Top 10 Lotus F1 drivers ranked: Clark, Andretti, Senna and more

Lotus is one of the most illustrious names in motorsport history. Although Red Bull looks set to overtake it on the all-time Formula 1 wins list, Lotus is unlikely to be caught by another team and should remain in the top six for years to come.

Top 10 Lotus F1 drivers ranked: Clark, Andretti, Senna and more

The tally of seven constructors’ and six drivers’ titles doesn’t reveal the innovation that Colin Chapman’s team brought to the sport.

Many great drivers raced Lotus machinery between its F1 arrival in 1958 and Team Lotus folding in 1994. That made producing this list tricky, but here’s our pick of the top 10 Lotus F1 drivers.

We’ve considered the amount of success the drivers scored with Lotus, the impact they had on the team and the circumstances of their time there. We didn’t include their achievements at other teams and have excluded the ‘Lotus’ era at the Enstone team, which later became Renault/Alpine.

If you’d also like to see which Lotus F1 cars we thought were best, take a look at our top 10 Lotus F1 cars list.

10. Elio de Angelis

Elio de Angelis, Lotus, 1983 San Marino GP

Elio de Angelis, Lotus, 1983 San Marino GP

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lotus years: 1980-85
Lotus races: 90
Lotus wins: 2
Lotus titles: 0

After a year with the struggling Shadow team, de Angelis joined Lotus for 1980 and took a second place in the Brazilian GP, round two of the campaign. The 81 was not one of Lotus’s best, but de Angelis did outscore 1978 world champion Mario Andretti in the points table.

Nigel Mansell joined full-time in 1981 and the Italian finished ahead of the Englishman that year and the next. His 1982 highlight was a dramatic victory in the Austrian GP, de Angelis beating the Williams of Keke Rosberg by 0.05s to give Lotus its first win for four years.

Top 10: Austrian GPs ranked

Mansell beat de Angelis in 1983, but the following year de Angelis put in a consistent year in the solid 95T to finish third in the championship, beaten only by dominant McLaren duo Niki Lauda and Alain Prost.

PLUS: How Lauda won F1’s closest title battle

De Angelis was not embarrassed by Ayrton Senna when the rising Brazilian star arrived in 1985, ending up just one place and five points behind. He also took a third pole (in Canada) and second victory for Lotus, inheriting the laurels at the San Marino GP after others ran out of fuel and on-the-road winner Prost was disqualified.

But it was obvious that Senna had gained ascendancy at Lotus and de Angelis finally left after 90 races and six seasons. His move to Brabham was tragically short, de Angelis being killed in a testing accident at Paul Ricard in May 1986.

9. Innes Ireland

Innes Ireland, Lotus 21 Climax, 1961 British GP

Innes Ireland, Lotus 21 Climax, 1961 British GP

Photo by: David Phipps / Motorsport Images

Lotus years: 1959-61 (Team Lotus), 1962-63 and 1965 (privateer)
Lotus races (championship only): 36
Lotus wins: 1
Lotus titles: 0

Ireland was a well-respected driver of the early 1960s and, thanks to three podiums, took fourth in the 1960 drivers’ standings. He also won three non-championship races and helped to underline the pace of the Lotus 18 as the team arrived at the front of the F1 pack.

PLUS: Ranking the 10 best 'point-less' F1 races

His victory in the non-points paying 1961 Solitude GP was superbly taken, beating the factory Porsches as the top three were covered by 0.3 seconds. But perhaps Ireland’s big moment for Lotus came in the 1961 United States GP.

With the titles already decided and following the death of Wolfgang von Trips at Monza, Ferrari skipped the championship finale. Once early leaders Jack Brabham, running the new V8 Climax engine, and Stirling Moss (old four-cylinder) had hit trouble, Ireland’s Lotus 21 took over at the front. Graham Hill’s BRM challenge wilted, leaving Ireland to take the first world championship GP race victory for Team Lotus.

Ireland’s ‘reward’ was to lose his drive for 1962, but he remained an irregular F1 points-scorer – and a winner in GT and sportscar racing – into the mid-1960s.

8. Ayrton Senna

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T

Ayrton Senna, Lotus 97T

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lotus years: 1985-87
Lotus races: 48
Lotus wins: 6
Lotus titles: 0

Senna was hot property when Lotus managed to secure his services for 1985. He helped give the team’s post-Colin Chapman era three years of success. He took pole second time out for the team in Portugal, then followed it up with one of the greatest wet-weather wins of all time the following day.

