Drivers start-of-season photograph, Albert Park, Melbourne, 2016

When did F1 last have a grid this good?

Debates and PollsPosted on | Author Keith Collantine

The Formula One grid will line up at Spa-Francorchamps in two weeks’ time with a strengthened line-up of drivers.

Big things are expected from Esteban Ocon, who beat Max Verstappen to the European Formula Three championship two years ago and has replaced Rio Haryanto at Manor.

Ocon joins what was already a particularly strong F1 field, boasting five world champions and four other race winners. A raft of champions from junior categories fill the remaining spaces and even those who are known to bring budgets for their seats have won titles in significant junior series:

Driver Notable accomplishments
Lewis Hamilton Three-times world champion, 49 grand prix wins
Nico Rosberg 19 grand prix wins
Sebastian Vettel Four-times world champion, 42 grand prix wins
Kimi Raikkonen World champion, 20 grand prix wins
Felipe Massa 11 grand prix wins
Valtteri Bottas GP3 champion, nine F1 podiums
Daniel Ricciardo Three grand prix wins
Max Verstappen One grand prix win
Nico Hulkenberg Le Mans 24 Hours winner, GP2 champion
Sergio Perez Seven F1 podiums
Kevin Magnussen Formula Renault 3.5 champion, one F1 podium
Jolyon Palmer GP2 champion
Daniil Kvyat GP3 champion, two F1 podiums
Carlos Sainz Jnr Formula Renault 3.5 champion
Marcus Ericsson Japanese Formula Three champion
Felipe Nasr British Formula Three champion, European Formula BMW champion
Fernando Alonso Two-times world champion, 32 grand prix victories
Jenson Button World champion, 15 grand prix wins
Pascal Wehrlein DTM champion
Esteban Ocon GP3 champion, European Formula Three champion
Romain Grosjean GP2 champion, ten F1 podiums
Esteban Gutierrez GP3 champion

We often look back on past championships as being golden ages for driving talent. But is it time we acknowledged the current crop as being among the best we have seen?

I say

Start, Hungaroring, 2012
There were six champions on the grid in 2012
Only once in F1 history has there been more world champions on the grid. The 2012 season featured six of them: the current five plus Michael Schumacher in his final year of competition.

Schumacher of course ranks among the very greatest but his final years were not his best. And while the sharp end of the field in 2012 was every bit as good as today’s there were a few seat-fillers at the back of the 24-strong grid.

Since then financial pressures have sent two teams to the wall. However with the arrival of Haas bolstering the field this year, it’s clear that having more drivers in F1 needn’t mean sacrificing quality. And the fact there are racers of Stoffel Vandoorne’s class waiting for a full-time seat surely underlines that point.

But it’s often the case that the quality of a field only becomes apparent over time. With the benefit of hindsight the 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone deserves a mention as one of the strongest ever seen. Out of 24 starters more than half (13) were already race-winners at the time and seven more went on to win races, leaving just four who never won an F1 race during their careers.

Driver Race winner?
Alan Jones Race winner
Jean-Pierre Jabouille Race winner
Nelson Piquet Future race winner
Clay Regazzoni Race winner
Rene Arnoux Future race winner
Niki Lauda Race winner
John Watson Race winner
Carlos Reutemann Race winner
Mario Andretti Race winner
Jacques Laffite Race winner
Jody Scheckter Race winner
Elio de Angelis Future race winner
Gilles Villeneuve Race winner
Keke Rosberg Future race winner
Didier Pironi Future race winner
Jean-Pierre Jarier Never a race winner
Jacky Ickx Race winner
Patrick Tambay Future race winner
Riccardo Patrese Future race winner
Jochen Mass Race winner
Jan Lammers Never a race winner
Emerson Fittipaldi Race winner
Patrick Gaillard Never a race winner
Hector Rebaque Never a race winner

Hans-Joachim Stuck and Arturo Merzario failed to qualify, and neither ever won a grand prix. We don’t know how many drivers in today’s F1 field will go on to become race winners, so perhaps this is a question we will only be able to definitively answer in a decade or more.



You say

When do you think F1 last had a grid which is stronger than today’s? Which years or decades do you remember for having particularly good driver line-ups?

Have your say in the comments.

