Who said what? - Famous Quotes and Sayings from the World of Formula One
Written by Vyas Ponnuri, Edited by Janvi Unni
Formula One is one of the most competitive forms of sport in the world. Drivers and teams are competing neck-and-neck with one another to finish as high as possible in the standings, to achieve the most prize money and championships, and to etch their names in the history of the sport. While drivers, team bosses, commentators, and those working in the field of Formula One are known to be metronomic and relentless on the track, they have also spoken some inspirational, iconic, and sometimes light-hearted quotes that will live on in the memories of motorsport fans for a long, long time.
This article comprises a selection of quotes and sayings by a multitude of eloquent personalities from the Formula One Paddock. Past and present, drivers, team principals, and even commentators, inspirational figures on or off the racetrack, from different walks and eras of Formula One, they all share one thing in common - Their quotes have been revered and loved by one and all from around the motorsport community.
Without further ado, let us get to the quotes. The first quote is an iconic one, from a Brazilian maestro…
“If You No Longer Go For a Gap that exists, you are not a racing driver” - Ayrton Senna
This ubiquitous quote is one reason Senna is remembered by many fans of motor racing. The Brazilian maestro said these words after winning his second world championship at Australia in 1990, one week after his famous opening lap race-ending incident with championship rival Alain Prost.
With Senna on pole starting from the non-grippy side of the grid and Prost in second starting on the grippy, cleaner side of the grid, Senna vowed to make his way into the lead at Turn One. And, as expected, Prost got a great start off the line, but Senna stuck his car into the gap at Turn One, making contact with Prost, sending both drivers into the run-off area at the corner. Senna was crowned World Champion, as Prost could no longer overhaul his points tally at the season finale in Australia.
While Senna didn’t hold back while speaking those now-famous words, it embodies the basic philosophy of racing, going for any gap left by a driver ahead and making an overtake to move ahead. There have been many instances of racing drivers emulating this, most notably Max Verstappen making overtakes on lap one on his championship rival Lewis Hamilton at Catalunya and Imola, in a flash of aggression and elbows-out driving, one that embodies this saying. Although, Verstappen attempted one too many overtakes on a number of occasions during his early years, which sometimes cost him and his rivals during the races.
“In order to finish first, you first have to finish” - Multiple drivers
Another popular saying, this one has unclear origins. Many drivers have quoted this, the likes of Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, and the late Sir Stirling Moss among them. Famously quoted by commentators during races, this saying epitomises the importance of actually finishing a motor race. A race car is only as good if it is fast, but not when it has an unreliable power unit or an incident-prone driver, who ultimately doesn't make it to the end of a race.
The same can be said for other sports as well; in the case of cricket, football, basketball, or even athletics. A team may be as good if the players are well-skilled, and the team looks strong on paper, but can’t achieve the ultimate goal of finishing first if they are unable to close out their games successfully. Even in life, one needs to complete all their tasks on their path to achieve the ultimate prize.
“Ambition well ahead of adhesion” - Martin Brundle
This famous “Brundleism” is heard when a driver tries to take a corner on a racetrack faster than the car is capable of doing so, and then has an incident at that said corner. Ambition here refers to the driver’s desire to take a corner at a certain speed, often greater than anticipated, and adhesion refers to the downforce acting on the car, pushing (or acting as glue to) the car onto the ground.
When a driver tries to extract more out of a car than it can provide, he is bound to have an accident or a spin through a corner. The same can be said for life as well; when we expect more than what life can give us, at that moment, there is a tendency of feeling disappointed or let-down at the end, having expected more than we received.
Do make sure to keep an eye out for this phrase (and other Brundleisms) during a race weekend.
“Taking your first title is much more complicated and more difficult; it takes years of work – from go-kart to Formula One. The second comes more easily, because you’ve already got the experience” - Niki Lauda
One of many famous quotes by the late Niki Lauda, this states the driver’s ease with which a driver goes on to achieve further success after winning his first World Championship. Lauda himself experienced this, having won his first title in 1975, before winning two further championships in 1977 and 1984. He was at much more ease, and thereby making more calculated and decisive moves during his championship-winning years, as he’d already been in that position before.
