Which are the Top Nations in Formula 1?

For almost seventy years Formula 1 has brought together drivers and teams from around the world to do battle on the racetrack. The sport has never been officially based on national teams but national pride has swelled the hearts of F1 fans since the beginning. The nationality of the drivers, the domicile of the teams and engine manufactures, and the location of the circuits themselves have remained key elements of the spectacle as the F1 circus traverses the globe each year.

So which are the top nations in Formula 1? Have they changed over time? Which countries manage to consistently produce F1 greatness despite relatively small populations?

We answer these questions and more as we investigate the role of nations in F1.

WHERE HAVE OUR F1 DRIVERS COME FROM?

As a starting point the chart below shows the distribution of nationalities of all drivers throughout F1 history.

British drivers top the scales in terms of pure numbers. A few other initial observations include:

  • As of 2017 a total of 842 drivers from 39 nations have competed in Formula 1 since the first GP in 1950
  • Drivers from the top 5 nations represent almost two thirds of all drivers
  • The number of American drivers seems surprisingly large given the low level of involvement from US drivers over recent decades

We can shed some light on this last point by looking at a time series of participation from the top nations.

As you can see American drivers dominated the sport (by number at least) for the first decade or so but have since played a far more limited role. The main reason for this is that from 1950 to 1961 the Indianapolis 500 was included in the official Formula 1 calendar. Not only did the Indy 500 have far more competitors than other Grand Prix, it was also composed almost exclusively of American drivers. In addition the United States Grand Prix was added to the calendar in 1959 so for two years there were two Formula 1 events held in the US.

A few other points to note from this time series view:

  • Britain has always been and continues to be well represented
  • Participation from the French peaked between the mid 1970s and mid 1990s before a significant decline. The recent uptick in participation has coincided with the re-emergence of the Renault works team and the reintroduction of the French GP for 2018.  Encouraging signs for the future role of the French in F1
  • While always contenders, the last decade or so represents the first time Germany has dominated driver participation
  • Italy’s participation is characterised by some dramatic shifts over time. At their peak in 1990 the number of Italian drivers was more than double the next most prominent nation.  In contrast there has only been one Italian driver in F1 in the last six years (Giovinazzi) despite the continued presence of the Italian GP, the resurgence of Ferrari as a top contender and the passionate support of the Tifosi each time F1 travels to Italy
  • Brazil has shown consistent participation in the sport since the 70s. It is the only country other than Britain to field at least one driver in every season since 1969.  Unfortunately this amazing run will end in 2018 following Felipe Massa’s retirement.

PARTICIPATION IS ONE THING – WHAT ABOUT SUCCESS?

So which Nations have provided World Champions?  This is a much shorter list.  Of the 39 nations represented by F1 drivers only 14 of them have seen their countrymen become Formula 1 World Champions.

The chart above counts all Championships even if some drivers have won more than one title.  Adjusting for multi-World-Champions the next chart shows the nationality of the individuals who have won at least one World Championship.

The Brits are way out in front on this measure.  Having removed the impact of multi-Championship winners like Schumacher, Vettel and Senna and Prost (among others) it’s clear that Great Britain has produced an impressive number of outstanding F1 drivers.

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So is Great Britain the top nation in F1?  In absolute numbers perhaps so but what about pound for pound?.   Dividing the data by national population shows us who produces the most world champions per capita.

This chart tells a very different story.  Those plucky Finns have punched well above their weight when it comes to F1 champs per million population.

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Will Kimi Raikkonen pass the baton to Valteri Bottas for the next one?  He’s certainly in the right machinery though he does have the problem of a 4x WDC British driver in the other Silver Arrow to contend with…

MORE DATA PLEASE!

These results are interesting enough.  But 33 individual World Champions is a pretty small data set from which to draw conclusions.  We can attempt to address this issue by looking at all drivers throughout F1 history who have scored at least one Grand Prix podium.  This will give us significantly more data to judge the nations who have enjoyed the most F1 success.

As you can see the British come out on top again for raw podiums.  Once again we’ll adjust this to show individual drivers who have podiumed (ie we only count each driver once even if they scored multiple podiums).

The Brits are still out front but the Americans are back in the game!  This is interesting as we’ve already seen that there have only been two American World Champions but we now see that 36 Americans have climbed the podium steps.  This is both surprising and encouraging.  As a global sport it would be great to see the US play a bigger role in F1 going forward and we’re confident new F1 owners Liberty media are on the case.

PODIUMS POUND FOR POUND

Again let’s divide by population to get the pound for pound results.

Monaco crushes the competition.  Unfortunately the tiny population of Monaco (less than 40k!) skews the results a little too far for our taste – they have actually only had a single citizen earn an F1 podium.  With all due respect to our Monagasque friends, lets redraw the chart ex-Monaco to get a closer look at the competition.

Our earlier analysis showing the strength of the Finns is borne out in the pound for pound podium analysis.  Seven Finns have scored at least one F1 podium from a country of only 5.5 million people.  There must be something in the water.  Perhaps they should bottle it and call it SISU?

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The Kiwis also deserve an honourable mention for edging out the ever strong Brits on a pound for pound basis.  Bruce Mclaren would no doubt be proud.  Now Brendan Hartley has a permanent drive can he add to the tally?

IN SUMMARY

Formula 1 has always been an international sport.  With 21 races now slated for the F1 calendar in 2018 the diversity of circuits and cultures that touch the sport is a huge part of its appeal.  The competitors themselves have also represented a diverse range of nations over Formula 1 history.

F1’s new owners are looking hard at ways to expand the reach of the sport even further.  Importantly this includes a significant effort to reignite the interest of American fans.  We look forward to seeing the results and continuing to vicariously travel the world with F1.

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