Debates and polls

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59 comments on “When did F1 last have a grid this good?”

  1. The grid is indeed very strong. The last time a grid was stronger than this, it had Senna, Prost, Mansell, Piquet Snr, Schumacher, Alesi, and Hakkinen. So I would say 1991.

    1. Yes I would agree with that but also add Berger to that list as well.

      1. Oh yeah, I forgot about him!

        1. You also had race winners such as Patrese, Alboreto and drivers who had podium finishes such as Johansson, Capelli, Brundle, De Cesaris, Herbert, Modena as well. Even with the low budget teams at the back and lower midfield some of the quality was still decent for its time ala Martini, Nakajima, Moreno, Blundell, Caffi, Gachot etc.

    2. What about the back of the field though? I think that’s the thing about 2016, that even the tailenders are pretty solid.

      1. I’ve been watching since the late 80’s and even though I find Senna-Prost-Mansell-Piquet somewhat better than what we have now at the front, the midfield and the backmarkers are full of great talent and potential. Most teams have at least one driver who is, in my opinion, race-winning material. If next year’s regulation changes mixes it up in a good way, we’re in for an amazing season.

    3. Martin Powell
      15th August 2016, 19:05

      Well in 1991 I think only Senna and Prost were champions just 2, today we have 5 WDC’s with 11 titles between them and in 2012 Schumi had 7 in the kitty, so in my opinion, we’ve never had it so good.

  2. Brilliant article this, and your choice is bang on. Never forget too that Jan Lammers completely missed his chance at being a proper F1 racer, he was fourth in a rubbish car in qualifying in one of his first races (Long Beach, 1978(?), ATS) and should have had a decent F1 career. What a field, wow.

  3. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
    14th August 2016, 14:09

    This year is a golden standard, but 2012 was a vintage year also, and we must remember the excellent drivers we have lost in the past four years. Up until what would ultimately be his final win at Silverstone, Webber was a force in the championship in 2012, Schumacher spent much of the European season showing up a teammate who has compared so admirably to Hamilton, and di Resta, Kobayashi and Kovalainen were all prone to episodic brilliance. I greatly lament not having the likes of di Resta and Kobayashi in F1, especially given they have been so fast in DTM and WEC respectively this year.

    I think the most significant disparity between this year’s grid and 2012 is the way we have exploited the exit of less capable, middling drivers, like Senna, Petrov, Glock and Vergne, and of the “old guard” in Webber and Schumacher, to promote young exciting talents like Verstappen, Sainz, Bottas and Ocon. All we need do now is swap Massa, Palmer, Ericsson, Nasr and Gutierrez for Vandoorne, Leclerc, Rowland, Gasly and Stroll and we would have the perfect grid!

    1. 2012 was an epic year. Funny how you can mention everyone but the title winner who got there hard-fought, and not the tripe of the last few years

      1. We all have our preferences and biases, but calling Hamilton ‘tripe’ is unnecessary, completely undeserved and really rather ugly. Maybe you should reflect on where that comes from.

    2. I think looking back 2010 and 2012 will go down as legendary years just like the early 90s. Schumi, Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Button, Raikkonen (not 2010 but ok)

      They went down to the wire and were amazing in their own ways. 2010 was a slow burn with the championship leader never winning the race and a youngster getting his maiden title. 2012 was straight up crazy in the first half and a great face-off between two multiple world champions in the end.

    3. Nasr was F-BMW and British F3 champ, beating his competition which included magnussen comfortably. In his 3 years in GP2 he was always a front runner despite never taking the championship. He was 5th in his F1 debut and in a wet hungarian qualifying this year put the worst car on the grid on pole momentarly, finishing 9th in Q1. Deserves to be in f1 as much as any other i think.

    4. “All we need do now is swap Massa, Palmer, Ericsson, Nasr and Gutierrez for Vandoorne, Leclerc, Rowland, Gasly and Stroll and we would have the perfect grid!”

      That’s the thing about ‘unproven’ drivers. You can assume they’re all going to be the new Alain Prost, but in reality at least 4 of them will turn out to be more like Jean-Marc Gounon.

