Top 10 Mercedes grand prix drivers: Hamilton, Fangio, Moss and more

Mercedes has a longer history in grand prix racing than any other constructor. Although it didn’t appear in the first Formula 1 world championship in 1950, as Ferrari did, the legend of the Silver Arrows had already been forged before the Second World War.

Top 10 Mercedes grand prix drivers: Hamilton, Fangio, Moss and more

That’s why, in the latest list of our ‘Top 10 drivers’ series, we’ve extended the remit beyond F1 to include all grand prix racing, which kicked off with the 1906 French GP near Le Mans. The importance of events, many of which were standalone or part of the European Championship, varied but the top ones were akin to today’s F1 championship races.

Mercedes has been in and out of motorsport over the years, but there were still plenty of candidates for this list. For our selection we’ve considered the success the drivers scored with Mercedes, the impact they had on the team and the circumstances of their time there. It doesn’t count their achievements at other squads.

If you’d also like to see which Mercedes GP cars we thought were best, take a look at this list: Top 10 Mercedes GP cars ranked.

10. Luigi Fagioli

Luigi Fagioli with racing team manager Alfred Neubauer

Luigi Fagioli with racing team manager Alfred Neubauer

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 1934-36
Major Mercedes GP wins: 6
Mercedes titles: 0

In terms of ability, Fagioli would be higher up this list, but his time at Mercedes did not run smoothly.

The fiery and strong Italian was already an established winner for Maserati and Alfa Romeo when Mercedes signed him for its GP return in 1934. He immediately came into conflict with racing manager Alfred Neubauer over team orders, but still won the Coppa Acerbo, Italian GP (with Rudolf Caracciola) and the Spanish GP.

“He was a true tiger in action, driving with a dash and determination matching the skill that came of so many years behind the wheel,” said Rodney Walkerley in the 1966 book Great Racing Drivers, edited by David Hodges. “He was undoubtedly one of the great drivers, even if his style was more brutal than polished.”

There were more successes in 1935, but tension in the team remained, particularly thanks to his rivalry with Caracciola. He brilliantly won the Monaco GP but also stormed off mid-race in Belgium while running with Caracciola, due to team orders. It was Caracciola’s season and Fagioli finished second to the German in the European Championship.

After a disappointing 1936 for both Mercedes and Fagioli, he joined Auto Union. It was not a successful move. Fagioli was affected by ill-health, though he still found the energy to physically attack Caracciola after the Tripoli GP!

Fagioli was part of the famous Alfa Romeo team after the Second World War. His victory, largely thanks to Juan Manuel Fangio taking over his 159, in the 1951 French GP means the then 53-year-old is still the oldest driver to win a world championship GP. Fagioli died after an accident in the 1952 Monaco GP for sportscars.

9. Manfred von Brauchitsch

Manfred von Brauchitsch winning the 1937 Monaco GP

Manfred von Brauchitsch winning the 1937 Monaco GP

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 1934-39
Major Mercedes GP wins: 3
Mercedes titles: 0

Aristocratic von Brauchitsch, who had started in two-wheeled competition, was a mainstay of the Mercedes team before WW2, though he wasn’t always the luckiest driver.

Having successfully raced and hillclimbed an SSK, von Brauchitsch gave the W25 its first victory as Mercedes returned to motorsport, in the Eifelrennen in 1934. He perhaps should have won the German GP at the Nurburgring a year later but for a tyre failure. Instead, Tazio Nuvolari took one of his most famous victories in an outgunned Alfa Romeo.

Von Brauchitsch was largely overshadowed by Caracciola but finished as runner-up in the European Championship in 1937 and 1938. His 1937 Monaco GP victory in the mighty W125 was perhaps his finest, while he also won the 1938 French GP in the three-litre W154, on both occasions heading a Mercedes 1-2-3. He was supposed to win the 1938 German GP but a pitlane fire allowed Richard Seaman, another candidate for this list, to score his only major victory for Mercedes.

