Alberto Ascari vs Niki Lauda

Champion of Champions

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Champion of Champions: Alberto Ascari vs Niki Lauda

Only three drivers have won more than one world championship while driving for Ferrari – and here’s two of them.

The tricky thing about comparing Ascari’s career to other drivers is that he was often either in a position of dominance – as with the Ferrari 500 in 1952 and 1953 – or struggling with unreliable cars.

He beat Juan Manuel Fangio to the 1953 crown and it would have been fascinating to see what would have happened had the pair ended up as team mates at Ferrari in 1956. Sadly, Ascari was killed the year before.

Lauda, however, did share a berth with one of the top drivers of his day – Alain Prost, in 1984 and 1985. The result was one world championship for each of them.

Prior to that Lauda had been central to Ferrari’s revival in the 1970s. Arguably, only his dreadful Nurburgring crash prevented a hat-trick of world titles.

Lauda’s career was obviously much longer than Ascari’s. After leaving Ferrari he spent two years with Brabham, the latter season marred with so many technical problems he only finished twice.

But when he made his comeback with McLaren in 1982 after a two-year break he won in only his third race back.

Which of these drivers should go through to the next round of the Champion of Champions? Vote for which you think was best below and explain who you voted for and why in the comments.

Alberto AscariNiki Lauda
Titles1952, 19531975. 1977, 1984
Second in title year/sGiuseppe Farina, Juan Manuel FangioEmerson Fittipaldi, Jody Scheckter, Alain Prost
TeamsLancia, Ferrari, MaseratiMarch, BRM, Ferrari, Brabham, McLaren
Notable team matesLuigi Villoresi, Giuseppe Farina, Mike HawthornCarlos Reutemann, Nelson Piquet, Alain Prost
Wins13 (40.63%)25 (14.62%)
Poles14 (43.75%)24 (14.04%)
Modern points per start113.947.85
% car failures218.7534.50
Modern points per finish317.1511.99
NotesEnjoyed success in several pre-championship Grands PrixBadly burned in 1976 crash, withdrew from title-deciding race in heavy rain
Won nine consecutive starts from 1952-3Clinched second title for Ferrari in 1977 then left team
Killed during 1955 season driving a Ferrari at MonzaEnded two-year retirement to return to McLaren and win third title
BioAlberto AscariNiki Lauda

1 How many points they scored in their career, adjusted to the 2010 points system, divided by the number of races they started
2 The percentage of races in which they were not classified due to a mechanical failure
3 How many points they scored in their career, adjusted to the 2010 points system, divided by the number of starts in which they did not suffer a race-ending mechanical failure

Round one

Which was the better world champion driver?

  • Niki Lauda (64%)
  • Alberto Ascari (36%)

Total Voters: 490

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Images © Pirelli (Ascari), Patrice Tercier (Lauda)

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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54 comments on “Alberto Ascari vs Niki Lauda”

  1. It’s really a shame Ascari wasn’t able to drive alongside Fangio. Lauda had more opportunities to show his staying power and talent, and that’s why i ended up voting for him.

  2. A tough one, but I plumped for Lauda – he won in both his era – and what, in effect, was the era after his! All of this done after having the Last Rites… no mean feat! I real Champion! Deserves a place in the next round!

    1. Just looked at the statistics… Ascari is FAR ahead of Lauda – but for some reason, I’d say Lauda everytime…

      1. Well, Lauda is far ahead with the percentage of car failures, so I think that accounts for part of it :)

        1. Only partly, just look at the points / finish, that is a big difference.

          1. But remember, back then, reliability was EVERYTHING since so few could get it and when you combine it with a MASSIVELY dominant car, championships become ALOT easier. Ascari was an awesome driver, but without counting all of his drives prior to F1 forming (1945/6-1949), Lauda has to take it in my book.

      2. Yeah but look at the number of starts…

        1. There were a lot of non-championship Grand Prix in those days too.

  3. Ascari was very good for his era. Had he been driving when Lauda was driving, their different styles would have helped Lauda. Viceversa, Ascari would have beaten Lauda at his times. But Ascari was very dominant in his career, as show the statistics, and I voted for him. Had he survived, he may have becomen better or worse in terms of statistics, but judging from what we have I say Ascari, although Lauda was a more complete driver probably.

