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Are the F1 drivers today at a higher level than in Senna/ Prost era?
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Darren Heath
Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Aug 2012   |  8:56 am GMT  |  360 comments

In response to the debate we’ve been having this week about the “pagelle” or marks out of ten for drivers so far this season, one of our regular readers, Martin Leaver, has put forward an interesting position.

He argues that with the cars so close together on performance in modern F1 and fine details of tyre use sufficient to take the edge off a performance, the drivers are actually more highly skilled than in the golden age of drivers in the late 1908s and early 1990s – the Senna/Prost/Mansell/Piquet era.

Martin writes: ” Personally, I think the standard is higher now than in Piquet-Prost-Senna-Mansell era. As the cars are much closer in performance and passing is more difficult I believe the standards are greater. While Sennas’qualifying record is impressive compared to drivers since, the outcome was much less important. The refueling era and the high reliability gave an era where the drivers had to be at maximum concetration for the entire race, rather than conserving resources. The current cars have too much grip relative to their power, but the error rate is much reduced from Senna’s time. I remember working out that Senna had significant off-track moment/spin, car contact or crash in more than a quarter of his races.

“Based on that, you wouldn’t be surprised to read that I rate Alonso ahead of Senna. I think the current level of the sport has pushed the current drivers to be the best we’ve ever seen – they need to be more skilled. I believe the guys at the top now would have coped with the power:grip of the 1980s turbos and pretty much everything else is at a greater level except the gear changing.”

What do you think? Leave your comments in the section below?

Meanwhile the leading German motorsport title Auto Motor und Sport has issued its ratings today and below a table of how it sees the performance of the drivers. It should be stated that this is not a one off exercise, but the average of each driver’s score from the F1 races so far.

Compare it to the JA on F1 ratings and the Gazzetta dello Sport ratings

Not surprisingly Michael Schumacher comes out a little better than in other ratings, as does Sebastian Vettel. Interestingly they place Pastor Maldonado close to the bottom of the pile.

Fernando Alonso: 9.09
Sebastian Vettel: 7.64
Lewis Hamilton: 7.55
Kimi Räikkönen: 7.27
Mark Webber: 7.00
Michael Schumacher: 6.73
Nico Hülkenberg: 6.73
Sergio Perez: 6.64
Nico Rosberg: 6.27
Paul di Resta: 6.09
Kamui Kobayashi: 5.91
Jenson Button: 5.73
Romain Grosjean: 5.64
Heikki Kovalainen: 5.55
Vitaly Petrov: 5.27
Daniel Ricciardo: 5.18
Felipe Massa: 5.18
Bruno Senna: 5.18
Timo Glock: 5.00
Pedro de la Rosa: 5.00
Jean-Eric Vergne: 4.91
Charles Pic: 4.55
Pastor Maldonado: 4.45
Narain Karthikeyan: 3.00

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360 Comments
  1. Glennb says:

    Look how low Webber is compared to Kimi. 2 wins and a few 4ths doesn’t seem to rate as highly as Kimi’s no wins and a few runner-up results does it.
    I’ll need to think a bit more before responding to Martins comments. Interesting thoughts though Martin.

    1. Kay says:

      +1

      One question for everyone though.

      If Alonso died today, would he immediately be rated as the same as Senna?

      Not taking anything away from him, but I really can’t help but think Senna’s death attributed a great deal to him being the best than everybody else regardless of the time they raced in or the equipment they had to deal/race with.

      1. mayhemfunkster says:

        That is a very unfashionable point of view, and in my extimation, not far from the truth.

        His unfortunate, and very public, demise added to the mystique surrounding him and it’s fair to say that the media pushed it too as it helped sales.

        I find the best way to judge Ayrton in a balanced manner (including appreciating his undisputed genius in qually) is to watch the end of season reviews – which are of the time and usually balanced.

      2. Steve Panter says:

        I agree with Kay.
        There’s no doubting Senna’s formidable skill and driving talent but I also think his untimely death was a major event to the “Legend” status he now has…
        I think if Schumacher had died in his hay-day he too would be seen as a Legend but there is no-one driving right now who would receive this accolade if the worse was to happen.

      3. Geee says:

        Have you never heard of the term ‘a living legend’?!

        That’s a seriously bold comment to make about the most successful driver in F1… Michael Schumacher not an F1 Legend, hmm…

      4. DMyers says:

        I don’t know if I agree with your conclusion, particularly since you don’t qualify your assertion.

      5. Kay says:

        Re Geee and DMyers, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Steve’s views. If you ask me, I wouldn’t say MSC is anywhere close to Alonso. MSC had quite a few questionable ‘black spots’ over his C.V., not to mention it’s well known that MSC’s performance had a majority down to having exclusive tyres (and yer you can watch Gary Anderson’s interviews about that), which gave him a huge advantage over everybody else.

        Alonso? What has he got? None other than a crappy car which he gotta drive his nuts off to the point of scraping the ground to make the car cross the line with enough points to stay ahead of everyone else!! Something which resembles what Ayrton did in Donington some early 90s. If anyone’s a living legend I’d say it’s Alonso, not MSC.

      6. Elie says:

        Steve and Kay-I strongly disagree !
        Firstly Senna was much quicker than everyone in qualifying and that included his own team mates in the same equipment.(this is coming from a Senna fan). I dont think his prestige would change even if he were alive today.Or Fernando was not !!. (Thats just silly thinking)/ Fernando is quick over a race distance as most but he does not have the courage and outright speed over a single lap (Fernando has even said that himself)

        As for Schumacher_ I [mod] him (dirty driving)-But he is a Seven time world champion and despite the advantages he enjoyed at Ferrari he had the fastest reflexes and driving instincts even in his early jordan days where everyone spun & crashed he regathered and continued. Anyone could see he was -Exceptional,(incl James Allen can tell you no one can run qualifying pace over a race distance as he did with his fitness !!) Fernando does NOT have that – he is a Brilliant Driver and may even win another few titles but he is not as gifted as Senna, Prost or Schumacher – Fernando has worked hard to get everything right, team, engineers, car. But he was beaten by Hamilton at Mclaren and I think he could still be beaten by a few other drivers in the same equipment.(def NOT Felipe lol)

      7. Nick says:

        @Elie

        “…he does not have the courage and outright speed over a single lap…”

        If you think pace over a single lap means ANYTHING in F1 then I guess you are probably a Hamilton fanboy.

        Honestly, when are people going to drop the obsession with single lap pace? It’s completely irrelevant! If a GP was 2-3 laps, then I would understand, but it’s not. It’s 65 laps+.

        It’s like saying that a marathon runner is the best because he’s the quickest over 100m! It’s just stupid!

        P.s. I am NOT a Alonso fan – AT ALL!

      8. Elie says:

        Meant to say Prost fan . Btw Nick it’s not lick Senna was not ballistic over a race either ! Lol. The great driver are quick at both.

      9. timothy clarke says:

        hey this is why we have heaven! if you’re good you get to go up there and see Fangio racing with Senna and Roland and Jocheim and Gilles. they’re all driving 12-cyliner Allards!! yay. and tickets are 6 bucks!

      10. Kay says:

        I like this reply of yours, Tim =)
        Actually I was thinking along the lines of: ah maybe only God knows and can compare them.

        And God bless them. Hope they are enjoying races up there ;)

      11. Sebee says:

        Which religion do I have to join to see these magical races at these ticket prices? I want to sign up and line up early so I don’t end up far down the line with General Admission tickets only left by the time I reach the gates.

      12. Glennb says:

        Senna was fast (in anything), no argument, but he wasn’t the most sporting of drivers I have ever seen. Alonso, on the other hand is fast and sporting like. I doubt too many in the current F1 field ‘fear’ Alonso. Schumi goes into the same pile as Senna for me. His results speak for themselves but at what cost? For any driver to purposely put another competitor out of a race is unthinkable. This is how those two legends went about winning a WDC. Bravo….
        I dont buy into that gear stick argument either. You race in what they give you at the time. Get used to it or get out. Simple. Any driver on the current grid would be on the pace in those old manual shift, 10000HP cars that Senna, Mansell etc drove in no time. Similarly, the old guys would be on the pace smartly in todays cars.
        The two guys I would put head to head are Alonso & Lauda. For the mandatory Brit I would throw in Sir Jackie in a heartbeat.
        Just my opinion.

      13. Israel Rios says:

        Yeah, Alonso was very sporting with Lewis at Mclaren, in Germany 2010 too, in Singapore 2008, I’m sure a could find more…

      14. Chris says:

        You’re forgetting Alonso’s very sporting ‘Let’s ignore yellow flags and safety car and rush back to the pits to gain extra time’ stunt back in Brazil 2003.

        If there had been marshals on the track then we’d possibly had a fatality. Automatically excludes him from the greats in my book.

      15. Peter says:

        so Chris
        Are you excluding the following from the greats also
        Senna – crashing into Prost to put him out of the race
        Schumacher – parking at Monaco to stop Alonso from getting pole position
        etc etc

        how many greats do you have on your list after you remove the competitive spirit ?????

      16. Nenad says:

        @Peter

        Did you know that Senna did it just to get even with Prost. Prost did it before because he knew he was slower. When it came around, it was just making a statement, and it wasn’t that dangerous. Senna was one of the most respected drivers among his colleagues for both his skills and his personality, including Prost.

        Also, it is important to say that Senna was a legend even before he passed away tragically.

        As for today’s F1 drivers, only 3 have convinced me that they would be right up there, no matter the season you throw them into.

      17. Tom says:

        In reply to Kay regarding Alonso if he died. when someone dies,their status increases and so does that persons products,so yes if Alonso died then his status would be catapulted. Take Roland Ratzenberger for instance,had he not died at Imola,would we remember him as well as we do now? Probably not,so Senna’s death played a part in him becoming the greatest of all time. However if he was still around,he might have become the greatest anyway but we will never know

    2. IP says:

      It’s an interesting point you make Kay but I don’t know what the real answer is. All I can say is that I started watching F1 in 85 and I was and am still a Prost fan before I am a Senna fan.

      I tend to agree that Senna was robbed in Japan 89 by the stewards, but Prost was entitled to close the door. I also think slamming into prost the next year at the first turn was proof positive of senna’s bad sportsmanship and win at all cost attitude. Something that a may or may not have influenced young drivers e.g. schumacher, at the time.

      In the end though, his pure ability to extract a quali lap, jumping in a car after practise that suddenly had 400+bhp more and super sticky tyres that gave huge amounts of extra grip was something to behold.

      Having said that though, look at alonso and his abilities and his performances in poor cars going all the way back to his minardi and he would have to rank right up there.

      In the end though, can anyone ever really surpass gentlemen Jim Clark and JYS?

      1. LexN says:

        Re. the gentlemen bit, please realize that its very easy to be a gentleman when you are the favoured driver in a team like Clark@Lotus or Stewart@Tyrrell. Wonder how nice they would have been if they had hungry team mates who weren’t shackled by team orders or #2 status and they were only judged on their last race as most modern drivers are? Personally, I think you’d have seen some nasty traits pop up. F1 drivers are basically selfish (or self-serving?) and the best of them are so to a greater degree. They have to be.

      2. sCarLatti says:

        if I may say so, ‘gentleman’ is a crucial term in the context of F1 history and there is a huge divide seperating those who are from the others. It’s kinda difficult to understand if you don’t subscribe to that sort of outlook on life.
        It’s got nothing to do with how hungry your team mate is … Jim Clark would be one regardless, Schumacher not. They exist even today: I’m certain Button and Raikkonen especially epitomise that kind of personality. They dislike falsifying anything and feel that there is usually no need to do so.
        Vettel: to a sightly less emphatic degree…. the others seem further still.
        You are free to disagree of course.

      3. Elie says:

        Scarlatti -I agree in all walks of life there is always room for the gentleman approach- no matter how tough or intensive the pressure is. F1 is no different and in terms of honesty I think Raikkonen is the perfect eg he’s not afraid to say he messed up – I’m not sure about Button or anyone else really. From what I hear Gilles was a man of great integrity also. Despite never being a WDC he is mentioned in the upper echelons of F1 with great respect for his Racing and personal integrity. On the flip side you have Schumacher a 7 time champ that people still question his (& Ferraris) titles despite their undoubted abilities. If you don’t doubt your ability why would you care if someone was pushing you along ? – A great driver would want that- that’s why I see the last Greats as Senna & Prost they raised the bar against each other !

      4. sCarLatti says:

        Elie, you put it so much better than I did.

      5. Dennis says:

        With respect to Senna , Alain Prost held most of the records and why people under sell this great drivers performances against Senna at the time. I do not know !! It must be remembered that Prost should have won at least one more world championship too. Because at one stage for one or maybe two seasons . The winner of the championship came from the driver who finished FIRST the most number of times in a season.. Well that was ridiculous !!!. The Professor Prost through shear consistancy and reliability had the highest aggregate of points for the season .Yet was relegated to second behind Senna in the championship because Senna won more races. This puts a different slant on things now does’nt it !!! Furthermore Prost was deliberately taken off the track by Senna in Japan which ultimately cost Prost the opportunity of winning another championship also. Yes Senna was flamboyant , aggressive and terrific in wet conditions. However under close analysis Prost was the better driver . He won 10 more races one more championship and should have one at least 1 more as explained above . “How would Prost & Senna cope today ….very very easy. Technology has allowed cars to be handled a lot simpler . The downforces now in modern cars allows them to remain more adherent to track surfaces.. Dont get carried away with Vettel , Alonzo and the like . Yes they are terrific drivers in their own right However some people forget the past or are not aware of specifics in history. They only dwell on what is fresh in their memories. Prost & Senna today I believe would still dominate F1 they were both the complete package in all respects.

  2. Pasq says:

    Interesting article, im a huge ayrton senna fan, but I believe too that Alonso is stronger that him on a Sunday, in qualifying trim no one comes close to senna, and it is a shame his record of 65 poles was beaten. Prost has often said that senna wasnt that strong in races, he often seemed vulnerable in races, maybe because he put he outqualified his car. But going back to the eras there were more mistakes back in the 80s purely because the cars were harder to drive, more power, the effects of turbo boost and lag whilst controlling harder steerring with manual shift! The cars were also much more fragile and need to be nursed throughout the race even on warm up lap!! The last few years have proved that the cars are easier to drive when19 year olds can come in and do a good job and we have produced the last 3 youngest champions. I don’t believe in any way that a 23 year old can be the best at thier trade and beat everyone in their field, it’s mostly down to circumstances (good cars). The cars can be pushed at the limit for the whole race and that is fantastic, but if a car is better that the other then it is easier to stay out front and not be pressured into a mistake like many years ago(missed gears).
    Spain 2012 is a perfect example of this, Maldonado staying in front of a driven Alonso on his home turf didn’t stack up to me, for me F1 lost credibility that day and we have to be mindful this does not happen more frequently!

    1. Guillermo says:

      People are WAY too harsh on Maldonado. If being a GP2 champion doesn’t make you “qualified” to win an F1 race, then what does?

      1. Wayne says:

        It’s his attitude, it’s a disgrace, and in my opinion he has deliberately driven into other drivers or attempted to. Certainly in the case of Hamilton at Spa. Some new drivers believe that if they forge a reputation as someone who is risky to overtake they will not get overtaken as often and it provides them with an edge. Hamilton definitely did this but then he has more talent that Maldonaldo to fall back on when all the other drivers got wise.

        As for the article, interesting to see that the German version of this table is nowhere near as impartial as the Italian version (which surprised me). Both Vettel and Schumi are a position too high in my opinion. I always had to laugh when I read pundits’ assertions about what a charming, polite and well-rounded guy Vettel was. Easy to be all sunshine and roses when your car is untouchable isn’t it? Then there is this year where he has come across as just as much of a spoilt brat as some of the other top drivers when things do not go their way – Don’t get me wrong, his attitude is not worse than Alonso and Hamilton’s can be at times, but he is certainly no better either. It’s also pretty essential to compete at an elite level in my opinion.

        Today’s drivers vs. yesteryears? Now that drivers have to trundle round at 70% capacity for fear of the tissue paper tyres exploding under them, perhaps ‘classic’ drivers would have more practice and therefore be stronger in all out raw speed but they did not have to conserve rubber to the same extent as the current Pirelli era). They may also be stronger in wheel-to-wheel dicing and race craft as well now that drivers are required to submit their intent to overtake on triplicate forms three weeks in advance and then only overtake under choreographed, clearly delineated circumstances.

        I’m not sure today’s drivers are more skilled or more intelligent, it’s just a different core skillet and a different sort of intelligence – ‘classic’ drivers were probably more vocational and today’s drivers may be a little bit more academic in their approach.

        What were the stewards like back in the day, I can’t recall enough to generalise? Were they always as wildly inconsistent to the point of being laughable?

      2. Guillermo says:

        I agree that Maldonado has displayed completely unacceptable behaviour in an F1 car and in my opinion, should’ve got a ban after his stunt at Monaco.

        However, some people have suggested that Maldonado is not “worthy” of his win in Spain and it is a sign that winning has now become too easy. I think that’s wrong. He beat Alonso fair and square – without any dodgy tactics – and drove a faultless race. Throw the book at him for his antics, but don’t question his pedigree.

      3. Rishi says:

        The vocation/academic distinction is a really good one actually. Drivers may no longer be required to do manual gearshifts, the cars may be more stable etc. But they must have a greater understanding of how the cars work to help arrive at an optimum set-up and also how to process the information coming their way during the race (e.g. pit strategy, adjusting car variables using their steering wheel buttons, all while lapping a car and trying to maintain lap time etc.).

        DRS+tyres+KERS is a good example of how difficult it is compare across eras. The act of overtaking has changed so much in two years, let alone twenty-two! For example nowadays it is usually deemed acceptable (the Schumacher-Barrichello example at Hungary in 2010 is the only exception that springs to mind) for one car to veer across the track while defending position, even sometimes when the other is alongside. But when Senna first did it to Prost at the 1988 Portuguese GP, it was pretty much unheard of and people watching held their breath nervously.

        I’m not sure but I think back in the day the fact that stewards had less access to video footage meant they were more tempted to let things lie. But Senna’s disqualification at the 1989 Japanese GP is a good example of almost-laughable inconsistency when they did intervene, so it looks like it certainly could descend into a bit of a mess!

      4. Mitchel says:

        +1

        Eight years was a long time for Williams to wait too, I’m sure they wouldn’t trade conisistancy for that race win!

      5. Ino says:

        I am pretty sure they would.

    2. Paul Kirk says:

      Well said, Pasq, I can’t agree more!
      PK.

    3. Wayne says:

      ” The cars can be pushed at the limit for the whole race and that is fantastic”,

      sadly this is no longer true, the tyres will not allow any driver pushing the car even close to the limit for the whole of the race.

      1. Pasq says:

        Great point, which I know of, but I was thinking more in the terms the car being more vulnerable mechanically and electronically in the 80s, now they seem bullet proof just like most road cars of today!
        Diigital has finally overcome analogue!
        How many race wins have Prost, senna, and mansell lost whilst leading? Too many, compared to today, saying that vettel has lost quite a few over past 3 years but he has had the quickest car since 2009.

    4. LexN says:

      Re. Senna’s qualifying, Renault said at the time that Senna put too much emphasis on qualifying and thus hobbled himself for the race. They were unable to halt that however because he did score so many poles and p.r. attention.

      As for F1 being easier today because there are so many young champions, that is due to the younger drivers being awarded a superlicence and sponsored rides.

      In the past, drivers only started true monoposto feeder categories at age 17 or 18 (driving license) and then did at least 2 years of F3 followed by another 2 years of F2 before getting into F1 if they were lucky. And that would often be a backmarker team. Ideally, they would then score points in their first year, a podium in their second and a win in their third, after which promotion to a top team beckoned…Obviously, there were exceptions and drivers could luck into a fast car and short-circuit the normal promotion procedure but not that many drivers did so…

  3. Adelaide says:

    I disagree. I think those cars back in the day were more difficult to drive.

    Just look at the famous Senna at Monaco onboard shot. The handling & gip, compared to the power those machines had, is too different to the stuff we have today.

