Top 10 Williams F1 drivers ranked: Mansell, Hill, Montoya and more

Williams is one of Formula 1’s great teams, having racked up seven drivers’ titles and nine constructors’ crowns. Autosport ranks its 10 greatest drivers.

Top 10 Williams F1 drivers ranked: Mansell, Hill, Montoya and more

Williams has been competing at car racing's pinnacle for more than four decades and 16 drivers have won world championship races with the team.

Top 10: Ranking the greatest Williams F1 cars

That makes selecting the top 10 Williams F1 drivers a challenge.

For this list we’ve taken into account the amount of success the drivers scored with Williams, the impact they had on the team and the circumstances of their time there. It doesn’t count their achievements at other teams.

Patrese hit fine form in 1991 and had the upper-hand on Mansell early in the year, delivering a convincing win in Mexico

Patrese hit fine form in 1991 and had the upper-hand on Mansell early in the year, delivering a convincing win in Mexico

Photo by: Motorsport Images

10. Riccardo Patrese

Williams years: 1987 (final race), 1988-92
Williams wins: 4
Williams titles: 0

Carlos Reutemann and Patrese were very close for this 10th spot, but the Italian gets the nod due to his longevity with the team and the fact he took four world championship grand prix wins for Williams compared to the Argentinian’s three. He also didn’t walk out on the squad two races into a campaign, as Reutemann did in 1982…

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After a one-off subbing for the injured Nigel Mansell in the 1987 Australian GP, Patrese joined the Briton at Williams full-time the following season. The Judd-powered FW12 was not a Williams classic and suffered poor reliability, but things started to look up when Renault engines arrived in 1989.

Patrese and new team-mate Thierry Boutsen were evenly matched and both won races, Patrese taking the 1990 San Marino GP.

But perhaps he was never more impressive than in 1991. Mansell returned but Patrese consistently had the edge in qualifying in the early stages of the campaign, as the FW14 became a real threat to McLaren.

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He brilliantly led the wet San Marino GP and won in Mexico before Mansell came on strong and took the fight to McLaren’s Ayrton Senna. Patrese nevertheless finished a fine third in the drivers’ standings.

He was never as comfortable in the traction control, active suspension-boasting FW14B in 1992. While Mansell swept to the title with nine wins, Patrese scored just one and only narrowly held off Michael Schumacher and Senna for second in the championship.

PLUS: Nigel Roebuck on Riccardo Patrese

Schumacher ended a three-year drought for Williams by winning the 2001 San Marino GP

Schumacher ended a three-year drought for Williams by winning the 2001 San Marino GP

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

9. Ralf Schumacher

Williams years: 1999-2004
Williams wins: 6
Williams titles: 0

It’s sometimes forgotten how good Michael Schumacher’s brother was at times for Williams, particularly during his brilliant first campaign with the team in 1999.

Ralf consistently challenged the faster McLarens and Ferraris, was unfortunate not to win the European GP and comfortably put his highly rated Indycar champion team-mate Alex Zanardi in the shade.

He also beat impressive rookie Jenson Button during their year together in 2000 and scored Williams’s first GP win for nearly four years at Imola the following season, one of three victories in 2001.

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Things got tougher alongside Juan Pablo Montoya as their time together wore on and Schumacher’s 2004 campaign was ruined by his Indianapolis crash. But his six wins make him the seventh most successful Williams F1 driver, more than any other non-champion.

Montoya's swashbuckling style endeared him to many, as did his ambushing of Schumacher at Interlagos in only his third race in 2001

Montoya's swashbuckling style endeared him to many, as did his ambushing of Schumacher at Interlagos in only his third race in 2001

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

8. Juan Pablo Montoya

Williams years: 2001-04
Williams wins: 4
Williams titles: 0

Separating Ralf Schumacher and Montoya for this list was tough, but the Colombian scored more points (221 to 173) and more poles (11 to six) during their time together, though the German took more wins (six to four).

Montoya was also the more exciting, perhaps more akin to the sort of driver Williams always favoured. He proved as much with his daring pass of Michael Schumacher’s Ferrari for the lead of the 2001 Brazilian GP, just his third F1 start.

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Montoya was far from error free, but he was fast and aggressive – and got himself into the title fight in 2003 before being scuppered by a penalty in the United States GP thanks to an incident with Rubens Barrichello.

In the end, the Williams-BMW-Michelin-Montoya package was not enough to halt the Ferrari-Schumacher-Bridgestone steamroller, but it got closer than most in the first half of the 2000s.