PLUS: Ranking F1's greatest wet-weather drives

The pace of the Renault-engined 97T and Senna was underlined by seven poles in 1985, more than anyone else, but the package wasn’t usually enough to match Prost and McLaren in the races. There was only one more victory, another rain-affected race at Spa, and Senna was fourth in the final standings.

It was a similar story in 1986, eight poles being converted into just two wins as the Williams-Hondas of Nelson Piquet and Mansell tended to be too strong over a GP distance.

The active suspension on the Honda-powered Lotus 99T forced Senna to change focus. There was only one pole, but the tyre-preserving system helped Senna to third in the points, scoring wins on the street circuits of Monaco and Detroit, as well as six other podium visits.

Though there were some errors during his time at Lotus, if there is one criticism of Senna during his time there it is that his insistence on having weak team-mates restricted the squad’s potential. Whether it could have done better than third in 1986 and 1987 is, however, open to debate.

PLUS: Ayrton Senna’s greatest F1 races

Senna left to join McLaren for 1988 and Team Lotus soon lost momentum. It would never win another race and folded in 1994.

7. Ronnie Peterson

Ronnie Peterson, Lotus 72E

Ronnie Peterson, Lotus 72E

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Lotus years: 1973-76, 1978
Lotus races (championship only): 59
Lotus wins: 9
Lotus titles: 0

One of the most popular Lotus characters, Superswede Peterson wasn’t the sort of driver to help develop a car or fine-tune a set-up, but he was one of the quickest racers of his generation.

He joined Lotus for 1973 and was arguably the fastest driver of the season. He took nine poles from 15 races, though misfortune meant he had to wait until round eight in France before taking his first victory.

Peterson added three more and outpaced world champion team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi. Both missed out on the drivers’ title to Tyrrell’s Jackie Stewart, but Lotus did take its sixth constructors’ crown.

Fittipaldi left for McLaren, leaving Peterson leading the Lotus charge in 1974. The ageing 72 and its unsuccessful ‘replacement’ the 76 were rarely a match for the opposition but Peterson managed a pole and three brilliant victories, comfortably outperforming team-mate Jacky Ickx.

PLUS: Ronnie Peterson’s greatest drives

The 72 was just too old in 1975 and a frustrated Peterson left Lotus just one race into the 1976 championship to rejoin March.

Lotus had been through a rebuilding process – and Peterson had experienced a difficult season at Tyrrell – by the time the two parties renewed their partnership for 1978. Peterson joined as number two to Andretti and, first armed with the ground-effects 78 and then its refined successor the 79, the duo dominated the season.

Peterson took two wins and completed four Lotus 1-2s. Andretti clinched the title with a (penalised) sixth at Monza but did so with Peterson in hospital following a startline crash. Complications set in and Peterson died the following day, having played his part in the team’s final title double.

6. Stirling Moss

Stirling Moss, Lotus 18

Stirling Moss, Lotus 18

Photo by: Sutton Images

Lotus years: 1960-61 (privateer)
Lotus races (championship only): 12
Lotus wins: 4
Lotus titles: 0

Moss is unique on this list as the only driver to make the top 10 who wasn’t a Team Lotus driver, all his 12 world championship starts for the constructor coming in privately run Rob Walker machinery. But Moss’s undisputed ability and status as the world’s best driver following Juan Manuel Fangio’s retirement meant he started winning for Lotus before the works drivers.

The first came in mixed conditions at Monaco in 1960, his first points-paying start in the Lotus 18. He might have challenged Cooper’s Jack Brabham for the title but for a wheel falling off at Spa, causing a crash that put him in hospital and out for three rounds.

Having returned and won the United States GP at the end of the season, arguably Moss’s finest campaign came in 1961. His wins at Monaco and the Nurburgring were among his best and were the only times the more powerful Ferrari 156 ‘Sharknose’ was beaten in the championship.

PLUS: Sir Stirling Moss' 10 greatest drives

Sadly, it was at the wheel of a UDT Laystall Lotus 18/21 that Moss had his career-ending accident at Goodwood on Easter Monday 1962.

5. Jochen Rindt

Jochen Rindt, Lotus 72C Ford

Jochen Rindt, Lotus 72C Ford

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Lotus years: 1969-70
Lotus races (championship only): 19
Lotus wins: 6
Lotus titles: 1 (1970)

In terms of raw speed, Rindt would be higher up this list, but his relationship with Chapman was far more fraught than most other drivers. It’s hard to argue he was as important to the team as Jim Clark and Graham Hill had been, or as Fittipaldi and Andretti would become.