  4. Had to give this one to Lauda… to have been given your last rites and then to comeback and win 2 more WDCs 7 years apart is something else… and, in my mind, should have been 4 x WDC.

  5. Ascari edges it for me but this could be the closest one yet.

  6. I chose Lauda. I will admit that it is partly because I know him better as a racing driver, but also, as others have said already, for staying power, winning his third title soon after joining McLaren.

  7. My vote went to Ascari, as I think he could have acheived more if he had had more time in F1. And he did win over Fangio.

    But it is a very close cal, I could just as well have thrown a coin to decide.

  8. I voted Lauda but it was tough. I’m finding it really difficult to rate drivers from the early decades of F1. I think Ascari was incredible though. However, Niki beat Prost who I feel may be the greatest ever and that was on his comeback!

    He arguably gave a title to Hunt but he’d been magnificent on his return and I’m not going to count that against Lauda after what he went through. He wasn’t scared he was smart. The fact he still pushed Hunt so far for the title is remarkable.

    3 titles with two different teams, a stunning comeback from injury and an unbelievable comeback from retirement means he gets my vote. If Ascari had lived I imagine it would be a much tougher decisions and his statistics are mind blowing but I had to vote Lauda.

    1. Thanks Steph, nothing to add. That’s exactly it.

      1. +1! well put Steph

  9. The hardest of all the pairs!
    What would Ascari have done if he hadn’t died? And what about ’76 championship without the crash?

    I wasn’t able to know much about Ascari, but saw his wonderful score during his winning seasons. Regarding Niki who can forget his superior strategical skills (remember so many recoveries from back positions to the rostrum…) paired with rare speed?

    I say Lauda, by hair’s breadth.

  10. Lauda is the only man to beat Prost on points over a season which says everything about his racecraft and knowledge of how to win championships(yes Senna beat Prost in ’88 but was helped by the 11 best scores only count rule). And this when he was past his prime, after his life threatening crash and a couple of years out of the sport. Ascari was undoubtedly a great driver but Lauda for me.

    1. I should say beat Prost on points over a season, driving the same car :)

  11. Fantastic driver, fantastic story, fantastic ambassador for the sport, outspoken, rude, but fantastic. So I voted for Lauda.

    1. fantastic ambassador for the sport

      I beg to differ, having endured his commentary for years on german tv and motorsport magazines.

      Nevertheless, he was an amazing driver. The 84 title was partly due to luck in Monaco (the Senna premiere .. god he was good in that race). I’m not saying he shouldn’t have been WDC, just that Prost was a bit unlucky there.

      I think I’ll vote Lauda, but I’m just not sure yet.

  12. Lauda had a rollercoaster F1 career. Before his crash he had raw speed, but after the crash he became much cannier and became amazingly an even better driver. That he still almost won the ’76 championship is remarkable.

    His return in 82 was just as brilliant, winning his 3rd race back and then outsmarting Prost of all people to the ’84 Championship. He’s a brilliant driver who often gets overlooked in terms of great champions.

    Ascari dominated the two championships he won, but they were ultimately against second rate machinery and drivers. Fangio was out of it for 1952 with a neck injury and spent most of 1953 recovering from it.

    As good as Ascari was, his untimely death stopped him from showing if he could have taken it to Fangio and I don’t think he can win this round. I voted Lauda.

    1. “His return in 82 was just as brilliant, winning his 3rd race back and then outsmarting Prost of all people to the ’84 Championship.”

      That’s what seals it for me. His comeback and then beating Prost to the title in 84. He gets overlooked but I really don’t know why. He was a really great driver.

  13. Ascari was probably faster than Fangio, they really didn’t pit against the other with competitive equipment. Lauda, the ultimate car developer (in fact team developer as Ferrari, Brabham and McLaren own him their succesful big time). I chose Lauda because of the superhuman effort to come back from hell (as he put it) and win 2 Championships more.

  14. I liken “extrapolating data” to “walking out on a diving board blindfolded”. If you know what you’re doing – okay. If you don’t – watch out. As good as his results are per drive, there is just not enough data on 32 drives to justify Ascari as a “better driver” than Lauda.

  15. This is the hardest one yet….I was expecting this to go to Ascari…but by the comments, Lauda is ahead…haven’t voted yet….Ascari is an al time great, but so is Lauda….and Lauda, to come back after all that and win…

    think think think……………..

