Revealed: The 10 most influential people in the history of F1

Sam Cooper

Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher and Adrian Newey have all had a big influence on F1.

After 74 years of competition, Formula 1 has been changed by a great number of people since its first race at Silverstone.

But while everyone has played some small part, there are those who have changed the sport in a huge way so here are our 10 most influential people in F1’s history.

10.) Murray Walker

Murray Walker
To many, Murray Walker remains the voice of F1 even three years after his death.

It may have been three years since his death but Murray Walker is still the voice of F1 to so many.

His ‘Murrayisms’ helped make the high-tech world of F1 relatable to the viewers at home and while he made the audience laugh on more than one occasion, he was a master of describing the action as well.

Murray joined the BBC as their full-time commentator in 1978 before retiring in 2001 but in those two and a bit decades, he changed what was expected of a commentator.

Loved by fans, he was adored by a lot of the drivers as well and a glance down those who paid tribute to him following his death show just how well respected he was in the paddock.

Martin Brundle summed it up best: “Rest in Peace Murray Walker. Wonderful man in every respect. National treasure, communication genius, Formula 1 legend.”

9.) Adrian Newey

Adrian Newey
Adrian Newey is never too far away from his trusty notebook.

Very few minds on the planet, let alone in F1, are able to understand aerodynamics in the way Adrian Newey does. Jokingly labelled a man who can “see air” by Christian Horner, Newey’s skill has seen him the most coveted designer on the grid and one of the biggest influencers on F1 in the last 30 years.

Newey’s F1 career began at March but it was when he moved to Williams that he had a team able to match his talents. Alongside Patrick Head, Williams knocked McLaren off their perch and Newey’s first world championship came with the FW14B.

The Briton helped Williams to five Constructors’ titles before moving over to McLaren and winning both titles in his first season thanks to Mika Häkkinen.

But it was his move to Red Bull that was Newey’s masterstroke. Initially apprehensive, he was convinced by David Coulthard to take a leap of faith and join a working environment that had been tailor-made to accommodate him.

The results were obvious, four consecutive double world titles in the 2010s before this current run of domination that looks likely to break that streak. Newey has masterminded 14 title-winning cars and even now, there are few designers on the planet who can go toe-to-toe with him.

8.) Ross Brawn

Ross Brawn
Ross Brawn retired from F1 in 2022 after four decades in the sport.

Of the 10 men on this list, it is Ross Brawn who has been influential in the most different roles. The Englishman’s career began at Williams before a stint at Haas Lola, but it was in 1991 when his life would be changed forever.

He moved to Benetton where he would soon be joined by a man whose career was interlinked with Brawn’s for the next two decades – Michael Schumacher.

Brawn was one of the masterminds behind Schumacher’s success and their rapport was so good that when the German moved to Ferrari, Brawn followed him.

After trophy-filled years, Brawn switched to Honda and in 2009, he was part of the fairytale story of F1 as a team bought for £1 won the world title.

Brawn GP’s success was Brawn at his best. Using his technical ability but also his eye for management to guide this team to F1 legendary status.

He stuck around once the team transitioned to Mercedes but in 2017 he returned to the sport as part of FOM and was instrumental in designing the regulations for the 2022 season and beyond.

7.) Dietrich Mateschitz

Dietrich Mateschitz
Not often seen in the paddock, Dietrich Mateschitz was a driving force behind Red Bull

Of all the people on this list, Dietrich Mateschitz’s face is the least well known.

An incredibly private man – his picture on Wikipedia for many years was a drawing of him – the Red Bull founder had a profound effect on the sport.

Red Bull’s association with F1 stretches far further back than Red Bull Racing and even before the start of the new millennium, they were influencing the sport.

In the 1980s, they began sponsoring Austrian Gerhard Berger before acquiring a 60% share in Sauber.

That relationship broke down in 2001 but Mateschitz and Red Bull’s drive continued, leading to them purchasing Jaguar in 2004 and rebranding as Red Bull Racing.

The size of the task facing the team in 2005 is hard to overstate. Here was an energy drink company going up against some of the biggest car manufacturers in the world and with the idea of not only competing, but winning world titles.

Advisor Helmut Marko selected Christian Horner as team principal and the pair set about creating a near-perfect race team.

Newey’s hiring was a turning point and Mateschitz’s dedication to finding the next best talent was rewarded with the arrival of Sebastian Vettel.