    Saying that – the cream rises to the top – I think Alonso, Hamilton, Vettel (and Kubica) would still be a factor if they competed with legends of the 80s/90s. They are legends of the now…

    PS James a typo? “…late 1908s and early 1990s…” XD

    1. William Wilgus says:

      I strongly agree. Today’s F-1 cars are technological wonders that allow drivers to ‘program’ the performance of the car to match conditions. Once that’s done, the driver only has to steer, work the throttle and transmission, and adjust the ‘performance’ as conditions change. To be fair to today’s drivers, though, it needs mentioning that today’s cars can’t be ‘man-handled’ like those of yesterday could. That’s too bad.

      1. Kay says:

        but then today’s cars require drivers to multi-task more than back in those days.

        Today’s steering wheels has more buttons that your PlayStation controller! :D

      2. William Wilgus says:

        Well, yes and no. One of the more important tasks for a driver to accomplish during GP practice sessions is to learn the circuit and the settings to be used around it to the degree that changing them becomes ‘second nature’ and requires little or no conscious thought. That’s also the hardest thing a driver has to become accustomed to when moving up to a modern F-1 car.

      3. Elie says:

        Good Analogy Kay. But it was not play for Senna, & Prost and co.With 1200hp , no grip, or aero stability. You only had to watch the wheel work in the Dry Let Alone the Wet to appreciate the skill and concentration these guys had. Just have a look at some on boards and you would appreciate the..bravery..thats the word we need here !. Dont forget no one gave a rats about safety and the cars were like card board ! Im not saying todays car arent hard BUT just compare I’ve been watching closely for 30 years and its definitely Tougher-then you watch Senna onboard at Monaco with one hand setting fastest laps and you GO OMG are you f%^& kidding ! the guys insane

      4. Smellyden says:

        To be fair it did take Maldonado a few tries to be GP2 champion!

    2. Becken says:

      Just look at that link to see your words translated in a video.

      That’s tells how Vettel and Senna coped with a damage gear box in different F1 eras:

      http://www.viddler.com/v/4ba7f7d6

      1. Adelaide says:

        I remember a video of Hamilton driving Senna’s McLaren – if I remember correctly, he talked about the amount of work Senna had to put into steering the car. The shaking…it was wry physical! If you look at the driver’s hands on a on-board video today…it a completely calm and precise movement.

        Still saying (writing!) that – today it’s in finesse. If an OK F1 driver can do it – well, you have to dig dipper, push yourself harder, in order to stand out. Like James wrote in earlier posts: it kinda evens out.

      2. hero_was_senna says:

        Just one thing, Vettel couldn’t use his 2nd gear to the maximum. His engineer told him to not use full torque. Even in the later laps, his car was fast enough to compete on lap times with Webber’s healthy car.
        This is, of course, assuming that RBR hadn’t fabricated a reason to let Mark win…

        Senna was stuck in 6th gear for the last few laps of the race. Quite a different feat, he had no engine braking and very different acceleration characteristics.
        Anyone that has raced will know that the grip of the car changes hugely if it’s not accelerating (ie gripping) as it would do normally in race conditions.
        Aerodynamics play their part only when the speed of the car increases significantly, otherwise it is mechanical grip that is essential

  4. Mj says:

    No, Prost; Senna, Mansell, Piquet were every bit as good as todays top drivers. The big difference is the smaller gap in ability these days further down the grid.

    1. Alexis says:

      I agree. Even in the mid nineties there were too many average/poor drivers AND teams making up the numbers. Even today’s new teams seem to be a slicker operation than the Simteks and the Pacifics. I think the quality of today’s drivers all the way down the grid flatters today’s era. The Sennas and Piquets were no less skillful than today’s top drivers.

  5. JB says:

    I agreed with most of it except Pastor’s rating. OK, so he is a bully but I do like his determination and hunger to win. I would rate him as high as 6+.

    Also, Romain should be rated higher 6+.

    Button should be lower.

  6. Nandy says:

    Safe to say, Alonso is the best driver in F1 history?

    1. Sebee says:

      Wow. He’s OK, but honestly – quite far from greatest ever.

    2. Peter C says:

      How much history are you talking about?

      If you mean EVER – then how long have you interested in motor racing?

      1. Elie says:

        No that would be Silly. !
        Senna, Prost, Schumacher , Fangio, Moss, Stewart, Lauda , Clark for starters, and I think right now Raikkonen , Vettel and Hamilton are not far off either.

      2. Nathan says:

        Elie you really love your kimi don’t you

      3. Greg says:

        I’d throw in Gilles Villeneuve in there too, easily the fastest driver in the history of F1, would have won the ’79 Championship f he wasn’t so noble, and the ’82 Championship if he hadn’t have died. He was also due to drive for McLaren in ’83 where he would have won many titles as their domination was just about to start, I also find it ironic that if Gilles had lived he would have partnered Lauda at McLaren and Prost wouldn’t have signed for them and Senna wouldn’t have latter on either.

      4. Elie says:

        Nathan which one of the many posts did you pick that up from. Lol .Brilliant but fair driver and seems a very genuine bloke. You don’t get that in sports like F1 very often. I like Hamilton also -he is a real racer too -doesn’t shy away from anyone – but different character to Kimi. I have a feeling they will be trading steps on the podium for the next three months. In the 80s/90s Was awseome watching Senna qualify but my favourite driver back then was Prost- just so quick and smooth all the time.

    3. Rubinho's Keyfob says:

      No.

      The problem with F1 in this sort of comparison argument is that the driver is only as good as he/she can become given a certain piece of technology. As F1 strives to move the technology forward year on year, the basis for any comparison changes and thus it’s impossible to say (even from last year to this year) who is better than who. Could Lewis change the manual gears as well as Senna? Could Senna judge the right moment to press the gear paddle as well as Lewis? A ridiculous comparison.

      Also, the whole “who is the greatest points-scorer” issue is pointless (no pun intended), too. The last couple of seasons have seen many more points on the board, so making comparisons against historical drivers (even those still on the grid ;)) is worthless unless there is some effort to normalise the numbers.

      1. nusrathullah says:

        Well, Prost drove in an era when F1 was still Lethal and progressed into the era of the turbo beasts, then Senna arrived and then both underwent the transition from manual gears to semi-automatic. There is no comparisons to any driver of any era compared to the drivers of today. Today F1 is safe, circuits are safe, cars are safe, there are more run off areas, cars are technologically advance to ensure an easier driving car.

        There is one thing driving a safe car on a circuit which are designed around safety and there in all together another thing knowing that a slight miscalculation or car malfunction could lead to death. I think Prost & Piquet evolved from that, by the time Senna came F1 was reasonably safe.

        So, no, apart from Kimi, Schuey and Hamilton none of the current drivers would’ve had the guts to take on that era.

      2. Michael bye says:

        I think the manual gear changing aspect is outwayd by the amount the drivers have to do in the cockpit now, or at least makes the argument equal.

      3. Elie says:

        Michael, no all the buttons in the world aren’t going to compare to driving a car with 1&1/2 time the power, less downforce and grip and required heaps more driver input every second compared to today . Google some onboard laps of back then you will see. I remember it and there is no comparison. Very few 2012 guys would be much good.

  7. McLaren78 says:

    Collectively, maybe slightly better, but Alonso better that Senna? Beg to disagree. With the Pirelli tyres the past two years, drivers have to conserve them and not drive to the limit throughout the race. Alonso has had plenty an off-track moments. It’s always difficult to compare drivers across eras. Drivers will always be better at later eras as the sport evolves and this goes for all sports. Is Bolt better than Owens?

  8. Dan says:

    Poor argument. The cars today are much easier to drive than in the 80s because of the sophisticated electronics, gear change paddles etc, so error rates are not comparable. The depth of the field is stronger in the modern era possibly, but there is no evidence to suggest the best drivers of this era are better than in the 80s.

    Alonso and Hamilton are comparable to Senna and Prost, but its impossible to say they are better, and I doubt they are because in every era there are drivers that stand above the rest, and there is only so fast a car can go, so to suggest modern drivers could extract even more, is extremely unlikely. I think Senna and Prost proved well enough they could maximise their machinery relative to their peers.

    1. Sebee says:

      Am I alone in seeing most of today’s drivers as “kids” and the Sennas and Prosts as “men”? They knew they could die any time, and while today the danger is there, it’s not even close when you compare what Alonso lays on the line to put in a pole lap vs. what Senna was putting on the line.

      1. James Allen says:

        I’ve thought that, but then I was 26 when I was dealing with Senna who was 33 and Prost who was 39; now I’m 45 dealing with Vettel who’s 25 and Alonso who is mature at 31.

      2. Richard says:

        That deals with the ‘kids’ question. What about the ‘on the line’ point?

      3. Elie says:

        I know what you mean James I’m 46 but I still don’t see that toughness that you saw in 80′s drivers. Sure todays drivers are better in other ways and the teams manage coaching drivers so much better too. Drivers are more professional & the cars are easier to drive. The fact that Schumacher at 43 is competitive (more so in tough conditions) speaks volumes of how much tougher it was and he even missed the high boost turbos by a few years.

    2. KRB says:

      Easier to drive than the 1992 Williams? That one had a semi automatic gearbox, active suspension, traction control and anti-lock brakes.

    3. hal says:

      Excellent. I don’t know who this Martin guy is but I found his reasoning to be superficial at best.

  9. JohnDavid says:

    Those of you who, like me, have followed F1 for many years just need to ask yourself this question.

    If the 31yr old Senna was in a Ferrari today with the 31yr old Alonso then what would be the result?

    I don’t know the answer.. but I’d challenge anyone who suggested Senna’s skill level wouldn’t cut it.

    1. James Allen says:

      He had greater speed than Alonso, no doubt about that. But he did make more mistakes too, as Martin alludes to.

      That said Senna is the best driver I have seen in my lifetime and career.

      1. Sebee says:

        Maybe those mistakes came from less forgiving hardware of the day?

      2. John says:

        Check out the video of L. Hamilton driving Senna’s McLaren & listen to his comments on how much car it is…much food for thought. Plus he wanted to keep on driving it :)

      3. NotGood says:

        More mistakes as car much harder to drive. F1 cars these days are on rails compared to the 80′s. Much more danger in the 80′s – easy these days to push past the limit as less risk, cars and tracks safer. Few gravel traps now. Anti stall. Much harder to find out a poorer driver these days. Massa nearly being WDC if cars were like 1985? Not a chance. Of course much of this argument applies to the Senna/Prost era compared to Clark/Stewart…good debate though

      4. hero_was_senna says:

        I remember Martin Brundle doing a comparison between a 1991 Benetton and a 2000 Ferrari around Donington.
        The difference in grip was staggering apparently, bearing in mind that the 1991 car was on slicks but the 2000 Ferrari was on grooved tyres.
        He spoke of being able to take so many more liberties with the car in corners because it’s handling was “on rails”

        Some years later, he done a series which tested cars from different decades.
        He drove the 1985 Lotus and was blown away by how powerful it was, and twitchy.
        Yet the Red Bull he drove just demonstrated just how easy (comparatively) F1 cars had become.

      5. Peter C says:

        Exactly.

        I think Senna would regard todays cars as pussies.

        I can imagine Alonso driving a 80s – 90s car, Hamilton too, maybe Webber,Kimi possibly Kobayashi.

        In other words it would come down to ‘cojones’.

        Strangely, I couldn’t see Vettel driving one of those, compared to todays, beasts.

      6. Rudy Pyatt says:

        You raise an interesting point about Senna’s likely opinion of today’s F1 cars. I recall reading that Emerson Fitipaldi (people seem to forget that long before Senna arrived on the scene, Emmo won the WDC twice, in two different teams, etc., etc.) arranged for Senna to test one of Roger Penske’s Indy cars. Senna is supposed to have raved about the experience, pronouncing it “a human being’s car” – manual everything, huge power, something in which the driver made more difference than the software.

        The cross-era comparisons are always interesting to me for this reason. In every era, the drivers of that time marvel at what their predecessors were able to do with the equipment then considered state of the art. My impression is that the top guys always say, “Wow, they did that in THIS?” But in the next sentence they give you, “Hmmm. I think it would be fun to try some laps in that one.”

        It would be neat, for example, to give Lewis two-weeks at Indy, letting him spend a week driving all of McLaren’s Indy cars around the IMS oval, followed by a week of doing the same with all of the F1 cars on the road course. I bet he’d enjoy it just for feeling the differences between a DFV, a turbo Offy, a Honda V12 and so on. For that matter, I get the distinct impression that Alonso would relish lapping Le Mans in a 250 SWB…

      7. James Allen says:

        Senna could play the political game; remember that he was dead against the control systems which took away control from the driver, this test fell in the middle of that period of active suspension, ABS, traction control etc. He had a point to make….
        He wanted to frighten F1 into thinking it could lose it’s biggest name and box office star.. he was also playing a negotiating game with McLaren

      8. hero_was_senna says:

        A few years ago Schumcher drove a 50′s Ferrari at the British GP, he’d also driven a 1983 126C3 around Fiorano.
        Both times he literally drove around the track before declaring how dangerous these were.

        Last year, Alonso drove the 1951 Ferrari around Silverstone and pushed the car sideways for fun.

        To put Senna into historical perspective, he drove twitchy turbo charged cars from 1984 to 1988. Power outputs up to 1,400bhp, on tyres in qualifying that lasted one lap, and with power delivery so harsh that the car would squirm in a straight line.
        This in cars that had very poor aerodynamic grip, manual gear changes and very few electronic systems in the car.

        He moved to F1 after winning in F3, but had tested for Williams, Brabham and Mclaren in 1983.
        In 23 laps at Donington, he beat the teams best time from testing that year. He then left the circuit because he wanted to understand the experience.

        He almost won at Monaco in his first season, a season that Mclaren dominated with the Tag engine, winning 12 races.

        The systems on todays cars are so good, and reliability so damn bulletproof these days, that the skillset of the driver has changed.
        MSC raised the fitness bar back in the mid 90′s, and perfected the use of electronics to get the car close to perfection.
        Countless drivers have moved into F1 from the lower formulae and were instantly quick.

        Back in the 80′s that just didn’t happen. A year or 2 of apprenticeship was needed before a driver was thought to have arrived.
        That is why Senna at Monaco caused such a stir.

        Senna wrote to Mosley in 1993 pleading that they remove the electronic aids from the cars.
        Everyone quotes Donington as his greatest drive, yet Senna didn’t think it compared to Estoril 1985 because his car had traction control, automatic gear changes etc.
        He understood that these electronic systems didn’t add to his skill, they neutralised it and lowered his ability down to the others.

        Forgetting the element of the car, every year that passes, athletes improve their performance. There is no doubt that Alonso and co are far better prepared than Senna and his contemporaries, much as they would have been over the drivers of the 70′s etc etc.

        Look at Fangio or Ascari and imagine them in a current single seater, even though they are both legends of the sport.

        Personally, I think if you could place a great driver in a different era, would they still win?
        Top level sport is about the psychological make up of the performer.
        Senna is the best I’ve ever seen, run close by Alonso.
        Regarding someones comment about over-taking and Hamilton. Try to find some by Mansell then tell me he wasn’t arguably the best ever.

        Here’s 2 to enjoy,

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8n5LIIYo0ts&feature=related

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqaXktfn90M

      9. James Allen says:

        You are right that great drivers would be able to perform in any era

        What we must not lose sight of here is what makes these men race cars. That has not changed since the invention of the internal combustion engine.

        The only thing that has changed is expectation of safety – the 2000s was the first decade when F1 did not suffer a fatality. This must have led to a slight change in mentality, ( e.g. some of Maldonado’s moves) but in all other respects a racer is a racer and always has been

      10. george shamtani says:

        I would disagree, people have always criticized Alonso for not being able to pull out an extra special lap in qualifying or during the race. I’ve always thought that this argument is misplaced because he gets more out of a car over a race distance. I guess, if you are closer to the limit then there is less scope for you to pull out that extra special lap. So may be Senna never got the most out of each lap, rather than Alonso not having the speed.

      11. Anop says:

        James, how was Senna at improving the car by working with the team?

        We know Michael was good at it. Fernando is fantastic at it. Lewis and Sebastian have lot of room for improvement on it.

        I think engineering knowledge is the only difference between Fernando and Lewis. Fernando exactly knows what he wants in his car, how to set it up and other minute details which do matter.

      12. hero_was_senna says:

        I’d recommend reading “Hard Edge of Genius” by Chris Hilton or “Senna” by Tom Rubython.

        In his 1983 test with Williams, he beat the team best time at Donington from earlier tests that season.
        At Toleman, he astonished the team with his feedback, Brian Hart the engine builder and the Michelin tyre technicians
        At Lotus, both the team and especially Ducarouge, the cars designer, recalled Senna testing the car and his feedback was so accurate that the computer confirmed all his observations.
        He would report back to the engine crew, oil pressure at different parts of the circuit, what boost he was using and what difference it made with the revs, if he tried a different entry or exit how it affected the speed of the car.
        All this whilst driving in a fashion that John Watson, driving at the 1985 European GP at Brands Hatch, reported seeing Senna pass him into Dingle Dell in qualifying, using what effectively was 4 legs and 4 arms!!
        He realised at that point, his time in F1 was over, “I watched him do things with that car that I’d never even thought about.”

      13. Dominic J says:

        It would also be interesting to see how Alonso reacted to a quicker but less consistent team-mate. I suppose 1988 served to show how Senna reacted to Alain Prost.

      14. Kay says:

        Haven’t we already seen that in 2007?! o_O

        Not bad-mouthing Alonso or Hamilton, I’m a fan of them both here, but just sayin’… lol.

      15. Elie says:

        Yes Kay with you on that.. Respect to them both but good example

      16. Robie says:

        Agree to a point about 2007 but there was more to it than meets the eye….more than anyone will ever know. I was a huge Mclaren fan but after ’07 no longer.

      17. Jason C says:

        I keep wondering where Alonso fits in with the greats of the past. And I keep thinking he may be one of the greatest ever.

        Today, a mistake resulting in a DNF is punished more harshly: your competition is too close to you because of today’s close field, and you can’t rely on attrition in other races to even up the balance as you could back in those days. Today consistency is rewarded more than performance spikes.

        So, this symptom of Alonso making fewer mistakes and yet having less ultimate pace may just be him doing what it takes to win in today’s F1.

        In the days of Senna, would Alonso have pushed too far more often as well?

      18. Jb says:

        Just a thought. Back in the day, only the top six gets points. If ur 7th place, u r the same as the last place man (u r a nobody).
        Nothing compares to a raw turbo engine. The control skills needed, the stick manual box, no safety cell, less grip and lower reliability.
        Compare to today’s F1, u have unlimited sim hours, electronics to tame the powerful engine, perfect and consistent aero grip, finger controls. Thats why even rookies can win.
        Regarding Alonso, he has been both lucky and on form this year. But i don’t think he was in the last 2 years as good as he is now. Kimi is still the king of speed (purple sector times), and he did way better in ferrari than Alonso in the first year.

      19. Kay says:

        +1

        I recall reading an Alonso quote somewhere saying along the lines of “I may not be the fastest, but I try to be the most consistent”.

        For sure the guy knows his strength and weaknesses, and how to make up for his weaknesses through other means.

      20. Paul Kirk says:

        What actually constitutes a “best driver”?
        Is it his quallifying abillity, (Senna)? His abillity to keep out of trouble and amass points by achieving good average places in races, (Prost)? His abillity to win races (Schumaker)? The number of times he punts other drivers off the track (Senna)/(Schumaker)? His abillity to punt off as many other competitors as possible, (Maldonado)? His abillity to control a racing car when it gets sideways? His abillity to pass a competitor while driving off the track, (Vettal)? His abillity to choose a team to drive for that gets him to the front of the pack? His abillity to bore shit out of us by spoutung on far too long when being interviewed on the podium, (Vettal)? His abillity to seem not to be effected by bad luck, (Alonso)? His accumulation of championship points, (evan though his team helped him to make up places during pit stops and made fewer mistakes, eg wheels not comming off/not having sticking fuel hoses/not running short of fuel, etc.)? His abillity to look after a car and therefore finish a race? His apparent size of his gonads, (Mansel)? We could go on and on here, but I find it extremely difficult to catogorically identify a “Best Driver” because there’s so many circumstances that we aren’t privy to that influences how a driver seems to us! EG put Schumaker in a faster/better car and we’d all be saying how good he is , as oposed to critisizing him, as many are.
        I have a feeling today’s F1 drivers are at a higher level of developement/skill than they were in the old days mainly due to their training/lifestyle/management/diet/dedication, etc, and their concentration on one persuit, although I am constantly amazed by how they can stay at the level they do because their testing/practice time/laps are so reduced these days! I find F1 drivers quite remarkable, ie even the slowest is good, (even Maldonardo) although on second thoughts—–)!
        PK.