Though wins were few and far between, von Brauchitsch was sometimes used as a pacesetter by Mercedes and was a consistent podium finisher right up to the outbreak of the Second World War, though he did not return to top-line competition afterwards.

8. Valtteri Bottas

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 1st position, with his trophy

Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, 1st position, with his trophy

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 2017-21
Mercedes GP wins: 10
Mercedes titles: 0

Eighty years after Mercedes had started its first period of sustained GP domination, it did so again as F1’s turbo-hybrid era got under way. Other teams largely just picked up the scraps between 2014 and 2016.

Bottas impressed enough during his four seasons at Mercedes customer Williams to graduate to the Silver Arrows when Nico Rosberg decided to retire following his 2016 F1 title success.

The Finn immediately helped improve the atmosphere at the team, which had become tense during the Lewis Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry. Bottas took his first pole in round three at Bahrain and his maiden victory next time out in Russia.

Bottas proved that, on his good days, he could take on and defeat the best drivers in the world, including Hamilton. But he could not consistently produce that level of performance, with Hamilton usually having the edge on tyre management, racecraft and in the wet.

Bottas struggled to a winless fifth in the standings in 2018 but picked himself up to take six wins and twice finish as runner-up to Hamilton across 2019-20. He also tended to attract the worst of the bad luck at Mercedes, as illustrated by his ’43-hour’ pitstop at the 2021 Monaco GP.

Bottas was not comfortable as a number two but was largely a fine team player and contributed to the five constructors’ titles Mercedes scored during his time there.

That was perhaps no more true than in 2021, when Bottas outscored Red Bull’s Sergio Perez by 36 points. That was enough to overcome the margin by which Hamilton lost to Max Verstappen, despite the RB16B being a fundamentally (if marginally) faster car than the Mercedes W12.

7. Christian Lautenschlager

Christian Lautenschlager on his way to win the 1914 French GP

Christian Lautenschlager on his way to win the 1914 French GP

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 1908, 1913-14
Major Mercedes GP wins: 2
Mercedes titles: 0

A Daimler/Mercedes lifer, Lautenschlager had been a machinist, mechanic, co-driver and test driver before getting an opportunity to race one of the Mercedes entries in the 1908 French GP – arguably the most important event each season during an era when there were very few GPs.

The strong and fit Lautenschlager won the GP, which took nearly seven hours to complete, by almost nine minutes from two Benz racers (the two firms having not yet merged).

Perhaps even more importantly, the German took victory in the epic 1914 French GP at Lyon in another of his rare race outings.

Mercedes’ preparation was meticulous, something that would come to define the marque, and it entered five cars. The main opposition came from three cars from Peugeot, which had won the French GP for the previous two editions.

French star Georges Boillot put up a stern resistance to Mercedes, despite having to make far more tyre stops than the white cars (white being the German national racing colour of the time), but the Peugeot couldn’t stand the relentless pace and the measured Lautenschlager took the lead in the closing stages. He came home to win the seven-hour event at the head of a Mercedes 1-2-3, still one of the manufacturer’s most famous moments.

Lautenschlager continued to drive for Mercedes after the First World War, including an attempt on the Indianapolis 500 and Targa Florio, but scored no more major successes and had retired by the time Mercedes’ next big GP programme arrived.

6. Stirling Moss

Race winner Stirling Moss, Mercedes-Benz W196; second place Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes-Benz W196

Race winner Stirling Moss, Mercedes-Benz W196; second place Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes-Benz W196

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 1955
Mercedes GP wins: 1
Mercedes titles: 0

Mercedes’ return to grand prix racing had gone well in 1954, Fangio taking the drivers’ title and four wins from six starts in the W196. But he often lacked strong enough back-up from his team-mates.

The solution was rising star Moss, who had impressed in Maserati 250Fs in 1954 – something Mercedes boss Neubauer had said he wanted to see when Moss first approached him.