The German’s world titles changed Red Bull’s trajectory and although they had to endure a period of dominance from Mercedes, the Milton Keynes outfits have never been too far away from the title discussion.

Now, they are breaking records and adding more trophies to an already stacked cabinet but it is more than just accolades that Mateschitz provided to F1. A look down the grid shows the profound impact his company has had on nurturing young talent and more than a quarter of the 2024 grid came through the Red Bull academy.

6.) Sir Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton
Lewis Hamilton has been hugely influential both on and off track.

The fact he is still writing his story explains why Lewis Hamilton is a little low down on this list for now but even while he is still racing, it is easy to spot his impact.

In the early 2000s, Formula 1 was lagging behind the rest of the sporting world when it came to equality and Hamilton’s debut in 2007 as the first black driver to race showed just how far back it was.

But Hamilton’s story is not one where opportunities were handed out to him. Born in Stevenage, his father Anthony worked three jobs just to afford Lewis the opportunity to kart and hone his skills.

A young member of the McLaren academy, his confidence was there for all to see when he bounded up to Ron Dennis and informed him he would one day drive for the team. He kept that promise.

His rookie season is the stuff of legend and his winning-streak with Mercedes can only be matched by Michael Schumacher, but Hamilton has done much more than what we see on track.

A constant voice for equality, there is no doubt that the paddock is more diverse because of Hamilton. If seeing is believing then Hamilton has shown a whole generation of black or other minority children that it is possible and Formula 1 is not just for the elite.

His legacy is something that will only come into full view in 10, 15 years’ time when those kids that were inspired by him begin to start racing but for now, Formula 1 could ask for no better ambassador.

5.) Sir Jackie Stewart

Sir Jackie Stewart
Sir Jackie Stewart won three world titles before revolutionising driver safety.

What it meant to be a racing driver in Jackie Stewart’s day is almost unrecognisable from what it means today. The stereotypical idea of a driver winning in Monaco then hopping into a nearby casino was largely forged because of Stewart.

Stewart was perhaps the first ‘celebrity’ F1 driver. Appearing in a number of adverts to boost his small earnings from F1, he became a global star and had the talent to back it up.

Three world titles sit proudly in his cabinet but more than his racing, Stewart should be remembered for his pioneering work in regards to safety.

Formula 1 driver deaths are thankfully a rare occurrence these days but in Stewart’s era, they were almost a weekly event.

His driving career was spent dodging the flaming wreckage of one of his friends and when Stewart set about to change that, he was met with an intense backlash.

Bricks thrown through his window were the epitome of the anger but Stewart persevered and he campaigned for proper barriers, run-off areas, advanced medical facilities and proper marshalling which still has a lasting impact today.

4.) Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher won seven World Championships, a record shared by Lewis Hamilton.

F1 in the early 2000s meant one thing – Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher was born to a working-class family and in an era of F1 where the truly greats were racing. Four past or future World Champions were on the grid for his first race, an impressive debut with Jordan that earned him a spot at Benetton, much to Eddie Jordan’s chagrin.

And it was with Benetton that the legend of Schumacher would begin to be formed. He won 19 races with them on his way to the 1994 and 1995 World Championships but Schumacher would go on to do what many thought was impossible.

Ahead of the 21st century, Ferrari was in the doldrums. 20 years without a world title meant Schumacher faced a daunting task when he made the move to Maranello but not only was he up to the task, he surpassed every expectation.

His form in the early 2000s was relentless and perhaps the first real example of extended periods of dominance that modern F1 has come to be known for. He was F1’s rockstar and while his methods were not always accepted – he famously never admitted blame – his results were.

He would leave Ferrari in 2006 before making a surprise comeback to race for his country’s Mercedes and while he did not hit the same heights, he paved a way for the returning Silver Arrows that would see them go on to win multiple world titles.

The German was perhaps the first blend of unreal talent and the ultimate professional and that is why the record number of titles still belongs to him jointly with Hamilton.

In his era, Schumacher was Formula 1 and you would need more than one pair of hands to count the number of drivers inspired by Schumi. recommends

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3.) Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna in 1988
Ayrton Senna is regarded by many as the greatest F1 driver of all time.

In many ways, Ayrton Senna’s story is the ultimate racing driver narrative. Born in Sao Paulo in 1960, Senna left his family halfway across the world to pursue his dream of becoming a racing driver.

