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Which F1 driver has led the world championship the longest? 

The world drivers’ championship is the most coveted award in Formula 1 and every driver hopes to one day secure the title. Only a small number will ever achieve the world championship though, and even fewer will hold onto the achievement for a significant amount of time. 

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing, 1st position

While some drivers take the title long before the final round – recently Max Verstappen took both the 2022 and 2023 titles with several races left to go – others can sit at the top of the table but still never claim the crown. Valtteri Bottas is one of those unfortunate drivers, having led the championship for just 24 days in 2019 before the season was eventually won by Lewis Hamilton.  

However, some drivers have been able to retain the lead for a whole season and even longer. Although leading the championship for the longest is arguably the most impressive record a driver can hold, the most consecutive days led can also tell us much about a driver and the seasons they held the title.  
  
Here are the drivers who have consecutively led the championship chase for the most number of days. 

Top F1 drivers who have spent the most consecutive days leading the drivers’ championship  

Winter breaks have been taken into consideration for every driver’s leadership run, including if a driver lost their run on the first race of the season. This makes figures consistent with the drivers whose tallies have continued to accumulate from one season and into the next.

Michael Schumacher – 896 days  

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 37  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 2562 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 121  

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Michael Schumacher is the most successful Formula 1 driver when it comes to leading the drivers’ world championship. The German jointly holds the record for the most titles with seven alongside Lewis Hamilton and has the record for most consecutive drivers’ championships with five between 2000-04.  
  
Schumacher appears twice in the top 10 drivers to have led the title for the longest time consecutively, appearing in the top position with 896 days and third with 630 days. His longest period of heading the standings came between the 2000 USA Grand Prix and the 2003 Australian GP, and consisted of 37 races.   
  
The 2000 season was Schumacher’s third drivers’ championship victory and his first with Ferrari, after joining the team in 1996. After winning five of the first eight races of the year, he was struck by a bout of bad luck and had three consecutive DNFs at the French, Austrian and German GPs. But over the following six races he never finished lower than second, and at the 2000 United States GP Schumacher retook the lead in the drivers’ championship, before winning the last two races and taking the title at the Japanese GP. 

PLUS: Michael Schumacher’s top 10 F1 wins
  
Schumacher continued to top the drivers’ championship during the whole of 2001, winning nine races and taking five second places. He only had two retirements and one fourth place finish – at the San Marino, German and Italian GPs respectively.   
  
He took his fourth drivers’ championship at the Hungarian GP with four races left to go. Only 10 points were awarded for a victory then and Schumacher went into the event 37 points ahead of David Coulthard, who finished the race in third, giving the title to Schumacher. He also took the record for most career wins, after taking his 52nd at the Belgian GP, breaking Alain Prost’s record from 1993.  
  
In 2002, Schumacher took his fifth drivers’ championship and equalled Juan Manuel Fangio’s record. He scored 11 of Ferrari’s 15 wins that year and took the title with six races remaining, making it the record for the earliest point in a season that a driver has clinched the championship.   
  
His run of consecutive days holding the drivers’ championship came to an end during the 2003 Australian GP – the first race of the season – when Schumacher finished fourth. There was heavy rain on race day, but the track dried quickly, which resulted in abnormal tyre wear on both Ferraris. Later in the race Schumacher damaged the flow diverters on his car by driving over a kerb and was shown a black-and-orange flag, forcing him to return to the pits for repairs.   
  
The pitstop cost Schumacher a place on the podium, his first non-podium finish since the 2001 Italian GP. It was also the first time a Ferrari had not finished on the podium since the 1999 European GP and ended their 53 consecutive podium finishes.  

Read also: Top 10 Ferrari F1 drivers 

Max Verstappen – 763 days  

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 48  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 1015
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 63

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen has led the world drivers’ championship since the 2022 Spanish GP and is rapidly approaching the record that is held by Michael Schumacher. The Dutchman took the advantage in the 2022 championship six races into the season after winning four out of those races, taking the lead from Charles Leclerc.  
  
His run on leading the drivers’ championship came just months after Verstappen signed a five-year contract extension with Red Bull Racing to stay with the team until 2028. The now-three-time world champion won 15 races that season, which started with a heated battle between himself and Ferrari’s Leclerc.  
  