Drivers such as Schumacher, Max Verstappen, Mika Hakkinen, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, and even Lewis Hamilton have gone on to win multiple titles, banking on their prior experience of having been in a championship fight. In fact, a driver’s first world championship is looked at as a massive achievement, as a driver is much more relaxed in his following seasons, having crossed a major milestone in his career. Just ask Max Verstappen, the most recent example of this quote!
“There are more important things in life than the world championship, like staying alive.” - Niki Lauda
Another quote by Lauda, the great Austrian said this after pulling out of the season ending Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji in 1976, a season which saw Lauda and his long-time rival James Hunt battle it out for the world championship. Lauda had already been scarred by a near-death experience early in the season at the fearsome Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit. A huge fire billowing from Lauda’s crashed car nearly threatened to kill him. In fact, he was even declared to have been dead at the hospital, having slipped into a coma, with a priest even proceeding to read his last rites.
Nonetheless, Lauda persevered to recover, and made a surprise return at Monza, Ferrari’s home race, driving through pain to secure a fourth place. At the season finale, Lauda led Hunt by three points. The inaugural race at Fuji was delayed by two hours due to torrential rain, but finally got underway. Reeling from the after-effects of his accident at the Nurburgring, and the circuit drenched in torrential rain, Lauda opted to pull out of the race, stating unsafe conditions to race in, and his life being more important than a world title. Hunt went on to secure a podium, winning the title by one point.
“The more precisely I can drive, the more I enjoy myself” - Michael Schumacher
This quote, another one of Schumacher’s famous quotes, was said in 2002 as he was hunting down Fangio’s record of five World Titles. Schumacher had a rare heavy crash during pre-season testing that year, later saying nonchalantly to his team “The accident? Oh, I just pushed a bit too hard and went off. It's OK.”
In his interview with The Guardian, Schumacher had used this saying to back up his point of having stated if he preferred the cars from a decade ago - “People ask if I would prefer the cars of 10 years ago because they were less sophisticated and didn't have the electronics and technical advances we have today. The answer is definitely not. The more precisely I can drive, the more I enjoy myself.”
When a driver manages to hit the apexes of the corners on a lap, doing that every other lap, it definitely comes as an enjoyment to the driver. Their profession becomes much more enjoyable and fun if they execute it to precision and perfection, one that applies to our lives as well.
“I always thought records are meant to be broken” - Michael Schumacher
Another famous quote by the legendary German, these words were uttered by Schumacher during an interview with BBC in 2008. When asked if he felt his records would be broken one day, Schumacher replied spontaneously, “I would say, absolutely, yes. Nobody thought, even me, that I could beat Fangio. Then I did. Records are there to be beaten.” It was as though he was certain about his records being broken one day.
And sure enough, the time would come when his records had been eclipsed. Lewis Hamilton set new landmarks in the sport during his glorious days of the turbo-hybrid era, breaking Schumacher’s record of pole positions in 2017, his record of race victories and podium finishes in 2020, and levelling his tally of seven world championships at Turkey in 2020. Other records too have been broken, Vettel’s records of youngest winner and most wins in a season broken by Max Verstappen in 2016 and 2022 respectively. It is for certain that these records will eventually be broken too, sometime in the future.
“It’s lights out and away we go…” - David Croft
This saying is one too common nowadays. While it might be reminiscent of the late Murray Walker’s famous “GO GO GO”, David Croft, or “Crofty” as he is known, too has created a niche for himself with this quote.
All the cars circulate the track on their formation lap, before returning to the starting grid. Once all the cars have returned to the grid, the official waves a green flag, following which five red lights appear on the starting gantry. The first four lights go off at equal intervals, and the fifth light goes off anywhere between 0.2 to three seconds, following which the race is underway. Do make sure to listen to Crofty saying this phrase at the start of every race!
