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Top ten drivers who didn’t win world championships

Not everybody makes the best of their time in a quick car, or sometimes a drive just gets a rotten bit of luck. These are the top ten drivers who didn’t go on to win world championships.

  1. Mark Webber
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull Racing

The unluckiest driver in Formula One had rare opportunities for success in his early career. Driving for the likes of Minardi, Jaguar and Williams weren’t going to see the Australian to the top step of the podium, let alone the top of the championship standings.

It was not until 2010 that Webber got his first real chance at the world championship, driving the beautiful Red Bull RB6 to four wins, including a dominant victory in Monte Carlo, and five pole positions.

At the final race of the season, however, a safety car on the opening lap saw a group of midfielders make their mandatory pit stop early, which Webber, as well as one of his title rivals Fernando Alonso, were then stuck behind, allowing team mate Sebastian Vettel to make history by becoming the youngest world champion. Webber has gone on to world championship success in the World Endurance Championship with Porsche.

  1. Ronnie Peterson
Getty Images
Getty Images

One of the more tragic stories among this list, Ronnie Peterson came close to championship glory in 1978 while racing for Lotus alongside Mario Andretti. After taking two wins and five other podiums, Peterson was 12 points behind Andretti with four races to go.

However, at the start of the Italian Grand Prix, a huge crash at the start saw multiple drivers eliminated from the race; one of which was Peterson and he was severely injured. He died from his wounds in hospital.

Andretti only scored one point in those handful of races left, leaving us to wonder what the Swede could have achieved in the closing stages of the 1978 season.

  1. Clay Regazzoni

Clay Regazzoni’s eleven-year career saw him have one real opportunity at the world championship.

His first year with a revitalised Ferrari team in 1974 saw Regazzoni take seven podiums, including one win in Germany. At the final race in Watkins Glen, Regazzoni only had to beat title rival Emerson Fittipaldi in the McLaren to take the title.

However, the fickle finger of fate played its hand as Regazzoni suffered a damaged shock absorber in the race which saw him finish only eleventh while Fittipaldi secured the championship with fifth. After that year, Regazzoni never managed to mount another championship challenge.

  1. Felipe Massa
The Telegraph
The Telegraph

Felipe Massa’s near-miss of the championship at his home race in 2008 will go down in history as one of the closest and most emotional championship deciders in sport, let alone Formula One.

He won the Brazilian finale in changeable conditions while championship rival Lewis Hamilton was stuck in sixth place behind a young Sebastian Vettel in a Toro Rosso, who was holding the position the Brit needed to be world champion.

At the final corner of the race however, Timo Glock struggling on slick tyres was passed by both Vettel and Hamilton, giving the McLaren driver the extra point he needed to win the title.

His accident during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix saw Massa fall short of expectation for his final years at Ferrari, where he was unable to match the performances of team mate Fernando Alonso. He will see out his career at Williams as he retires at the end of this season.

  1. Rubens Barrichello
Scuderia Ferrari
Scuderia Ferrari

With 322 Grand Prix starts under his belt, Rubens Barrichello is the most experienced Formula One driver in the sports history. Unfortunately in that time he never managed to secure championship gold.

He had the misfortune of being at Ferrari during the Michael Schumacher glory days, leaving very little room for the Brazilian to enjoy his own racing success, with just two of his eleven Grand Prix wins coming during his six year tenure with the Maranello outfit.

Barrichello came closest to winning the championship, however, in 2009 when Ross Brawn bought out the Honda Formula One team, although victory would ultimately go the way of team mate Jenson Button, with Barrichello 18 points behind in third.

  1. Carlos Reutemann

Carlos Reutemann’s final full season in Formula One in 1981 was his best opportunity to clinch the world championship. Having taken two victories and five other podiums with Williams that season, he went into the Las Vegas finale with a one point advantage over rival Nelson Piquet in the Brabham.

Reutemann qualified on pole but massively struggled in the race, ending up a lap down on team mate Alan Jones would took the win, with Piquet taking the fifth place he needed to win the championship.

  1. Rene Arnoux

Seven-time Grand Prix winner Rene Arnoux came close to championship glory in 1983 during his first season with Ferrari, after leaving a toxic rivalry with Alain Prost back at Renault.

With three wins coming in Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, he was in contention for the majority of the season but eventually lost out to rivals Prost and Piquet.

His other best opportunity was in 1980 with the turbocharged Renault, where Arnoux took his first two wins in Brazil and South Africa, and held the championship lead for the early part of the season. However, the poor reliability of the RE20 prevented him from mounting a title challenge.

  1. Gilles Villeneuve
Fox Sports
Fox Sports

Despite only racing in Formula One for six years, Gilles Villeneuve had a few championship opportunities swing his way. 1979 would be a prime example, when he enjoyed a close fight with his Ferrari team mate Jody Scheckter. Despite them both having three wins, Scheckter had one fewer retirement and one more podium, taking the title by four points.

A short spell of a troubled car for Ferrari led to their resurgence in 1982 which saw Villeneuve running well, but retiring from the first two races and losing out on a third place in the US due to a technical infringement, and missing out on victory in Imola when team mate Didier Pironi ignored team order to take the win.

Unfortunately it was the following race in Belgium that Villeneuve suffered his fatal collision with Jochen Mass during qualifying.

  1. Sir Stirling Moss
The Telegraph
The Telegraph

Racing with such great names in the 1950s such as Maserati, Mercedes, Lotus and Cooper is bound to see you fighting up the front of the field on a regular basis. Indeed, Sir Stirling Moss did, finishing second in the world drivers’ championship four times throughout his eleven-year Formula One career, and won almost a quarter of the races he started.

The closest he came to the championship was in the 1958 season whilst racing for Vanwall alongside Mike Hawthorn. At the final race in Morocco, Moss had to win and take the fastest lap and hope Hawthorn finished third or lower to become world champion.

While Moss did what he needed to do, taking victory by almost ninety seconds, Hawthorn just edged out Phil Hill’s Maserati by a second to take the championship.

  1. Nico Rosberg
Mercedes AMG
Mercedes AMG

Moss held the record for the driver with the most number of wins without a world championship until the 2016 Chinese Grand Prix when Nico Rosberg took his seventeenth Grand Prix victory.

Rosberg has gone for the title for the past two years with a dominant Mercedes car. He took the championship down the wire in 2014 when an MGU-K failure at the final race in Abu Dhabi stopped him chasing after team mate and eventual champion Lewis Hamilton.

2015 saw Hamilton take an even stronger challenge to his team mate, securing the championship in Texas with three races still to go. Rosberg, however, currently leads the 2016 championship ahead of Hamilton. Can he take himself off this list come the end of the season?

About Chris Stevens

Chris is one of the graduates of a new blogging era of journalism. Moving from that to fully blown websites, covering Formula One and Formula E, has seen him become an FIA accredited journalist. He also podcasts with various websites and recently was accepted onto the Autosport junior programme.

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  • JV

    Just for the records, Clay was Swiss not Swedish

    • Noted and changed, I blame my keyboard personally

  • Troy F Collins

    Arnoux and Prost did have a toxic rivalry But it was in fact at Renault Not Williams

    Other than that Good read !!