The tally broke his previous record of 13 race wins in a season that he shared with both Michael Schumacher in 2004 and Sebastian Vettel in 2013. He also scored 454 championship points, which broke Lewis Hamilton’s previous record of 413, set in 2019.  
  
Verstappen beat his own championship points record in 2023, when he continued his lead of the drivers’ championship. He scored 575 points and took 19 wins out of 23 races, also breaking his own record for most wins in one season.   
  
He has led the world drivers’ championship for a total of 1015 days, putting him ninth of the drivers who have led the most days of all time, which will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. 

Michael Schumacher – 630 days  

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 27  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 2562  
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 121

Photo by: Lyndon McNeil

  Michael Schumacher is one of two drivers in this top 10 and appears twice in the top three. His second run came between the 2003 Canadian and 2005 Australian GPs, during his five consecutive drivers’ championships.   
  
In 2003 he won six out of 16 races and claimed the record for most drivers’ championships when he took the title for the sixth time, beating Juan Manuel Fangio’s 46-year record of five championships.  

New regulations and a new points system tightened the competition on the grid, with Schumacher facing a tight battle with McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen and Williams’s Juan Pablo Montoya. He needed just one point to take the crown at the final race, and scored that by finishing in eighth place (with points only being awarded to the top eight drivers at the time). 
  
Schumacher set a new record at the start of 2004, when he won 12 of the first 13 races in the mighty Ferrari F2004, with just one retirement due to a crash at the Monaco GP; while under a safety car, Schumacher and Montoya clashed in the tunnel, putting the Ferrari out. 

Schumacher won the next seven races and a second place at Spa secured his final F1 crown. After a retirement at the inaugural race of the 2005 Australian GP, his run of consecutively holding the drivers’ championship title came to an end.  

Ayrton Senna – 581 days  

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 24  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 1092 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 49 

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Three-time world champion Ayrton Senna had his longest run leading the world championship during his last two title challenges with McLaren. The lead began at the 1990 German GP following six podium finishes at the start of the season. After a previously tight battle with Alain Prost in 1989, the fight continued when the Frenchman moved to Ferrari.  

Read also: Top 10 F1 rivalries
  
The Brazilian’s run holding the points lead continued through the entirety of 1991, where he became the youngest three-time world champion at 31 years old – a record that was later beaten by Sebastian Vettel in 2012 at the age of 25.  
  
Senna took seven wins in 1991 and a further five podiums, with his main competitor Nigel Mansell scoring five wins for Williams. His championship lead came to an end during the first race of the 1992 season during the South African GP, where he finished third, giving Mansell the lead as Williams-Renault finally surpassed McLaren-Honda. 

PLUS: How Senna won his greatest title 

Alberto Ascari – 574 days  

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 15  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 574 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 15  

Photo by: Motorsport Images

 Alberto Ascari only had one spell at the top of the world drivers’ championship but, after holding the lead from the 1952 Belgian GP and throughout 1953, he makes this list. Having come close to the 1951 crown, the Ferrari driver won six out of the seven grands prix in 1952, when the world championship switched to F2 regulations. The sole race he didn’t win was the only one he didn’t compete in – the season-opening Swiss GP – as he was participating in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, which also counted for points that season. 
  
The Italian won the first three races at the start of 1953 (excluding the Indy 500) and claimed another two later in the year to secure his second consecutive drivers’ championship.   
  
His time at the top came to an end with the completion of the season, after a dispute over his salary saw the Italian leave Ferrari for Lancia. Ascari entered just four races out of nine in 1954 but retired from each race as Lancia struggled to get its revolutionary D50 race ready. 

Read also: The rise and fall of Ferrari’s first great champion

Fernando Alonso – 560 days

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 33  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 959 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 52  

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso held onto the drivers’ championship lead for 560 days between the 2005 Malaysian GP and the 2006 Chinese GP. The Spaniard has also spent 959 days total at the top of the standings, putting him 10th overall.  
  
After finishing third at the opening race of the 2005 season in Australia, Alonso took pole at the Malaysian GP and dominated the race, which started his longest run as drivers’ standings leader. Regulation changes in 2005 meant that teams were not allowed to change tyres during a race and engines had to be used for two races before they could be changed. This resulted in an intense duel between Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen at McLaren, but the Renault ultimately proved more reliable. 