  4. It’s particularly impressive that there’s 5 world champions on the grid when 2 of them make up 7 championships.

    1. What Seb and Lewis have achieved in the period they have been in the sport is quite remarkable considering the quality of drivers on the grid.
      But I am watching with keen interest the current crop of youngsters that are coming up. The likes of Carlos Sainz, Max V, Stoffel V, Ocon, Werhlein and Magnus all have shown qualities that make the future of F1 exciting for us fans. It has been a while since the sport experienced this quality of new entrants. Let us hope all of them get the equipment they rightfully need to wow.

  5. I’m going to say that we had the best grid sometime between 2013-2016.

  6. 2012, the world champions year. I like this grid, it’s respectable.

    1. 2010 was better.

      1. 2010 was certainly pushed as the ‘year of champions’ before it even started. Just look at the BBC build-up to Bahrain.

        Great stuff.

  7. The best driver line-ups were back in the days of the faster cars! Winning championships in a car that has at least half-a-second pace advantage over everyone else is not really winning is it? #:)

    1. So Schumacher can’t count 2002 and 2004, and Vettel can’t count 2013 and perhaps 2011 either, nor can Mansell count his only title, nor Senna or Prost count 1988 and 1989 and the list goes on for a while…

      1. Mmm, I get what you’re saying but D Dawg could repute that the wins in ’88 and ’89 were against the best adversary, in the same team.

  8. With all the respect to every single driver currently in F1, but I do think that there are at least 5 of them that does not really represent the highest quality, but the situation is still not too bad. I would like to mention the 2008 grid, which seemed to be very strong to me, even if the numbers (wins, titles) don’t really support my view, but it might not be only a coincidence that none of the drivers were elbowed out in the middle of the season (Super Aguri is a different case).

    1. Super Aguri….I never considered them as a team. Utterly useless drivers, cars from airport displays, YUJI IDE.

      2008 was talented. But I say that 2016 is the best.

      1. Ide was a joke, more or less Yamamoto, too, but Sato and Davidson were very solid drivers, which unfortunately they couldn’t really show with the 2008 spec car.

        1. Sato and Davidson were OK but all in all they were not in the right car. Had Super Aguri got a car which was capable of being in the middle we could have seen some great drives. But they took an already crap 2002 Arrows and made it worse.

      2. Are you seriously calling out Anthony Davidson as “useless”?? Think you need to look up his motorsport achievement’s. He is F1 World championship winning calibre.

    2. @andrewt 2008 always stood out for me as well. I don’t think there was a pay driver on the grid. After that the manufacturers started pulling out (not in itself a bad thing in my opinion) and the budgets started to return.

  9. Well like article suggests, Grid is stat wise strongest since 2012 when MSC was around.

    But if we judge drivers by “could win a race in competitive car” or “is a worldclass driver” We can easily argue all but 2 Sauber, 1 Haas and 1 Manor drivers are easily described as world class.

    So grid is as strong as that 1979 year one… All but 4 could win races given right equipment.

    But in most sports athletes are getting better and better and better. MSC is now well in the history as all time greatest, but meanwhile drivers have come along that are probably more proficient at driving a car fast. What we have today is the best Motorsport can currently produce, with a few exceptions naturally, seat fillers as always.

    And next year, when talent becomes even more important with cars being faster by design… We will see more amazing drivers come in.

    1. Which Manor driver above do you not rate as world class?

      1. I think he means Haryanto.

    2. I’d argue Gutierrez is better than Palmer. Gutierrez beat Palmer in their first GP2 season convincingly and in their second outscored him 176-60.

      1. @lolzerbob
        I also especially don’t agree with “.. but meanwhile drivers have come along that are probably more proficient at driving a car fast.” A 41-44 year old MSch could more than regularly beat a 24-27 year old Ros, for instance. And how would some 3s faster cars require more talent to drive PER DEFINITION. Ask
        Prost how no talent IN THE WORLD could drive a sluggish Ferrari truck.

  10. Neil (@neilosjames)
    14th August 2016, 15:51

    I think the current grid is comparable with, or better than, any I’ve seen since I started watching every single race (1996). Lots of established talent, some very exciting younger drivers, and even midfield teams have plenty of quality.

