55

    Timo Glock, known as Tim O’Glock, when driving for Jordan.

    Robert Doornbos, Jordan, Minardi, Red Bull, known as Doorknob

  3. Daniel said on 11th August 2011, 0:20

    And another one, offensive, but used in informal taking by F1 Fans, not on TV

    “Ruinzinho Barrichello” instead of “Rubinho”

    “Ruim” means “Bad” and “ruinzinho” is its diminutive

  4. katederby said on 11th August 2011, 10:01

    Just read this idea; after 3 car flips, a Monaco pool flip and recently back-flips in a helicopter, Red Bull’s driver should be;
    Mark “Back-flip” Webber.

  5. in the seventies Jochen Mass used to be called Herman the German by his mechanics.

  6. Jody Scheckter bore the nickname Babybear, apparently for his resemblance to Hulme.
    Leadfoot was another nickname for JP Jarier.
    Also, we used to call Pier Luigi Martini The Moving Chicane but I’m not sure if it ever was a real nickname on him.

  7. F1Sidewinda (@f1sidewinda) said on 11th August 2011, 14:13

    The Rudderless Russian was an insta-classic to me!

  8. kowalsky said on 11th August 2011, 14:58

    carlos reuteman was nicknamed lole. Eventhough the young fans wouldn’t even have heard of him.

  9. Robbie said on 11th August 2011, 15:27

    So many posts that I thought I wouldn’t go thru them all but I just did a quick scan anyway and couldn’t see the one that had me practically rolling on the floor the first time I heard it…

    Ralf Schumacher = Half Schumacher

  10. roberto said on 11th August 2011, 16:02

    In Brazil:

    Rubens Barrichello = Rubinho Pé de Chinelo (Rubinho Flip-flop)
    and also Burrinho Rabichello ( Burrinho = Little donkey)

    Emerson Fittipaldi = Rato (Rat, like Niki Lauda)

    Schumacher = Dick Vigarista ( dastardly)

    Felipe Massa = Zacarias (brazilian comedian of the 80’s… search youtube for “zacarias trapalhoes”)

  11. kowalsky said on 11th August 2011, 20:27

    nelson piquet was called the indian. Can anyone tell me who was called the flying scot?

    • roberto said on 12th August 2011, 22:32

      i never heard about “Indian”. I think flying Scot was Jim Clark, then Stewart, also some people call Dario Franchitti too.

      Schumacher’s “rainmaster”, by the way, was originally applied to Rudolf Caracciola

  12. How about “Babyface” for Felipe Massa? Star Sports commentator Steve Slater used to mention “Jacques Attack” every time Villeneuve crashed into anyone!

  13. I remember Alain Prost say in an interview that the Japanese considered Senna more of a “Samurai” and Prost as a “computer.”

  14. Pink Peril said on 13th August 2011, 0:30

    I have never heard Brabham referred to as Black Jack, but I have heard Jacques Villeneuve referred to by that name. I always thought it was because he was a little dirty.

  15. Gavin said on 13th August 2011, 17:23

    or what about “Checo” for Sergio Perez? i always liked “DC” too

    didn’t Montoya have a nickname?

  16. ob1kenobi.23 (@ob1kenobi23) said on 13th August 2011, 22:11

    The original Flying Scotsman was Bob McIntyre, the first man to do the 100 mph lap on IOM TT circuit, though my father used to insist that Jimmy Guthrie had the title first.
    I’m not sure if it was Murray who made the famous quote, 1961 I think, “man for man & on his day there is not a being on the planet who can go round the Island quicker than Mac.
    I think it was when he very nearly did a 100 mph lap from a standing start on 250 cc Honda.

  17. ob1kenobi.23 (@ob1kenobi23) said on 13th August 2011, 23:24

    Sorry for posting one after the other, but I just remembered something we used to say back in 50s.
    There is only Juan Manuel Fangio.

  18. Solo (@solo) said on 15th August 2011, 15:35

    Anyone remembers the “look how bad you are” nickname for Luca Badoer?

  19. Vanessa from Queens said on 23rd August 2011, 9:45

    A personal favourite and a personal creation: Jerome d’Amslowsio.

    • Good one, Vanessa.

      How about No Rain Karting Man for Narain Karthikeyan?

      It doesn’t mean anything significant, but I made it with reference to the fact that Narain has no professional karting experience. He came straight to racing cars in 1992 when he joined the Elf-Winfield racing school in France.

  20. Johnny legg said on 30th August 2011, 13:57

    Bit late but how about:

    Murderface maldonado?

    Jeez that guys scary, wouldn’t want to meet him in a dark alley, or on the run down to Eau Rouge. Look out Lewis he’s behind you!

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