Is the country your born in and brought up in have any relevance to whether you can succeed in F1? Yes of course it does! But not quite as you may think.
At the bottom of this list there is some countries that you may expect to see like South Africa (Jody Schecter 1979) and New Zealand (Denny Hulme, 1967) both taking a title apiece. Even Argentina has produced one champion (albeit 5 times champ Juan Manuel Fangio)!
So you can see a pattern developing? Countries with no real motoring heritage/industry not really producing title after title like the likes of Italy, France and USA right? Well you’d be wrong, Italy in fact has won only three titles with two drivers (Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Farina). The latest of which coming in 1953 a fact even harder to contemplate given the early days of the championship were dominated by Italian cars. Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo were all leading manufacturers in the early years of F1. A total of 101 Italian drivers have driven in F1.
France too, the birth place of Grand Prix racing and home of historic manufactures like Renault, Citroen and Peugeot has on contributed with ‘Le Professeur’ Alain Prost who has chipped in with four titles between 1985 and 1993.
Harry Schell was the first American to try their hand at F1. Since his debut at the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix 154 other Americans have followed in his footsteps (a total second only to the UK). Schell and 152 others failed to bring home the title, only Phil Hill and Mario Andretti were crowned world champions. Given the efforts of the last two to try (Michael Andretti and Scott Speed) it could be a fair few more years wait for the next one!
Until 1994 Germany wasn’t even on the list. Since then we have seen Michael Schumacher rack up 7 titles. He has only just been joined be ‘pointy finger’ Sebastian Vettel in 2010.
Looking towards the top end of the list, and also bucking the trend (the other way) is Finland and Brazil both have produced three champions apiece. Brazil has given us Emerson Fittipaldi (2) Nelson Piquet (3) and Ayrton Senna (3). Finland, not only is a country without a motor industry, it barely has any roads with out ice on! so it my surprise you that they have produced the same amount of world championship winning drivers as Brazil !(Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen (2) and Kimi Raikkonen). Impressed? No? but what if I was to add that only EIGHT Finnish driver have ever taken part in F1. That’s quite a win ratio!
At the top of the tree, producing more than three times more title-winning drivers than Brazil and Finland is the Great Britain. Mike Hawthorne started the ball rolling in 1958, he has been followed by Graham Hill (2), Jim Clarke (2), John Surtees, Jackie Stewart (3), James Hunt, Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Lewis Hamilton and the latest Jenson Button in 2009.
So really to sum up, it does matter where you come from but not for the reasons you may think! What do the Finnish and Brazilians have that would be seem to be lacking in Italian drivers? and why doesn’t Ferrari give more opportunity to their home-grown drivers (Ivan Capelli was the last full-time, Italian driver for the prancing horse).