    I’d say there are only four drivers on the current grid who wouldn’t be there if all the seats were filled on talent alone: Palmer, Nasr, Ericsson and Gutierrez… and given a year or two, I think at least two of them could develop into being good enough (some drivers being slow-starters).

  11. But the cars suck and are not competitive. The drivers don’t matter, so what’s the point?

    1. WilliamB (@william-brierty)
      14th August 2016, 17:19

      @henslayer – It’s a team championship dear chap, and has been for the past sixty-six seasons. Doesn’t mean we can’t tell who the standout drivers are, does it? And rubbish cars? Lap records at Bahrain, Austria and Silverstone suggest otherwise…

      1. @william-brierty, strictly speaking, the teams championship only started in 1958 – however, I do agree that, for all the talk about the drivers, the strength of the team has always outweighed the importance of driver talent, and usually by a large margin too (one recent study suggested that, when you take a long term view of the competitiveness of the team and the driver, the team was around six times more important than the driver).

    2. Ron Mon, I gotta say that I think that the cars have been much worse in the past as far as performance and reliability are concerned, and the field of drivers is very strong (when was the last time you saw a driver fail to qualify?). What standards are you holding the current paddock up to? Or is it just the lack of decibels that you have a problem with? I think the cars are kind of ugly when compared to the sleek models of the late 1960’s, but then again, death is no longer an annual occurrence. The point is progress, don’t you think so?

  12. I remember a while ago when Webber made a bitter remark about the lack of depth in the grid and I stopped and considered how many drivers in the grid I considered superior to him and how strong the current grid actually is.

    We currently have probably five drivers who on a given day it’s up for debate as to who is the greatest on the current grid, 3 of whom easily deserve a place in the top 10 of all time list in my opinion. And I think anther couple in Grosjean and Sainz who we’ve perhaps just not had the chance to quite see in the right machinery to fully grasp their talent.

    That we can consider world champion drivers like Raikkonen and Button, and contenders like Massa fairly average speaks to the quality of the field. Those drivers are still frankly exceptional, but they’re racing on a grid with several legends.

    1. Bloody yes.

    2. @philipgb Webber his remarks were made in 2014 if I’m not mistaken, so he didn’t speak of Verstappen, Sainz, Wehrlein and Ocon, almost a fifth of the grid.

      Also it’s easy to always compare Webber to what Vettel achieved but Webber is still 34th on the winning list, ranking him at least above 40 other race winners, and countless other drivers who have never even seen the podium. Yes, he could’ve won more, yes he was outclassed by Vettel but that should only be a testimony to how good Vettel was. Yes, they had dominant cars in 2011 and 2013 but never that good they had guaranteed 1-2s, ironically it was in the other two years Webber won most.

      1. @xtwl

        Nope, Webber made those comments in 2015, towards the end of the season as well so we’d seen how good Verstappen was.

        http://www.skysports.com/f1/news/24183/9983766/mark-webber-says-some-drivers-on-2015-grid-not-good-enough-for-f1

        1. @philipgb Still, he was right about those last five drivers, so not Grosjean. Manor now has Wehrlein and Ocon which is a massive improvement. Lotus (Renault) has Palmer and Magnussen, which is also a massive improvement although Palmer still is a paydriver he did won the GP2 championship. With Haas however we did have to welcome GUT back.

          Lotus: Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado
          Manor: Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi
          Sauber: Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson

  13. Just Imagine what battles we would have throughout the field, if the drivers could fight without thinking about tires, fuel and being to close to the car in front(dirty air).

    1. Under current tire compound and fuel regulations I must add. Drivers have always had to take tire degradetation and fuel use into account.

  14. I think today’s drivers are prepared better than ever.

    We literally have the best field of all times to enjoy.

  15. 100% agree with Jureo’s above comment .

  16. I got hooked on F1 as a kid in 1979, a fine year for the sport, and 2012 has been as good as it gets since then in my opinion, but if these drivers whom we have now remain for next year, 2017 looks to be on course to be exceptional. (Of course, Vandoorne can come out to play in 2018!)

  17. I personally don’t see what’s so great about the current grid. Good or great in a feeder series means nothing. The majority of the drivers on today’s grid have accomplished next to nothing in F1. I also don’t think that today’s F1 allows a driver to truly showcase their talents so all in all I’m pretty unimpressed with the 2016 grid.

