Top five Australian F1 drivers ranked: Brabham, Ricciardo, Webber and more
Formula 1 heads back to Australia this weekend for the first grand prix in the country since 2019. Daniel Ricciardo will be the home hero but he isn’t the only Australian driver to have made his mark in F1.
Fourteen Australians have started world championship GPs since 1950. Five have taken podiums, four have won races and two became world champions.
There have been several Australian talents who made it to F1 but didn’t get decent machinery. David Brabham and Larry Perkins suffered torrid times and failed to score a point but went on to success elsewhere.
Dave Walker’s promising career was destroyed by a troubled season at Lotus in 1972, when team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi took the drivers’ title and Walker failed to score a point.
So, here is our list of the top five Australian drivers that did have a big impact on F1. Our ranking is based on what they achieved in F1, factoring in the cars at their disposal.
If there is any motorsport justice, Oscar Piastri – a champion in F2, F3 and the Formula Renault Eurocup – will make his F1 debut in the not-too-distant future. Given the signs so far, the 21-year-old will be a strong contender for a future version of this list.
5. Tim Schenken
Tim Schenken, Brabham BT33 Ford
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Best finish: 3rd
Best qualifying: 5th
Outside of the ‘big four’, Schenken is the only Australian driver to have scored points in F1. Schenken was a star in F3 and made his world championship debut in 1970 while still competing in F2.
His first F1 races came in Frank Williams’s uncompetitive De Tomaso chassis, but he joined Brabham for 1971. Schenken showed well alongside Graham Hill, despite running the older BT33 to Hill’s BT34, and scored a fine third place in the Austrian GP after a battle with Fittipaldi’s Lotus.
Schenken left the now Bernie Ecclestone-owned team in favour of Surtees for 1972, but it was not a successful move. His only points came with fifth in the season-opener in Argentina and things went downhill from there.
One outing with an Iso run by Williams in 1973 preceded a part-season with the hopeless Trojan effort the following year. His final outing came in the 1974 US GP in the troubled Lotus 76, but he was disqualified – he shouldn’t have started as he had qualified 27th!
Although Schenken’s promise went unfulfilled in F1, he was a successful sportscar driver. He won the 1972 Buenos Aires 1000Km and Nurburgring 1000Km, sharing a works Ferrari with Ronnie Peterson, was a GT/DRM frontrunner in the second half of the 1970s, and finished second in class at the 1976 Le Mans 24 Hours in a Porsche 934.
Schenken was a co-founder of Tiga Race Cars and continues to be a key figure in Australian motorsport in the 21st Century. He helped open the new Albert Park configuration in a Maserati 250F.
4. Mark Webber
Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing RB8
Photo by: Sutton Images
A race winner in F3000, Webber scored a sensational fifth on his F1 debut with Minardi, the team’s first points for more than two years.
That set the tone for Webber’s first three years in F1, performing strongly in mediocre equipment, first at Minardi and then at Jaguar. There were some star qualifying efforts, most notably second in the 2004 Malaysian GP, but when Webber joined Williams for 2005 his best finish was still that famous fifth.
Webber arrived at Williams at just the wrong time, the team starting a long-term dip as its relationship with engine supplier BMW deteriorated. He narrowly beat team-mate Nick Heidfeld in the standings and scored his first podium in the Monaco GP, but the following year’s Cosworth-powered contender was less competitive and points were scarce.
Webber made the key move of his F1 career for 2007, joining Red Bull alongside David Coulthard. The team was on the up and, by 2009, was a frontrunner, Webber taking his first pole and victory in the German GP.
But that was also the year Red Bull protege Sebastian Vettel arrived. The inexperienced German made the odd error but was fast – and it was Vettel who took the fight to Brawn’s Jenson Button in the championship, Webber finishing fourth after a second win in Brazil.
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The 2010 season was Webber’s big chance. The RB6 was the fastest car of the season and wins in Spain, Monaco, Britain and Hungary helped Webber into a 14-point lead with just three GPs to go. But then two crucial things happened.
The first was Webber’s mistake in the wet Korean GP, crashing out while chasing leader Vettel. And the second was the team allowing Vettel to lead a Red Bull 1-2 in Brazil.
That meant Webber went to the Abu Dhabi finale eight points behind Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and seven ahead of Vettel. Famously, Webber pitted too soon in the race, Ferrari made the same mistake trying to cover him and Vettel was left to take victory and the title.