PLUS: Fast failures – F1s quickest runner-up
  
His championship win in 2005 made the Spaniard the record-holder for the youngest drivers’ champion, at 24 years and 57 days old. This record was later beaten by Lewis Hamilton in 2008 when he was 23 years and 300 days old and then by Sebastian Vettel in 2010 at 23 years and 133 days old.  
  
Alonso stayed with Renault for the 2006 season and won six out of the first nine races. Trouble was brewing for Alonso and Renault though, as the FIA imposed a ban on the team’s mass damper device after the French GP, helping Ferrari and Michael Schumacher close the gap. The pair were in a heated fight for the title in 2006, which Alonso had been leading until the 15th race of the season – Italian GP at Monza – where an engine failure resulted in retirement, his second of the year.  
  
A win by Schumacher put the German back at the top of the championship. Both drivers were tied on points going into the penultimate race at Suzuka, which was won by Alonso and saw Schumacher retire due to engine failure. The Spaniard needed just one point to take his second drivers’ championship at the season finale and, with a race victory, he became the youngest double world champion.  

Lewis Hamilton – 546 days 

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 25  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 2436 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 126 

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Despite Lewis Hamilton being second on the list of total number of days leading the drivers’ championship, he ‘only’ consecutively held the lead for 546 days. This run began at the 2014 Singapore GP, taking the lead from team-mate Nico Rosberg with five races left that year. Hamilton won 11 races out of 19, with Rosberg winning another five for Mercedes.   
  
The British driver dominated the 2015 season, finishing on the podium 17 times and securing 10 wins. The Mercedes drivers were once again locked into a fierce battle for the drivers’ championship, which came to a head at the United States GP where Rosberg slid off the track, resulting in Hamilton taking the lead and in turn securing his third drivers’ title.   
  
Hamilton’s consecutive run as drivers’ championship leader came to an end after the Brit came second to his team-mate Nico Rosberg at the 2016 season opener – the Australian GP.  

Juan Manuel Fangio – 532 days 

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 10  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 1673 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 34  

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Juan Manuel Fangio is one of the most successful Formula 1 drivers when it comes to total days leading the drivers’ championship, sitting in fourth place with 1673 days. The Argentinian began his longest consecutive run holding the title at the 1956 German GP – the penultimate race of the season – where he took the championship lead from Ferrari team-mate Peter Collins.   
  
In 1956, he took three victories and two further second places. During the season finale in Italy, Collins had a chance of the crown but, with 15 laps remaining, he handed his car to Fangio after a steering-arm failure on his team leader’s D50. This resulted in the pair sharing the six points for second place, handing Fangio his fourth world title.  
  
Fangio held the lead for the full 1957 season after winning four races and taking two second places in the final two races, which secured him his last championship victory.  
  
His championship run came to an end at the start of 1958 with the Argentinian GP, as he was unable to put his Maserati on the podium.   

Niki Lauda – 518 days  

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 24  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 1029 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 42  

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Niki Lauda held the lead of the world championship between the 1975 Belgian GP and the 1976 United States GP, during his time with Ferrari. He also has the seventh-most days leading the drivers’ championship, with 1029.  
  
After a slow start in 1975, Lauda’s first win of the year came at the Monaco GP and was the first of five that season, as well as three other podium finishes.  

Read also: Niki Lauda’s greatest F1 races
  
The Austrian took his first drivers’ championship title at that year’s 1975 Italian GP – the penultimate race of the year – after beating competition from Emerson Fittipaldi at McLaren. Alongside his team-mate Clay Regazzoni, the pair were able to secure Ferrari their first constructors’ championship in 11 years.   
  
Lauda got off to a strong start in 1976 with four wins out of the first seven races and took podium finishes at the other races before a retirement at the French GP due to an engine failure.   
  
However, the German GP at the Nurburgring would prove to be one that almost cost the Austrian not only his career, but his life.  
  
The Nurburgring was notoriously dangerous at the time, and Lauda had urged the other drivers to boycott the race due to lack of safety resources, but the majority voted for the GP to go ahead.  
  
On the second lap, Lauda swerved off the track, hitting an embankment that caused his Ferrari to burst into flames and he was then hit Brett Lunger’s Surtees. The Austrian was trapped inside his car before he was pulled out by Wolf-Williams driver Arturo Merzario.   
  
