The end of the F1 2023 campaign means the start of awards season. You can always tell it’s that time of year when the BBC start rolling out the Sports Personality of the Year award.
It won’t be long before the New Year’s Honours list is released too, with Lewis Hamilton becoming a Sir in 2021 and finally ending the annual outcry on social media whenever he wasn’t included.
But which other British Formula 1 icons should join Hamilton in receiving a knighthood? We’ve picked out five names, with Red Bull designer Adrian Newey and Sky F1 commentator Martin Brundle among those making the cut…
5: Nigel Mansell
Despite stitching together one of the most dominant title-winning campaigns in history, Nigel Mansell remains largely underrated and rarely features in debates about the very greatest F1 drivers.
It took until his sixth year of competition for Mansell to win his maiden grand prix, his stroll to the title in 1992 almost a reward for the years of strife leading up to the car of his dreams.
His struggle for acceptance didn’t end there either, Sir Frank making an unfortunate habit of treating Williams’ World Champions poorly as Mansell made way for Alain Prost, who 12 months later was moved aside for Ayrton Senna.
Mansell’s three victories at Silverstone in 1987, ’91 and ’92 inspired an affection rarely afforded to a racing driver, the window to their souls hidden behind a visor.
A large part of his appeal, it must be said, beyond his intoxicating spirit and his unabashed commitment in the car, was his everyman exterior – a big, burly Brummie with a moustache taking on the best of Brazil and France.
After bearing the battle scars – his 1993 IndyCar crash at Phoenix left him with injuries pathologists had never seen on someone still alive, only on victims of fatal plane crashes – Mansell, of all the British World Champions still with breath in their lungs, most deserves a knighthood.
4: Ross Brawn
If Newey is renowned for his technical genius, Ross Brawn is more an organiser in chief.
Sport, above all else, is a people’s business and one that often treats people badly. Those with the fullest understanding of how to get the best from people, like Brawn, stand the greatest chance of success.
Culture setting was Brawn’s speciality, best encapsulated in how he shielded Ferrari from the potentially poisonous fumes of the fans and media during the Michael Schumacher era.
He took it with him to Brawn GP via Honda – very much his knight-in-shining-armour moment – and also to Mercedes, where every victory to this day belongs in some small way to Brawn, whose preparations for F1’s V6 hybrid era in 2014 made the team’s period of dominance possible.
When Liberty Media needed someone up to speed with the F1’s deepest secrets following their takeover in 2017, it was no surprise that they turned to Brawn, who promptly delivered the most thoroughly researched rule changes the sport had ever seen in 2022. It’s what he does.
3: Martin Brundle
Some might say that Martin Brundle deserves a knighthood purely for trying to coax something intelligible out of Machine Gun Kelly and Cara Delevingne on his weekly grid walks, but we couldn’t possibly comment…
For close to three decades now for ITV, the BBC and Sky, Brundle has been a voice familiar to millions explaining the complexities of F1 in a digestible and coherent fashion.
In an era when sports commentators and pundits have become – and are encouraged by their producers, in pursuit of social media penetration, to become – ever more partisan, he remains the voice of reason still setting the standard for all in his profession.
He is not immune to the occasional tone-deaf misstep (see Qatar 2023), but his view on any topic related to F1 stands more often than not as the definitive verdict.
The entire Sky F1 production loses so much whenever he’s not there.
2: Ron Dennis
Forget the achievements with McLaren on the track for a moment and consider how different F1 would be today without the contribution of Ron Dennis.
It was he who gave John Barnard the licence to create the first all-carbon fibre F1 chassis with the MP4/1; it was he who set a new standard of presentation among F1 teams, from the pit lane and the garage to the gleaming McLaren Technology Centre.
And it was he, of course, who discovered Hamilton – the most famous and successful racing driver the world has ever seen.
Without Ron, there would be no Lewis.
Add to that Dennis’s rise from relatively humble beginnings, as an 18-year-old Cooper mechanic for Jochen Rindt, to one of the most prominent positions in the sport and there is huge inspiration to be found here.
Only then add his success with McLaren – the World Championships with Niki Lauda, Prost, Senna, Mika Hakkinen and finally Hamilton – to complete the picture of one of F1’s most influential figures.
It is regrettable if understandable that the new regime at McLaren have made a conscious effort to distance the team from Dennis in recent times, embracing the bold and bright colours he detested and discarding the MP4 codename with which Ron christened the cars.
He deserves a far better footnote to his F1 story than his bitter departure from the team at the end of 2016.
1: Adrian Newey
The drivers tend to get all the glory in F1.
Which is just as well because the achievements of everyone else in the paddock would pale into insignificance alongside those of Newey, by some margin the most successful individual in the sport’s history.
Twelve Constructors’ and 13 Drivers’ titles since 1992 belong to Newey, responsible for bringing a new level of excellence to Williams, McLaren and Red Bull over the last three decades.
Max Verstappen’s victory at the 2023 Canadian Grand Prix not only nudged the Red Bull driver ahead of Senna in the all-time list of F1 race winners, but also represented Newey’s 200th win – a figure rising ever higher still.
Newey occupies an interesting position in the pantheon of sport’s great pioneers, the complexities of his cars in stark contrast to the simplicity of his approach with a drawing board and pencil still his preferred weaponry.
Technical directors of tomorrow will doubtless claim to be heavily influenced by him but, taught in the language of CFD, how many among the next generation will be able to truly follow his wisdom?
Newey is, in almost every sense, is a one off.
And if he is not honoured now after a season like 2023, then when?
Christian Horner: long-serving Red Bull team principal who has overseen two different periods of dominance with Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel.
Bernie Ecclestone: like him or loathe him, arguably the most influential figure in F1 history.
John Surtees: so gentle and knightly that he was often mistakenly referred to as ‘Sir John’ even in life it rolled off the tongue so naturally, with the distinction of being the only man in history to win World Championships on two and four wheels.
Graham Hill: two-time World Champion and still the only driver to win the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 Hours and Indianapolis 500.
Jim Clark: two-time World Champion and class personified.