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Over the sixty four years of the championship, there have been only thirty two drivers who have held the title of Formula One World Drivers Champion. Of these, two thirds have had a member of their family involved in the sport. So is the ability to drive a car fast something that can be inherited?

The ’51, ’54, ’55, ’56 and ‘57 world champion Juan Manuel Fangio’s nephew, Juan Manuel Fangio II raced successfully in F3000, IMSA and CART, but never made it to F1.

The ’52 and’53 world champion, Alberto Ascari was the son of pre-war Grand Prix winner Antonio Ascari (F1 didn’t exist until the World Drivers Championship started in 1950, but there are relatively few related Grand Prix winners). Both father and son died at the wheel of a racing car aged 36, four days after having surviving a serious accident.

Sir Jack Brabham (’59, ’60 and ’66 champion) has three sons (Geoff, Gary and David) who have all been successful in motor racing, Geoff winning North American sportscar championships and Le Mans as has David. Both Gary and David drove in F1 (for Life and Brabham respectively). The Dynasty continues with Geoff’s son Matthew and David’s son Sam racing in Formula Ford.

The only American Born World Drivers Champion, the ’61 title holder Phil Hill has a son Derek who raced up to international F3000 before returning to the US when his father became ill.

The next family on the list in chronological order is arguably the most successful of the lot, with the only father / son World Drivers Championship pair to date. Graham Hill (’62 and ’68) and Damon Hill (’96). Damon’s son Josh also raced through the junior formula, until he retired from F3. I guess he had a lot to live up to.

John Surtees, famously the only person to win the world title on two and four wheels (500cc Motorcycle champion in ’56, ’58, ’59 and ’60, F1 champion ’64) is now the oldest surviving World Drivers Champion. His son, Henry, died while competing in a Formula 2 race at Brands Hatch in 2009.

Triple champion (’69, ’71 and ’73) Sir Jackie Stewart had an older brother Jimmy who raced in the 1953 British GP. Sir Jackie helped found Paul Stewart Racing to aid his sons racing career, the team competed in Formula Vauxhall Lotus, Formula 3 and Formula 3000. Paul retired from driving in 1993 and concentrated on team management, with the team restructuring as Stewart Grand Prix to move into F1. Although he may not have driven in F1, Paul can claim a win as a team owner.

Both of Emerson Fittipaldi’s (’72 and ’74 title holder) parents raced production cars, and his elder brother (Wilson) also made it to Formula One first as a driver, and then as a team owner for the unsuccessful family team. Emerson’s nephew (and Wilson’s son) Christian also raced in Formula One before moving to the US to race in CART.

Elderly F1 fan and triple champion Niki Lauda (’75, ’77 and ’84) is the next in our list. His eldest son Mathias has raced in F3000, GP2 and A1GP but is currently in DTM.

James Hunt, the championship winner in ’76 has a son Freddie who competed in single seaters between 2007 and 2009. He is due to race against Mathais Lauda in this winter’s MRF Challenge.

The Andretti family is possibly the one with the longest racing history that has competed in Formula One. Although very few of the Andretti’s have actually competed in Formula One. The ’78 Champion Mario Andretti had a twin brother Aldo, who both started racing after the family had moved from their native Italy to the US.   After a severe accident Aldo quit racing, while Mario continued to rise wining in IndyCar, World Sportscar and NASCAR in addition to F1. Both of Mario’s sons (Michael and Jeff) had successful racing careers. Michael competed for part of a season in F1 alongside Ayrton Senna. For whatever reason Michael was unable to shine in F1, and was replaced by Mika Häkkinen before the end of the ’93 season. That Michael had won the CART championship in ’91 and failed to perform to the best of his ability in F1 in ’93 at the same time as Nigel Mansell was winning in CART after securing the ’92 world drivers title gave the insular F1 paddock all the evidence they needed to discount drivers from the US series. This removed the chances of the likes of Al Unser Jr and Paul Tracy from driving in F1. Aldo’s son, John competed in IndyCar which meant that in 1988 they became the first family to have four members racing in the series at the same time. John’s younger brother Adam also had a short racing career. Now the Andretti name is represented by Marco (Mario’s Grandson and Michael’s son) who tested for Honda in F1 in ’06 and ’07.

’79 champion Jody Scheckter is one of several more successful younger brothers in Formula One (Stewart, Fittipaldi, Villeneuve etc). His elder brother Ian also raced in F1 but failed to score a point. Two of Jody’s sons Toby and Tomas tried racing, with the younger Tomas being far more successful racing for several years in IndyCar after being dropped by the Jaguar F1 team as a test driver after being found curb crawling.

The son of triple champion Nelson Piquet (’81, ’83 and ’87) possibly needs no introduction to this forum. Nelson Piquet Junior left F1 in some disgrace after admitting to deliberately crashing his car to allow his team mate to win the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix.

The son of ’82 champion Keke Rosberg could be only the second son of a World Drivers Champion to also win the title. As points leader for most of this season, Nico certainly has his best chance so far of emulating Damon Hill and being a second generation champion.

Four time champion Alain Prost (’85, ’86, ’89 and ’93) has two sons and a daughter. The eldest is Nicolas who currently races in the World Endurance Championship. He has tested for the Renault F1 team in 2010, ’11 and ’12.

Three time champion Ayrton Senna (’88, ’90 and ’91) did not have any children, but his nephew Bruno raced in F1 despite family pressures stopping his racing following his uncle’s death in 1994. Bruno currently races in the World Endurance Championship and will compete in Formula E later this year.

Nigel Mansell (’92 champion) supported his two sons Leo and Greg in their racing, with the three of them sharing a LMP1 at Le Mans in 2010. Unfortunately Nigel crashed out after a tyre failure early in the race.

Michael Schumacher holds many records in F1, but the seven time champion (’94, ’95, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’03 and ’04) is very rare in being a more successful older sibling. As mentioned above, there are many examples of the younger siblings being the more successful, so either Ralf is really very fast (and unlucky), or Michael is very special.

The final champion on the list to have had a relative in racing is the ’97 champion. Jacques Villeneuve’s father Gilles won six races and although not a champion himself, was one of the fastest drivers of his day. Jacques’ uncle (also Jacques) was also a racer also making it to Formula One but he failed to score any points in two years of racing. CART did provide some better results though.

More recent champions are too young to have their offspring racing (yet), and only John Button competed but in Rallycross rather than circuit racing).   So is racing ability inherited, or is it just that family members are more likely to take up the sport if their Father or Uncle did so? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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A long time fan of Formula 1 and grass roots motorsport, I am interested in the engineering aspects not only of F1 but the 'men in sheds' who develop homemade specials to take on the products of the big racing car manufacturers.
  • Tom Firth

    Great article mate.

    I do think are more likely too enter more because of been surrounded by it from a young age and having the opportunity that others may not is the reason why so many follow fathers or grandfathers into motorsport. Not because “Racing is in the blood” so to speak.

    I aren’t convinced it’s always easier for them though having famed family members in the sport however, the pressure is higher and mistakes seem less tolerated. Less patience from fans in my opinion too. Not always the best sponsorship deals either on the way through.