Rindt was an established F2 star when he joined Lotus from Brabham in 1969. He’d been an F1 regular since 1965 but mediocre machinery and bad luck had kept him off the top step of the podium. Some regarded him as a car breaker.

The trend continued in 1969. Rindt and the Lotus 49 were arguably the fastest combination, taking five poles from 11 championship races. He also led 195 laps, second only to Jackie Stewart’s Matra, but an abysmal finishing record – including an enormous crash in Spain when the Lotus’s tall rear wing set-up failed – meant Rindt got nowhere near stopping Stewart clinching the drivers’ crown with three rounds to go.

Rindt’s luck finally held in October’s US GP, his first world championship GP victory coming in dominant style after Stewart’s engine failed.

Lotus had a troubled start to 1970 as it struggled to make the new wedge-shaped 72 work. Rindt wasn’t a fan and raced the ageing 49C in three rounds, taking his most famous victory with a stirring charge at Monaco.

PLUS: The troubled story of F1’s greatest racing car

Once the 72 was working, Rindt reeled off four consecutive wins to build a sizeable championship lead. But he was then killed during practice for the Italian GP, his 72 turning hard left into the Parabolica barriers in an accident the cause of which has long been debated.

Ferrari’s Ickx was the driver most likely to surpass Rindt’s points total but, when Fittipaldi won the US GP and Ickx could only finish fourth, Rindt was confirmed as posthumous champion.

4. Graham Hill

Team boss Colin Chapman and his drivers Jackie Oliver and Graham Hill

Team boss Colin Chapman and his drivers Jackie Oliver and Graham Hill

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Lotus years: 1958-59, 1967-69 (Team Lotus), 1970 (privateer)
Lotus races (championship only): 60
Lotus wins: 4
Lotus titles: 1 (1968)

There are those who were at Team Lotus when Clark was killed that believe Hill was a key figure in keeping the team going. Following the death of both Clark and Mike Spence, Chapman was absent for some time in 1968 and Hill helped pick up the team with victory in the Spanish GP.

That win presaged a title tilt, with Hill coming out on top in the Mexico City showdown with Matra’s Stewart and McLaren’s Denny Hulme to become the second drivers’ champion for Lotus.

PLUS: Graham Hill’s 10 greatest races

Hill won the Monaco GP for the fifth time in 1969, but he increasingly struggled to contain the pace of new team-mate Rindt. A serious crash during the US GP effectively ended his Team Lotus career, though he did return to drive a Rob Walker-run 49C and then 72 in 1970.

PLUS: F1’s great Lotus landmarks – the 49

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that Hill was an important part of Lotus’s early days. He and Cliff Allison gave Lotus its world championship debut in the 1958 Monaco GP, though frustrations with reliability contributed to Hill’s departure to BRM for 1961.

3. Emerson Fittipaldi

Emerson Fittipaldi, Lotus 72D Ford

Emerson Fittipaldi, Lotus 72D Ford

Photo by: Sutton Images

Lotus years: 1970-73
Lotus races (championship only): 42
Lotus wins: 9
Lotus titles: 1 (1972)

Young Brazilian star Fittipaldi was thrust into a prominent role at Lotus when Rindt was killed at Monza in 1970. He rose to the occasion, taking a fortuitous but important victory in the US GP, only his fourth world championship start.

Once the Lotus 72 had been made to work on the new Firestone slick tyres during 1971, Fittipaldi became a consistent frontrunner in his favourite racing car. He also formed a strong working relationship with Chapman.

PLUS: F1’s great Lotus landmarks – the 72

Five victories helped Fittipaldi to clinch the 1972 crown two races early, ahead of reigning champion Stewart. He also started 1973 in fine form, with three wins, a second and two thirds in the first six rounds.

But a combination of accidents, unreliability and the pace of new team-mate Peterson hampered his challenge. When Chapman failed to order Peterson to move aside as Fittipaldi expected at the Italian GP, Stewart’s fourth place clinched the crown and Emmo decided to leave and head for McLaren.