There was mutual respect between the two drivers, Moss largely happy to learn in the wheeltracks in F1 races while leading the Mercedes charge in sportscars. It was Moss’s three brilliant victories in the 300SLR that secured Mercedes the 1955 world sportscar title.

PLUS: Stirling Moss’s 10 greatest drives

He also won the British GP, heading a Mercedes 1-2-3-4, though he was never sure if Fangio had let him win his home race or not. Elsewhere, Moss supported the great Argentinian’s successful bid for a third F1 title and took second places behind Fangio in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The W196 has gone down as one of the great GP cars but it wasn’t the easiest to drive and required the skills of Fangio and Moss to run consistently at the front. His year alongside Fangio confirmed Moss as one of motorsport’s stars and he would be a team leader everywhere else from then on.

Moss was a comfortable runner-up in the table and would surely have continued as part of the superteam had Mercedes not withdrawn from motorsport following the disaster at Le Mans, a race that Moss/Fangio had been on course to win together.

PLUS: The greatest cars never to win Le Mans

5. Nico Rosberg

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid

Nico Rosberg, Mercedes F1 W07 Hybrid

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 2010-16
Mercedes GP wins: 23
Mercedes titles: 1 (2016)

Rosberg joined Mercedes for 2010 as the factory re-entered F1 having bought the title-winning Brawn team. He outperformed Michael Schumacher but it was always hard to gauge what that meant as the post-motorcycle accident Schuey was clearly not the same driver as the one that took seven titles during his ‘first’ career.

Mercedes struggled to consistently take on Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren between 2010 and 2012, but Rosberg scored his first pole and victory in the 2012 Chinese GP.

The team stepped up a gear when Rosberg’s old karting rival and 2008 world champion Hamilton joined for 2013. Red Bull was still too strong and the W04 often chewed its tyres, but Mercedes took second in the constructors’ table. Hamilton finished ahead of Rosberg in the standings, though the German scored two wins to the Briton’s one.

Mercedes’ massive turbo-hybrid engine investment gave Rosberg and Hamilton the dominant package in 2014. They battled for the title and, though Rosberg was a stern adversary, Hamilton tended to have the upper hand, taking 11 wins to Rosberg’s five on the way to the crown.

It was more of the same in 2015, despite a stronger Ferrari challenge. Hamilton beat Rosberg 10-6 and comfortably retained his title, but three straight wins at the end of the campaign set Rosberg up nicely for the following season.

Rosberg started 2016 with four consecutive victories to gain an early points advantage. Hamilton did get into his stride but a combination of poor starts and rare Mercedes unreliability meant Rosberg went to the Abu Dhabi finale with a 12-point lead.

Poleman Hamilton tried to back him into the opposition, but Rosberg held his nerve – including pulling off a fine pass on Verstappen – to take second place and the championship. Mission accomplished, he announced his shock retirement.

Rosberg’s time alongside Hamilton was increasingly one of tension and there were clashes, most notably at the 2016 Spanish and Austrian GPs, but there’s no doubt that he played his part in an incredibly successful period for the team.

4. Hermann Lang

Hermann Lang

Hermann Lang

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 1935-39
Major Mercedes GP wins: 8 (excludes 1939 Tripoli GP)
Mercedes titles: 0

Unlike some of his colleagues, ex-motorcycle racer Lang came from a humble background and worked as mechanic on Fagioli’s car before getting his break as a driver.

After a handful of outings in 1935-36, Lang started to hit form in 1937, particularly at high-speed venues. He won the Tripoli GP at the fast Mellaha circuit in the fearsome 5.6-litre 600bhp W125 and the Avusrennen (averaging over 160mph) in a special streamlined version.

Limited success followed in 1938, as GP regulations limited engine capacity to three litres, but Lang was now a consistent frontrunner. Although Lang finished behind Caracciola and von Brauchitsch in the European championship, he won the Tripoli and Coppa Ciano (after winner von Brauchitsch was disqualified) races, neither of which counted for points.