      21. Martin says:

        Hi Paul,

        I’ll try to explain my thinking, since hardly anyone has touched on it so far.

        Most GP drivers start in karts, from there they develop a set of skills and natural abilities such as reflexes also show through.

        I’m not sure how many professional racing drivers are out there at the moment, but the best ones are able to adjust to whatever power and grip combination they have. Corner entry is where almost all the time is made and good drivers know how to moderate a throttle pedal.

        What the refueling era did was raise the importance of driving to the optimum performance level – the limit is a different thing – at least until all drivers you were racing had completed their final pits stops. This fundamentially did not happen in earlier eras. Drivers feared breaking their cars and the fitness levels weren’t there.

        The increase in fitness standards, and remember the loads on the driver peaked in the last ten years, has allowed the concentration levels to be maintained and the performance from that.

        The inherent skill level you could transplant anywhere – Jim Clark might not have liked active suspension’s feel and not done that well – but I believe the overall standard of F1 is more competitive now and has therefore raised the standard.

        The previous era is making the drivers. We might see a drop in with the loss of refueling.

        Cheers,

        Martin

      22. Alex W says:

        What about the guy that can also make the fastest car in the world, Brabham was like Alonso-Newey combined!

      23. Paul Kirk says:

        REply to Martin who replied to me——-Coupla points worth considering, (1) Reactions, I don’t think they are developed in karting, experience/racing skills of course, but I believe your reaction times are within you and cannot be altered by training and in fact most normal people’s reaction times are very similar, although a few have very slow times but they usually exhibit other less than perfect qualities/tendancies. Also a racing driver who relies on reactions will get into trouble frequently were-as an expert driver knows well in advance what’s happening/going to happen in a race!
        (2)Corner entry—–Interesting you should say/think that corner entry is the important difference between good laps and better laps,— I beg to differ, the driver that exits a corner best/faster achieves a higher top speed at the end of the straight due to his extra speed entering the straight therefore he spends less time on the straight and this is reflected by a quicker lap time. Entering a corner quicker usually leads to a compromised exit which in turn compromises the whole straight/lap! (Leading to a slower lap time).
        I must admit I’m very impressed by the number of skilled/knowledgable/educated replies we see on this site indicating the high standard of people that follow F1. I also follow Moto Gp and on sites that are involved in that sport we often get smart-arsed/personal attacks/critisism/knowledge-less/etc., etc.,replies, idiots posting, sad really.
        PK.
        Go Mark Weber!
        Go Scott Dixon!

    2. KRB says:

      It’s nigh impossible to do a fair comparison. If you look at physical conditioning, and even reaction times on the current grid, for sure it would beat anything from 20+ years before, on average for the entire grid.

      I am always almost shocked when I see old highlight reels of ice hockey or football from 20+ years ago, as it almost looks as though the players are out for a stroll when you compare it to today’s faster players. But that conditioning just wasn’t top-of-mind back then, or wasn’t as refined, as it is today. If you could move up the birthdays of those athletes by 20+ years, would they still be great players in the current era? For the most part, when you’re talking about great players, the answer will always be yes.

      I always get a laugh watching old F1 highlights and see the pit crews out there in shirts and shorts!! And 2.3 second pit stops?! Yeah right … 7-8 secs was a fast one back then.

      Bottom line is that great talents like Senna and Prost would’ve excelled no matter what era they were born in. But we can only judge them against their peers from the same era, when everyone’s experience of learning to race would’ve been more or less the same. Today racers get instant feedback from telemetry thru the entire lap, with 130+ sensors onboard, so of course racers today will be able to correct and progress faster than racers of yesteryear. Imagine Senna and Prost with the technology available today?

      Having said all that, the cars are closer together than they were in the past, and it is much harder to win a race in the current grid than it was in the grids of 20+ years ago.

    3. Davexxx says:

      I think Senna wouldn’t play as fair as Alonso, and so would get the upper hand that way – sadly.
      - I’m very impressed with the way that Alonso seems almost never to get into the personal on-track squabbles that many other drivers seem to (eg Massa, Hamilton, Maldonado, to name a few).
      - while we all know the naughty Schumi-type tricks Senna got up to in order to gain the upper hand.
      I’m not sure if you should call this ‘skill’ though…

    4. Paul Kirk says:

      Or evan Mansel, John.
      PK.

    5. Martin says:

      John,

      It isn’t the skill level that I was highlighting. The evolution of F1 to greater levels of competitiveness, with closer fields, greater reliability and refueling, raised driver fitness and concentration demands.

      If you then take the current abilities to manage the tyres without losing too much time, which is still a high concentration exercise, I believe you get a faster racing driver if you were to transplant the current top drivers into older cars. The qualifying situation would be an entirely separate consideration.

      Cheers,

      Martin

  10. CNSZU says:

    Of course the drivers are more skilled now then in the old times, in the same way ALL sports have become more professional. However, after all these years, F1 is STILL a rich man/dad & son sport so I would put a very big question mark on the skill level of today’s drivers.

    1. JD says:

      Not sure about that, Alonso is not from a privileged background, neither is Hamilton or Vettel and formerly Schumacher, all of these got backing from sponsors, McLaren, Red Bull and Mercedes as a result of their considerable skill level. They are the cream and they have risen to the top therefore in my opinion giving a guarantee of the skill level.

      However the genuine ‘rich kid’ or genuine pay drivers from today and times gone by Petrov, Karthikeyan, Pedro Diniz, Alex Yoong etc are the ones that lack skill level in my opinion anyway!!

  11. Ian says:

    Modern drivers don’t have to worry about gravel traps. That probably explains the higher rate of DNFs caused by driver error twenty years ago.

    1. Mike says:

      I know safety is paramount in F1 today, but a mistake, which results in a car leaving the track should be punished IMO.

      1. Paul Kirk says:

        I totally agree Mike!!!!
        PK

  12. SimonB says:

    I think that it will always be difficult to compare current drivers with those of previous eras. As the cars evolve the technology changes and the challenges placed on the drivers do too. The more experience that is gained over time meands that less and less is being left to chance. Great drivers from any era can only really be compared with their peers and this season, more than any other will prove the truly great from the really good.

    1. shortsighted says:

      I think team managers who are tasked to recruit drivers for their teams may be able to give some interesting insight on the subject. For one thing, I think modern drivers are much fitter than those in the past and can push at qualifying pace throughout the race. I can’t help to feel that Senna, although with great speed for a single lap, may not always come out on top at the end when racing with some of the modern drivers.

  13. goferet says:

    The cars performances are pretty close
    in performance, overtaking is much more difficult
    ————————————————–

    Hmm… What happened to DRS???

    Based on that, you wouldn’t be surprised to read that I rate Alonso ahead of Senna.
    ————————————————–

    Oooo pretty controversial statements.

    Look Alonso has just had a great first half to the season and now he’s even better than Senna — No Sir!

    Okay, my take on the topic at hand is absolutely not, today’s top drivers (Alonso, Vettel and Hammy) are talented but really wouldn’t have been able to beat the Senna, Schumi, Prost, and Mansell combination given equal equipment i.e. Hammy vs Senna, Prost vs Alonso and Schumi vs Vettel.

    Many people have said for ages that aerodynamics have made the 21st century generation of cars pretty much self driven for if we could have a season where Massa nearly won the title just goes to show, it’s too easy nowadays.

    Also with the current generation of Tilkle dromes filling up the calendar, hell even the classics like Spa have undergone numerous Tilkle changes such as what happened at Eau Rouge, so basically, drivers bravery isn’t tested as much as it used to be back in the golden era and thus it can be argued today’s drivers aren’t as good (with the exception of Maldonado & Lewis)

    Also why I think today’s drivers couldn’t beat those legends from yesteryears is because look at all these guys and who they say are their heroes

    Alonso —> Senna

    Vettel —> Schumi

    Hammy —> Senna

    And seeing as it’s these same drivers that have their derrière in the cockpit, they sure know what they are talking about e.g. Hammy said the one question he would ask Senna is how he was able to qualify by over a second at Monaco.

    Further more, why I disagree is because those legends from the golden era were tested by fire and all came out smelling of roses e.g.

    a) Prost & Senna went head to head at Mclaren with each bagging at a title

    b) Mansell and Piquet went head to head for many seasons in the same team

    c) Mansell and Prost locked horns in the same machinery

    The only top driver of the current mold that isn’t afraid to take on his fellow colleagues in the same team is none other than Lewis Hamilton.

    Now regards Deutschland’s Auto Motor ratings, well what can you say, gotta love their patriotism.

    Apart from that, I say their rankings seem quite about right matter of fact I would rather take Auto Motor’s rankings than the Gazzetta one for I love the way each driver has his own ranking and not tied.

    1. TheGreatTeflonso says:

      Ummm goferret, you quote Martin and then say just because Alonso has had a great first half of the season he is better than Senna, which is doing a disservice to Martin. I’ve been here long enough to have read your posts and Martins and I’d bet his knowledge and general understanding of formula one is greater than yours, without even considering his knowledge of cars themselves. Obviously he isn’t considering purely based on this half season, the majority of fans and F1 members consider Alonso better than Hamilton before this season. This season just further proves the obvious.

      That said I don’t necessarily completely agree with Martin though I can see his logic. I believe iron sharpens iron, and that Senna or Prost in this era would easily rise in today’s machinery to be champions. While we are saying that the standard at the top now might be higher, I believe this only applies to the top handful of drivers. Let me put it this way, Grosjean, Perez and Maldonado are good on their day, and they all have come close to or had a victory. I’d rate Senna and Prost miles ahead of those guys, and believe they would have been more likely to win today in their cars. It only becomes a close contest when compared to Alonso’s performance.

      Senna’s rate of incidents off track only matters in his era, we can’t compare them now with more refined and regimented science behind the cars. Many of these drivers set the standard for techniques and training in their time, without this the next generation would be a step behind. I’d also like to point out that Senna Mansell and Prost competed in a far more dangerous time in Formula
      One. These guys took far greater risks getting into F1 cars than the current generation. I dont believe Schumacher would have returned in those circumstances, Hamilton would be injuring himself once a season and Maldonado would have certainly be less of a madman. For the record, I do think Alonso is worthy of being compared to Senna or Prost, but I personally want to see the rest of his career and don’t rate him higher than either. As for Hamilton and Vettel, I don’t think either are even worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as Senna or Prost.

      1. hero_was_senna says:

        +1

      2. Martin says:

        Thanks, I think…

        I’m getting closer to a simplified answer. This is about sports conditioning. The skill level for most top drivers will translate across classes and eras. What we have now is a new level of driver preparation.

        Cheers,

        Martin

      3. Sebee says:

        Hey hero, you said this:
        hero_was_senna Reply:
        August 21st, 2012 at 2:35 am

        “in the only team on the grid which we can agree treats drivers equally.”
        I have no doubt Alonso would disagree, but I’d also like to point out, that DC, JPM and Kovalainen never felt they were treated equally to their team-mates.

        I think this is worth discussing. I’m of an opinion that McLaren is quite level to their drivers. After all, I’ve witness Montoya winning in a McLaren, I’ve seen Kimi win one weekend, JP the next, I’ve seen same with Lewis and Fernando – swapping wins and getting wins same season. I know DC was asked to move over for Mika, but even that was in a final race of the season. And look how they treted DC since – commitment. I hear your point that this is what the drivers would feel, but honestly – what else can a team do but give both drivers the equipment and shot at the win? Obviously with one pit garage there are compromises to strategy, and it’s fair to rotate preferential strategy choice between drivers in name of fairness race by race.

        I’m not sure I agree on the point that McLaren is not treating both drivers equally. Heikki – I think he was a bit of a punching bag, but that’s really because he didn’t seem to have a strong position to assert himself from and perhapas wasn’t in same class as Lewis and Alonso. And of course Ron’s belief in equal treatment may have been shaken after Alonso’s[mod]

      4. Sebee says:

        Why so hard on Hamilton? Last I recall he put the double at the time, and still, champion in his place in equal equipment in the only team on the grid which we can agree treats drivers equally. I hate to bring up the whole “Ron, make me #1 or else incident with Alonso.”.

        I think an argument could be made that perhaps the Ferrari is not as bad as we think, simply the second ferrari is, to pump up the #1 Ferrari driver.

        Also, why so hard on Vettel? If we’re going to talk down guys who perform brilliantly in a fast car, there will have to be a whole bucket full of #1s we will have to call back from champions. Could we have a list perhaps of Champions not with best car? One fair way to make that list is to get all champions who won when the team didn’t clinch constructors.

      5. hero_was_senna says:

        “in the only team on the grid which we can agree treats drivers equally.”
        I have no doubt Alonso would disagree, but I’d also like to point out, that DC, JPM and Kovalainen never felt they were treated equally to their team-mates.

      6. W Johnson says:

        @hero_was_Senna

        McLaren are considerably more equal in their driver treatment (possibly to their own disadvantage) than one driver teams such as Ferrari. I don’t think Button has had any complaints about fair treatment!

        Also, the driver’s you point out, DC, JPM and Kovaleinen were hardly in the same class as their counterpart drivers in the team abd arguably in the WDC…and driver’s also have their have their agenda!

      7. Paul Kirk says:

        Teflonso, you’ve raised some interesting point there, and I’ve thought long and hard about this subject over the years, and there’s another consideration that’s come to mind, and that is that we now have an incredably increased amount of information available to us now that we never had in previous decades, not to mention the abillity to see other people’s opinions, (which sometimes sways our own). I don’t believe it is possible to define the “best driver of all time”, although if we look at results we might be able to define the “most successfull” driver of all time, but I don’t think they are one and the same!
        PK

      8. Elie says:

        And is success individual or team..

      9. Martin says:

        Thanks –

        Put simply I think today’s cars make the driver’s performance better in racing conditions. The fitness and concentration levels are greater. The top drivers will adapt to the power and grip. The drivers accept the risk of the era.

        The fitness and mental conditioning to drive an F1 car now to race winning standard is probably more than 12 months effort to raise someone from an earlier era. A top driver will adapt to a new car much more quickly.

        Cheers,
        Martin

      10. Elie says:

        Martin,
        -Will/ can a current driver accept the risks of the 80′s?
        -Can a current driver prepare same way with 80s support?
        -Can a current driver handle 1984 car ?
        On the flip side :
        - can an 80′s driver accept 2012 risks
        - can an 80′s driver handle 2012support / training of today?
        - can an 1984driver handle a 2012 car ?
        I know which way would be easier and I know which one is more likely to succeed.? You cannot look at it just one way.
        Sure it would take time to for each to train specifically ( like a rookie) but the fact the support systems , cars and regulations are so much stronger now, Schumacher even at 43 outperforms many of his younger competitors in more difficult conditions. Even after retirement

  14. deane says:

    I think Martin L has, as all of us tend to do when we have a pet theory, been highly selective.

    As for the AMUS ratings, like all such things they are a waste of time and I don’t know why anyone would give them bandwidth.

  15. Maarten says:

    I translate Martin’s words into the following: “The current drivers although they have it more easy in the cockpit because of more grip than power and ease of gear shifting would be better in the older car’s that have more power than grip and harder gear shifting. Because they spent less time off track than Senna did and that they have to spend more time conserving the car due to non-refueling.”

    Based on that interpretation I personally do not share Martin’s view based on the points put forward. I am however not saying Alonso would not be better than Senna. But they bring different things to the table. Just like you could argue that Schumacher was even better than Senna, not in terms of raw speed but in terms of professionality and technical skills. Which Alonso also brings to the table. But then I still believe Senna had more raw speed than even Alonso. Both Schumacher and Alonso were/are much more consistent. So on a championship level I would put Alonso & Schumacher above Senna, but on a race by race basis…it would be much closer.

    Why I don’t completely agree with Martin’s points is best illustrated in the quote “I believe the guys at the top now would have coped with the power:grip of the 1980s turbos and pretty much everything else is at a greater level except the gear changing.”. The part of “except the gear changing” gets me, just that point alone brings in a different level of car handling. Because gear shifting is much much much more easy now which free’s up time for other stuff in the cockpit. Time spent controlling the car for instance. Martin also says the power to downforce ratio is now in favour of downforce. Combining the two facts of harder gear changing and more power than grips puts the cars used in both era’s in completely different league’s and thus uncomparable, which also makes the off-track comparison unfair.

    1. Sebee says:

      It seams to happen every few years – is someone greater than Senna? If Schumi can’t take that title from Senna with 7 championships than Alonso is not even in top 10 for comsideration with 2.

      And can I please remind you all that Scumacher was doing what Alonso is doing in the Ferrari and then some from 97-99 – out driving the equipment and always challenging for the championship. Was that the case with Alonso last year? Vettel dominated so hugely I don’t even remember who was second.

      1. hero_was_senna says:

        1) Schumacher broke his leg in 1999

        2) 1997 and 1998. Apart from Williams in 97 and Mclaren in 98, what other team was consistent enough to take points away from an improving Ferrari/ Schumacher combination?

        Even 1996, when MSC took the pig of a Ferrari to 3 wins, he was the best driver competing against a dominant Williams team.
        Ligier won in Monaco that year, Ferrari won 3 and Williams the rest.

        Alonso won the 2008 Japanese GP brilliantly.
        In 2010 he almost won the WDC with the 3rd best car and throughout 2011 qualified on average 5th, yet won a race and finished on the podium 10 times.

        MSC was inspirational in the 90′s but the level of competition was nowhere near what it is at the moment

      2. Sebee says:

        Alonso won Japan 2008 after “hugely illegal boost” in Singapore. I hate to speculate that not winning in Singapore would have resulted in Alonso not winning in Japan, but let us not underestimate the power of belief and mental state after that Singapore win.

        Indeed, that Schumi period of driving the wheels off a dog starts on ’96, but my point was that the F1 world always seems to hype around someone that is driving a dog to wins. I don’t believe the 2012 Ferrari is a dog. It was a car with potential in need of development.

        I won’t argue that F1 has recognized the need for more lead actors and spreads the wealth sort of speak between more drivers lately. But I think we would be doing a disservice to drivers who competed during Schumi years
        if we generalize that it was Schumi and no one else. Montoya, Kimi, Mika, David, we’re all there. So were Webber, Button, Alonso – and I’d say they haven’t changed much beside getting better cars, perhaps through seniority.

      3. hero_was_senna says:

        It’s funny sebee, that you mention Montoya, Kimi, Webber, Alonso and Button. Not one of them raced in F1 before 2001.
        You were speaking of 1997 to 1999, which would mean the Williams drivers in 97, Villeneuve and Frentzen, and the Mclaren pair in 1998-99, DC and Mika.
        The field this year has 6 WDC competing.

      4. Sebee says:

        The reason I mention those guys hero, is beacuse Schumi didn’t win championships in 1996-1999 as per my example.

        My point was that when Schumi did’t have the fastest car, he was still there, hanging around and claiming close 2nd in the championship with inferior hardware.

        Then when he did have the hardware and team around him perfectly alligned, there was talent on the grid. Simply his talent along with his hardware made everyone look so ordinary, sometimes this view of “Schumi was LMP1 while everyone else was GT1″ is spread. I don’t think that’s accurate. Drivers were there to take it to Schumi, but we were witnessing perfection, perhaps not exciting but incredible perfection and domination likes of which we won’t see until Vettel goes to Ferrari to repeat that Schumi script :-) <- I'm joking people, don't behead me! Was the Ferrari a better car in 2006? I don't remember if it was, but I don't think it was, (front dumpener, Michelin, etc. in Alonso's favor) yet once again, Schumi was there till the end on Alonso's tail. Only a failed engine in Japan ended that exciting climax early for us fans.