PLUS: How Chapman's wonder wedge won Fittipaldi's heart

His timing was good. Armed with the M23, Fittipaldi added a second crown in 1974, while Lotus would have to wait until 1978 for another title…

PLUS: Fittipaldi's prophetic title that justified his McLaren switch

2. Mario Andretti

Mario Andretti, Lotus, 1978 Argentinian GP

Mario Andretti, Lotus, 1978 Argentinian GP

Photo by: Ercole Colombo / Motorsport Images

Lotus years: 1968-69 (limited programme), 1976-80
Lotus races (championship only): 79
Lotus wins: 11
Lotus titles: 1 (1978)

Lotus was in a slump when Andretti joined, the famous team having failed to win a race in 1975. But the experienced Indycar star helped it make progress, and scored a fine wet win at the 1976 Japanese GP finale.

Top 10: F1 title deciders ranked

Behind the scenes, extensive work had also kickstarted the ground-effects revolution. Andretti and the Lotus 78 were the fastest combination of 1977, taking seven poles and leading more laps than anyone else, but experimental Cosworth DFV engine unreliability proved costly.

Andretti added victory in the 1978 Argentinian GP to his four 1977 wins with the Lotus 78 before the 79 arrived for round six in Belgium. Backed up by team-mate Peterson, Andretti scored five more wins to secure the crown, though Lotus’s title double was overshadowed by the death of Peterson after a crash at the start of the Italian GP.

PLUS: F1’s great Lotus landmarks – the 79

Despite Andretti calling for the Lotus 79 to be made stiffer to make the most of ground-effects, Chapman pressed on with his next big idea, the 80 ‘wing car’. It was a failure and Andretti was left to defend his championship with the 79, which had been overtaken by the opposition.

An abysmal finishing record contributed to Andretti finishing behind team-mate Carlos Reutemann in the 1979 standings, and 1980 was even worse. Andretti left at the end of his fifth season with the team, but he had been key to Lotus taking its final world titles.

1. Jim Clark

Jim Clark, Lotus 25 Climax, takes the chequered flag

Jim Clark, Lotus 25 Climax, takes the chequered flag

Photo by: Sutton Images

Lotus years: 1960-68
Lotus races (championship only): 72
Lotus wins: 25
Lotus titles: 2 (1963, 1965)

How could it be anyone else? Clark was the first driver to form a special partnership with Chapman, the first to win the world title in a Lotus, drove for no one else in the F1 world championship and took more than twice the number of GP wins for the team than anyone else on this list. More than any other driver, he helped forge the Lotus legend.

Clark made his F1 debut in 1960 and by the following year had grabbed the attention of F1 benchmark Moss. He won four non-championship F1 races in 1961 before getting his hands on Chapman’s first F1 game-changer, the monocoque Lotus 25.

PLUS: F1’s great Lotus landmarks – the 25

Clark took his first world championship win in the Belgian GP and battled Hill’s BRM for the title. He looked set to win when an oil leak robbed him and handed Hill the crown in the South African GP finale.

There was no contest in 1963, Clark romping to the title with seven wins (from 10 races), a record that would not be beaten until 1988.

The next two years were in some ways a repeat of 1962-63. Unreliability cost Clark the crown in 1964 before he swept to six wins from 10 rounds and a second crown the following season, mainly in the Lotus 33.

Lotus wasn’t ready for the new three-litre F1 regulations for 1966, though Clark still starred on occasion, particularly at the Dutch GP, and took a fortuitous win in the US GP.

PLUS:Jim Clark’s greatest drives

Once the DFV-engined Lotus 49 arrived, Clark and team-mate Hill had an enormous pace advantage over the opposition and took pole in all nine races in which the car appeared. Clark won four times, more than anyone else, but both titles were lost due to unreliability.

PLUS: Revealing F1’s fastest failures

When Clark won the 1968 South African GP in the improved 49, he surpassed Fangio’s record of world championship F1 wins and seemed set for a third F1 crown. His death in an F2 race at Hockenheim robbed Chapman of his talisman and left a vacuum at the pinnacle of the sport.

Away from F1, Clark and Lotus had taken three Tasman titles, helped change the face of Indycar and won the 1965 Indianapolis 500, and also had time for a British Saloon Car (now BTCC) crown with the Ford Lotus Cortina in 1964.

PLUS: The rise and fall of Lotus as an F1 superpower

Jim Clark and Colin Chapman hold the 'News of the World' winners trophies

Jim Clark and Colin Chapman hold the 'News of the World' winners trophies

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Take a look at our previous top 10 driver lists:


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