Level-headed Lang, helped by his mechanical understanding, led the Mercedes challenge during 1939, winning the Pau, Belgian and Swiss GP, as well as the Nurburgring’s Eifelrennen in the superb W154. His Swiss success came against Caracciola in the wet, conditions in which Lang had previously struggled.

Some regarded him as the 1939 European champion, though the idiosyncratic scoring system of the time means that Auto Union’s Hermann Muller was probably the unofficial title winner.

Lang also completed his Tripoli GP hat-trick in the one-off appearance of the Voiturette (very roughly equivalent to Formula 2) W165. The event demonstrated the antipathy between Lang and Caracciola as each felt the other had the better car. Lang dominated the race to head a Mercedes 1-2.

Archive: The greatest Mercedes you might not have heard of

It’s probable that Lang was the closest driver to Nuvolari at the top of grand prix racing in 1939 and was surely set for more success. His best years were almost certainly lost to the Second World War.

Lang returned after the end of hostilities and even started the 1954 German GP for Mercedes, but he did not reach the same heights. He did, however, win the 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours with Fritz Riess in Lang’s only start in the endurance classic.

Top 10: Most heartbreaking Le Mans failures

3. Juan Manuel Fangio

Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes-Benz W196

Juan Manuel Fangio, Mercedes-Benz W196

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 1954-55
Mercedes GP wins: 9 (8 world championship)
Mercedes titles: 2 (1954-55)

Fangio was already a world champion when Mercedes came calling on its return to the pinnacle of motorsport. Before the W196 was ready for the new 2.5-litre F1, Fangio drove a Maserati 250F in the 1954 Argentinian and Belgian GPs – and won both.

The W196, in streamliner form, appeared for July’s French GP and Fangio duly led Karl Kling in a Mercedes 1-2. He was beaten at the British GP (where he found the streamliner difficult to handle) and the season-closing Spanish GP (overheating) but in between won three more championship events to take the title easily.

Except at Reims, Fangio was not backed up by the other Mercedes drivers – without him the comeback would not have looked so decisive in 1954.

But support from Moss arrived in 1955 and Fangio dominated the season, truncated following the Le Mans disaster. Fangio won the Argentinian GP in one of the hottest F1 races on record and, two weeks later, took the non-championship Buenos Aires GP.

All three W196s broke down in Monaco, Fangio’s while leading, but thereafter the Silver Arrows were untouchable, aided by Lancia’s financial woes and the death of Alberto Ascari.

Fangio won the Belgian and Dutch GPs, with Moss second each time. He followed his young team-mate home in the British GP, then won the Italian GP, with Piero Taruffi completing a Mercedes 1-2.

Mercedes then withdrew from the sport, leaving Fangio’s world championship tally with the team at two titles and eight wins from 12 starts.

2. Rudolf Caracciola

Rudolf Caracciola charging to victory at the 1939 German GP

Rudolf Caracciola charging to victory at the 1939 German GP

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 1926-31, 1934-39
Major Mercedes GP wins: 17 (excludes SS, SSK and SSKL victories)
Mercedes titles: 3 (1935, 1937-38)

“Caracciola and Mercedes became in time synonymous,” wrote Richard von Frankenberg in Great Racing Drivers. “Daimler-Benz owe a great many of their victories in famous races all over the world to his talent.”

Caracciola, at one time a car salesman, was the star of the pre-war Silver Arrows, no mean feat given his Monaco accident in 1933 left him with a permanent limp. He was also a master in the rain.

Originally a motorcycle racer, Caracciola scored some significant successes in Mercedes machinery before the company’s big GP push from 1934. As well as being a top hillclimber, he won the inaugural (wet) German GP in 1926 and scored victories with the enormous SSK/SSKL models in the 1929 RAC Tourist Trophy, 1931 Mille Miglia and 1931 German GP, against quality opposition from Bugatti and Alfa Romeo, before Mercedes withdrew from competition.