“Anything can happen in Grand Prix Racing, and it usually does” - Murray Walker
Speaking of Murray Walker, this quote by the late English commentator perfectly encapsulates the unpredictability of Formula One. There have been plenty of incidents in the past that can be traced back to this statement, most famously when Nicholas Latifi’s crash late in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix brought out a Safety Car, playing an important role in Verstappen winning his first world championship.
Going into the past, we can pick many instances highlighting the importance of this phrase, some being Jenson Button winning one of F1’s most topsy-turvy races at Canada in 2011; Hamilton’s late pass on Timo Glock to win his first World Championship in 2008;,or even Senna and Prost’s crash at Japan in 1989. Senna’s crash at Monaco a year prior, while in the lead by almost a minute from his teammate Prost, perfectly drove home Murray Walker’s statement. Having looked infallible, Senna lost his concentration at Portier corner, and drove into the barriers, and was out of the race, losing a certain race victory at one of F1’s most demanding circuits.
“IF is a very long word in Formula 1; In fact, if is F1 spelled backwards” - Murray Walker
Another famous quote by Murray Walker, this saying talks about the relation between IF and F1. Simply invert the letters IF, and you get F1.
“If” is definitely a big word in F1; we can go on thinking of various “What ifs” when recollecting various events down F1’s memory lane. What if there was no sport called F1? What if Senna did not move to Williams in 1994? What if Senna and Schumacher drove for Ferrari at the same time? What if Robert Kubica didn’t have his horrific rally crash in 2011? The list goes on and on, and provides enough food for thought for fans.
"We have to remember these days. There is no guarantee they will last forever. Enjoy them as long as they last.” – Sebastian Vettel
This message is one that lives long in the memory of F1 fans, even after the retirement of Sebastian Vettel from Formula One. “Seb” said this famous line at the end of the US Grand Prix in 2013, having won eight races in a row, including a fourth World Championship. Doing donuts at the end of the race, as he had done so for the past two races too, he said this famous line, one which would go on to age very well, considering how both Red Bull and Vettel’s form dropped off in the ensuing turbo-hybrid era, with Mercedes and Hamilton rising to the fore.
Another saying that applies to life as well, telling us how we must remember the good things in life, and enjoy them, for we don’t know how long that phase of life will be with us.
“I am an artist, the track is my canvas and the car is my brush.” – Graham Hill
Graham Hill, or “Mr Monaco” as he is famously known, said this iconic line after his victory at the 1968 Monaco Grand Prix, having driven the iconic Lotus 49, sponsored by Gold Leaf International. This was also his fourth win at Monaco, and one that would go on to lead him to his first World Championship. Graham Hill is also the only driver in motorsports to win the famous Triple Crown (Indy 500, 24h of Le Mans, Monaco Grand Prix).
Every artist creates his work on a canvas placed on an easel, with the help of his paintbrush. Hill likened himself to an artist at work, the racetrack being his canvas on which he created greatness in the form of race wins, and the car was his medium of achieving greatness, like the paintbrush.
“All the time you have to leave a space!” - Fernando Alonso
This radio message by Fernando Alonso during the 2012 Bahrain Grand Prix is definitely one that is still fresh in our minds. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting social distancing norms brought this message to light.
Although this could be taken in context of the pandemic, the saying also emphasises one of the basic rules of driving on our roads and racing on the racetrack: To leave our fellow road users enough space. In F1, a driver is entitled to one car’s width of space once he is considered to be alongside his rival. Should the driver ahead not give his rival space, he will be penalised for doing so, if the stewards deem it to be the driver ahead at fault. Even on public roads, it’s essential to have consideration for our fellow road users and leave them enough space to proceed ahead whilst maintaining lane discipline.
“Aerodynamics are for those who can’t build engines” - Enzo Ferrari
An iconic phrase and one that is widely remembered by the motorsport community, this familiar quote was said by Enzo Ferrari. While many may wonder where this phrase originated, the story goes as follows.
