Lewis Hamilton overtook Michael Schumacher as the driver to have led the title race on the most occasions after the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix. We take a look at who has led the championship the most times in Formula 1 history!
122 times: Lewis Hamilton
At the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton surpassed Michael Schumacher’s record tally of being in the lead of the Drivers’ Championship on 121 occasions. Hamilton soared to the top of the standings almost from the very start of his F1 career. Then a McLaren driver, Hamilton led the way outright for the first time after only four races in 2007. Since then, 2009, 2011 and 2013 are the only years in which Hamilton has not led the way after at least one race in the season.
Hamilton is also one of only two drivers to have led the Drivers’ Championship despite being tied on points with two other drivers. This happened after the 2008 British Grand Prix, when Hamilton was level on 48 points with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. The only other time that has happened was after the 1950 Indianapolis 500, when Giuseppe Farina was tied with Juan Manuel Fangio and Indianapolis winner Johnnie Parsons on nine points.
121 times: Michael Schumacher
Michael Schumacher held the record as the driver to have led the Drivers’ Championship on the most occasions since leading for a 79th time after the 2002 Brazilian Grand Prix until Hamilton led for the 122nd time after the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix. Schumacher led the title race for the first time at the Interlagos venue in 1994, after taking victory in the season-opening Brazilian Grand Prix. The German led the way after all but one round over the next two seasons; the exception being Damon Hill’s six point lead after the 1995 San Marino Grand Prix.
After his 1995 title win, Schumacher next led the way in 1997 – a season from which he would ultimately be disqualified. The Ferrari driver went on to dominate the sport in the early 2000s, sitting at the top of the standings after all but ten of the first 85 races of the new millennium. Schumacher holds the record for most consecutive rounds spent in the lead of the Drivers’ Championship, leading for 37 races straight between the 2000 United States Grand Prix and the 2002 Japanese Grand Prix. Schumacher last led the Drivers’ Championship after the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix, on the occasion of his 91st and final F1 win – after which he was tied on points with title rival Fernando Alonso.
78 times: Alain Prost
Alain Prost led the title race after at least one round in every season between 1982 and 1990. The Frenchman first took to the top of the standings in his third season in Formula 1, after the 1982 South African Grand Prix – the season-opener; which he won. Prost ended his Formula 1 career in winning style, bowing out in the lead of the Drivers’ Championship having secured the honours for 1993.
There are two occasions on which Prost led the championship despite being tied on points with a rival. That happened after the 1983 San Marino Grand Prix, when he was tied with Nelson Piquet, and after the 1985 Austrian Grand Prix, when he was tied with Michele Alboreto. Prost led the Drivers’ Championship on more occasions during seasons in which he did not win the title than in seasons in which he was crowned World Champion.
62 times: Sebastian Vettel
Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel has led the title race on 62 occasions. Strangely, the first time Vettel led the championship was after the race which saw him crowned 2010 World Champion. In the five-way title battle, Vettel led when it mattered, becoming the sport’s youngest World Champion.
The German went on to lead the way for the entire 2011 season, before duelling with Fernando Alonso for the 2012 title. In 2013, the season opening race – which was won by Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen – was the only race after which Vettel did not lead the title charge. Off the back of nine consecutive wins, Vettel won the 2013 title by 155 points; the largest points lead ever held.
With Ferrari, Vettel led the title charge after the majority of races in 2017, and after six rounds in 2018 – but failed to convert those leads into titles. Vettel last led the Drivers’ Championship after the 2018 British Grand Prix.
52 times: Fernando Alonso
He may have won less titles than other drivers such as Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart, Juan Manuel Fangio and Niki Lauda, but an expanding calendar means that Fernando Alonso sits fifth in this list. Alonso first led the Drivers’ Championship after winning the 2005 Malaysian Grand Prix. The Spaniard had finished third in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, before winning the Kuala Lumpur race – which saw him surpass team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella in the standings.
Alonso would go on to lead the way after all but one round over the next two seasons; the exception being after the 2006 Chinese Grand Prix, when Michael Schumacher moved ahead despite being level on points with the Renault driver. Alonso came close to winning the Drivers’ Championship in 2007, 2010 and 2012 and led after multiple rounds in those seasons. He last led the title race after the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix.
How about the drivers who led the title on the fewest occasions? Read more about their stories here!
After graduating in 2015 with a First Class honours degree in English Language and Literature, Nicky Haldenby, a lifelong fan of Formula 1, founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in 2016. The blog has become a firm fan-favourite, delving deep into the sport’s history books and lifting the cover on unusual F1 statistics.
Nicky also writes at F1Destinations and Motorsport Guides and can be heard as the resident stats man on the 2 Soft Compounds Podcast. His work has appeared on WTF1, BadgerGP, motorsport.com, Sky Sports F1 and BBC Radio 5 Live. Nicky is also the host of the F1 Rewind Podcast.