      5. Sebee says:

        Before you ask, today’s Schumi I think is focused and has every bit of skill he had. However, he also has maturity, more experience than anyone on the grid, which is why he won’t rip is guts out to gain 2 places. He’s been there and done that and he demands, and I think deserves the best car to perform. While we talk about who is better, Senna, Prost, Mansell – I think it’s valid to remind everyone Schumacher drove against these guys too.

      6. Sebee says:

        Oh, and hero, Schumi won races with Prost, Mansell and Senna in their peak years – so not just driving against them, but winning against them. Not enough to be champion, but enought to make a point in his early years.

      7. JD says:

        That is true to an extent, but the level of drivers Schumacher was up against was pretty poor in the late 90′s compared to todays grid.

        This has been highlighted to me from watching the season reviews that have been on lately from that era, Schumacher was great for sure but he was racing against people no where near his level, until Alonso came along in a Renault and beat him, whereas today the standard is far higher!

      8. Alex W says:

        Rubbish, there were always good drivers, I hate MS but many many many of his laps were flawless….

      9. David Ryan says:

        I wouldn’t call Mika Hakkinen a poor driver, or Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve (before they went off the boil) – or David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello or Alex Wurz to name but a few. Some of the drivers on the grid in the late 90s were below par, granted, but there was some real talent there as well. Also, Alonso only reached the point where he could beat Schumacher once Renault developed a top-flight car and Bridgestone dropped the ball with tyre development – in 2003 and 2004, he was as much a victim of the Schumacher steamroller as anyone else on the grid.

    2. Martin says:

      Hi Maarten,

      It is basically about driver conditioning – for greater fitness, concentration and from that performance over a race.

      You can make arguments about the difficulty of driving a car, or the consequences of crashing, but basically I believe the competitiveness of the past decade has made the drivers raise their game, so the performances in races is better. Drivers from earlier eras could be trained up with time, probably more than 12 months, whereas the top drivers now, if put in 1985 turbo could adapt much more quickly.

      Cheers,

      Martin

  16. Olli says:

    I think the answer is obviously ‘yes’.

    In every sport there ever was the level of performance of the athletes has proggressively improved. Why on earth should a science and theory heavy sport like F1 be any different?

    The real question is this: who are the most *naturally gifted* drivers of all times? Chances are Ayrton Senna is the number one, but he would still be outclassed by the current top drivers.

    1. madmax says:

      “In every sport there ever was the level of performance of the athletes has progressively improved”

      Not necessarily as for one example, in boxing which is a very athletic and strength orientated sport the golden age from all historians was in the forties and fifties.

      1. timothy clarke says:

        love your comment, though i wonder how Max Baer, Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis would stack up against Mohammed Ali or even Mike Tyson (assuming everyone in their prime)?
        the 40′s and 50′s certainly were when boxing as a sport was at a much higher level in
        terms of popularity…cheers!

      2. madmax says:

        Most really old timers who were around for Louis would put him above Ali and virtually every historian would put the two above Tyson.

        But I was actually thinking of the lower divisions with the greatest of them all Sugar Ray Robinson still being unsurpassed 60 years later.

        People generally use the tennis example but apart from say Federer all the players are getting bigger and stronger with each passing generation especially in the women’s game and obviously that doesn’t apply to F1.

    2. Martin says:

      +1

      I think you are one of the few to get the drift of my original idea. An interesting part is that there is no obvious way to breed a good F1 driver in the way you can go to Jamaica and get a 100 m runner. Driver coaching is a limited area too, so it has more been the racing itself – the rules and technology – that has raised the level rather than investment from sports administrators trying to nurture better drivers.

      If I look at racing series such as V8 Supercars or NASCAR, which have been relatively stable over the last 15 years, I don’t see the same increase in driver standards even though the professionalism of the teams has increased just like it has in F1.

      Cheers,

      Martin

  17. daphne says:

    Who are Auto Motor und Sport to put Hülkenberg above Grosjean? That’s Very Funny and biased, definitely.

    That rating is all a load of “ahem”.

    1. madmax says:

      Maybe because Grosjean is driving a vastly superior car and has crashed in the first lap of a large number of his races.

      1. Louis says:

        Grosjean use to beat Hulk in Gp2 before being sent to hell in 2009

  18. Joe Corry says:

    It would be too straight forward to state that Alonso is better than A or B driver. The world of Motorsport is by and large nowhere near where it once was, financially, technically and just as importantly, driver selection, i.e. more drivers now more than ever as the popularity of F1 has quadrupled in the past twenty years. Yes, evidently modern F1 drivers are skilled, but skilled in the use and access to moderned technological acheivements. Necessesity remains the mother of invention including keeping F1 formulas year by year fluid and dynamic, not only engineering inventions, but inventing or training drivers to become integral human resources to match the technological changes collectively. Where this is evident is understanding the nature of the driver era. From Fangio to Alonso, the technological advances match the driver of the time. Alonso is more than a good driver, a potential all time great, but under the ageis of modern microprocessors as part and parcel of modern F1. Ali vs Tyson? Greats, under different circumstances. One a global icon for being more than a sportsman, the other an icon and the essance of pugilism. Senna will always and continue to be one of the many benchmarks in F1that are used as reference points for facts and in metaphoric reportage.

    1. timothy clarke says:

      i’d like to mandatory participation in a series like IROC that puts all the drivers into equal machinery for a weekend. it’d be great for the fans and the teams could really get to see who’s who. let leaders of junior formulae compete as well just to shake things up! cheers.

  19. Female says:

    Drivers are better because say in karting it’s much tougher than before

  20. Oli says:

    Not sure sure how Vettel is rated above Hamilton… Oh wait, the ratings are from AMuS aren’t they?

    1. JF says:

      You British?

      1. Elie says:

        I’m not either jf but I agree with Oli – you speaki de deutsch ? Lol

      2. Kay says:

        I ain’t British.
        You a Vettel fan?

      3. Peter C says:

        So what’s with the ‘ain’t’ then? Is that a normal part of Hong Kong language?

      4. Kay says:

        Learnt that from my British education. Ain’t that same with you too mate?

  21. Nick says:

    I think a lot of current fans rate their favourite drivers as better than those of previous eras, due to a natural bias.

    Many of them never saw the likes of Senna or Jim Clark race and watching youtube reruns does not give a real reflection of the times, and as in any sport, fans are a fickle bunch.

    I have followed F1 for over 30 years and Alonso is one of the best in my time, but doesnt come close to Senna. Senna was a real one off in my opinion, no one else comes close as a driver and he was the most enigmatic driver to have ever been in the sport.

  22. David B says:

    I do find the different countries take on the ratings fascinating. It does make for good articles. There will always be partisan feelings, as a Button fan, I have them too.

    But in all, there is a definite trend to those thought to be over performing and those under.

    I certainly agree that the current crop of drivers have to excel, to drive the cars but it is in a different range to those of a decade or so ago.

    I do have a sneaky feeling that class just shows out in any era, but relates directly to that era, hence the Schumi slightly struggling in the current guise of F1, whereas he totally dominated not so many years back.

  23. Jake B says:

    I just know that there will be a mass of “old-school” F1 fans who will scold this man for his opinion, which, when you read his rationale, does make a lot of sense.

    I personally rate Alonso and Schumacher in the top 5 of all time, simply because anybody who can see past their biases knows that Alonso’s performance this year has been nothing short of legendary, and Schumacher’s inclusion is obvious.

    While I do think that Senna as an individual was better than Alonso, the average driver in 2012 is much more competent/talented than the average driver in 1992.

  24. Filter Tip says:

    I would say judgements on “Greatness” in F1, or any sport, need to be retrospective to some degree. We need time to make these judgements and to test/confirm them, more than once, I would suggest, before we shower anyone with accolades.
    Also, so difficult to compare or evaluate how prost would do in today’s McLaren or how Alonso would fare in a 1993 car.

    Let’s see how the season pans out this time first then decide Alonso was the best driver!!!!!

  25. Chris says:

    Interesting list, nationalism aside there’s aren’t too many surprises… but what have they got against Romain Grosjean? I’ll accept that he’s had a couple of avoidable first lap incidents which should rightly count against him, but being in the bottom half of the list is utter madness!

  26. lilian says:

    i agree with most of this but not the rankings of the drivers alonso and lewis at the top for me then the rest beneath them cos as far as I am concerned these two are the only ones who can drive the wheels of a car even when its not perfect as we have seen, the others need their cars to be perfect before they can perform wellxxx

    1. Elie says:

      Raikkonen did it for years for Mclaren when it kept failing

  27. Filter Tip says:

    James, is the photo a prediction of the ‘also rans’ in the 2012 WDC ?

  28. AndyFov says:

    F1 would be an exception to most sports if today’s competitors are not the best the world has ever seen. What chance would Fred Perry have against Federer? Or Joe Davis against Ronnie O Sullivan?

    I reckon England’s 1966 World Cup winning squad would be a Championship team today, at best.

    Back to F1, I think today’s drivers train harder, both in terms of keeping fit and then with hours notched up in the team simulator. Michael changed the model of the modern racer too IMO with his understanding of the technical side of the sport.

    Anyway, to conclude I think Senna was born with as much, if not more, natural ability as today’s drivers. Whether that ability was honed and refined to the degree today’s drivers have is debatable, but I suspect it wasn’t. That said, if he was around and in his prime today I don’t doubt he’d adapt to the modern expectations and commitments of a F1 driver. He’d still be the man to beat.

    1. AlexD says:

      I fully agree with you…I think each of them fulfilled and is fulfilling their destiny.
      Ayrton shone above everything known….so is Alonso now. But…it was designed for them to live two different eras.

  29. Steve says:

    He rates Alonso ahead of Ayrton?

    I stopped reading there, I have nothing against Alonso but that’s just utter rubbish.

    1. AlexD says:

      and this is where I stopped reading your post. You are doing the same mistake as he did…..
      We will never know….

      1. Kay says:

        hahahah………

  30. Anton says:

    No, of course not!

    Try putting any top driver in a 1980′s F1 car with 1000BHP, manual shift, no power steering, no traction control, no launch control, no special engine maps, electronic gizmos….The list goes on.

    Maybe we need to remind ourselves what a pole lap looked liked back then:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-k4pun6j0Fg

    1. Doug says:

      Top Gear sort of did this with Lewis…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iooo40nX2aU

    2. Kay says:

      “no power steering, no traction control, no launch control, no special engine maps, electronic gizmos”

      These things all hated by Senna.
      At the same time all these are what Vettel needs to win.

      Not sure about Alonso but I feel he can adapt pretty well.

  31. Monza01 says:

    The Auto Motor Und Sport ratings are based on an average of rating for each race. Looking at the figures, it’s obvious that the ratings are not based on points scored.

    I’m sure we all based our personal assessment on how well we thought the drivers are performing taking into account that many of those that we have rated highly have scored less points than those drivers who haven’t made best use of better machinery.

    It seems harsh for them to put Romain Grosjean so far below Kimi Raikkonen.

    Despite his win, I think Maldonado is in exactly the right position. If I were Sir Frank he would have been told after Hungary, any more stupid antics and you’re out.

    The utter incompetence he showed at last week’s demo must have caused huge embarrassment to the team, sponsors and the government of Venezuela.

    Surely he must now have used up what little good will he had left ?

  32. OzFormula says:

    I don’t necessarily believe so. Every era has had standout drivers and today is no different. You had Senna, than you had Schumacher, now you have Alonso. They are all head and shoulders above their peers and now is no different.

    Also in previous eras you had the chasing pack of Prost, Mansel or Hill and Villeneuve etc and that is reflected with drivers like Hamilton, Vettel and Webber. (Although Hamilton is arguably up there as one of the greats).

    Many of the parallels of the current drivers can be made to the past era, its just the cars are more even, you don’t have a Williams or McLaren that can lap everyone up to second place anymore, so they just appear closer.

  33. Guillermo says:

    I’ve been following Formula 1 since the late 80′s and this is undoubtedly the most skilled set of drivers I have ever seen.

    I think that some of the drivers that excelled in that era, would struggle in today’s cars. Can you imagine Nigel Mansell trying to get his head around the subtleties of modern racing? However, two drivers, Senna and Prost would still excel. Namely because they introduced some of the qualities considered essential for modern drivers.

    Also, I just don’t think today’s drivers would be quite as comfortable with manual gears, no power steering, constant lapping of cars and mechanical failures in 1 out of every 3 races. I think many more mistakes would creep into their driving…

    1. Kay says:

      That’s kind of unfair.

      Senna, Mansell, Prost etc didn’t need to multi-task to activate DRS, KERS, brake bias every 2-3 corners, dozons of engine maps. Much like today’s drivers don’t need to care about power steering, manual gears etc.

      They got different things to handle, all require different set of skills.

      Maybe if Senna and Prost were in today’s cars, they’d go spastic in trying to multitask the same time.

      Imagine your colleague is ultra good at design work and he does all these amazing looking graphics even with a pencil and no Photoshop for your company, but he is utterly sh*t at anything else. Whereas someone else is good at filing, handling promotional and marketing stuff and all the internet / photoshop / tech stuff that helps him. Who is better? Hard to tell. Different stuff they gotta handle.

    2. Bobster says:

      I think they LOOK very highly skilled because of the camera shots we get these days. The close up shots, in the in car shots…. this gives us a view of the drivers and the cars that we never had in Senna’s day.

  34. Andrew Carter says:

    I think I largely agree with MArtin. The greates of any era are at a similar level, so it’s not hard to see the likes of Alonso, Fangio or Lauda beeing able to seriously impress if they had got into each other cars.

    What the modern era has that puts it up with the late 80′s and the mid 60′s and ahead of most other era’s is a number of super talented drivers. We have Hamilton, Alonso and Vettel all carving themselves out as legends of the sport, with Button and Raikkonen close on their heals and past legend Schumacher proving he’s still quick, if not as quick as previously.

    The 60′s had Clark, Hill, Surtees, Gurney, Hulm, Brabham, Stewart and Rindt as well as a strong collection of talented drivers chasing them. The 80′s had Senna, Prost, Mansel and Piquet and then a clear gap to those behind.

    What sperates this era from previous ones, though, is that no driver on the grid can honestly be called bad. They’ve all won poles, races and titles in prominent international feeder series and though there are pay driver on the grid, these people had to prove they were fast to get that money in the first place.

    It’s also very true that young drivers over the last decade are under a lot more pressure than they used to be. All the driver development schemes from the manufacturers and other backers offered a lot of training to help drivers get to their best and stay their, and subsiquently the pressure was on to deliver wins from the get go. That hasent changed and so young driver that make it to F1 now are automatically at a very high professional level and capable of dealing with an F1 car. Just look at Pic, he’d never seen Albert Park or driven the Marussia MVR01 but acquited himself very well on his debut.

  35. Monza01 says:

    As for the relative merits of drivers of different periods, racing has changed so much that it’s almost impossible to make a comparison that’s valid and meaningful.

    I would only say one thing on this subject :

    I doubt whether any current F1 driver used to 200 minute sprint races could come close to matching Stirling Moss’ performance with Dennis Jenkinson in the 1955 Mille Miglia.

    A race of almost 1,000 miles on public roads and over 10 hours non-stop spent at an average speed of 97.96mph .

    And all this in the Mercedes SLR, a sports car-bodied version of the W196 Grand Prix car designed over 57 years ago with little thought to driver safety.

    I think this is almost certainly the greatest single performance in the history of Motor Sport.

    It doesn’t automatically make Stirling the best-ever driver but, together with Fangio, he has to be might close to the top of the list …………..

    All due respect to the top drivers of the 21st century : Alonso, Schumacher, Hamilton, Raikkonen and Vettel but I wonder if they are quite in the same league.

    Would they have the determination and strength of character to take this kind of risk ?

    Just possibly Kimi and Lewis might.

    1. Louis says:

      100% agreed

  36. Rach says:

    This is a typical debate said about all sportsmen from different era’s. In the above there is no doubt that on the face of it alonso has to perform at a higher level however the era dictates that. There is no doubt in my mind that if senna was in this era he would adapt and be at the level of the current best drivers.

    Senna would have the advantage the current drivers have in sports science. Then he would have all the tenementary and technological advances these guys have. Finally the drivability of the current cars would have allowed senna to perfect his style to the current era.

    Proof of this for me is how Schumacher now in his 40s is still able to function in this era. In my view he isn’t close to the driver he was in his prime. However he is still able to compete and also many people think if he had a decent mercedes he could win races.

    1. puffing says:

      On the contrary:
      (Driver; Age; Race)
      1 Luigi Fagioli; 53 years, 22 days; 1951 French Grand Prix
      2 Nino Farina; 46 years, 276 days; 1953 German Grand Prix
      3 Juan Manuel Fangio; 46 years, 41 days; 1957 German Grand Prix (JMF also was WDC this year)
      4 Piero Taruffi, 45 years, 219 days, 1952 Swiss Grand Prix
      5 Jack Brabham, 43 years, 339 days, 1970 South African Grand Prix (JB had been WDC four years before, in 1966)
      6 Sam Hanks, 42 years, 321 days, 1957 Indianapolis 500
      7 Nigel Mansell, 41 years, 97 days, 1994 Australian Grand Prix
      8 Lee Wallard, 40 years, 264 days, 1951 Indianapolis 500
      9 Maurice Trintignant, 40 years, 200 days, 1958 Monaco Grand Prix
      10 Graham Hill, 40 years, 92 days, 1969 Monaco Grand Prix
      (GH had been WDC one year before, in 1966)

      Yet to compare drivers across times is hard to deal with. My believing is that the best drivers could excel at any time, but I don’t honestly can say who could be the winner were they driving similar cars.

      1. puffing says:

        Autocorrection:
        “10 Graham Hill, 40 years, 92 days, 1969 Monaco Grand Prix
        (GH had been WDC one year before, in 1966)”

        One year before, in 1968.

  37. Tom in adelaide says:

    Regarding Maldonado, i posted this in anoher thread but it’s so priceless that i think it deserves a repost :D

    http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kTbOcIvTvko

    1. Lisa Thomas says:

      It looks a carbon copy of his crash at (malaysia ?) when he was chasing Alonso !
      I think Sir Frank made a special trip all the way to venezuela, together with scores of vip’s and sponsors. Pastor will be a chastened boy when he comes back

    2. Kay says:

      He gonna blame that on the roundable saying it should’ve gotten outta his way, like how he blamed Hammy in Valencia. :D :D :D

  38. PaulL says:

    Agree with Martin’s points. Isn’t this consistent with all athletes in all sports however as you travel from one generation to the next?

  39. IP says:

    There is one key factor missed, and that is danger. People back in the senna-prost era and before we’re far more likely to die or be seriously injured than now. I wonder how well drivers today would also cope with manual boxes and steering. Robert Kubrick famously fried the clutch of a megane on a visit to Australia because he has never driven a manual. Fans today really are missing out on something by not being able to appreciate the slick changes of an alboreto etc

    Regardless of that I don’t think current drivers are better than the elite BUT I think overall the quality of drivers across the entire field is much improved

  40. Alfons says:

    Great article and I totally agree with Martin on this.

    We have seen many a times when drivers go on to dominate consecutive seasons , Schumacher in recent years, Prost before that who learnt from Lauda , Jackie Stewart and Fangio as well.

    We all knew these great drivers were fast but what they were more renowned for was for never losing consternation and not have as many off-track moments and concentration lapses compared to their rivals.

    Alonso is the benchmark now , and that shows in his results this season and his statistic of 23 races in the points, almost matching Schumacher’s record, doing this despite the Ferrari of yesteryear’s having extensive testing all throughout the season and machinery which was NOT bounded by restrictions on how many races it would have to last.

    This is what I believe is working the “team” is all about. The driver ensuring that his “package” is always 100% and not leaving reliability as a game of chance.

    Watching the Season Reviews of the previous F1 seasons and especially of the Prost and the Senna days its quite laughable at how many times a driver would spin or have a gearbox ; this was “acceptable” till the 2004 season too. We would see many a time Montoya spinning off or Raikkonen losing the rear under braking( I think he was deprived of his first victory at Magny Cours in 2002 because he missed the breaking point and gave the win to Schumacher )
    , rewind a little and Hakkinen and Villeneuve would be seen in the same rut.