After a stint in Alfa Romeos and while still recovering from his Monaco crash, Caracciola’s 1934 season was unspectacular as Mercedes returned, but 1935 was a different matter. Armed with the constantly evolving W25, Caracciola won the French, Belgian, Swiss and Spanish GPs to secure his first European crown, as well as the non-counting Tripoli GP.

Auto Union’s C-type was too strong for the increasingly awkward W25 in 1936 and rising star Bernd Rosemeyer took the European title, but Caracciola scored one of his greatest wins at Monaco in appalling conditions as many other aces, including the other three Mercedes drivers, crashed.

Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s legendary W125 swung the balance of power back to Mercedes for the final year of the 750kg formula in 1937. Wins in the German, Swiss and Italian GPs, plus a second at Monaco, brought Caracciola another European title ahead of team-mates von Brauchitsch and Lang.

Victories were more evenly spread as the three-litre regulations and W154 arrived but Caracciola finished on the podium in all European championship rounds – including another wet-weather success in the Swiss GP – to take his third crown in four years.

Although past his considerable best by 1939, Caracciola still took his sixth German GP success that year, a record that has yet to be surpassed. That’s without counting his four Eifelrennen victories on the fearsome Nurburgring, which add to his status as one of the greatest pre-war drivers.

After the Second World War, Caracciola suffered a big accident during practice for the 1946 Indianapolis 500. He drove for Mercedes in some sportscar events, finishing fourth in the 1952 Mille Miglia, before retiring following a crash at Bremgarten.

1. Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1, 1st position, lifts his trophy on the podium

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes-AMG F1, 1st position, lifts his trophy on the podium

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

Mercedes years: 2013-present
Mercedes GP wins: 82
Mercedes titles: 6 (2014-15, 2017-20)

Six world titles, 82 wins and the Hamilton-Mercedes story isn’t finished yet. Those are records for a driver at a single team and Hamilton is already firmly in the debate about the greatest racer of all time, so this slot was inevitable.

PLUS: Who is the greatest of all time?

Hamilton’s move from McLaren to Mercedes at the end of 2012 seemed bold, given the success he’d scored at the Woking squad and the fact Mercedes had scored only one win since its F1 return in 2010. But it climbed to second in the 2013 constructors’ standings and, more importantly, had stolen a march on the opposition with its new powerplant for the start of the turbo-hybrid era.

Rosberg provided some stiff opposition but Hamilton usually had the edge. As Mercedes dominated, Hamilton won the 2014 and 2015 titles before being narrowly pipped to the 2016 crown by Rosberg, who then retired.

Stung by the defeat and with wider, faster cars for 2017, Hamilton seemed to find another gear. He was also happier within the team after Bottas replaced Rosberg.

Despite a renewed challenge from Ferrari, Hamilton took the 2017 and 2018 championships. The latter campaign was arguably one of the finest in F1 history as he had the points lead even before Mercedes negated Ferrari’s early pace advantage.

Top 10: Hamilton’s best F1 wins ranked

Hamilton and Mercedes were largely unstoppable in 2019-20, the 2020 W11 being perhaps the team’s finest car as it won 13 of the 17 races in a pandemic-hit season. Hamilton’s pole in Belgium was outstanding, he set a new F1 lap speed record during Italian GP qualifying and took one of his best wins in Turkey.

PLUS: The Hamilton record underlining F1’s eternal struggle

Rule tweaks for 2021 put Mercedes on the back foot and handed a slim advantage to Red Bull. Hamilton waged a season-long battle with Red Bull’s Verstappen, only losing out on the final lap of the controversial Abu Dhabi GP finale.

Though there were some errors, most notably at Imola and Baku, Hamilton’s level remained high. He’ll be joined by highly rated George Russell in 2022 as F1’s new rules era arrives, providing yet another challenger for the benchmark of his generation as Hamilton approaches 40.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

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