Archive: How Williams's last F1 title challenge unravelled

Villeneuve remains the last Williams world champion, breaking through in 1997

Villeneuve remains the last Williams world champion, breaking through in 1997

Photo by: Sutton Images

7. Jacques Villeneuve

Williams years: 1996-98
Williams wins: 11
Williams titles: 1 (1997)

Perhaps ironically, Villeneuve’s least impressive season at Williams was the one in which he became world champion. As a rookie in 1996 he pushed more experienced team-mate Damon Hill hard, while there were some fine performances in the less-than-brilliant FW20 in 1998 before the move to BAR that signalled the end of his spell as an F1 top-dog.

PLUS: Villeneuve on 1997 and the regrets that followed

His 1997 championship win came in the FW19, the fourth most-dominant Williams ever in terms of raw pace.

Some bad luck, errors and a brilliant campaign from Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher meant the title fight was far closer than it should have been, but Villeneuve did enough in the controversial Jerez finale after the Ferrari driver hit his Williams to secure Williams a seventh drivers' championship.

Prost dominated to win the 1993 world championship in the final season of his F1 career

Prost dominated to win the 1993 world championship in the final season of his F1 career

Photo by: Motorsport Images

6. Alain Prost

Williams year: 1993
Williams wins: 7
Williams titles: 1 (1993)

Having been sacked by Ferrari and taken a sabbatical from F1, Prost engineered his way into the dominant Williams-Renault package for 1993. The FW15C was the most dominant Williams ever in terms of raw speed and Prost had a rookie team-mate in Hill.

PLUS: Williams’s rollercoaster F1 ride through the decades

The Frenchman was also on the receiving end of some superb Senna drives, which tend to be what 1993 is remembered for, but in reality Prost was a comfortable champion.

He perhaps wasn’t as combative or exciting as Mansell would have been in the same machine, but Prost still scored seven wins and 13 poles – and he retired from F1 with a fourth world title in his pocket.

Piquet beat Mansell to the 1987 title after their fierce battle in 1986 had allowed McLaren's Prost to steal the title

Piquet beat Mansell to the 1987 title after their fierce battle in 1986 had allowed McLaren's Prost to steal the title

Photo by: Sutton Images

5. Nelson Piquet

Williams years: 1986-87
Williams wins: 7
Williams titles: 1 (1987)

Piquet’s best years were arguably behind him when he joined Williams for 1986, alongside Mansell. The two famously did not get on and Piquet felt Frank Williams’s serious road car accident initially prevented him from pointing out that he thought he was supposed to be the team’s number one…

The result was an evenly matched duel that allowed McLaren’s Prost to snatch the title, despite Williams taking the constructors’ crown and winning nine of the season’s 16 races.

Analysis: How Williams overcame its greatest setback

The battle continued in 1987 but, following a serious crash during practice for the San Marino GP, Piquet was usually forced to play second fiddle to Mansell. He nevertheless kept picking up points and pounced when the Briton hit trouble.

When Mansell injured his back in Japanese GP qualifying, Piquet was left to take the crown before moving, along with Honda, to Lotus for 1988.

Rosberg capitalised on Ferrari's year of tragedy to win the 1982 title

Rosberg capitalised on Ferrari's year of tragedy to win the 1982 title

Photo by: Motorsport Images

4. Keke Rosberg

Williams years: 1982-85
Williams wins: 5
Williams titles: 1 (1982)

A swashbuckling improvisor, Rosberg was perhaps the perfect replacement when Williams’ favourite Alan Jones made a shock retirement at the end of 1981. Thrust into a competitive car, albeit a Cosworth DFV-engined one against the increasingly rapid turbo hordes, the Finn grabbed his chance with both hands.

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The spectacular Rosberg only took one victory on his way to the 1982 crown but, in a season in which nobody scored more than two wins, he was a worthy champion.

The turbo revolution had truly overtaken the DFV by 1983 but Rosberg still managed a win in tricky conditions at Monaco, before Williams switched to forced induction Honda power.

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The 1984 FW09’s Honda was like a light switch and not one of Williams’s finest. Rosberg nevertheless superbly won the sweltering 1984 Dallas GP.

The FW10 was much better, indicating that Williams was a rising force. Rosberg scored his last F1 victory in the Australian GP before switching to McLaren for 1986, his final F1 campaign.

Hill became F1's first son of a champion to achieve the same feat when he beat Villeneuve in 1996

Hill became F1's first son of a champion to achieve the same feat when he beat Villeneuve in 1996

Photo by: Sutton Images

3. Damon Hill

Williams years: 1993-96
Williams wins: 21
Williams titles: 1 (1996)

Hill wasn’t brought in to Williams to lead its attack, but he ended up doing that for three seasons.