    There are these subtle fineness’ in driving the car which we overlook while watching Formula One presently.
    Its interesting to note that during the 1989 season , Prost had two retirements , none mechanical. Senna had 6 mechanical retirements.

    The points scoring system of those seasons probably played a factor too with the championship being decided on only the best 11 results compared to the present generation rewarding consistency throughout the season.

    We have come to believe due to the present high standard and professionalism of drivers that engine breakdowns ,gearbox problems etc are all mechanical but during those era’s most of these breakdowns would be the fault of the driver over-driving his car.

    I have touched on this in my blog as well :http://alfonsjosef1.blogspot.in/2012/06/art-of-driving-part-i-caressing-car.html

    1. Andrew M says:

      We would see many a time Montoya spinning off or Raikkonen losing the rear under braking( I think he was deprived of his first victory at Magny Cours in 2002 because he missed the breaking point and gave the win to Schumacher )

      Just a small point – he lost out on the win because Allan McNish’s toyota blew up in the braking zone and there was oil there, it would be very harsh to put that down as a driver error.

      1. Kay says:

        +1.

        Was about to say the same till I read your comment.

      2. Alfons says:

        True , but a moment later Schumacher came down the same piece of tarmac and had it all under control. Probably not the best example of a concentration lapse but you don’t see drivers doing a Perez while chasing the leader , despite some really close finishes in the last couple of seasons

      3. Andrew M says:

        Yes, but Schumacher was second onto the incident so he had more warning something was amiss than Kimi.

      4. Elie says:

        Ohh wake up..! Kimi was right behind the oil spill Schumacher got advance warning and when Kimi spun. Kimi has the record at Spa in case you didn’t know.

      5. hero_was_senna says:

        @elie, no Kimi hasn’t.
        MSC has won 6 times, 92, 95, 96, 97, 01 and 02. Disqualified in 1994 and DC caused accident in 1998.
        Senna next with 85, 88, 89, 90 and 91
        Kimi with 4 in 2004, 05, 07 and 09

      6. Elie says:

        Sorry Hero forgot to add since Kimi Joined F1.
        However you paint a very good picture…! if you catch my drift !

  41. Pulkit Tripathi says:

    Fantastic article James, reliability of the car’s have also increased. Also tyre have also added in strategy. To be in competition Drivers and Teams are at whole new level. Still why Vettel and Lewis are ranked above Kimi, I strongly thinks he’s equal to Alonso….he was unlucky due to reliability of McLAREN and favouritism of Ferrari for Massa….

  42. Wade Parmino says:

    It is very hard to say. I think the cars are much more aerodynamically balanced these days, resulting in less spin errors. However, lateral loading on the cars is probably greater than in previous decades, requiring drivers to be fitter now.

    There is definitely a lot more things a driver has to think about now as well; the temperamental tyres, DRS, KERS, engine map switching and many other factors also.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but it also appears that cockpit visibility was much better in the 80′s as drivers sat a little higher and closer to the front of the car. Lining up an apex at high speed in today’s F1 looks like it would be quite difficult. What was it like in the simulator James?

    As the cars are much much safer these days, drivers are more likely to take risks that they would not take in cars of days gone by. So drivers nowadays have to be smarter and fitter but not necessarily as ballsy or as brave as drivers of the past.

    Having said this, such comparisons are mere speculation and are redundant as well as being in some ways rather insulting to drivers of the past and present. Achievements throughout the eras should not be considered cheapened with labels of ‘better’ ‘smarter’ ‘tougher’ etc.

    1. puffing says:

      You made some good points, I agree with all of them. I also believe that in the current F1 car, the driver has difficulty in dealing with KERS, DRS, engine maps, maps of clutch, brake distribution, tire wear, etc., and that this difficulty is probably equal or even superior to that provided by the previous manual gearshift.

  43. ryan says:

    simply put, no.

    today’s cars are infinitely easier to control.

    …and that’s because the engineers today are of the higher level.

  44. Robert says:

    Interesting read, but you wouldn’t know how well Senna\Prost coped with the currend breed of cars. Prost for example was always at the front, no matter what kind of car he drove. From ground effect, to turbo, to high tech cars of the nineties. Besides that, the driver training methods are on a very high standard these days, put Senna in this training regime.. How great would he be? It is always dangerous to compare drivers of different era’s.

    1. James Allen says:

      Both would have been at the front today, of course they would.

      1. Monza01 says:

        I’m sure you are absolutely right but is the reverse also true ?

        Particularly if you consider the dangerous nature of F1 up to quite recent times.

        I don’t think some of today’s drivers would have the strength of character to drive in the carnage of the 50s and 60s.

        In those days I think that perhaps a different type of driver was necessary – characters like Moss and Fangio needed the finest of driving skills but they also needed great bravery : they knew they were risking their lives every time they got into the car.

        I can’t quite see this in some of today’s drivers.

        They aren’t necessarily better or worse, it’s just that different skill sets are needed to rise to the very top.

    2. Baghetti says:

      You are making a very good point here! Eversince the Pirelli tyres i have been thinking ‘oh boy, Prost would have loved this!’, he was really THE master wen it came to nursing tyres, strategic racing, and all the other things that are so important nowadays. Would Senna have loved it? I do not think so, I think he would have made Shumi-like comments and would have suffered from the tyre degradation. But does it mean that you can say that Alonso or Prost are better than Senna? Of course not, every driver’s success and greatness for a significant part are determined by the ‘requirements’ of his era, Senna was the best of his era when car control and raw speed were so important, just like Alonso is the best of the current nursing and strategy era. So in todays formula one should rate Prost higher than Senna, but what if in 5 years from now the formula has changed again (as it most certainly will)?

    3. Elie says:

      I reckon Prost in today’s cars would be the perfect fit driver both past or present. He was super smooth and consistently quick over a race distance. A great strategist- thinker, very good at setting up a car and making the tyres last whilst pumping out fastest lap times. I watched F1 back then mostly cause of his precision- poetry in motion! & all drivers back then had much more courage and worked much harder whilst racing in those cars. Thats something you cant measure! Gees Prost still looks like he could handle a hot lap or two now in his mid 50s. All you can really go on are the key attributes a driver needs for the times & I think he had them in bucket loads. I can’t say that about every current driver or past driver for that matter.

  45. DB says:

    I don’t think either set of drivers is better than the other. I believe that, in their prime, all these drivers could drive whatever was handed to them to its limit.

    As for Martin’s comment, unless I misunderstood, I see a logical flaw. He states: “The current cars have too much grip relative to their power, but the error rate is much reduced from Senna’s time”. But of course! The higher the grip to power ratio, the easier it is to drive, isn’t it?

    Oh, and as for “driving-easiness” try taking power steering and paddle-shifting off the current cars.

  46. Dennis says:

    “The current cars have too much grip relative to their power, but the error rate is much reduced from Senna’s time.”

    I do not get the “but”. It should is a “so”. When the cars have much more grip, it is also much easier to drive.

    - Which also makes it kind of silly to use that as a reason to rate Alonso higher: His car is 10 times easier to drive at high speeds than anything Senna were ever close to.

    1. Kay says:

      but then the majority of the cars Senna drove were a class above the rest, whereas Alonso is driving one hell of a mother and still pulling out the results.

      1. Elie says:

        It Ain’t that bad Kay seriously! He’s still done the best job I know. But Ferrari have done brilliantly too where Mclaren Lotus and even RBR have been very poor.
        Would we even be talking like this if Mclaren got their stops and refuelling right ? Probably not.or Lotus pit stops were 3 sec and not 4.5 ? and correct strategy calls! Teams + Drivers get the result.

        As for Senna yes he had great equipment but look who he beat in it. Arguably the next best ever. Prost / Senna would be quicker than most in the same equipment incredible natural talent, skill, finesse, with the 80s X Factor- Tremendous Courage!!

      2. hero_was_senna says:

        I’d argue that Kay.
        84 Toleman
        85 to 87 Lotus, and that 1987 Lotus was not good.
        88 and 89 the dominant car
        1990, I’d say equal to the Ferrari F190
        1991, Williams FW14, but Senna won the 1st four races
        1992 FW14B was a different class
        1993, he had the MP4?8 with a Ford engine…

        So at most maybe 3 seasons with the best car.

  47. Josh says:

    I’ve had this debate many times with friends, and I agree that the current crop probably are probably “collectively” the highest quality ever. Perhaps the 70′s is also a good comparison, with the like’s of Lauda, stewart, and hunt battling it out – maybe comparable in terms of competitiveness. Overall i suspect that Alonso would beat these drivers in the same equipment, but we are now in a different era, and technology and human athleticism etc has improved. Therefore, unfair to judge? While impossible to pick best ever but I’d have (IMHO) a top 5 of Schumi, Clark, Villeneuve, Senna, Alonso, in no particular order.

  48. Kainfri says:

    Hi James, and congratulations for your nice blog.

    Martin has a good point in that yes, drivers have a lot of skills now, but do that prove they are better than previous ones? I’m not so sure: I think that drivers do whatever is needed of them to shine, not less, not more.

    Let’s pick up a recent example: Lewis Hamilton. In the refueling/bridgestone era he was very very very hard with his tires because that’s what was needed then. If Hamilton stopped his career in 2010 lot of people would have wrote “Hamilton the ‘tyre eater’ would have never been able to survive to the Pirelli era”.
    Yet, as an intelligence driver he adapted his style to what is needed now.

    In the same way I think excellent drivers like Prost/Senna would have probably been able to adapt to the latest “new” era: let’s not forget that they had turbo engines, then aspirated one, active suspensions, fly by wire throttle, semi-automatic gears, etc…

  49. Alex says:

    NO WAY.
    Those cars were beasts,no power steering,manual transmissions,1500 hp,worst tires than now,cars breaking down all,lapped drivers not slowing down on the straights in order not to get a drive though penalty,etc,etc. Overtaking now is not more difficult than in those years,the difference is that before nobody “closed the doors” or at least not the amount of times drivers do it now. The driver was more important those days than now,nobody can deny that. There were few computers and the drivers had a greater skills than today’s drivers to give feedback to engineers.
    Only the people that saw that beautiful era live can see the difference.

    1. Kay says:

      Senna would probably have called today’s cars as beasts in having sooooooooooo many tech gizmos such as DRS, KERS and 10 thousand buttons on the steering wheel, these things he absolutely hated.

      So you can’t really say yesteryear’s were better than today’s drivers, much like you can’t say today’s are better than previous generations.

      A ‘great’ driver should be able to adapt and still pull out the results, that’s the difference to ‘good’ drivers. Things you mentinoed like break down, penalties.. how on earth do they relate to a driver’s skills? Tyres those are definitely different in those days in comparison to today’s specs, but you can’t say those were worse. Back then they could slide and skid or do anything to them and you can still race (as evident in one of the years I can’t remember where Piquet I think overtook another guy on the outside of Turn 1 at Suzuka). Today one lockup and your tyres are done.

      1. hero_was_senna says:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_Hbuydy9LI

        I think you’re referring to this over-take.

        I just thought whilst reading your comments, something no-one has mentioned yet on this blog, the drivers in the mid 80′s raced with fuel limits.
        I think in 1985, they had 200 litres to use. By 1988, IIRC this had come down to 150 litres so as to give the naturally aspirated cars equal performance.
        Senna lost a couple of races because of fuel meter readings being incorrect. Prost generally had a more efficient metering system but even he ran out in Germany 1987.

  50. Thompson says:

    I believe the drivers of yesteryear would dominate the drivers of today, manual gear shifts and the technology of the time made for far more demanding cars with higher levels of concentration, courage and skill required.

    Listen to modern drivers talk about their experience when driving old cars in exhibitions, Imagine driving those old cars in anger.

    While the basic skill sets I believe are the same the bravery required to get the maximum from the old cars requires far more skill.

    Imagine how fast a driver like Mansell/Moss/Hill(snr) Stewart would have been with blown diffusers, paddle gear shift and knowing the strength of these modern cars in an impact.

    Listen to Martin Brundle when he gets to drive a modern car, he is always amazed at the amount of grip it has.

  51. Elie says:

    James you mean late 1980′s . My answer to that is why is Michael Schumacher almost as quick as Nico Roseberg whilst he is nearly twice his age and was retired for 4 years
    I think if you put today’s drivers into 1200hp turbo lag cars of 1980s. Half of them would crash and burn, half of them would do ok. I don’t think drivers are any more or less skillfull today than they were back then – the requirements are different and today’s drivers need to be more technical for sure, but are they quicker I doubt it.

    “The current cars have too much grip relative to their power, but the error rate is much reduced from Senna’s time “- this is a silly statement because obviously if you have more horsepower and less grip then you are more susceptibl

  52. jpinx says:

    It’s really not possible to make a direct comparison between then and now. I am reminded of that truly wonderful occasion when Fangio raced MacLaren for real — the differences were glaring. Having said that – I believe that if you put any of the drivers through the same training and experience as any of the current top guys have had, and there will be nothing in it. Conversely, if modern drivers were brought up to use gear-sticks and mechanical grip more, they would have developed the skills needed. In the end it’s apples and pears.

    The thing that *has* changed is the mind management. The brilliant but mercurial characters from before would not fit into the modern concept of racing. Without being nostalgic about it, it was much more of a sport in those days. There was not the same requirement to fit into a corporate mould. Why do you think Kimi has such a devoted following? It’s because he is good, he knows it, and he doesn’t give a flying fox for the corporate stuff. Conversely it can be easily seen that Vettel is a corporate icon, but that is arguably why there are so many people actually against him.

    If there is a difference between then and now, it is that drivers and losing their humanity.

  53. JF says:

    I would agree with that rating. Alonso on top from the group who are about equal (Ham, Vett, Webb, Raik).

  54. Kurtis says:

    The American race tv channel Speed is doing a top 30 or so drivers of all time, most of the new guys that are really good tend to be towards the back end.

  55. madmax says:

    Well the number one quality for a racing driver is speed. The one link to the past that is still driving is Schumacher and at 43 and with no car advantage he beat all the current crop of drivers in qualifying at Monaco.

    I don’t think a slowed down 43 year old version of Schumacher could have done that with the likes of Senna and Prost on the track unless he had a significant better car.

  56. madmax says:

    The Auto Motor und Sport ratings after a race are generally poor as the drivers in the lower down cars get bad scores no matter what they do.

    Hence De la Rosa nearly last when he hasn’t put a foot wrong all season and has thrashed the only other driver in the same car even if it is just Narain.

  57. Elie says:

    James you mean late 1980′s and 1990″s
    My answer to that is why is Michael Schumacher ( & I’m no fan of MS) almost as quick as Nico Roseberg whilst he is nearly twice his age and was retired for 3 years
    I think if you put today’s drivers into 1200hp turbo lag cars of 1980s. Half of them would crash and burn, very few of them would do ok. I don’t think drivers are any more or less skillfull today than they were back then – the regulations, cars, safety and therefore the requirements are different so today’s drivers need to be more technical and multi skilled but are they quicker-I don’t think so. All racers to some extent have that degree of adaptability we’ve seen this with many racers in the past.

    “The current cars have too much grip relative to their power, but the error rate is much reduced from Senna’s time “- this is a silly statement because obviously if you have more horsepower and less grip then you are more susceptible to errors. Especially with the turbo boost cars being less linear in their power delivery.

    Alonso is driving beautifully but it’s only half a season gone and I think many drivers Lewis and Kimi are not far behind- the margins are small even between the drivers and I think Kimi will find even a bit more Quali speed after only 11 races back.Then in Nov we can can talk about who is a Senna or a Prost.

    As for German magazines well look at what they’ve done for German drivers – you don’t need to say any more really!

  58. Rich B says:

    romain looks a bit too far from kimi in that list i think.
    overtaking is easier now with drs but i get the point. if the greats (senna, prost etc) were born 25 years ago i’m sure they’d be as good as our current stars who grew up with the technical challenges we have. and vice versa.

    i’m sure if pastor drove in the 80′s he’d have been in hospital several times.

  59. Steve Dalby says:

    The biggest problem we have today is the relativity when comparing drivers, mechanics, team bosses or any other role in F1.

    Having said all that I do agree that todays drivers are at a higher level… because they have to be.

    Technology in the sport has increased to the point where the sport gives back technological advances to the rest of the world/Car industry and the drivers have to understand this to be ‘Part of the team’ and to communicate with the technical engineers at a similar level…

    The accurate questions to ask is this….

    Could Alonso beat Senna in a cars that is 50 years old and could Senna beat Alonso in todays cars?

    Now that is a race I would like to see.

  60. Sdsparacio says:

    I don’t agree with Martin. They just have more tools,knowledge,support and training then in the past. Pure speed I believe they are somewhat less talented. Speed versus safety the older drivers had bigger b—s!

  61. TitanRacer says:

    haha. you want a thousand web comments?? I think you found the catalyst!!! it is gonna be fascinating reading…
    in general, I begrudgingly have to agree with the basis of the article – much more than give me an extra lb of air or change 3′rd gear to go fast today!
    I tend to go back much earlier to the early 60′s to mid 70′s for my heros and inspiration tho. Clark and Stewart “stealing” 2 dump trucks and racing on 2 wheels around Brands Hatch. a slew of Ford sponsored drivers racing a Ford Cortina down the Italian Cortina bobsled run. the big guns could race and win anywhere, anytime, in anything. just look at the incredible accomplishments of G Hill, A J Foyt, and Mario across multiple world-class venues…
    thru out the history of our sport, there have always been stand outs, and always will be.
    once again. I do generally agree with the basic premise of the article, but I would sure wish I could go back in time and watch the “men of all men” doing their thing live again!

  62. Avin says:

    The rankings are worst(Auto Motor Und Sport) I have seen so far and needs to be taken with a pitcher of salt.

    My gripes:
    1)Lewis below Seb.
    2)Michael, Hulkenberg, Rosberg and Jenson above Romain who undoubtedly has been a revelation of the season.
    3) No matter how bad Pastor was, he is not deserving just a place above Narain.
    4) Timo above Pic.

    1. Kay says:

      Narain above Seb then.

  63. MJSib says:

    Finally, someone else agrees that Senna/Prost and Mansell aren’t all that great. The current drivers have more going on with their steering wheel, brake balance, DRS and kers, yet still drive the cars beyond their limits. Today’s cars don’t break down and there has never been such high quality drivers. It just shows that despite all the changes, the best drivers(Alonso and Hamilton) will always be at the top

  64. Truth or Lies says:

    This is all relative and could be debated until the end of time. However I’ve seen F1 live every year since 1980 (though my first race was in 1977, I was very young then!) and to be totally honest I just don’t view the current drivers in quiet the same light as those from the Mansell, Senna, Prost, Piquet era.

    The drivers of the current era are very professional and totally prepared, the whole sport is so much more professional and co-ordinated, but the raw passion of the late ’80′s isn’t evident.

    Comparing Alonso to Senna just doesn’t stack up especially in terms of qualifying pace and pole positions, while nobody in the current era has the outrageous pace and commitment of Nigel Mansell.

  65. Andy says:

    Comparisons of different eras in sport always create interesting debate and opinion. My own view is that I think it is very difficult to compare due to the changes in regulations, equipment etc. If I had to give an opinion then I don’t think todays drivers are any better.
    A few counter arguments to Martin’s view:
    ‘The error rate is much reduced from Sennas time’ – this can easily be due to no manual gear change, significantly more downforce, better brakes, no 1000hp+ engines with custom fuel that delivered power like an on/off switch etc.
    Didn’t Senna deliberately crash his car once at the last corner in qualifying somewhere? The position of the star/finish line was so close to the exit of the corner it was supposedly quicker to bounce his car off the barrier.
    ‘Passing is more difficult’ – yes it is but you could argue that today this makes it easier to defend your position.
    There tends to be a fair amount of criticism of Pirelli and what they do or don’t bring to the sport, but ‘similar’ tyre performance was around in the 80′s. I think it was Jerez in 86 when Mansell was trying to pass Senna for the win. Mansell pitted for rear tyres only, fitting the softest option of four available, and set of in pursuit of Senna. with around 10 or so laps to go Mansell closed him down by 2 secs/lap, crossing the line by 14 thousandths of a second behind Senna. The point of this is Senna was only doing what happens today, managing his tyres.
    There is a grey area between the two eras, that being traction control and active suspension, so in the early 90′s cars got a bit easier. Mind you, Red Bull are still trying to hold on to some of these tools.
    The current drivers have a ridiculous amount of knobs to twiddle with, on the other side, they are virtually driving an automatic, can’t miss a gear, over rev, stall etc.