He came from a wealthy family meaning a comfortable life was there on the table for him but he shunned it, swapping Sao Paulo for Eaton near Norwich and began competing in single-seater racing. It was not long before the titles began to follow.

Senna was building an almost legendary reputation amongst racing enthusiasts of this young kid from Brazil who was seconds quicker than the rest of the field. In 1983, he moved up to F3 where a young Martin Brundle gave him one of his toughest title contests but in the end, as was often the case, Senna proved victorious.

Even after that season, F1 teams were not convinced and despite testing for Lotus and McLaren, Toleman was the only team to offer him a seat and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Two podiums and a ninth place in the Drivers’ Championship only boosted his reputation and after winning his first races with Lotus, he moved to McLaren in 1988.

That season in itself was one for the ages with two of the sport’s best ever drivers racing one of the sport’s finest ever vehicles. It would be the first time Senna and Alain Prost were paired together and their rivalry still remains the fiercest in F1 history.

But Senna was more than just titles. He had an attitude unseen before in the world of F1. He was relentless, unforgiving, famously saying: “If you no longer go for a gap which exists you are no longer a racing driver”. He became adored by fans and fellow drivers alike.

He would win three championships, all with McLaren, but everyone knew Senna was the best.

But perhaps the biggest mark he left on F1 came after his tragic death in 1994. His crash at Imola shocked the sport to its senses and afterwards, much work was done to make driving safer and it would be 20 years before another driver died due to a crash.

His legacy inspired the likes of Lewis Hamilton to begin racing and to many he will always be the best to ever do it.

2.) Enzo Ferrari

Enzo Ferrari
Ferrari are the only team to have raced in every season of F1

“Ask a child to draw a car and certainly he will draw it red.”

Whether Enzo Ferrari did ever actually say those words or not, it is hard to argue with the meaning behind it.

When Formula 1 came into existence in 1950, it was not held with the same regard as it is today. Sports car racing was king and Ferrari even sat out the inaugural race at Silverstone due to a pay dispute.

But Enzo Ferrari’s love of racing was pivotal to the championship’s early survival. In 1952, Ferrari had their first title with Alberto Ascari and the famous red racecar soon began to embody the sport as a whole.

While other contenders at the time began to slip away, Ferrari’s commitment was resolute and after 1,105 grands prix, the team have not competed in just 25 of them.

Enzo Ferrari may have died in 1988 but the team lived on and has become a byword for Formula 1. The Scuderia and its dedicated Tifosi has a mystical aura around it and even after 16 years without a title, it remains the biggest constructor in the world of Formula 1.

It is hard to put into words the impact Enzo and the Ferrari team have had on F1 but there is no doubt that it would not be the same sport without them.

1.) Bernie Ecclestone

Bernie Ecclestone
Bernie Ecclestone controlled F1 for decades until he sold it to Liberty Media in 2016.

He may never have raced (he twice attempted to but failed to qualify), but there can be no question that Bernie Ecclestone has shaped Formula 1 more than anyone else.

Born in Suffolk in the east of England, his famous accident at Brands Hatch which reportedly saw him fly out of the cockpit and into the car park, saw him move into management and an adolescence spent selling cars in 1950s London prepared him for the rough and ready world of F1 he would soon take hold of.

Nicknamed F1’s ‘supremo’, Ecclestone would wrestle control of the sport and was ultimately the winner of the FISA–FOCA war that defined how F1 would be going forward. Under Ecclestone, F1 transformed from a niche hobby enjoyed by the very rich to a global sport and all the money that came with that.

Often pictured surrounded in the paddock with a phone to his ear, for many years Ecclestone was the glue that held F1 together, even following heart surgery and a triple coronary bypass in 1999. He dined with world leaders, hosted the biggest celebrities in his Monaco trailer and kept that same shaggy hairstyle throughout.

He took the sport to new regions and the likes of Bahrain were added to the calendar, only increasing his bank balance in the meantime. To this day he is the 73rd richest man in the UK even after a £652.6m tax bill.

Ecclestone was always a figure of controversy, even more so now as he continues to make abhorrent comments, but there can be no denying what he did, or did to, the sport. Under him, F1 went from a fledgling championship to one worth $4.4 billion by the time he sold it in 2016.

Love him or loathe him, modern Formula 1 is the house that Bernie built.

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