Back in 2005, Michael Schumacher, arguably the greatest the sport has seen, was asked where he thinks Formula One is headed. In his answer, he succinctly explained the essence of the sport: “Every year we find something new, we go faster, and that’s what F1 is about and what fans and spectators appreciate,” he has said.

On Sunday, Formula One will stage its 1,000th world championship race at the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, and true to the German great’s word so many years back, F1 is constantly innovating and finding ways to go faster.

Schumacher, who holds the record of seven drivers’ world championships, has not been seen in public since a skiing accident left him in a coma six years ago and there is a certain poignancy that his last win came in Shanghai, back in 2006.

From the era of domination of Juan Manuel Fangio and then Schumacher, the Hollywood-immortalised rivalry of James Hunt and Niki Lauda, the tragic death of Ayrton Senna to the intense competition between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, F1 has never been short of icons.

Even when one constructor/engine/driver dominates and often decides proceedings, which mars the competition, the core has always been about the speed and thrill.

From the first race at a converted World War II airbase in England to this weekend’s 1,000th race at the $240 million international circuit in Shanghai, Formula One has come a long way since it all began in 1950.

In 70 seasons, Formula One has been held in 32 countries across five continents. From the discontinued GP in India to the night race in Singapore and now a street circuit in Vietnam being the newest addition next year, F1 has tried to spread the sport to newer markets with mixed results.

But at the heart of it, the heavy-machinery sport is about the drivers, the often larger-than-life characters who can coax their cars to do seemingly impossible maneuvers through the snaking circuits, all at high speed.

So to mark the 1000th F1 race, here’s a look at drivers and the numbers that have stood out through the 999 races so far.

Most Driver Championship Wins

Driver Titles Seasons
Michael Schumacher 7 1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
Juan Manuel Fangio 5 1951, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957
Lewis Hamilton 5 2008, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018
Alain Prost 4 1985, 1986, 1989, 1993
Sebastian Vettel 4 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
Jack Brabham 3 1959, 1960, 1966
Jackie Stewart 3 1969, 1971, 1973
Niki Lauda 3 1975, 1977, 1984
Nelson Piquet 3 1981, 1983, 1987
Ayrton Senna 3 1988, 1990, 1991

A brief history

Italian Giuseppe Farina was victorious in May 1950 and went on to clinch the world championship four months later in his home country. But it was Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio who dominated the opening decade with five world championships in seven seasons from 1951.

He was succeeded in the 1960s by multiple world champions Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart. The 1970s featured the rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda and the 1980s saw the emergence of the great Alain Prost and legendary Brazilian Ayrton Senna before Schumacher began his dominance in the mid-1990s.

Defending champion Lewis Hamilton is now closing in on Schumacher’s all-time mark after winning his fifth world title last year at the age of 34. The successful partnership with Mercedes is helping the Briton edge ahead of great rival Vettel, who stormed to four championships with Red Bull before moving to Ferrari, where he has failed to replicate the German-Italian world championship winning potential.

But despite the lopsided rivalry, both Hamilton and Vettel will go down as modern-day greats. A look at the most F1 race wins chart shows why.

Most race wins

Driver Wins First Win Last win
Michael Schumacher 91 1992 Belgian Grand Prix 2006 Chinese Grand Prix
Lewis Hamilton* 74 2007 Canadian Grand Prix 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel* 52 2008 Italian Grand Prix 2018 Belgian Grand Prix
Alain Prost 51 1981 French Grand Prix 1993 German Grand Prix
Ayrton Senna 41 1985 Portuguese Grand Prix 1993 Australian Grand Prix
Fernando Alonso 32 2003 Hungarian Grand Prix 2013 Spanish Grand Prix
* indicates drivers still competing on the circuit

Both Vettel and Hamilton have had early head starts to their world beating careers, winning their first title at only 23. If their records are to be broken, it would take a special effort. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, 21, has looked like the best candidate with his aggressive, impressive style. He is already the youngest F1 race winner, having won the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix when he was only 18 years. Vettel, 21, and Fernando Alonso, 22, are next on that list.

