Formula One Champions are the drivers who have reached the pinnacle of their sport. The likes of Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost are legends. The elite. Yet there are some World Champions, who won the title (and on some occasions, multiple times) but are not talked about in praise, as much as they deserve. These drivers are highly underrated F1 champions
Underrated F1 Champions
8. Alan Jones
1980 World Champion
The second Australian to win the F1 Championship after Jack Brabham, Alan Jones really emerged in the late 70s with Williams, after being fairly down the pack prior to that. He would finish in the drivers’ championship podium.
1980 would be his year, with him winning the title in a convincing manner that included 5 wins and 10 podiums, taking the title comfortably.
He would even remain competitive in 1981, but after that he went downhill in the sport. He was not classified in 1982 and 1983. Jones retired at the end of 1986 after 2 unsuccessful years at Team Haas (USA)Ltd. He remains one of the most underrated F1 Champions.
He was involved in lot of other motorsport activities, mostly Australian Touring Cars. Prior to his F1 Championship, Jones also won the 1979 edition of the CAN AM Cup.
7. Keke Rosberg
1982 World Champion
The first Finnish world champion.
He was a late entry, debuting in the F1 races in 1978 at the age of 29, after spending time in other forms of racing such as European Formula 2. He had a few lean years with the smaller teams, plagued by the unreliability of uncompetitive teams, with only 2 point finishes (including 1 podium) from 1978-81.
1982 was a change in fortunes, when the Williams team signed him. In 1982, using a strong Williams machine with Cosworth V8s, he had a solid year to win his championship.
However, the post-championship years, he struggled with the unreliable Honda turbocharged engines and an uncompetitive chassis from Williams. 1985 was somewhat happening as he finished 3rd with Williams. In 1986, he drove for McLaren in his final year before retiring from the world of racing. The car’s reliability proved that Keke was one of the most underrated F1 champions.
6. Damon Hill
1996 World Champion
Hill is the only second generation driver to win the World Champion. His father, Graham Hill was a 2 time Champion. It was not that surprising to see Hill make it into the sport in 1992, as a test driver for Williams, at that time, one of the best teams in the early and mid-90s. He was Schumacher’s main rival during the 90s when the German won his first 2 championships.
After debuting for Benetton, he switched to Williams in 1993 to partner with Alain Prost. For the next 4 seasons, he was undeniably one of the top drivers. Finishing 3rd in 1993, he finished behind Schumacher in ’94 and ’95 before sealing the title in 96.
In 1994, he lost by a point, as there was a controversial clash at the Australian Grand Prix, when Hill and Schumacher both crashed. Hill and Williams accused Schumacher of deliberately crashing to take the title. In 1995 he was well behind Michael. 1996 was a different story. He used the powerful Williams car to the best of his capabilities, winning the title ahead of Jacques Villeneuve, his new teammate.
Williams dropped him from the team, even after winning a title. He would have quiet spells with Arrows and Jordan racing. In 1998, he would score the final of his 22 wins, and the first for Jordan Racing in the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix. After retiring, he got involved in British Racing and took on a career in media later. He can be regarded as one of the most underrated F1 champions as many thought he only entered on the strength of his last name.
5. Jochen Rindt
1970 World Champion
Ridnt is the only other Austrian apart from Niki Lauda to have won the world title. He is unfortunately, the only one to have ever won the title posthumously. Rindt truly made his debut in the sport with the Cooper Car Racing team, where in 3 years he showed consistency and was able to secure a 3rd place finish in the 1966 Championship. His only peeve was his recklessness and reliability. However, he was quick, finishing on the podium or high up the order whenever he could.
In 1969, he moved to Lotus and had a successful 1969, finishing 4th. In 1970 he was the dominating driver, winning 5 out of the 9 races to take a large lead in the Championship. Unfortunately, he passed away in the 1970 Italian Grand Prix, when he crashed at a high speed, suffering a slit throat from the seat belts.
Despite Jacky Ickx making a late charge for the title, he would not score enough, letting Rindt live as the only posthumous winner of the championship.
Rindt was also successful at the 24 hours of Le Mans, finishing first in 1965. Rindt makes it onto the underrated F1 champions list as his potentially bright career was cut short.
4. Jacques Villeneuve
1997 World Champion
The son of the legendary Gilles Villeneuve, Jacques is the only Canadian Formula One Champion and one of the few drivers to have won both the Formula One Title and the Indianapolis 500. He joined F1 in 1996, and was the main title contender to Damon Hill.