Thereafter, Vettel was increasingly dominant within the team. Not only usually faster, he also had the support of the management, as shown by the fallout (or lack thereof) from Vettel’s misjudgement at the 2010 Turkish GP and ignoring of team orders in the 2013 Malaysian GP.
Webber’s ninth and last F1 win came in the 2012 British GP, though he had earlier underlined his abilities around the challenging streets of Monte Carlo with a second Monaco GP success.
Overall, Webber was left trailing as Vettel scorched to four consecutive drivers’ crowns. After a winless 2013, when Vettel won 13 times, Webber retired from F1 to embark on a successful World Endurance career with Porsche that peaked with the title in 2015.
Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, 1st position, performs a shoey on the podium
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Ricciardo has fewer wins, fewer podiums and hasn’t yet come as close to winning a world title as Webber, so why is he ahead on this list?
Ricciardo has never had as consistently a competitive package as Webber had with those Red Bulls of 2009-13 and he managed something his predecessor never did, outscore team-mate Vettel over a season.
After making his debut with minnow squad HRT and impressing at Toro Rosso, Ricciardo graduated to Red Bull just as the turbo-hybrid era began. The team lost its competitive advantage to Mercedes, but Ricciardo brilliantly took three wins on his way to third in the championship and finished 71 points clear of Vettel, who then left for Ferrari.
Although narrowly outscored by new team-mate Daniil Kvyat in 2015, Ricciardo still led the Red Bull charge more often than not. He did so again in 2016, despite the victorious arrival of rising star Max Verstappen, and Ricciardo finished best-of-the-rest behind Mercedes duo Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton, and for the second time topped Autosport’s Top 50 list at the end of the year.
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Ricciardo beat Verstappen to fifth in the 2017 standings and started 2018 with superb victories in China and Monaco, but the momentum at Red Bull was shifting. Sensing that Verstappen was the team’s future, Ricciardo jumped ship to Renault.
There were some challenging moments and no wins at the French manufacturer but Ricciardo outscored team-mates Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon. He topped his time there with podiums at the Nurburgring and Imola before heading to McLaren.
Ricciardo struggled to get on terms with the MCL35M in 2021 and was largely outperformed by new colleague Lando Norris. He did, however, show his class when the opportunity arose at Monza, leading a McLaren 1-2 in the Italian GP.
At his peak, Ricciardo was probably good enough to be world champion, or at least challenge for a title, but he never got the chance. It remains to be seen whether he will ever get that opportunity – or if he can overcome Norris at McLaren – but there is little doubt that he is a winner of great GPs, almost all eight of his wins coming in dramatic style.
2. Alan Jones
Alan Jones, Williams FW07B Ford
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Years: 1975-81, 1983, 1985-86
Titles: 1 (1980)
Perhaps underrated by history, Jones was a tough racer who probably would have won more had he not decided to retire at the end of 1981. As it is, he is one of only two Australians to win the world championship and is tied with American legend Mario Andretti on 12 GP victories.
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Son of respected 1950s racer Stan, Jones struggled financially to get his career going in the 1970s but kept plugging away. He made his first world championship F1 starts in 1975, driving a Hesketh for Harry Stiller, who Jones had raced for previously.
Jones was then picked up by Graham Hill’s Embassy team to replace the injured Rolf Stommelen, scoring his first points with fifth in the German GP. He joined Surtees for 1976 but found team boss and former world champion John Surtees difficult to work with despite the potential of the TS19.
Such was the depth of the problem at Surtees that Jones was prepared to walk away, only to get back into F1 with Shadow following Tom Pryce’s terrible death during the 1977 South African GP, round three of the campaign. Thereafter, Jones was a points threat in the solid but unspectacular DN8.
The undoubted highlight of the year was a remarkable victory in the rain-affected Austrian GP. Starting 14th, Jones climbed the order in the early slippery conditions and inherited victory when James Hunt’s leading McLaren blew its engine.
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After courting Ferrari, Jones joined the fledgling Williams team. The no-nonsense Jones quickly gelled with Frank Williams and Patrick Head, with some promising performances in the simple FW06.
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Once the team got on top of the FW07, Head’s version of the ground-effects Lotus 79, Jones became the pacesetter in the second half of 1979. He won four of the last six GPs and finished third in the championship.
All the promise was realised in 1980. Jones won five time and took five other podium finishes to beat Brabham’s Nelson Piquet and Williams team-mate Carlos Reutemann to the crown. He also won the Spanish GP, later stripped of its points status thanks to the FISA-FOCA war, and the non-championship Australian GP.
