Kurt Verlin
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The Working-Class Formula 1 Champions

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Jack Brabham, one of the first working-class Formula 1 champions
Jack Brabham drives a BT11 at the 1965 German Grand Prix, held at the Nürburgring
Photo: Lothar Spurzem via CC

Last week, six-time Formula 1 champion Lewis Hamilton was misquoted in a Men’s Health interview as claiming to be the “first working-class F1 champion.” The response was an uproar, as the statement was so demonstrably untrue as to seemingly border on delusion.

Men’s Health later apologized, admitting it had misquoted the Stevenage-born driver and redacting its article. In truth, Hamilton had said he was the “first working-class, Black champion.” A true claim, albeit a somewhat superfluous one as he is also the sport’s only Black champion.


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One good thing came from the debacle. The magazine’s mistake motivated the enraged internet to dig up some interesting facts about other, working-class F1 champions. Did you know that Kimi Räikkönen, famous for his ice-cold attitude, grew up without an indoor toilet?

Inspired, we decided to look at all of the F1 champions in history to find which ones had a working-class background. These are the ones we think best fit the bill.     

  • Jack Brabham. He grew up driving trucks for his father’s small grocery business. He worked as a mechanic behind his grandfather’s house. When he started racing, it was with homemade vehicles he built out of cheap spares and leftovers.
  • Mario Andretti. His family lived in a refugee camp after World War II.
  • Alain Prost. His family owned a furniture workshop, but Prost had to pay for his own karting career, which he did by working as a mechanic.
  • Michael Schumacher. His father was a bricklayer who took on a second job to help pay for his son’s karting career. It still wasn’t enough, and Schumacher was only able to continue racing thanks to the support of local businessmen.
  • Damon Hill. His father, Graham Hill, was a successful and wealthy F1 driver. But following Graham’s death in a plane crash, the Hill family was plunged into poverty. Damon made slippers in a factory and worked as a motorcycle courier to help support his family and pay for his education.
  • Mika Häkkinen. His father worked as a radio operator and part-time taxi driver, while his mother was a secretary.
  • Fernando Alonso. His father was a factory mechanic and his mother was a department store employee. His mother sewed his racing overalls, and their finances were so limited they couldn’t afford to purchase rain tires for his kart.
  • Kimi Räikkönen. His father was a road builder and he grew up without indoor plumbing.
  • Lewis Hamilton. His father was an IT manager who took on two other jobs to help pay for his early racing career before McLaren picked him up.
  • Sebastian Vettel. His father was a carpenter and his career was only made possible thanks to Red Bull’s sponsorship following early successes.

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Other F1 champions could likely join this list depending on one’s definition of “working class.” Surprisingly, the majority of F1 champions, many not featured on this list, did not come from particularly wealthy backgrounds. Additionally, some of the most recent champions can claim to have had some of the most humble beginnings.

Though the road to F1 is notoriously expensive, it may well be that talent, hard work, and, more importantly, parents who will do anything for their child’s dream, are the key to success.