Back in 1960, during the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans, Belgian driver Paul Frère, driving a Ferrari 250 GTO for the event along with fellow Belgian co-driver Olivier Gendebien, stated to Enzo about the 250 GTO’s windshield limiting the top speed of the car down the long straights. Enzo simply responded: you needn’t worry about the aerodynamics if you built a superb motor. Nevertheless, Frère and Gendebien went on to win the race by a distance, around four laps ahead of second place.
While this saying would’ve had more significance through the 1960s, when aerodynamics and downforce were still in their nascent stages of development, today’s cars are much more streamlined, and generate plenty of downforce to take the corners at frighteningly high speeds, especially in Formula 1. A great engine isn’t always enough to win races or a championship. A famous example is Ferrari’s 2019 season, one which saw them, supposedly, have the strongest engine on the grid, but finished the season far behind eventual winners Mercedes.
“You don’t expect to be at the top of the mountain the day you start climbing.” – Ron Dennis
These words were said by one of McLaren’s most influential figures, Ron Dennis. A veteran of three decades in Formula One, Dennis said this ahead of the 2015 Formula One season, on Honda’s return to Formula One as an engine supplier to McLaren. When asked about his partnership with Honda, Dennis replied, “You don’t expect to be at the top of the mountain the day you start climbing. It takes time and you also have to prepare well.”
Although McLaren’s 2015 season and their stint with Honda proved to be a very challenging one, Dennis’ saying stands strong. After all, when you commence a big assignment, you don’t think about the end result right away; your goal would be to achieve the end result, but your focus is on proceeding step-by-step to eventually get there.
“We win and lose together.” – Lewis Hamilton
This short yet ubiquitous quote by the seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton emphasises one of the basic principles of Formula One - Teamwork. As they say, teamwork makes the dream work. Every team needs a car capable of contending for race wins for the entire season, and a driver capable of making the best possible use of the car to drive home their advantage. Should one of these be missing or lacking, it would be difficult to win a championship. A team can succeed only if all its departments are coordinating with one another. Drivers, support staff, mechanics, pit crew, strategists, team principal, those back at the factory…. They all play a key role in the team's success.
Even in life, one can achieve big things only if they work with a team of individuals aligned to the same goals or interests. As has been said before, “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
“When you give up your hunger for success you are not racing full heartedly anymore. Just to be there, that is not my style.” – Felipe Massa
This quote by Felipe Massa, a “World Champion for 39 seconds”, talks about the level of dedication and motivation one must have to be in Formula One. Every driver must be motivated to achieve greatness in the sport, to score points, podiums and race wins, and eventually a World Championship. And to win the latter, one needs to be passionate and motivated. Just being there in the sport isn’t the Brazilian’s style, and shouldn’t be for anyone. Thus, he raced on until 2017, his passion for the sport never fading, despite not winning a World Championship proper.
The same could be said for life; when you don’t have the passion or interest for something, you aren’t pursuing it whole-heartedly. Put in all your efforts, stay hungry for success, and greatness will eventually follow.
“F1 needs Ferrari much more than Ferrari needs F1.” – Toto Wolff
One that will stand the test of time, this quote was said by Toto Wolff, team principal of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. When rule changes regarding budget caps were being contemplated by Liberty Media, in 2017, then Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne threatened to quit F1, despite the sport being in the team’s DNA. As said by Marchionne, “if we change the sandbox to the point it becomes unrecognisable, I don’t want to play any more” Toto Wolff fired a warning shot in early 2018, stating how the Ferrari president’s words shouldn’t be taken lightly.
And he had a fair point to say this. The Rosso Corsa cars have become an iconic sight at the front of the F1 field through the sport’s stages. The sight of various drivers wearing the red race suit celebrating victories and championships will never be forgotten by many. And not to forget their passionate fanbase, one that makes up an integral part of Formula One. If Ferrari ever leaves Formula One, a part of the sport’s essence will be lost.