    I see the current drivers to be no more than equal to past drivers. It’s a really good discussion point but how you can truely and accurately compare across eras…

  66. AlexD says:

    James, here is another though for consideration. This year, it looks like 99% of people around the world agree that Alonso is by far the best driver of recent history.

    Would it be the case last year? Would people call him the greatest last year as well? I do not think so….Vettel was THE MASTER for many last year.

    I think you either are the greatest or not. Yes, you can have bad races sometimes, but it cannot be that one year you are a hero and another year you are a zero.

    People are biased and all of it is a pure speculations, nothing more and nothing less.

    Nobody on this planet can be objective and therefore all these ratings and lists have zero value.

    1. [MISTER] says:

      As far as I remember from the articles that James posted last year about “driver of the Day”, Vettel never won it. On top of this, I believe he was second voted in only 1 or 2 articles.

      To be honest, I don’t know who said Vettel was the master. You just can’t race a driver that starts on the first row, gets in front and runs with it. His car was way above his competition last year. Why isn’t he leading the standing this year and more importantly why is Alonso leading it by 40 pts?

      1. [MISTER] says:

        You just can’t RATE…not race.

      2. Kay says:

        +1

        What stands out ALonso is how he managed to bag 40 points more than others in a dog of a car. That is what Vettel couldn’t do last year. If he had gotten a bad car to the front and still win several races plus leading the WDC, then he’d be in the same status as Alonso or even greats, but for now, only Alonso of the current era of drivers deserves it.

      3. [MISTER] says:

        The sad part is that BBC have done a list of greatest drivers of all time and Alonso is 10th. That means Vettel is going to be 9th or even possibly 8th which is a disgrace.

        Terrible job by Murray, Benson and everybody else who submitted their votes.

      4. Louis says:

        Can you imagine that last year on autosport there was an article on how Vettel is better than Senna, again like Alonso will say “it’s ridiculous”

    2. Paul Kirk says:

      AlexD, I’m sorry, you choice of 99% of us thinking Alonso is the best is somewhat inacurate! I’d suggest maybe 20%, with many of those being wrong!
      PK

  67. Nick says:

    I doubt if we can compare the different eras and who could do better – current drivers at that time or former drivers nowadays.

    To that “except the gear changing” I could add:

    - fear (now cars have more safety, I think right now “everybody could dare to crash” into another one and be alive. I doubt if current drivers want to have the same safety as at previous era then I think they would be much slowly then that guys 20-30 years ego. Btw: this is not related to LH, I personally think he could do much in that enviroment.

    - at the moment there are too much simulators and electronics , all that does a lot. I doubt if all current champion drivers find way forward in that enviroment.

    Btw, James: Why not to check this, at least partially ? Can teams take their old cars (from 80-90 th) and have a small championchip. Current WDC drivers; one race track with the same configuration like in 80-90 th ; Perhaps classification lap would be enough to check how good they are vs the previous times, what do you say?

  68. knoxploration says:

    I don’t know, James. Those drivers in the late 1908s were pretty special. Bring back the steam engine, I say! ;-)

  69. Holly says:

    I agree, there is excesive praise to the old legends because nostalgia, the amount of things a driver (outside the track and inside the track) do this days is insane, they are more prepared and in some case, they drive better than some of the so called legends.

    1. hero_was_senna says:

      Yeah, just imagine, Queen, Pink Floyd, U2, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Prince and Jimi Hendrix…
      I mean, how can they possibly compare to One Direction, The Wanted, Take That and the Backstreet Boys.

      Anyone would think that instruments and song writing skills meant you were a musician!!!

      1. Elie says:

        Ha I like It !

  70. Jaime says:

    More skill todays drivers no way!,!,
    Todays drivers do not take their hands of the wheel and try to dwon shift and turn or use heel to toe to drive plus they have all the elctronics for traction control with about half the horse power

    If we could have all todays top drivers and past top drivers at their peak same cars with or with out gadgets ii think th past top drivers still have an edge on todays

  71. Laurence H says:

    It really is folly to compare eras. Senna, Prost et al would no doubt have coped as well in a modern F1 car as Alonso and Hamilton, because they would have had the same training, development etc if they had been racing now. If not, it doesn’t mean they weren’t as good. They were the best drivers of those spec of cars, just as the top drivers of today are the best with this spec of cars.
    It’s a pointless debate. However, I think Jim Clark was the best. See, pointless. We’ll never know.

  72. kristian says:

    Let’s put it in Tennis terms since we had that fitness guy do that a few months back. Do you think Lendl and Becker would have held up against Sampras and Aggassi for an entire career? Or Sampras and Aggassi against Federer and Nadal? Or Billy Jean King against Navratilova. Or Navratilova against the Williams sisters? It’s simply not possible to know given the different equipment (racquets, balls, shoes, training, etc.) but it’s unlikely that previous generations could compete competitively. That doesn’t take away from the old champs, but they had to do what they did in order for the new generation to push it to the new level. Sorry if I just crushes someone’s rose tinted spectacles. Life feeds on life, feeds on life, feeds on life.

    1. Louis says:

      Federer the best, end of story.
      Gasquet one of the mest talented with Roger but hasn’t go his fitness and confidence(head) in tence moment

  73. [MISTER] says:

    Hi James. First of all thank you so much for keep bringing these articles. Each one is a breath of fresh air in this holiday period.

    Going back to your article, I would agree with Martin because todays drivers are prepared so much more phisically and mentally. The technology is there to keep them fit and focus, aswell as to provide with alot more info about the car, track, tyres, engine etc. They have wind tunnels where they perfect their skills.

    Having said all this, nobody could say for sure that Senna or Prost wouldn’t be able to do it too.

  74. Andy says:

    I’m not sure if they are better drivers now or were stronger in the past. What I can say with certainty though is that the greater reliability of the cars themselves has amplified the driving errors. Today you can say with good confidence that if a driver crashes his car through a mental error- for example Schumacher’s incident with Senna at Barcelona this season – that he binned some definite points. So I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that the car allows some to shine more brightly in the modern era than they may have in the more mechanically volatile older eras. In other words its difficult to compare drivers when they drove vastly different machinery.

  75. merida bob says:

    Turn the article on it’s head and ask the question could Alonso beat Mansell in Mansell’s car? I have my doubts.

  76. Vipin says:

    SENNA is best. End of the story.

  77. Great debate !

    I get asked this alot by my mates who know I supported Senna and now support Alonso. Personally I still think Senna is the best ever but that this current grid has the deepest talent pool I have seen in my years of following F1.

    Alonso and Senna both bring different attributes to the argument. Senna had unbelievable qualifying speed and Alonso has ruthless consistency.

    I think it was telling that Alonso himself said in an interview with Lee McKenzie that consistency above all else is the area where he is strongest.

    The fact that we are arguing about Senna and Alonso emphasises the mockery that BBC top 20 F1 drivers of all time is. Alonso coming only 10th in that list is baffling, all the more so when it looks like Vettel is going to finish ahead of him in that list.

    From my time watching F1(1988 roughly – present) supporting Senna, Hill and Alonso my top 5 off the top of my head is:

    1.Senna
    2.Schumacher
    3.Alonso
    4.Prost
    5.Hakkinen / Mansell

    Feel free to disagree !

    1. Anop says:

      BBC site states that – the list has been compiled by the BBC F1 team. Each member was asked to come up with their own personal list of the 20 greatest drivers since F1 started in 1950.

      I believe everyone in the BBC F1 team is British so hardly any surprises there that Fernando was rated 10th. I am sure if Lewis had won 2 titles they would have rated him in top 5.

    2. John says:

      Glad someone finally included Mika Hakkinen in the list of all time best drivers. he truely deserves to be there, and after Lauda, arguably the best F1 come-back of all time.

      1. hero_was_senna says:

        Yeh, a man who was gifted his first 2 wins, then won in a dominant car running on Bridgestones in 1998 when Mclaren dropped Goodyear due to Goodyear leaving the sport at the end of 1998.
        A man who had the full backing of the team, something DC has mentioned a few times since.
        Then a man who in 1999 struggled to the WDC and put in one of the most disgraceful drives I have ever witnessed at the Nurburgring 1999, where he was invisible throughout after it rained a little, he pitted and had fitted the wrong tyres on and only a handful of laps from the end he speeded up because he’d get point for passing a Minardi.
        That’s not a champion driving.

        At least Damon Hill went to other teams and turned them around.

    3. Lisa Thomas says:

      This list doesn’t do anything for the BBC. I’m surprised that James and Gary Anderson agree to work for them, as an F1 fan I find them not quite the tops on credibility.

      Much as I respect him, It’s plainly daft to put Alonso so high on a list of all-time greats when he is still half-way through a season and hasn’t won ANYTHING yet for his current team of 3 years.
      Alonso better than the great Prost?
      Please !!

      1. Lisa Thomas says:

        phew. I misread your post Patrick M, and wrote in haste.

        This your view not the BBC. Good luck to you!

    4. Louis says:

      Hakkinen and Hamilton were a way faster than Schumacher respectively. I admire so much more Mika than Michael, he used to beat him in F3 but he didn’t have the luck that Msc had

  78. Lisa Thomas says:

    The same Fab Four come up every time, and we’ve had a fair few lists now. Sometimes Vettel is 4th, sometimes Kimi. But no matter, these are the best we have today. Four superb drivers and one of them will be champ.
    To me it doesn’t really matter which one wins it at the year’s end. They are giving us the most enthralling of all the F1 seasons ever …Can any one remember a more fascinating or exciting championship?

    1. Anop says:

      Still a long way to go for 2012 to compete with 2010, 2007 and 2006.

  79. FFC says:

    I think several drivers of today and others from the 80´s and the 90´s would be pretty much on the same pace.

    If you put someone like Senna on a Red Bull of these days with the preparation that a actual driver has, no doubt he would performe at a great level. Same with Lewis or Fernando on a 80´s car.

    This is a question that echoes through almost every sport!!

  80. nusrathullah says:

    I beg to differ. No driver in the current line up baring Kimi Raikkonen and Hamilton that can flirt with the edge which such finesse at the level Ayrton Senna, Giles Villeneuve and Tazio Nuvolari did.

    They will be better prepared drivers, like Michael, Alonso, Vetel, Prost, Stewart, etc.

    The two breed of drivers are extremely different.. almost two different species.

    The recent trend of drivers are following the ‘Better Prepared’ Category while the Second Heroic Category is extremely rare.

  81. F458 says:

    In terms of physical fitness the drivers of today are at a higher level. In terms of driving ability, the drivers of today do not have manual gearboxes, no power steering, 1200 horsepower low downforce turbo cars which were animals to control so the question is harder to answer. The only thing that can be said with certainty though is that Senna would still be on top.

    Also this question could easily be extended to “Are the drivers of today at a higher level than in the Fangio/Farina/Ascari/Hawthorn era?” where the sheer talent and bravery of these men would also come into the topic, because basically if you made an error you died.

  82. SP says:

    Times change and as result the cars, technology, tolerances, performance, etc. have also changed drastically. Which means drivers have had to adjust and really up their game due to close competition and smaller gaps.

    I have no doubt the if Senna, Prost, Piquet, etc. were around today, they’d also be competing at the very top. Like the drivers of today, they would also have been capable of turning up the wick ;)

    Also, cars were harder to drive back then so competing at the front consistently required that extra special skill. Which could explain why we saw more incidents. They didnt have the luxury of driver aids and driving at the limit was very physical and exhausting too.

    Put the current crop in some old school F1 cars and ask them to go just as fast as their predecessors did. I’m pretty sure they would struggle.

  83. Val from montreal says:

    What will the “experts” say about the new generation if schumacher and mercedes wins the title next year ? Will james allen finally agree that Schumacher is the greatest driver the world has ever seen ? Why is a driver like alonso praised by some as a legend. ? Cmon !!! How over rated can one guy be ?

    1. Bobster says:

      That’s a bit harsh. James has written a book about Schumacher, and it is clear from that book that he regards Schumacher skill-wise and speed-wise in the very highest echelon of drivers.

      For me there is a test that is not passed every year. Who is the driver, or is there a driver, against whom all their contemporaries are measured? Clark was such. So was Fangio. So was Senna. I think there was a spell from ’74 to about ’85 when there was no clear benchmark driver. Then Prost and Senna started coming on strong. Schumacher was the next benchmark driver. Do we have one now? I think we haven’t for a couple of years, but I think Alonso is starting to become that driver for this time.

      And those are the GREAT drivers, the guys with something extra that even very good F1 drivers (some of them world championship winners) don’t have.

      1. James Allen says:

        Two books actually.

        Of course he’s right up there, the numbers don’t lie, even if they are somewhat exaggerated by circumstances.

    2. Andrew M says:

      Let’s see Schumacher get one race win or even one podium on outright race pace before we talk about a championship challenge.

    3. Bobster says:

      Alonso is a tremendous race driver. He always puts in a big effort and he’s very, very fast. You could see this in his first season. He was driving for Minardi and thus had no chance of winning or even a podium, but he got that car much further up the grid and the field than you’d expect it to be. He must have caught a lot of eyes that first season.

      There’s the consistent intensity he drives with as well. Always pushing, and thus always placed to maximise whatever comes his way. If you’ve got Alonso chasing you down and you slip up he’s going to be all over you like a rash.

      This season is very tight, very close, small mistakes get magnified. It’s tailor made for Alonso because he’s consistent and because he punishes the slightest mistake by an opponent.

      His motivation and self-belief is remarkable. He hasn’t won a championship since 2006. You could blame him for having gone off the boil, but he hasn’t, not one bit. He’s like Senna – highly self-motivated – though Senna never had to go through a long dry spell as Alonso has.

  84. jjpm says:

    This subject reminds me of Niki :
    Lauda said “I’ve said that any monkey could drive a modern F1 car so I think monkey say, monkey do! These cars have different engine characteristics, traction control and different engine performance. I want to understand this so I can understand what the drivers are talking about” It’s unclear whether he will test the new R3 or will prefer not to take chances with the new car and drive the 2001 R2.

  85. Kerbrider says:

    Of course they are better. Its evolution. Same as how usain bolt is now better/faster than carl lewis was. Its natural human evolution. The race gets better with each generation

    1. madmax says:

      Why then has no one beat Mike Powell’s long jump record set around the time of his rivalry of Carl Lewis??

      Why has no women beat FlojO’s sprinting records from the 1980′s?

      Why where boxers of the 1940′s and 1950′s vastly superior to today’s boxers?

      1. Elie says:

        A thing called Anabolic Steriods for the sprinters- Flojo was a classic case ! Carl Lewis claimed to be clean but had illegal samples of la 84 retested before Seoul 88- what a hypocrite ! Can’t say with Mike Powell

        Boxers are a perfect comparison to the previous eras of F1 -Toughness & courage !! Cannot be measured and older generations were bought up in tougher times -no “sugar coating” like today !

    2. Peter says:

      That’s a nonsensical statement. Athletes relying on biology (ie. their bodies) have evolved, but they have also had help. Usain Bolt is faster than Carl Lewis, but he also has the advantage of better training techniques, nutrition, drugs (legal or illegal, take your pick), shoes and clothing design and even track design. None of those things that Jesse Owens had in his day.
      Modern cars have changed, forcing drivers to adapt, not ‘evolve’.
      Just because an athlete is from a current generation, that does not automatically make them better than before. Is Wladimir Klitschko a better boxer than Ali?
      The only al way to compare is to judge the against their current competitors.

      1. Kerbrider says:

        So ure saying that the human race isn’t evolving. U mention training techniques. Don’t u think the drivers of today are fitter? Better prepared? Gimme a break

      2. Peter says:

        Better prepared and fitter does not mean faster. The intangible here is ‘skill’. Some attributes cannot be improved, which is why I mentioned boxing. How about snooker or darts – are the players better today because of training? Or let’s leave sport altogether and try science. Is there a smarter person today than Einstein? Most scientists would say no, even though scientist today know more.
        The ability to drive fast is so much more than how fit you are, or how much you understand the mechanics of traction or aerodynamic vortexes.
        I would dare any modern day ‘regenmeister’ to match it with guys like Senna, who had to drive wet races almost blind, on the ragged edge of changing grip, with fingertip skill the only thing keeping them out of the wall. Remember these guys were on their own out there. No pit radio, no advice, no telemetry, no ability to adjust brake bias, fuel mixes, pressures, wings. No safety cars at the slightest moisture. Prost, one of the greatest drivers ever, once abandoned a wet race because he though it was suicide, long before a safety car intervened. Senna was still circulating flat out.
        That is skill. No amount of training, fitness, nutrition or science could help you out there.

      3. Bobster says:

        They are fitter. They’re ALL fitter. IIRC the first driver to really start paying attention to nutrition and training was Niki Lauda. In subsequent generations the ante has been gradually upped. Senna took training and preparation a lot further, then Schumacher took it up another notch.

        If Senna, Lauda, Mansell etc were coming through the ranks today they’d be training with similar intensity to the drivers we do have today.

      4. part time viewer says:

        with regards to peters post, brakes have been adjustable for along time, certainly since the 50,s. and from the 80,s radios were common

  86. Mike J says:

    James, it is always something that is debated with no real possibility of any correct answer.

    To start with I had a wryly smile about Martins comment that ‘pretty much everything else is at a greater level except the gear changing.” Probably one of the highest levels of skill required (manual shift) and completed thousands of time during the race in the ‘golden age’ is not completed nowadays. Oh, and don’t start me on rain. Come on, two items where drivers real skill was brought out previously cannot be measured today to the same degree.

    Todays drivers have more ability in some areas and less in others because that is what the job description requires.

    F1 is no different to any sports. Call it football, tennis, golf or cricket, today’s sports people and teams go faster, higher, longer and are analysed almost to ‘ad nausea’. Whether it is personal fitness, car engineering, team feedback or strategies, today’s F1 is certainly at a higher level of input and therefore the standard of competition is higher. It is more competitive since a minor error made in the 80’s/90’s that you could get away with is now penalised heavily at the top level. However on the other side, more runoff areas now allow drivers to ‘get away’ with errors that drivers in the past could not.

    As for the drivers skill or ability, in the ‘old days’ ability was critical, without that you didn’t really get to second base, let alone first. Now, if you have a bit of ability and a spare $40 million sponsorship you can get a drive (okay and you need success in a feeder class and super licence) – Maldonado at 4.5 is pretty spot on for me.
    Today’s drivers are supported with hundreds of team personnel giving them very detailed levels of information almost on an ‘instant’ level.
    You ‘transform’ yesterday’s golden era champions into today’s era and I believe they would still be champions.

    Individual Drivers ‘skill or ability’ level higher now? – No
    Standard level higher now? – Yes
    Is Alonso better than Senna – absolutely not, (well not yet, time will tell) but he is certainly going to be ‘up there’.

  87. Qiang says:

    Growing up and living in China until late 90s, I did not have the luxury to see Senna/Prost racing. I see Senna in particular has a very special place in many peoples heart. Can Senna fans share a few things real special about Senna?

    One way to compare drivers in different era is try to see how close they were/are to the maximum. In my view, Alonso has always been very close to that.

    The second way is to look at how much quicker than their teammates.

    I always regard Lewis one of the gifted. I see people here believe more so with Senna. Would be interesting to know more about that.

  88. Melanie says:

    [mod] Having watch both eras. The answer is easy. AYRTON SENNA! The best!

  89. olderguysrule says:

    Someone asked the question a few posts back. Could Alonso beat Mansell in Mansell’s car? Well, let’s look at Mansell’s 1992 WDC winning Williams. Along with the 93 Williams, the most tech advanced F1 cars ever raced. Remember it was in 94 when they changed the tech rules. I think Alonso could do quite well in that car. As for who’s better? I’d go back to Jim Clark.

