Formula 1 world champions are the best, but who’s best of the best?

ON 12 MAY, 1984, Mercedes-Benz held a special race in 190Es to which they invited all living F1 champions. Amazingly, most of them turned up and raced, not something you’d see today. Videos of the race which was won by then-rookie Ayrton Senna exist, but this is the longest and most detailed found to date. Does the fact Senna won make him the best driver? No, sorry Senna fans. Apparently he took it more seriously than most – at the time he had just started his F1 career, was 24 years old and hadn’t won an F1 race – and many of the other champions were well past their prime. Nevertheless, it’s an amazing race and Senna showcased his talent for all to see. Senna was actually a stand-in for F1 champ Emerson Fittipaldi who was unable to race, as was fellow champ Mario Andretti.
It is an amazing video to watch, not just because you are very unlikely to see so many F1 champions race each other in identical equipment. What’s also amazing, and educational, is the driving style. Modern racing cars are very stiffly sprung so you can’t really see the suspension working and the vehicle’s weight shifting from side to side, and F1 is so fast it’s hard to see the detail. But here, in much slower cars with softer suspension you can see when and how these experts are braking, how they’re setting up the car well before the corner, taking a smooth line, transferring weight from side to side, and using just enough slip to be fast but not so much speed scrubs off and they’re slow. You don’t get that sort of view any more when watching modern racing, more’s the pity.
Here’s the video. Enjoy!
Here’s a bit more about the race. In 1976 Niki Lauda crashed horribly at the Nurburgring, an event which features in the racing movie Rush that chronicles his battle with James Hunt for the F1 title in ’76. As a result, racing was banned at the ‘Ring and a new circuit was constructed. That circuit was opened in 1984, and to celebrate Mercedes held the 12-lap race. Prost took pole position, but had an altercation with Senna at the start – setting the scene for the next ten years or so! Niki Lauda missed qualifying so had to start at the back, but managed to make his way to second place by the end. Another interesting tidbit is that Alain Prost collected Ayrton Senna from the airport and drove him two hours to the circuit. This was the first time the two had met, and neither of them had won their four and three world titles at the time.
The vehicle used was the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 Cosworth, a tuned but production version of the W201 190 sedan, taking its name from the 2.3L 16-valve engine. Changes from normal 190s included a bodykit, quicker steering, limited-slip differential and sports-tuned suspension. The engine output was also increased to 138kW and 236Nm, giving a top speed of 230km/h and 0-100km/h in 7.8 seconds. Changes for the race itself were the usual safety features such a roll cage and race seat.
Here’s the results, with notes listing the driver’s achievements, some of which were after the race. There’s 20 world championships between the racers, with the last one won by Alain Prost in 1993, some 43 years after the first F1 race in 1950. F1 championships not won at the time are in italics – there are eight, four for Prost, three for Senna, one for Lauda.
PositionDriverF1 / race notes
Ayrton Senna
3 time F1 World Champion (1988, 1990, 1991)
2Niki Lauda
3 time F1 World Champion  (1975, 1977, 1984)
Carlos Reutemann
12 F1 wins, 2nd overall in 1981
4Keke Rosberg
1 time F1 World Champion (1982)
John Watson
5 F1 wins, 3rd overall in 1982
Denny Hulme
1 time F1 World Champion (1967)
7Jody Scheckter
1 time F1 World Champion (1979)
Jack Brabham
3 time F1 World Champion (1959, 1960, 1966)
9Klaus LudwigLe Mans 24 Hours winner (1979, 1984, 1985)
10James Hunt
1 time F1 World Champion (1976)
11John Surtees
3 time F1 World Champion (1964)
12Phil Hill
1 time F1 World Champion (1961)
13Manfred SchurtiNurburgring race winner
14Stirling Moss16-times F1 grands prix winner
Alain Prost
4 time F1 World Champion (1985, 1986, 1989, 1993)
Udo Schutz
German sports car champion (1966)
17Jacques Laffite
6-times F1 grands prix winner
18Hans Hermann7th place in 1954 F1 championship
19Elio de Angelis
2 F1 wins, 3rd overall in 1984
20Alan Jones
1 time F1 World Champion (1980)
The closest thing we have today to such an event is the Race of Champions, where F1 winners tend to do pretty well.

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