    1. Actually, a majority (64%) of the current drivers have been on the podium in F1, which is an amazing feat.

  18. I think it is difficult to compare different eras, whether its for this discussion or who is the best driver etc… However, when you consider the 70’s where there were genuinely talented drivers such as Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Emmerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Clay Regazzoni, Carlos Reutemann, Jody Scheckter, Ronnie Peterson, Chris Amon, Denny Hulme, Francois Cevert, Jacky Ickx, Mike Hailwood, Peter Revson and Niki Lauda. These are all well known, even to the newest f1 fans amongst us. So when you think of all these amazing names, and see the 1972 season where all these guys were apart of, then its hard to think that any year in the modern era could hold a candle it.

  19. While I can go along with the fact that the qualifications of the drivers on the grid are strong, all of them having some kind of Championship or another, to me that means little when the drivers are required to run delta laps all day and can barely race. People are excited that on some Saturdays some lap records have been broken, but on Sundays they are still off the mark due to being held back by an ultra-conserving format, the bulk of the passes from DRS. So…compare to past grids all you want, but no previous grids have had to ‘not race’ as much as the grids we have had in these recent years. Imho we have been having F1-lite.

    So here’s hoping that next year we will actually have cars that actually tax the drivers and give them a chance to show the separation of the men from the boys. F1 needs to be a much bigger leap for these young up and comers. And thank goodness it feels like F1 gets that with the changes to come.

  20. I’ve been watching since the late 1960’s, on television, and in person at many races, and I would say that these lists are useful, but not really that important. Formula 1 is an automobile racing series, not a driver series. It is true that over the years many drivers have risen above their cars, and done great things with them, but most haven’t, no matter how many other racing series races they won in the past. (Try making that list!)
    Most important, for the past 30 years, the cars have been large go-carts, that don’t break down, and they compete in many more, and shorter, races. How else could Michael, Lewis and Sebastien have scored so many wins? Are the statistics saying that they are the greatest drivers of all time because their cars didn’t break down and they raced in more races? It kills me that this is the attitude in every era in every sport. It’s always “my era” that had the best drivers!
    I suggest to those of you that started watching in 1996, that you go get a copy of the movie Grand Prix and compare what you see to the last 30 years! And I am not talking about bad accidents. It’s just a totally different competition since the go-cart era began!

  21. What a grid we have now. It’s got a lot of depth all the way through and a lot of really good drivers outside of F1 are knocking on the door as well. IndyCar has precisely the same problem this year, and it is no bad thing I feel.

    We have two of the most successful of all time in Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. We have three further World Champions all still capable of delivering on their day in Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Jenson Button.

    Then we have Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. All three are proven race winners who could deliver a title if things fall into place. Ricciardo and Verstappen still can develop too. We also have Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean and Carlos Sainz who deserve much better machinery. All capable of winning races. Felipe Massa is the one driver in the midfield who arguably is past it, but he still keeps Valtteri Bottas honest.

    But the main thing about this grid is the potential stars as well: Daniil Kvyat has shown flashes of brilliance in F1, Kevin Magnussen is getting a deserved second shot at F1 and has delivered in a poor Renault, Jolyon Palmer also deserves a shot at F1 having won the GP2 championship. Manor has a great and tasty line-up now in two Mercedes youngsters, and Ocon is a driver I really rate highly. The only drivers who seem uninspiring are the two Sauber drivers and Esteban Gutierrez, and the latter hasn’t driven too badly this year.

    Sure, I feel that some of the older drivers should make way for younger talent, the likes of Vandoorne, Stroll, Leclerc, Norris, Gasly, Sirotkin and probably Giovinazzi all look incredibly impressive, but we should appreciate the class amongst the grid we have now.

    However saying that, I still feel that 2012 had a better grid. And the main reason for that was Michael Schumacher, regardless of his form.

  22. yeah, the grid looks good without Rio there…. lol

  23. Lewisham Milton
    21st August 2016, 21:40

    Esteban O’Con’s gonna be the best Irish driver since Nick O’Rosberg.

  24. Strongest since 1991 as suggested by many. Shame the regs and Merc’s advantage conspire to rob us of the very essence of motorsport, namely wheel-to-wheel racing.

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