After being a strong test driver, Hill joined the returning Prost in a race seat for 1993. He duly learned his craft and became a frontrunner in the superb FW15C, taking three wins and third in the points table in his first full F1 campaign.

Senna replaced Prost for 1993, as Williams lost much of its advantage over the opposition when the ‘gizmos’, such as traction control and active suspension, were banned. That made the FW16 tricky, and when Senna was killed in the San Marino GP, Hill was thrust into the team leader role in difficult circumstances.

Archive: Frank Williams on a painful 1994 F1 season

But both Hill and the team rallied, the FW16B improved and main rival Michael Schumacher and the Benetton team got embroiled in various controversies. After a brilliant win in the Japanese GP, Hill moved within one point of Schumacher for the Australian GP decider, only to miss out following the duo’s dubious clash.

Hill was often Schumacher’s main challenger in 1995, but mistakes from both team and driver meant the Benetton star was a comfortable champion. The atmosphere within the team also meant Williams decided to replace Hill for 1997.

Before that, though, Hill grabbed his final championship chance with the FW18. Rookie team-mate Villeneuve took the title to the Japanese GP finale but in truth Hill was comfortably the better driver in 1996, taking eight wins and nine poles from 16 rounds.

PLUS: Damon Hill’s 10 greatest races

Jones was the first Williams champion and the archetypal Williams driver

Jones was the first Williams champion and the archetypal Williams driver

Photo by: Motorsport Images

2. Alan Jones

Williams years: 1978-81
Williams wins: 11
Williams titles: 1 (1980)

The man that set the template for what a Williams F1 driver should be, certainly in the minds of team founders Frank Williams and Patrick Head. The straight-talking, non-nonsense Australian starred in Head’s neat FW06 in 1978.

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A self-professed average qualifier, Jones was a racer and become a frontrunner with the FW07. Unreliability cost him in 1979, but four wins in the final six races paved the way for a title tilt the following year.

Jones scored five victories as he beat Brabham’s Piquet to the crown, Williams also wrapping up its first constructors’ title with Reutemann in the other car.

Some misfortune, the odd error and strained relations with Reutemann cost Jones the following year, despite him arguably driving better than ever. He finished third in the standings as Williams won the constructors’ championship again despite losing the drivers’ to Piquet, and Jones announced his retirement.

Mansell dominated the 1992 championship and broke the record for the most wins in a year

Mansell dominated the 1992 championship and broke the record for the most wins in a year

Photo by: Motorsport Images

1. Nigel Mansell

Williams years: 1985-88, 1991-92, 1994
Williams wins: 28
Williams titles: 1 (1992)

Not always the easiest driver to work with, Mansell was undoubtedly a charger once behind the wheel. And being at Williams seemed to bring out the best in the Briton. His 28 victories for the team put him seven clear of second-placed Hill on the Williams wins list.

After four lean years at Lotus, Mansell joined Williams alongside Rosberg for 1985 and soon became a threat. Victory at the European GP at Brands Hatch was immediately followed by a second win in South Africa.

Joined by Piquet for 1986, Mansell scored more wins (five) than anyone else but was famously robbed of the title by a tyre blowout in the Adelaide finale.

Mansell again set the pace in 1987 but was dogged by misfortune. His qualifying accident at Suzuka put him out of the final two rounds, guaranteeing team-mate Piquet the title despite the Brazilian taking only half of Mansell’s wins tally.

After two years at Ferrari and his first ‘retirement’ from F1, Mansell returned in 1991. Following a tricky start alongside Patrese, Mansell stamped his authority on the team by challenging Senna for the title.

With the gizmo-laden FW14B, Mansell dominated the 1992 campaign, taking nine wins from 16 races on his way to the crown.

PLUS: Revealing the tech secrets of the Williams FW14B

Off-track drama then led to Mansell heading to Indycar but he returned during Williams’s tumultuous 1994 campaign and scored his final GP victory in the Adelaide finale.

“There are more stories to be recounted about Nigel Mansell within Williams than anyone else,” said the late Frank Williams. “He was just one helluva racer. Whenever he went racing the horns came out and he was off. He was fantastic, but difficult to deal with sometimes."

Mansell was famously denied the 1986 title by a puncture in the Adelaide title decider

Mansell was famously denied the 1986 title by a puncture in the Adelaide title decider

Photo by: Sutton Images

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