Jones was arguably even better in 1981 but some bad luck and the odd error limited him to two victories and third in the table. Jones surprised Williams by retiring from F1 at the end of the season, thereby giving up the chance to drive the FW08 that Keke Rosberg would take to the 1982 title.
He flirted with Ferrari for a late 1982 return, made a brief return with Arrows in 1983 and then joined the Team Haas Lola operation for 1985-86.
The project was not a success, Jones taking its best result with fourth in the 1986 Austrian GP, and closed at the end of the season. Jones then became a commentator, though continued to compete in sportscars and mainly touring cars through to the end of the 1990s.
1. Jack Brabham
John Surtees, Cooper, Race Winner Jack Brabham, Brabham, Jochen Rindt, Cooper
Photo by: David Phipps
Titles: 3 (1959-60, 1966)
Brabham is one of F1’s legends, not just because he won three world titles during his long career but also because he founded his eponymous team, with which he took his final F1 crown.
He had already built up considerable technical and mechanical experience before he went racing in Australia, first in Midget cars on dirt ovals – where he honed a dramatic style that he would carry to F1 – and then circuit racing.
Brabham was successful and made the trip to the UK in 1955. He soon became part of the Cooper concern’s efforts and, having made one world championship start per season in 1955 and 1956, joined Cooper’s F1 effort in 1957.
The agile mid-engined Coopers were at an engine capacity disadvantage until 1959, when the 2.5-litre Coventry Climax unit arrived. Brabham scored his F1 win in the BRDC International Trophy in the T51 and took his maiden world championship GP success just a week later in Monaco.
Brabham fought Ferrari’s Tony Brooks and the privateer Rob Walker Cooper of Stirling Moss for the championship. He had greater reliability than either, scoring two wins and three other podiums, and clinched the title at the Sebring finale, famously pushing his car over the line after it ran out of fuel.
The improved T53, combined with the fragility of the rapid Lotus 18, helped Brabham dominate in 1960. He recorded three poles and five wins, including a victory against the more powerful Ferraris in the French GP, which Brabham later picked as his greatest race.
Race of My Life: Jack Brabham on the 1960 French GP
Cooper lost its edge as the 1500cc era begin in 1961 and Ferrari gained an advantage before Lotus and BRM took over. Brabham’s ambitions were greater and in 1962 he left to race for his own team, Brabham Racing Organisation, supplied with cars built by the Motor Racing Developments concern he had founded with Ron Tauranac.
Reliability problems hampered the early Brabhams, plus Jack was happy to play second fiddle to Dan Gurney when it came to driving. Indeed, it was Gurney who took Brabham’s first win as a constructor in the 1964 French GP and Jack considered retiring from driving.
But Gurney’s decision to leave the team to start his own operation and the promise of the Brabham-Repco for the new three-litre regulations for 1966 meant Jack continued. Always at his best when he knew the machinery was competitive, Brabham rose to the occasion and stormed to the 1966 crown with four victories, his first world championship GP successes for six years. He remains the only driver to win the F1 title in a car bearing his own name.
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Brabham liked to try new parts first and this contributed to him being beaten to the 1967 crown by team-mate Denny Hulme. The team once again scooped the constructors’ championship, helped by the poor finishing record of the pacesetting Lotus 49.
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Repco’s response to the Cosworth DFV for 1968 was woefully unreliable and Jochen Rindt was the team’s pacesetter. Jacky Ickx played that role as a switch to DFVs boosted the team in 1969 and the Belgian scored two GP victories, while Jack did manage a fine win in the non-championship International Trophy.
Brabham was again prepared to retire ahead of 1970 if Rindt could be persuaded to return from Lotus, but that didn’t happen. So Jack continued for one more year and showed he was still competitive at the age of 44.
The BT33 was a on the pace. Brabham won the season-opening South African GP and should have won at Monaco (denied by his famous last-corner error that allowed Rindt past) and Brands Hatch (where he had Rindt beaten before running out of fuel on the final tour).
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Brabham finally bowed out of F1 at the end of 1970, after finishing sixth in the standings, and sold his share of the team to Tauranac.
Brabham went on to develop other business interests but stayed involved in motorsport. His sons all became racers and Jack continued to appear at historic events, such as the Goodwood Revival, well into the 2000s. He died in 2014, aged 88.
Jack Brabham, Brabham BT33 Ford
Photo by: Motorsport Images
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