    1. I was just about to say that. This is a real tough one.

      I think I need some time to decide I’m just hanging around for a while reading comments and arguments.

      Maybe I’ll vote tomorrow.

      1. I was just about to say that. This is a real tough one.

        I just asked my mother, she’s seen both of them, she says Lauda.

        Easy decision for me, mother says so.

  16. Ascari’s stats are a bit misleading, considering that, of his 6 seasons, he only drove 3 full seasons (all races), and of these 3, he had a great car in one (ferrari 375), and a car that was absolutely dominant in the other (Ferrari tipo 500). That was because FIA decided to run the 52 and 53 championship with F2 regulations, and Ferrari was the only team that designed a car specifically under those specs. Teams like Alfa Romeo couldn’t build a car and retired, so actually Ferrari run agains mostly F2 teams. No wonder Ascari won 6 races in 52 and 5 in 53. Of his 13 wins, 11 were on a car that was absolutely dominant.

    1. And? How many other drivers had dominant car?

      1. 4 others, but most didn’t raced the full season, except Nino Farina, which he did beat. But it was the only driver he really competed against. In 53, Fangio retired on the first 3 races, which means that his record of 9 consecutive wins was gained when Fangio was either absent or DNF.Also Farina DNF in 2 of the first 3 races. Ascari also benefited from shared drives, as first driver in Ferrari. That’s why i say his stas are misleading. Of course he was a great driver, but we should be careful with these stats. Lauda on the other hand proved himself in much varied conditions, and emerged 3 times WDC, and only lost 76 due to his accident and missing 3 races.

  17. Wow this is almost impossible to split the two. Alot of what might have been’s with both drivers but after alot of thinking i’ve changed my mind from maybe voting Lauda to Ascari. His percentages were simply awesome, didnt realise how good he was during the era of the “great” Fangio. Had he lived he may have took many more titles with the Ferraris in the late 50’s.

  18. This one was so close I couldn’t decide, so I searched for some unique accomplishment…something special that no other driver had done…then recalled that Ascari is the only race driver ever to put his car into the harbor at Monaco. How could I not vote for a man who had managed something as spectacular as that?

    1. Hahaha, true that, but then, lauda had his last rites read to him on the ring after his accident, and came back to drive a couple of weeks later….show me another man who has done that…

      1. Ascari’s father died Grand Prix racing, and yet he never wavered in his desire to race. That shows he wasn’t lacking in courage.

        If you want further proof, know that Ascari still holds the record for fastest lap in successive GPs, at 7. To go that fast race after race in the 50s shows courage.

        Of course he eventually died on the track at age 36, just 4 days older than his father.

    2. Paul Hawkins also crashed into the harbour.

      1. Right you are, Daniel. I forgot about him.

  19. Hard choice, but I vote for Ascari: maybe the best italian driver with Nuvolari.

  20. OmarR-Pepper (@)
    20th January 2011, 18:22

    The things are difficult because Ascari died, but you have seen how hard is to comeback to F1, so Lauda became a champion after a sabbatical. That’s incredible

  21. A tough one but I think I will have to go for Lauda.

  22. Lauda ahead of Ascari in the poll? :o
    Alberto clearly belongs to top 5…

  23. This, for me, is by far the hardest match-up yet.

    Niki Lauda is, despite my immense dislike for the man, without a doubt one of the best Grand Prix drivers ever. To win a championship, dominate the following year, then almost fatally crash and shrug it off to come back and lose the championship by one point simply due to fear is remarkable. So is winning pretty much immediately after a two year break and winning one’s third championship in a different team against a rising star.

    Alberto Ascari, on the other hand, is a legend. Considering that he only really raced for four seasons (his 1954 campaign was hardly a proper season and he was killed at the beginning of 1955) and managed to clinch the crown twice and finish second once, I fail to see how he was worse than Fangio. To win more often than every third time he entered a race is spectacular.

    For me there is something mythical about Ascari, whereas Lauda is ‘just’ another great driver. There is no reason to believe that Ascari wasn’t in the same league as Fangio. Of course, Lauda had to compete against a larger field and he managed to beat it at his comeback, but one has to remember that whilst the Austrian beat Prost by half a point, Prost absolutely decimated him the following year.