  90. Koby Fan says:

    This topic will always be a never ending debate…

    The cultural perspective is more telling – the German media use averages (so consistency is key) versus Italian media’s pagelles (basically emotional assessments), but Alonso is still top of the pile…

    1. James Allen says:

      Good observation, but the German one is averages of a series of subjective assessments so it’s not that different!

  91. ef jeden says:

    Hello everybody
    I remember asking myself time and time again, who would won if Sampras/Becker at his pic was to play Federer at his best? And each time I’m failing to answer that. At first, you may think: this is no brainer – Federer! But moment later, after giving it deeper thought, you starting to ask yourself questions: Where should this super match take place, on what court surface? Would it happen in Sampras’ era or at present day? Then, can single match be decisive or should they meet at least three times? Against whom would they be playing all season long before taking on themselves? We could make endless list of those questions even though tenis game is without a doubt much more transparent a sport than Formula 1 is. At the end you will just give up, feeling lucky enough being given a chance to witness both of those great players in action at their times. There is too wide an spectrum of things to every sport and it’s era to consider to ever try and weigh up such a comparison. Time is the best friend of evolution; human-wise, science-wise and knowledge-wise. Of course present-day drivers developed skills which were unknown to their great predecessors. Of course today’s car engineering is way more advanced and driver-friendly than before. But what that tells us? Would Federer’s or Sampras’ game be equally good in the old era of wooden racquet? Would Borgs and McEnroes stood the test of modern game? I guess there wouldn’t be any Alonsos, Hamiltons, Kubicas or Vettels wasn’t it for Fangios, Clarks, Sennas, Prosts, Schumachers before them. Someone mentioned natural talent as the only fair aspect that could be considered here… but how would one measure it? Just my five cents… hope it makes sense English-wise?

  92. Maximo Perez says:

    James said it best, Senna is the best driver he ever saw.

  93. Heinzman says:

    Is it true Senna never won a race from below fifth?

    There are a lot of readers making absolute statements “He was the best, no doubt” etc. but that is ridiculous, it is not possible for anyone to make such a statement.

    We are lucky to have so many greats on the grid today, Michael, Alonso, Kimi, Lewis and Sebastian will all become a significant part of the history of F1.

    1. hero_was_senna says:

      Off the top of my head, I don’t know.

      But how many times post 1984, did he start below 5th place?
      This guy was unbelievable in qualifying.

      Just a little stat.
      Friday Q1: 1.26.464 vs 1.28.375
      Saturday Q2: 1.23.998 vs 1.25.425

      A difference on Friday of 1.911 seconds and Saturday of 1.427 seconds.

      That was against one of the greatest in history, in identical cars, Prost.

  94. Kay says:

    Why this argument? :D

    Solution: Simple! Just put current drivers into Senna’s era cars but built with stronger and safer materials, then have them all do a few races just to see how they compare. That way you can compare how today’s drivers do in the cars that Senna drove.

  95. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    Interesting article James! I had this exact conversation with a mate just recently and its also relevant to MotoGP. Who knows how Schumi would have gone over the next ~5 years if Prost hadn’t retired (at what now seems like an early age) and Senna hadn’t passed away. My friend argued that a few of his championships tie in with a transitional period and perhaps lessened competition.

    I think rather than comparing yesterday’s drivers in today’s cars, you should do the opposite. How would today’s drivers go in the F1 cars of the 30s or 50s for example? No electronics, massive horsepower, skinny cross ply tyres, no seat belts (!!!) and dangerous circuits. I would argue its easier to be brave (and fast) when your life is not in danger to the same extent as past champions. To make matters even more impressive their efforts were done in a time of mutiple deaths and injuries. People like Fangio, Brabham and JYS should be recognised for their talent in not only surviving, but thriving. Its hard to imagine many of today’s drivers doing the same. It would spoil their haircuts.

    1. **Paul** says:

      I’d agree with the comment RE: Prost and Senna and as you allude to it’s very much like Rossi’s career, massive success when the competition was weak, but far less success (but still some) when the competition hotted up.

      Some people are unlucky in sport, Andy Murray is a good example, he’s come along when their are some real greats in Tennis. Hamilton it could be argued is another, rocking up with Alonso and Vettel on the scene.

      I think that Schumacher changed F1 with his professional approach to fitness etc, so yes I’d expect the current guys to beat Senna, but if we were given access to the same resources I think he’d beat all of those on the grid at present. (IMO).

    2. Alex W says:

      As for moto GP it will be interesting to see Lorenzo wipe Rossi, and in the F1 early days there were guys that drove like a modern F1 driver, they were super quick, but always ended up dead quickly.

      1. Paul Kirk says:

        Yes Alex W, it will be interesting to see who comes out on top of the George and Valantino battle on Yamahas next season! My money’s on Rossi!
        PK.

  96. Bobster says:

    Overtaking was easier then? He’s having a turkish. We’ve seen a lot of overtaking the last couple of years – a sudden increase, in fact, from 2010 when Alonso infamously got stuck behind Petrov and despite being clearly faster could not get past. Pirelli tyres and DRS have changed the picture markedly. Senna never had the luxury of knowing that once he’d caught the guy he was after he’d get a straight line speed advantage on the next straight.

    Resource conservation? Looking after tyres is pretty important today. There is not more re-fuelling (remember the “save fuel” calls to various drivers) and one important aspect of resource management is taken away – these days a driver cannot flub a gearchange and over rev the engine.

    So I think the argument doesn’t hold up.

    However, it is true that we have some very good drivers in F1 at the moment. Alonso is superb and is becoming the benchmark driver as Schumacher (mark 1) was in his time and Senna in his. Whether or not any of the current bunch are as good as or better than Senna, Clark, Moss, Stewart or Fangio is not yet clear (I’m leaving Mansell and Piquet out of things because although they raced in the era in question, there is little support for a place for either of them in the ranks of the all time greats).

    Senna won with turbos and normally aspirated engines. With manual shifts and with fully automated transmission. He had to master a wider range of cars than today’s hot shots. So did Prost. So did Mansell. So did Michael Schumacher. Piquet didn’t have to deal with the different types of transmission, but he did deal with turbos and normally aspirated cars (and won championships in both types), with ground effects and then flat-bottomed cars, and with active and passive suspension.

    That those drivers never had to deal with, say, double-clutch starts, f-ducts and DRS doesn’t reduce their skills.

    1. James Allen says:

      “Having a turkish” – Turkish bath = laugh, would that be it?

      1. Nick says:

        A turkish as far as I know was always a “Turkish delight” = sh…

        i.e. im off for a Turkish!

        But maybe its changed?

      2. Bobster says:

        Errmmm… that’s how I understand it. “Turkish bath” = “Larf”. But see Nick’s reply which alludes to what I always thought was a “wilf” (Wilfred Pitt).

    2. **Paul** says:

      To be fair to Alonso he couldnt pass Petrov as his car was slower in a straight line. Something that did for Lewis in Monza last year behind Schumi, and something that makes overtaking in a Red Bull a significantly greater challenge than doing so in a Ferrari or McLaren. You really need that straight line speed to get past in F1 – that or put some captain brave pants on under braking!

      1. Bobster says:

        Sure, but this year he would get pass. Why? DRS. Overtaking was not easier then. Slow cars could still hold up fast cars. I do think that the chasing car didn’t suffer as much from the wash of the car in the front, but then they didn’t have DRS either. It’s always been the case that catching up is one thing, passing quite another.

  97. Anthony says:

    You need to consider the advances in physical training. A young Senna today on the grid with access to modern training techniques would definetly outshine the current top drivers. I could see a young Senna in a force India qualifying P3.

  98. S2K says:

    Difficult to say. One thing to note, however… I haven’t yet heard one single current driver saying that the wished they could race those cars that Senna and Prost had…

  99. goferet says:

    *Pop Quiz*

    Okay, what do these former and great drivers have in common

    Alberto Ascarie

    Juan Manuel Fangio

    Juan Pablo Montoya

    Fernando Alonso

    Aryton Senna

    Michael Schumacher

    Lewis Hamilton

    Nelson Piquet

    That’s right, all mentioned above are Catholics!

    1. Jack says:

      so the vast majority of great drivers aren’t Catholic?

      Thanks for the info.

  100. goferet says:

    @ Heinzman

    Is it true Senna never won a race from
    below fifth?
    ————————————————-

    Yes it’s true and I believe that race was a wet Donington in 1993.

    You see great qualifiers do not under perform in qualifying on Saturday so you find they do not have to win from a poor qualifying grid

    However though Senna never won lower than P5, technically, he did win from P18 when his car stalled at the start Suzuka 1990.

    1. Anop says:

      Is there such a thing called great qualifiers? I don’t think there is. I might be wrong but it is just my opinion.

      I think qualifying is more about how good/fast is a car. I agree drivers bring something to the table in qualifying too but that is negated by the fact that drivers in an era have been evenly matched. Senna – Prost or Alonso – Hamilton – Vettel.

      In short I believe Hamilton or Alonso would have taken equal number of poles as Vettel in 2011.

      I did some digging about the number of wins and poles. To be honest I was little bit suprised by some numbers.

      Wins Poles Wins from pole Wins/Pole % Wins not from pole
      Senna 41 65 29 0.63 29%
      MSC 91 68 40 1.33 56%
      Prost 51 33 18 1.54 64%
      Alonso 30 22 14 1.36 53%
      Hamilton 19 22 10 0.86 47%
      Vettel 22 33 17 0.66 22%

      I have not seen Senna or Prost or MSC (before 2005) racing. But I have seen all of Alonso, Hamilton and Vettel till date. There is hardly anything to choose between the three of them. They all are very very good. But still Alonso and Hamilton are one notch above Vettel. Simply beacuse they can win races even when they don’t have the fastest car. Vettel still has to prove that he can win races when not starting from pole.

      The numbers above also say the same thing. Only 22% of Vettle’s wins are not from pole. Alonso and Hamilton are closely matched at 53% and 47%. Numbers sometimes lie but ratio’s and %’s never.

      1. ferggsa says:

        First, thanks for the numbers, quite telling and as you say % don´t lie
        I also agree that a slower car is not getting pole no matter how fast the driver

        However, I do think there are good qualifiers and good racers, some are both, but it does require somewhat different abilities (by the way, I have been watching since Hill Sr won the Mexican Grand Prix in 1968 and Schumy wasn´t even born yet)

        Senna was one of the fastest guys ever, more like Hamilton, while probably Prost was a better “racer”, pretty much like Alonso nowadays, maybe Fangio, Clark and Schumacher (even if I am not his fan)are among the best overall

        I am not a Vettel admirer and agree with you that he tends to win from pole rather than fight his way up, but pole wise, he might be almost on Senna´s level
        I does take a different concentration, gut level and damage control ability to put together a single perfect lap, more so this days with 1 or 2 flying laps on fresh rubber (in the old days they could run all day and use their best lap, no TV coverage)

        In fact my theory regarding Vettel, Webber, Red Bull is that The car is very fast overall and superb in clean air, give it a good qualifier like Vettel and they run away with pole and win
        Pull them back in the grid with a good racer like Webber, and they will have a hard time using the car´s benefits (less grip, no top speed for passing, more tire wear, etc)and will have a hard time climbing up the field even with DRS, so Webber is a good driver, but Vettel is just a tad faster when it counts, in Q3

    2. Heinzman says:

      Thanks Goferet.

      You would need to look at how many times he actually started outside the top 5 and compare it to others. Just seems weird he had not won a race from outside there.

    3. hero_was_senna says:

      You may wish to review your facts there g4it.

      Senna at Suzuka in 1990, was trudging back to the pits after colliding with Mr Prost at the first corner.

      If you mean when he started on pole in 1988, almost stalled the car and dropped to 14th into the first corner, then overtook everyone using ability and not buttons to win his 1st WDC, then I’ll accept keyboard slippages.

  101. Jack says:

    I totally agree with the Germans about Maldonado. I was so annoyed when he won in Spain because it means he’ll now be considered worthy of an F1 drive, rather than in the dock for assault with a deadly weapon.

  102. Bobster says:

    Alonso has said that he doesn’t believe in God. He may have been raised a Catholic, but he isn’t one now.

  103. Richard says:

    I really don’t think that comparison can be drawn between different eras. All that can be said is that drivers for the most part have driven to the maximum possible in a given set of circumstances before high deg. tyres came on the seen. In all sports records are broken from time to time, but motor sport combines man and machine with the machine contributing by far the biggest part, and so the actual improvement in driver competency will be small. If Arton Senna was alive and young today he would be a top driver for sure. safety standards have improved tremendously and rightly so, but drivers are more constrained than in Senna’s day. It’s a highly technical sport, but I doubt that any driver from previous eras would like driving to conserve the tyres. – It just ain’t proper motor racing. Drivers of today then maybe marginally better, but they are mostly just different.

  104. Jim Clarke says:

    I wrote this on a forum where this article is being discussed

    “I look at like this

    If you put a 28 year old Senna and a 28 year old Prost in today’s era and gave them the same amount of knowledge, advancement and technology I think they would beat the current generation.

    Schumacher showed that great drivers can adapt through different eras, Schumi turned up in 1992 and did well and was still winning Championships in 2004, the game must have changed quite a bit in that time and Schumi as a all time great adapted to it and still won. He even came close to beating Alonso in 2006 as age crept up on him. He also at over 40 can still put in a world class performance today from time to time.

    For me the greatest driver in my lifetime (I was born in 1987) was Senna in 1993 in his underpowered Mclaren Ford, look at what he got out of that car when the Bennaton had more power and the Williams was streets ahead. Also look at how Prost got the most out of his cars and his race strategy, given the advancement of today compared to what it was in his day his crafty mind would come up with loads of ways to win races.

    This is no knock on Alonso or Hamiliton, I rate them both very highly but I ahve to disagree the drivers of today are on a higher level, they just use better technology and have more assets available to them, talent wise Senna, Prost and Schumi are still the best in my view.”

    1. Elie says:

      Well said Jim !

    2. Louis says:

      Have no idea how you can put Msc with them, it is just unreal. Hakkinen use to beat Msc in f3, as soon as an oppenent had a good car, msc was always beaten AND he had a crapy team-mate. Stewart, or Clark are way in front of msc

      1. Jim Clarke says:

        I can only judge who I have seen in my lifetime, I agree Schumi had years where the title was easy for him like 2002 and 2004, but remember he almost beat Alonso in 2006 and did beat Hakkinen in 2000, plus in 1999 he may have beaten him if he would have not spent half of that season injured if Irvine could have gotten that close than I am sure Schumi would have won.

        I rate Senna and maybe Prost above him, but I still rate Schumi.

  105. wendy says:

    Michael Schumacher is not Roman Catholic.

  106. Rayz says:

    James, I’m a huge fan of your blog. I read every article and recently have started sharing my own opinions on the relevant topics. However, there is absolutely no point in discussing this particular topic. Not only is there no way of objectively determining whether these current drivers are at a higher level, I’d go so far as to say it shouldn’t even be subjective! I know there is nothing beyond subjective analysis but if there was, this would be where it would reside.

    The sport has changed so drastically in the last 20 years, the only thing that remains the same is that the F1 cars have 4 tyres and an engine. And even those aspects have changed significantly. To compare these two generations and arrive at a conclusion as to which is better is to insult both generations. They stand alone, each as glorious to watch and be apart of as the last. I personally feel that it should be left at that.

    Apologies if that turned into a rant but when I read comments saying that Senna is way better, end of!, or vice versa, it drives me up eau rouge. Awful pun is noted. :)

    1. Martin says:

      Hi Rayz,

      I can understand the sport is entertainment view. Basically my argument is one about sports conditioning and how it has forced the drivers to be better at being able to concentrate at near maximum level for an entire race distance.

      Skill level, I don’t know one way or the other. But the top guys are all obviously pretty good at brake steering and throttle applications.

      Cheers,

      Martin

      1. Rayz says:

        Hi martin,

        i dont dispute that. these F1 drivers are superbly fit and strong, both mentally and physically. whether you can transpose that as skill is another story. i dont believe there is a correlation.
        but i agree with you, it must take an immense amount of concentration for a race distance

    2. Heinzman says:

      Agreed

  107. Jack says:

    so the vast majority of great drivers aren’t Catholic?

    Thanks for the info.

  108. TitanRacer says:

    just read thru the 192 replys so far.
    am in 7′th heaven!
    the read was all I hoped it would be and much, much more.
    what a great way for us old-timers to re-live the memories!
    what a great way for newbies to get up to speed in a hurry!
    many thanks to James (and everybody…)

  109. James Enocre says:

    Was Fangio better than Senna ?

    Was Stewart better than Alonso ?

    Was Jim Clark better than Schumacher ?

    They are all great questions to discuss down the pub. But. Different cars suit different drivers. You only need to look at Jenson Button’s performance in this years car and last years car (and the one he was champion in) to see that, or the outstanding champions of lower formulae who were also rans in F1. It’s like asking if Michael Phelps is a greater Olympian because he won more medals in a discipline where you can enter 10 events, than Steve Redgrave where the limit is one or two.
    Today’s drivers have to manage tyres, past ones had to manage fuel, or unreliable cars. Modern gearboxes prevent a bad gear-shift blowing up the engine, but the driver has to work a dozen gizmos which would have been science fiction to Stewart or Fangio. Death and serious injury isn’t the threat that it was so were past drivers the absolute best or meerly the best of those stupid enough to race?
    The list goes on.

    Both Prost and Senna made won championships in turbo/manual cars and 3.5L/semi-automatics (Prost won in an active ride, fully driver-aided Williams too). Is Alonso or Vettel or Hamilton a less complete driver for having won in an era were the rules were constant ? Is Senna the lesser for “only” needing to secure a McLaren seat on beat Prost or is Vettel the less for having Adrian Newey designed machinery and not having a champion for a team-mate?

  110. timW says:

    It’s always a mugs game trying to compare drivers from other eras. I think that the biggest difference between drivers today and yesteryear is the level of fitness and the all round professionalism required of a modern F1 pilot. My feeling is if you could transport Jim Clark or Fangio to today they would get themselves as fit as they needed to be and show just as much commitment as Alonso or Hamilton.
    Stirling Moss always says that he thinks the best drivers of his era were just as good as today, but the worst drivers were much worse back then! I think thats true. The skills needed to be among the fastest in F1 have never changed, given enough time to get used to the physical demands, the quick guys then would be quick now.

  111. Mitch says:

    I think the big difference between then and now is that it was MUCH more dangerous back then. That has to factor into this.

  112. Rich C says:

    Ofc todays drivers are better. Athletes of *any type get better with each generation. They get bigger stronger faster due to genetics, proper nutrition, coaching, more training. In addition to that, drivers start racing earlier, and have *much more competition to beat out to get ahead. They train harder and longer and more scientifically.
    But that doesn’t mean the giants of yesteryear weren’t giants.

  113. dstaisey says:

    Thats all relative for being on the limit than and now. Just, aspect of safety, risk is in access of 300% differente compared to late 80s, 90s era. And not just cars, tracks are massively safer now, run of areas.. If Lewis raced than.. he would be in gravels many times and just wouldn’t finish so many races. But than wouldn’t he adapt?
    Being on the limit is the same for all the drivers no matter time they races. And best walked beyond limits..

  114. Ram says:

    I think only Alonso/Hamilton from their past performance seem to have the ability to fit into the league of greats …no disrespect meant for others but it seems they seem to drag out some special performances … maybe Kubica had he had not that injury shared that something extra special in him

    1. Louis says:

      They are the only ones to have the “balls” and the “charism”, maybe kimi in a james hunt style could be in the same league

  115. ArJay says:

    …sigh…!
    ‘holiday hyperbole’ season in full swing…
    Can’t wait for Spa…

  116. Vic says:

    I respect Martin Leavers opinion, I believe he has put a lot of thought into it, but I completely disagree.