Youngest Drivers' Champion

Driver Country  Age (when they clinched the tite) Season
Sebastian Vettel Germany 23 years, 134 days 2010
Lewis Hamilton United Kingdom  23 years, 300 days 2008
Fernando Alonso Spain 24 years, 58 days 2005
Emerson Fittipaldi Brazil 25 years, 273 days 1972
Michael Schumacher Germany 25 years, 314 days 1994

Note: Fangio was the oldest drivers’ champion in 1957, when he was 46 years, 41 days. Schumacher was 35 years, 239 days when he won his last title in 2004.

The current dynamic between Hamilton-Vettel continues in the footsteps of the sports two most successful countries. United Kingdom and Germany dominate the charts for most number of world champions as well as race wins. Nico Rosberg, the surprise Mercedes world champion in 2016, was the last German to take home the trophy.

World Champions by country

Country Titles Drivers Drivers by name (titles)
 United Kingdom 18 10 Mike Hawthorn (1)
Graham Hill (2)
Jim Clark (2)
John Surtees (1)
Jackie Stewart (3)
James Hunt (1)
Nigel Mansell (1)
Damon Hill (1)
Lewis Hamilton (5)
Jenson Button (1)
 Germany 12 3 Michael Schumacher (7)
Sebastian Vettel (4)
Nico Rosberg (1)
 Brazil 8 3 Emerson Fittipaldi (2)
Nelson Piquet (3)
Ayrton Senna (3)
 Argentina 5 1 Juan Manuel Fangio (5)

Most race wins by country

Country  Race wins
 United Kingdom 278
 Germany 178
 Brazil 101
 France 79
 Finland 51
 Italy 43
 Australia 42
 Austria 41
 Argentina 38
 United States 33

Brazil is third in both lists, thanks to Senna and Piquet, two of the sport’s all-time greats who broke the sport’s European hegemony after the time of Fangio. But it has been a while since a Brazillian, or indeed a non-European, has been at the top of the sport. The last was Canada’s Jacques Villeneuve back in 1997.

Interestingly, Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, one of Schumacher’s former Ferrari team-mates along with fellow Brazilian Felipe Massa, holds the record for most race starts but failed to win a world title in his 18-year career.

Most F1 race starts

Driver Seasons Starts
Rubens Barrichello 1993–2011 322
Fernando Alonso 2001, 2003–2018 311
Michael Schumacher 1991–2006, 2010–2012 306
Jenson Button 2000–2017
Kimi Räikkönen 2001–2009, 2012–2019 293

Ferrari, of course, are not only the most popular but also the most successful constructor in the sport. The Prancing Horses is the only manufacturer to have competed in every campaign and the Italian outfit have won a record 16 titles since the constructors’ championship was first introduced in 1958 as the International Cup for Formula One Manufacturers.

The first winners were British team Vanwall and Europeans have dominated with a trio of British manufacturers Williams (9 titles), McLaren (8) and Lotus (7) claiming 24 constructors’ crowns between them.

Next on the all-time list come Germany’s Mercedes with five – who have dominated the sport since the start of the hybrid era – while Austria’s Red Bull enjoyed four golden years with Vettel leading them to a clean sweep from 2010 to 2013.

Constructors Championship winners

Constructor  Number of title Seasons 
Ferrari 16 1961, 1964, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008
Williams 9 1980, 1981, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997
McLaren 8 1974, 1984, 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1998
Lotus 7 1963, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1978
Mercedes 5 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018
Red Bull 4 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Apart from all the thrills, the F1 track has also seen several tragedies. More than 20 drivers of the 772 who have started a Grand Prix have died behind the wheel. Two of these were Formula One Champions: Jochen Rindt in 1970, and Senna in 1994. Rindt is the only driver to have won the championship posthumously.

On one dark weekend in 1994 at the San Marino Grand Prix, both Senna and Austrian Roland Ratzenburger lost their lives. The Brazillian Senna was widely regarded as one of the best in the sports but his career was cut short at 34.

Their deaths led to wide-ranging changes to improve safety which meant there were no further fatalities until Jules Bianchi died in 2015 from head injuries sustained at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix .

But from Fangio to Senna to Schumacher and now Hamilton, F1 has seen some incredible champions. Now for Sunday to see who will take home the honours in the milestone 1000th race.

With inputs from AFP