Lauda was wearing a modified helmet that did not fit him properly, exposing his face to the fire, which resulted in severe burns to his head and hands. Despite the accident he missed just two races before making his return to F1 at the Italian Grand Prix, where he raced with bandages over his burns.   
  
The Austrian finished fourth on his return but, after coming eighth in Canada and third in the US, he famously withdrew from the appallingly wet Japanese GP finale, losing the title to James Hunt by a single point. 

=10 Juan Manuel Fangio – 490 days 

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 10  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 1673 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 34  

Juan Manuel Fangio makes a second appearance on the top 10 with a run between the 1954 Argentinian GP and the 1955 Monaco GP.  

The win at the first race in 1954 started his run of leading the world championship and was the first of four victories in his home GP. Fangio claimed six out of eight races in the 1954 championship despite starting with Maserati and moving to Mercedes following two wins in the 250F. 

The Mercedes-Benz team entered mid-season with the W196 and, despite the streamlined version of the car being known as difficult to drive, Fangio still claimed the win at the French GP on its debut, though he failed to do well at Silverstone the following race. Mercedes then introduced an open-wheel version of the car at the German GP, and Fangio managed to win the following three races. 

It was not an easy victory in Monza for Fangio as he fought with the Ferrari of reigning world champion Alberto Ascari and Stirling Moss in a private Maserati. He looked vulnerable until Ascari faced engine problems and Moss’s oil tank split, resulting in Fangio taking the victory. 

PLUS: Stirling Moss’s top 10 greatest drives

His six wins and a further third place secured Fangio his second drivers’ championship after originally taking the title in 1951 with Alfa Romeo. Fangio lost his driver’s championship-leading streak at the 1955 Monaco after initially leading the race before being forced to retire with transmission trouble. His retirement left Fangio with just a single point for the fastest lap and dropped him down into second in the drivers’ championship behind Maurice Trintignant by one and a third points.  

Despite losing the consecutive run in the leadership during this race, he later went on to claim his third drivers’ championship and his second consecutive title. 

=10.  Sebastian Vettel – 490  

Number of consecutive races leading drivers’ championship: 20  
Total days leading the drivers’ championship: 1267 
Total number of races leading the drivers’ championship: 63 

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images


Sebastian Vettel equalled Juan Manuel Fangio’s consecutive drivers’ leadership with a run of 490 days. The German’s run began at the 2010 season finale in Abu Dhabi when he started the race in third place in the drivers’ championship behind leader Fernando Alonso and Vettel’s Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber.

Vettel qualified at the front of the grid and managed to retain his lead throughout the majority of the race – briefly losing the lead after a pitstop before regaining the position again on lap 40. When crossing the line, Vettel became the youngest F1 world champion and started his consecutive run in the lead. 

Read also: Sebastian Vettel’s top 10 F1 wins
  
He continued his leading streak with Red Bull during the entire 2011 season, taking 11 wins and a further six podiums during the 19-race year, resulting in his second consecutive drivers’ championship victory.  

Read also: How Vettel's 2011 campaign ranks in Formula 1 history

Vettel’s consecutive driver’s championship run came to an end at the 2012 Australian GP, after being unable to catch the McLaren of Jenson Button. After qualifying in sixth, he was able to jump to third by the end of lap 11, following a retirement from Michael Schumacher. Due to a safety car pitstop, he was able to claim second place and managed to hold off the other McLaren of Lewis Hamilton to retain the position. 

Despite losing his championship run to Button during the opening race of the 2012 season, Vettel was still able to take the championship victory at the Brazilian GP finale by finishing sixth.  

F1 drivers with the highest total days leading the championship

Alongside consecutively leading the championship race for the highest number of days, many of the top 10 drivers have also secured their place in the total number of days holding the points lead.   
  
Here’s the top 10 drivers with the highest total days leading the championship:   

Driver   
Total days    
Total races   
Michael Schumacher    
2562  
121   
Lewis Hamilton   
2436  
126   
Alain Prost   
1708  
79   
Juan Manuel Fangio   
1673  
34   
Sebastian Vettel   
1267  
63   
Ayrton Senna  
1092  
49  
Niki Lauda  
1029  
42  
Jim Clark  
1016  
22  
Max Verstappen  
1015
63
Fernando Alonso  
959  
52  

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