    Perhaps it’s fair to argue that Lauda’s reliability problems were hugely self-induced, as his partners did not suffer the same problems as he did. A 33% indicates that he was insanely quick, but possibly not the whole package. Ascari on the other hand managed to keep reliability issues to to a minimum in an age where reaching the checkered flag was a huge achievement.

    Although I didn’t live when either of them drove, Ascari, alongside Fangio, defines the early days of Formula 1 for me. On the flipside, I don’t consider Lauda to be a legend of Formula – he might very well have been Stewart’s successor and Prost’s predecessor on track, but he just doesn’t seem to have that same spark in general.

    1. Very well said… Thumb up from me… :)

  24. Old_boy_racer (@)
    20th January 2011, 22:51

    Both these drivers were daring! Lauda to come back from that accident, and Ascari to even start Grand Prix racing after his father died in the sport when he was just a boy.

    Ascari’s high finishing rate I put down to his strategy of trying always to build an early lead. Building an early lead was something his father did too. From there if the car developed problems he could nurse it or drive around them and still be very hard to catch. I’m sure I saw him doing that on occasion.

    Lauda was dogged. He would fight very hard and he had what they call these days the ‘mental toughness’ but for pure speed it has to be Ascari who gets my vote.

  25. Ascari for me, though if I had two votes, I’d give one to each of them.

  26. ascari was the king of the ring. 100,000 fans went to watch him at monza in the early 50’s. He was a god for the italians then. But i wasn’t there. He seems too far away.
    On the other hand, lauda was my hero when i was a child. he came back from the dead. He was so brave… it’s almost impossible to understand. And then he beat prost fair abd square.
    I have to vote for the rat, even though i might have done otherwise if i was borne 40 years earlier.

    1. I think your response is indicative of this sort of thing. People always rate those they have more memory of more highly.

      I almost think there should be an age multiplier to take account of the effect.

      1. of course. You can’t judge what you didn’t see.
        But as far as i can see in the poll, everything is right. The best drivers are passing to the next level. There are some confrontations coming that might be otherwise. We’ll see.

        1. That just means you have made all the popular choices. Some of us disagree with the popular opinion. The name Ascari has always had a kind of mythical significance for me. His name is synonomous with early Ferrari. As brave and resolute as Lauda was I think Ascari is the correct choice. 7 Fastest laps in consecutive GPs is a record that still stands, but I’ve done a lot of reading about the early days, and others haven’t and I think that is where the difference is here.

          1. If you’ve done a lot of reading about the early days you know that the Ferrari Tipo 500 which Ascari drove in 52 and 53 was pretty much like the Williams FW14 that Mansell drove in 94. That puts his records of 7 fastest laps in perspective (also Fangio was absent or DNF all these races). Compare that to Kimi Raikkonen who scored 6 consecutive fastest laps in a car that wasn’t the fastest

          2. Yes, it was a dominant car, but he had team mates (yes, plural), and you don’t have to finish to get fastest lap, so where a lot of people talk about how so many drivers DNFed in this season, that’s not an issue for this record.

            Think of all the dominant cars there have been since then, and how much longer the seasons have become. Why didn’t Mansell beat this record in the FW14, or Schumacher at any point, or Button in 2009, etc?

          3. Most teammates didn’t competed all races, so it would be impossible for them to had a string of 9 fastest laps. The only one who did compete was Nino Farina, and Ascari was faster than him. Mansell didn’t beat this record because he wasn’t as fast a driver as Ascari, so even driving a rocket he couldn’t do it. As for Schummy, he never had a car that was so much better than the competition, though he did had a dominant car in 2002 and 2004. However, if you look at the percentage of fastest laps, Ascari has a respectable 36%, but compare that to Fangio’s 45%. The bottom line is: Ascari was one of the fastest in history, but some of his stats, like fastest laps, are due to Fangio’s absence

  27. I pondered this more than usual, and finally voted for Ascari.

    This is despite the fact that Lauda was at his peak right when I really started to get interested in F1, and Ascari’s championships came when I was not quite 1 and 2 years old.

    But the stats convinced me, and I think I’d also like to see a few drivers from the era when “the tires were skinny, and the drivers were fat” go into the next round.

  28. Ascari was probably the only one who could have beaten Fangio (the best of all imo), if it wasn’t for his fatal accident. So Ascari it is.

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