    My reasons for disagreeing are as follows. I agree with the statement that “the cars are much closer in performance and passing is more difficult I believe the standards are greater”. But I believe this just means that the definition of ultimate speed in terms of a combination of car+driver has had a shift in balance. I believe the emphasis on the car is greater in this era then previous ones, hence in my opinion there was more of an emphasis on driver skill in Senna’s era then there is now in terms of ultimate speed of the driver+car package. There was less safety regulation, including pushing technology hence the cars were a lot more dangerous to drive.

    I would also use MSC as an example, the guy is 43 years old, yet this season when his car has been reasonable he has been competitive. He was the fastest qualifier in Monaco. If a 43 year old MSC can do that, what do you think a 30 year old MSC would have achieved. I personally think a MSC in his peak (barring the merc failures) would not be far off fighting for the title in this Merc in this season.

    In conclusion, in my opinion if you were to take these drivers and stick them in the same machinery as Senna. Senna would still out qualify them by the same margins he done to drivers of his era.

    Vic

    1. Ryan Eckford says:

      Schumacher might have been leading the title race at some point this year if it wasn’t for reliability issues.

  117. Damien K says:

    My opinion,
    Dont tell me these guys could not drive a manual F1 car or handle more power thats just ridiculous.
    The paddock has more talent in it now(last 4yrs), and all the drivers are more physicaly and mentally preped. 6 different WDC’s now.
    It’s harder to close to the back of a current F1 car(rely so heavily on aero, has effect from over 1sec back). Remember why they brought the DRS in, no body could overtake anymore doesn’t that tel you something?
    And different cars suit different people, look at Jensen this year. You could also make a case for Mark Webber and the Exaust Blown Diffuser with Seb. With it he was always playing catch up without it there is bugger all between them, you look at the years without it at RBR. But Seb i thought to be by far the better driver ?

    It’s not easier to get the maximum from a car with more grip, all of these drivers are still driving to the limit but the corner speed is so much higher now. Everyone complains about Eau Rouge “easy flat”, yeah but another 5 slower corners just became on the edge.

    And Micheal ? i think he fell into a little bit of competition hole with some of his titles. As well as underhanded tactics to win and the “special tyres” he was able to get turning up from the factory after being made the night before the race. Also Ferrari used to share data with it drivers, until 1 started getting very good results against him then Ferrari stop sharing Micheal’s info but he could still see the other drivers. Drivers name please guys? And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Talented yes, deserved 7 titles maybe not.

    “The older i get the better i was” Quote there will not be an outcome to this discussion. People would come to blows before admitting there driver was not the best.

  118. Damien K says:

    But Seb “is” thought to be by far the better driver ?

    Sorry

  119. Martin says:

    Hi James,

    It has been interesting looking at the responses. In retrospect, I probably would have chosen to say the capability level rather than skill level is greater now.

    You’ve had a few features on sports conditioning on the blog and podcasts, so it is clearly an area that you are interested in. The level of preparation outside of the car is much greater than it ever used to be. As I mentioned in one of my comments last night (Australian time), the driver for this incresae has been the evolution of the cars in terms of reliabiilty and the regulations, not the drivers. If you look at other racing series, there hasn’t been the improvement seen in F1 as there have not been the rule changes. Jamie Whincup is doing what Mark Skaife did 20 to 10 years ago and NASCAR is similar. There have been a few posts who have said of course the drivers are better, just as atheletes have improved. But in motor racing the benefits of training out of the car are less tangible. The main thing the driver has to go on is fatigue, but does this bring results? I read one comment from Vettel where he commented that some drivers train more than others. I took that to mean Vettel does less than some (Webber at least).

    The arguments put in the posts had some common themes. The risk level was raised, comparing now to prior eras, but to me, the top guys are racers, and while some might seek safer tracks and conditions, it is all relative to their experience. If it was the 1930s, they would race for Auto Union as they want to win as they’d know no better.

    Alain Prost was mentioned a bit – some feeling he would star in the current era. Certainly he has the desire to achieve the fitness, so that wouldn’t be an issue. Outright qualifying pace, which is very important now would be an interesting one. Probably when partnered with Arnoux is the only time qualifying meant that much to him, and he came out behind. Against that, his performance relative to the much hearvier Mansell does not bode well.

    Your comment on Senna being the fastest driver you’d ever seen raises an interesting question of how do we tell? A driver using a wider line will tend to have a faster minimum corner speed, but the elapsed time might be longer than a driver who brakes to a different apex. The better drivrs tend to end up in the best cars, which usually means the most downforce in qualifying, often coming from having the most powerful engine. The car and driver are going faster, but how much is the car?

    Ronnie Peterson was a driver regarded as one of the fastest in F1. Alan McNish in a recent issue of Evo said that the drivers looked great with their oversteering slides as the front tyres weren’t strong enough to handle the loads.

    It would be interesting to ask a race engineer, like Rocky, how much time gets left on the track after what is assessed as a high quality lap. Drivers refer to near perfect or as good as perfect laps. Which leaves little room for someone else (e.g. Senna) to absolutely faster, just faster most of the time, and also little room for the spectators to see a real rather than imagined difference. If we take Hamilton as an example, he wasn’t the fast in GP2 qualifying while clearly having a well set up car, and up to 2009, his usual race strategy was to qualify with an agressive fuel load and try to be at the front rather than play a long game. It worked for him because of his race pace, but it also creates situations where fuel adjusted his qualifying speed doesn’t look quite so good, but this is only known after the Sunday morning headlines are written.

    One final thought – Michael Krumm’s book Driving on the Edge has an interesting section on using visualisation techniques for driving in the rain. I have wondered whether Senna used this. The rest of the book is worth reading too. Krumm seems to be an Alonso fan.

    Cheers,

    Martin

  120. Fellowes says:

    I feel it is impossible to make accurate comparison of drivers across the eras. The skills required today are different for sure, but not necessarily better. In the past – low technology, manual gears, lower grip / Now – high technology, complex steering wheels, tyre management, DRS. Also the racing is different – quali format, aero impact, reliability, points system, rules and regulations.
    However, I do believe today that the gap between best car and worst car, and best driver and worst driver is much closer than in the past. Perhaps 90% of today’s drivers have the skill to win a race, whereas in the past it was much less – this means that the best drivers had less competition and their success may be exaggerated. Think also about fitness – today they are top athletes, but in the past….Mansell for example was no athlete, and further back, the top drivers were middle-aged and carrying some weight – they simply could not compete today.
    My conclusion would be that 90% of today’s drivers could step into past eras and probably be more successful than they are now. For past drivers coming to the future, only the handful of ‘legends’ would have a chance.

  121. my tuppence says:

    Are today’s drivers better?

    To a small extent yes and that would be down to preparation and physical fitness because after most races they look like they could do another GP!

    The greater equality and more recently a highly competitive midfield gives the false impression of greater standards.

    On the whole you’re comparing apples and oranges, different generations.

    Today’s drivers rely so much on the ECU with engine maps, diff settings, etc; but on the otherhand you have to multi task and learn your steering wheel.

    Yesteryear the cars were cruder: there was flappy paddle transmission or no fly-by-wire throttles until the late ’80; no power steering; cruder aero; the birth of hydraulic actuated devices were one of the reasons for the higher rate of attrition; the cars had massive torque spikes, especially the turbos.

    Considering we take physical and mental fitness for granted these days it was the likes of Senna and Mansell who were concerned with health and upper body strength and Schumi too fitness to a whole new level.

    Regards to Senna’s errors. He was an uncompromising driver. It was the limit or nothing. That is why for instance he had incidents lapping backmarkers let alone incidents with overtaking for position.

  122. antonyob says:

    I guess the question is, would different drivers have been more or less successful in different era’s. When bravery and an ability to get a car home were paramount some drivers beat others who may have beaten them if the era had been about consistency and fitness. Cars from Senna’s era were more brutish to drive the circuits were more bumpy and backmarkers didnt have to pull over, the last bit really helped someone like Senna who would come past you regardless.

    I guess you could ask what drivers might be successful in any era and for that you’d get the same old names. To say 1 driver from 1 era is better than from another is a fools errand.

  123. Matt W says:

    Completely impossible in my opinion to compare the eras. It is no easier than saying whether Prost or Senna were as good as Fangio or Moss.

    The physical challenge of driving the car, the requirements to win in terms of consistency, the reliability of the cars and the risks involved are so completely different these days that it is impossible to say whether Alonso is a better driver than Senna.

    Under the racing conditions today, who is to say Senna wouldn’t have been a leader in terms of fitness (he was in his day), or reduced the number of mistakes now we are in the one car, one engine per weekend era (Senna was racing in an era of multiple T Cars, restarts etc).

    The only thing you can do is compare how good the drivers were to the other drivers in their era. In that respect there is a bigger gulf between Senna and Alonso’s performances for example, but even then it is largely meaningless.

  124. part time viewer says:

    The only point i would like to make is that while hes was a great man, i believe that senna’s death has skewed things slightly, Schumacher was already taking the fight to senna, and i think he had the upper hand, senna was also not mentaly that strong. Where Schumacher is very, and yes he wone in the best car, but who made it the best car/team, Im not a massive fan but Schumacher has to be the most compleat driver ever, and that he can still cut it in his 40,s against 20 year old hot shots says it all really. who of us in our 40,s can still perform at the level we could in our 20,s???

  125. David Ryan says:

    Without putting today’s drivers in older cars and reverting today’s circuits back to their older incarnation, this question is pretty much unanswerable. Any decision one way or another is going to be based on subjective reasoning rather than objective fact for the most part, based on how each person rates one driver or another. What I would say is that in light of the cars being easier to drive (as demonstrated by a number of features by Martin Brundle over the years – more controls on the steering wheel does not equal more difficult), the circuits being easier to drive (especially Spa and the Nurburgring) and the margin for error being considerably greater than in other eras, I feel it is unlikely that the grid is at a higher level. I would say they are probably broadly comparable, with their own strengths and weaknesses based on the demands of the day.

  126. nino says:

    Absolutely they are way better!
    But the comparison is unfair: they got better education.

  127. nino says:

    I think MS should be higher than Vettel.
    The only time that MS had such a dominant car as Vettel enjoyed during the seasons that he was WC, it was in 2004.
    That year, Michael Schumacher won the title with 5 or 6 races to spare.

    Only Alonso can eventually be higher than MS, but guys like Hamilton, Button, Raikkonen, should never been in the same sentence with MS.

    1. Louis says:

      Just to remind you, that in euroseries Hamilton won 15 races of 20 races. And all the cars were at the same level (Vettel, Di resta Sutil were his victims). If Hamilton had a super dominant car and a damn team-mate like MSC or Vettel then i think he will do the job easily.

    2. Elie says:

      Even if MS has the record he will always be a Nobody in my eyes because he illegally drove people off the track – Damon Hill , Villeneauve and many more quite blatantly. Many people still question also the Ferraris and tyres of that era with good reason. Either way your dead right no driver – Especially Kimi, or Lewis or Fernando should be mentioned in the same sentence as MS because he is Low ! And as drivers Every Single One of Them is better Because they won fairly.

  128. Shah says:

    I have to take this opportunity to complement ‘Hero_was_senna’ as he has highlighted a few things that Im not sure have been considered by readers but the important factors he considered is the ‘turbo’ and ‘low downforce’; when thease two elements are thrown in I can not make a conclutsion as many readers have made above.

    But for me the foundamental point that has been made is the low downforce that Senna, Mansell and prost had to deal with.

    I therefore, cannot come to a conclution or subscribe to any of the readers above.

  129. Racyboy says:

    Q. Are the F1 drivers today at a higher level than in Senna/Prost era?

    A. 1.Driving level- Probably

    2.Corporate/Media level- Definitely

    3.Fitness level- Yes

    4.Personality level- Not a chance

    Drivers/Cars/Eras are obviously all relative,
    but if Tazio Nuvolari was born in the 80′s and was in F1, he would have already been approached to replace Massa.

  130. Steve says:

    “The current cars have too much grip relative to their power,”

    That is the biggest difference when comparing the generations, sure the cars are alot closer today but they are easier to drive as compared with a V12 Honda or Ferrari.
    I think Senna or Prost Mansell, Piquet, would still be up at the front if they were in their prime.

  131. Elie says:

    I reckon in the same cars, teams, support. Senna or Prost or Mansell would wipe the deck with most 2012 drivers including Fernando. He doesn’t have that steely determination and is quite temperamental when things aren’t ALL his way .2007 proved that. Can we start talking about Perez or Dela Rosa please.. !

  132. Sebee says:

    James,

    Sorry if I used that word incorrectly in my comment – I try to be careful to ensure there is no need for moderation on my comments, but may have slipped up. It is a word used by BBC in various reports on events of Hungary 2007.

  133. Eusebio says:

    I can imagine Bernie in the ticket office putting the prices.

  134. Ambba says:

    Yeah very godo point indeed.

    I think that Kimi is missing from the picture above. If he is shy or doesn’t like press – it doesn’t mean he is not as great driver as Alonso or Hamilton or Vettel. ESPECIALLY when taking in concern his 2 YEARS ABSENCE – I would rate him as the second best driver today.

  135. Louis says:

    I’d say that alonso, Hamilton and possibly Kimi will have what it takes to race against the greats Prost Senna or Mansell

  136. Mohan says:

    When we compare drivers of different eras one key element overlooked is: how would Senna do if he were to drive today’s cars? Not based on how he drove cars of his time but how he would adapt and drive today’s cars. I guess the answer is ‘pretty good’. He would end at the top of the list.

    When the braking of the cars improve, road safety doesn’t improve by the same margin. Drivers engage in more risky driving as they are more confident of the car’s breaking distance. Drivers have an inherent risk profile and they adapt their driving to match the risk/safety offered by the car.

  137. malandro says:

    To assess that alonso is better than senna, i doubt about it. nowadays ther is many ways to keep control of traction, but not in the 1980- 1990 s.without mentioning gearbox change,sheer difference of power,safety concerning the cars.to say that senna became a legend because he died must only come from people who discovered f1 yesterday. from all f1 drivers in activity , 90 per cent of them rated him as the best of best.if he didn t die din 1994 he would have easily a six time champion at least. F1 today is possibly more complicated, but when you hear schumacher saying that it is not f1 to race like that {pirelli tyres}, i can t believe that the car of today are more demanding. there is a difference between a championship where you can t drive the car flat out , even for few laps, without compromising the entire race and a championship where cars would still wheelspin in 6 gear at the top of monaco{ according to berger}

  138. Constantinos says:

    This debate could be easily answered in the best possible way if we gave Senna’s car to a top driver of today to practice for enough time and then check his times in qualifying and race simulation to Monaco or Spa compared to Senna or Prost. Unfortunately the opposite is not possible because the drivers of previous eras are quite old to drive to the limit, but still this test would be indicative and provide our answer.
    Which would be the driver today to take the challenge and face the truth?

  139. Mike from Colombia says:

    Let’s say that format for F1 is radically changed to put all drivers on a level playing field.

    If a 30 year old Ayrton Senna was to enter the championship do you really think that he would be languishing at the back of the grid? I don’t think so. He would inevitably rise to the top.

    Era comparisons are pointless as previous era drivers will never have the chance to competitively drive current machinery.

    You could similarly debate whether a 30 year old Alonso would happily to race flat out with the best competitors in the 1960s where death was a much higher probability outcome. If you could send him back in time he would probably be slower than most as he has never had to race under those types of pressures.

    A 43 year old Michael Schumacher is giving Nico Rosberg, 27 a very good run for his money. Surely that proves how good Schumacher really was at his peak in the 1990s and early 2000s. So if a 1990s Michael Schumacher was great then so was a 1990s Ayrton Senna, and likewise a 1980s/1990s Prost or Mansell.

  140. Tom says:

    its hard to rate drivers of today to the likes of Senna and Prost because they raced in different era’s to eachother. The only person who should be allowed to say is Schumacher because he raced in the Senna era and todays era….but even he says Senna is “at number one”
    Senna was the best of his era. Todays era is Alonso or Schumacher. I rate them both highly but i still think Senna is the greatest driver.

    1. Gary Osborne says:

      I suppose that cars today have that much built into them, they do most of the driving. I wonder how current drivers would hold up if they went back to cars from the 1980s, going up against Prost and Senna?…

  141. God says:

    Wow, arguments. I love the internet…..

    1. Jesus says:

      So do I :D BFFFL!

  142. Erik says:

    The mid and low end drivers are definitely better today. The top, I doubt it.

    Todays cars are much easier to drive.
    They are good behaving and can be tuned to perfection with a weak engine and huge downforce. To gain the last tenths there is of course much skill.

    80-95s cars was wild energeticraw beasts with their own mind that had extreme performance and it took much more skill to drive to perfection. Drivers did not have more skill, but that is a difference.

    Look at Alonso-Massa early season. Massa was miles away and when the car is good he is some tenth behind.

    It would be better racing with harder to race cars.

  143. Wayne Hayes says:

    I think Senna is the best because of so many things. But his mystique and charisma single him out above all others. I feel he was cheated out of the 1989 title by Balestre and Prost (plus his car had so many mechanical problems mid season).

    However, I think the season that singles him out most of all was sadly his last full season of 1993. That McLaren was often 2 to 3 seconds a lap slower in qualifying than the all conquering Williams. Yet somehow he still won 5 races that season. An incredible feat. Could you see any other current driver managing that. Sadly Senna spent much of his career without the top machinery. I can only remember that 88-90 McLaren had the best car. Schumi spent 7 or 8 seasons with the dominant car.

  144. Grant says:

    I think drivers, like all athletes, are always getting better; the pool of potential drivers is larger, they start earlier, the training is better, they have data feedback, can rack up countless hours on sims, plus we are collectively learning about what makes a driver fast.

    Think back to the ’50′s or ’60′s, if a driver was fast no one really knew why, now others can look at their data, find out what they are doing and practice it for hours on a sim or kart track. Plus they have more time to get good since they are living longer.

    All this takes nothing away from the greatness of those past drivers. In my mind the true heroes are the likes of Fangio, Ascari, Nuvolari, Moss, Clark etc.

  145. Eric Franken says:

    I think it s exactly the opposite: real driving skills show off if a pilot has an inferior car. It takes more skill to drive a less competitive car and be competitive. So it is not true that today s drivers have more skills because cars are more competitive. Each generation has it s most talented drivers. In the eighties and nineties there happened to be 3 or four fabulously talented drivers.
    Schumy barely had any serious competition to worry after the untimely death of Senna. Senna was a legend before he smashed that wall at Imola and would probably have won more titles had he lived.

    Alonso better than Senna? Give me a break. Is this coming from a Prost fan?

  146. Eric Franken says:

    I think it s exactly the opposite: real driving skills show off if a pilot has an inferior car. It takes more skill to drive a less competitive car and be competitive. So it is not true that today s drivers have more skills because cars are more competitive. Each generation has it s most talented drivers. In the eighties and nineties there happened to be 3 or four fabulously talented drivers.
    Schumy barely had any serious competition to worry after the untimely death of Senna. Senna was a legend before he smashed that wall at Imola and would probably have won more titles had he lived.

    Alonso better than Senna? Give me a break. Is this coming from a Prost fan?

    [Reply]

  147. Gary Osborne says:

    The days of Senna and Prost, it was raw racing. Safery wasn’t too good so there was much more danger, more so when it came to Senna. After Senna’s death, safety changed big time. It’s usually the case that it’s not until a tragedy that things change. Senna is probably the most famous F1 driver in history and I can’t see that ever changing. Senna would probably have won more than 3 championships if he had lived. And looking back to 1994 when Senna died, all the drivers went into that race after the death of Ratzenberger the day before. It was a case of lack of respect for Ratzenberger, but in all fairness to Senna, he was going to fly an Austrian flag in memory of Ratzenberger, as one was found in Senna’s crashed car. Even after Senna had died, the race went on. As for Schumacher, he’s a hard faced German t**t that couldn’t care less. His public views on Senna are all false. Even after the race in 1994, as if he looked bothered about Senna’s death. But in F1, it’s everyone for themselves. And money and points will always be at the top. Senna this, Senna that, he will never be left alone. But to his family and to his fans (me included), what counts is that he’ll live on as a legend for ever.

  148. Carlos says:

    The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.

    My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic
    but I had to share it with someone!

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