Lewis Hamilton, Ayrton Senna, Mario Andretti: icons such as are the pillars of motorsport legend, who most people have heard of. But for every Fangio, there’s a more unsung hero: every bit as quick as those household names, but with a bit less global recognition. Often though, their stories are even more incredible. Here are five of the most successful drivers in world motorsport who you may not have heard much of:
There’s a strong argument that rallying is the greatest test of driver skill in all of motorsport. Trees, snow banks and steep drops form the track limits, and there’s no chance to learn the route off by heart like in circuit racing.
On that basis, there’s a case for saying that Sebastien Loeb is in fact the greatest driver of all time even though he’s hardly known outside of motorsport circles – except for in his native France.
In 2012 he won his ninth consecutive World Rally Championship title, and promptly stepped away from full-time rallying. Loeb rewrote the record books: before him, no driver had ever won more than four titles, or scored more than 25 rally wins – a figure he would more than treble over his career.
He’s demonstrated his talent in other areas of motorsport too and was once close to racing in Formula 1. As well as finishing second at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2006, he went on to win in GT cars, touring cars and rallycross and continues to compete occasionally in the WRC, claiming his 79th victory in Spain in 2018
Chris Amon is widely regarded to have been the best driver never to win a Formula 1 grand prix – and he was certainly the unluckiest.
In 1966, the New Zealander won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Ford alongside compatriot Bruce McLaren and was also winning in the American Can-Am series for McLaren’s own team. Then came a call from Ferrari and a move to the most famous racing team of them all.
In 1968 he had the speed to fight for the F1 title, claiming three pole positions, but not the reliability from his car. A subsequent move to the new March team was the first of many that didn’t work out, although he did win non-championship races with Matra.
As a young German driver working his way up the ranks, Stefan Bellof’s talent was spotted by Porsche, which handed him a drive in its factory World Endurance Championship team.
He took three wins in 1983 alongside Derek Bell, and also set a lap record in qualifying at the epic Nurburgring Nordschleife that would stand for 35 years.
In 1984 he won the championship and also made his debut in Formula 1 with the Tyrrell team, joining Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna on the podium of the rain-affected Monaco Grand Prix. He had been lapping quicker than both when the race was stopped, which is a fact that everyone forgets – because that was when Senna was making his name.
Bellof was killed the following year when he crashed while trying to overtake illustrious Porsche team-mate Jacky Ickx through the Eau Rouge corner during a 1000-kilometre race at Spa in Belgium. At the time, he had been due to meet Enzo Ferrari about a move to the famous Italian team. Quite possibly, this could have been the greatest driver that never was.
Tom Kristensen never had the chance to race in F1, but he set the record for the greatest number of victories in one of the most famous races in the world, claiming nine wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
The Dane was a late call-up for his debut at Le Mans in 1997, but immediately mastered the challenge to win the race at the first attempt in a Porsche.
He went on to claim six consecutive victories in the endurance race between 2000 and 2005: Five with the dominant Audi R8 and one with sister brand Bentley.
Further wins with Audi came in 2008 and 2013. He’s even starred in a feature film last year – Heroes – about the greatest figures in motorsport. To win so often at Le Mans you need a special feeling with the car and the track, and unreal levels of concentration. Kristensen had it all.
New Zealand has a reputation for producing great drivers, and as well as the likes of Amon and McLaren, it has a modern-day great in Scott Dixon.
Like Kristensen, Dixon never managed to break through into F1, but has a made a name for himself in IndyCar over in the United States.
Since 2003, Dixon has won five IndyCar titles, his most recent coming in 2018.
He’s also won 48 races and counting: only American legends AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti have more in North American open-wheel racing. You’ve probably never even heard of him, but he’s one of the most talented racers anywhere on track today.