And it’s not Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, Alan Prost or Fernando Alonso, before you take a guess. So just who is it, then?
A group of researchers decided to create an algorithm that takes into account the level of car technology and team performance at the time. The study revealed the effect of a driver’s team accounted for 85 per cent of performance, with the remaining 15 per cent owed to the driver.
It also found about two-thirds of the team effect is consistent over time, with the remainder caused by teams changing year-on-year.
Based on these factors, the greatest Formula One driver of all time is Juan Manuel Fangio, a man who notched up 24 race wins out of a total of 51 races during his racing career, the last podium finish of which came in 1957 when he was 46 years old.
Fangio, who was born in Balcarce of Argentina, started from the front row in 48 of his 51 races and secured 29 podium finishes while rarely crashing. He died in 1995, aged 84.
Second place went to Alain Prost, third to Fernando Alonso, fourth to Jim Clark and fifth to Ayrton Senna, who famously died during the 1994 San Marino race.
Michael Schumacher, who has more Formula One wins than any other driver ever (a total of 91), actually came in ninth place, according to the statistical analysis. That puts him one ahead of Sebastian Vettel and one behind Emerson Fittipaldi.
Ignoring Schmacher’s iffy 2010 return to Formula One, he ranks in third place pre-2006.
Just seven of the current crop of Formula One drivers made the list, which was published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, including current champion Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg and Jenson Button.
There are some strange omissions from the list, as you may have noticed. Three-time world champion Niki Lauda doesn’t even make the top 100, while the aforementioned Fittipaldi crept into the two 20 but had only raced in a few seasons.
It also ignores the fact some drivers changed their team more regularly, Fangio a prime example, and that driving a Formula One car now would be immensely different to what it was in years gone by.
Dr Andrew Bell, of the University of Sheffield’s Methods Institute, said: “The question ‘who is the greatest F1 driver of all time?’ is a difficult one to answer, because we don’t know the extent to which drivers do well because of their talent or because they are driving a good car.
“The question has fascinated fans for years and I’m sure will continue to do so.”
Dr Bell admitted the list would be very different if some of the drivers had been on different teams. He also said that the work could be beneficial for more than just ranking sports stars.
“A similar model could be used to answer a variety of questions in society – for example, how much do individuals, teams and companies affect worker productivity or how much classes, schools and neighbourhoods affect educational attainment,” he added.