In 1997, he battled Schumacher, before taking the title in the final round at Jerez after Schumacher deliberately crashed into him (and was subsequently disqualified). He later suffered a down turn in fortunes, moving from the championship battles to a mid to lower order finish.
He tasted some success in other racing categories too. The Canadian won the Indianapolis 500 in 1995 after finishing a runner up in 1994. He competed in Endurance Racing, NASCAR, Stock Car racing, FIA World Rallycross, Formula E and Le Mans 24 hours.
He has had ambiguous stints in all forms of racing. But he has shown that he can adapt to various forms of racing disciplines. This is why he is one of the underrated F1 champions.
3. Jenson Button
2009 World Champion
The Briton retired at the end of the 2016 season. He made one more appearance in Monaco this year. This took his tally to 309 starts, second highest ahead of Michael Schumacher. Button, throughout his career, has been noted for his consistency during the seasons.
From 2000-08, he was with Williams, Renault and Honda (for 5 years with the Japanese Manufacturer). 2004 was his career best then, finishing 3rd in the Championship behind consistent podium finishes. While there were years of struggle, he was more than capable of picking out a podium or a strong finish.
His fortunes changed in 2009, when he was the driver of Brawn GP. He fended off Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull to claim his first World Championship, mostly thanks to the 6 wins in the first 7 races. He then moved to McLaren from 2010 onwards. In the Vettel years, Button spent 2010-13 battling with Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Kimi Raikkonen for the other positions in the drivers’ championships.
2013-15 were periods of struggle too as McLaren began to prepare for the Turbo V6 Era. Now, partnering Fernando Alonso, both champions had experienced a horrendous 2015 season (the worst for McLaren in 4 decades). With 2016 likely to be his final, Button would want to build up the team for the future, as McLaren wants these two veterans to develop a powerful car with Honda. Most critics believed that the Brawn was partially responsible for the championship. That’s why Button is considered one of the underrated F1 champions
2. Emerson Fittipaldi
1972 and 1974 World Champion
One of the 3 Brazilians to win the World Championship and the first to do so, Emerson Fittipaldi was a reserve driver at the start of 1970, before getting promoted following the death of Rindt in 1970. From 71-73, he was the leading Lotus Driver, winning the title in 1972 in a convincing manner. In 1973, the title went to Jackie Stewart with Fittipaldi finishing second.
In 1974, he joined McLaren and held off Clay Regazzoni to take his second title in 1974 by a 3 point margin. Despite having a strong machine in 1975, he would finish behind the dominant Niki Lauda. The next 5 seasons were a shock as he raced for his brother’s team, which was not competitive. He left F1 in 1980, heading over to CART Championship in 1984 after a sabbatical.
After struggling for a few years in Indycar he was a strong finisher from 1989 to 1994, winning the title in 1989. In 12 Attempts at the Indianapolis 500, he would win it twice, making him one of the few drivers with wins at the Indy 500, Formula One Championship and the CART Championship. Senna may have been the greatest Brazilian champion, but Emerson was the first. This is why Fittipaldi is considered one of the underrated F1 champions
1. Mario Andretti
1978 World Champion
The Italian-born American Champion has enjoyed success in multiple racing disciplines. He is the only driver to have won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and a Formula One World Championship, as well as being one of two drivers (the other one being Juan Pablo Montoya) to have won in the Indianapolis 500, Formula One and NASCAR Sprint Cup. He is, till date, the last American F1 race winner.
Unlike other drivers, he spent nearly half of his F1 career as a part time driver, making sporadic appearances. 7 of his 14 years with F1 were part time, with only during 1975-81 he made continuous appearances, mostly with Ford Powered Lotus machines. He had secured his first win with Ferrari back in 1974.
Though he wasn’t one of the most consistent F1 drivers, he was quick. 1977 and ’78, he was able to finish high up the Championship standings. 1978 was his year. 6 of his 12 F1 wins came as he took the title for the first time. It marked a period of struggle for him, before he left the sport in 1982.He then entered CART Racing, winning a championship in 1984 and was a consistent performer there.
He was a regular at the Indianapolis 500. But he won it just once, in 1969. In Le Mans 24 hours, he finished on the podium 3 times. He also won just one of his few NASCAR Races, but it was enough to secure his legacy. He was the American Driver of the year, in 3 different decades (1967, 1978 and 1984).