The top-five German F1 drivers

Schumacher and Vettel

Ahead of this weekend's German Grand Prix, we take a look at five of the finest racers the country has produced.

Michael Schumacher

Statistically the greatest F1 driver of all time, Schumacher dominated the sport for a decade between 1994 and 2004. During that time he was world champion on a record seven occasions, including five on the bounce, claiming a total of 91 grands prix wins, 68 pole position and 155 podiums in the process.

He was not without his controversies. Schumacher had high-profile on-track clashes with title rivals Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve, and blotted his copybook in 2006 by blocking the track at Monaco to prevent Fernando Alonso snatching pole.

And yet Schumacher possessed so much talent that underhand measures were unnecessary. In particular, his win at a sodden Spanish Grand Prix in 1996 was among the finest in F1 history.

After three years in retirement, a lacklustre spell with Mercedes brought only two genuine highlights: a podium at Valencia, and topping qualifying at Monaco, both in 2012. Following a skiing accident in late 2013 that left him in a coma, Schumacher's present state of health remains unclear. The sport is now united in wishing Germany's finest the best recovery possible.

Sebastian Vettel

The successor to Schumacher's throne, Vettel has already earned four world titles and 39 race wins at the tender age of 27. His 2010 and 2012 championships came after epic fights with Fernando Alonso, while 2011 and 2013 were utterly dominant affairs. He also holds several youth-related records, including youngest race winner and youngest world champion.

Vettel has also inherited Schumacher's reputation as a ruthless operator, not least in his dealings with team-mates. In particular, who can forget the multi-21 affair of Malaysia 2013, or his on-track clash with Mark Webber at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix?

2014 has been Vettel's first difficult year in F1. Faced with the under-performing RB10 and a hungry new team-mate in Daniel Ricciardo, he has been beaten on a surprisingly regular basis in both qualifying and races. It is now time for Seb to show his true quality as he seeks to equal his mentor’s records.

Wolfgang von Trips

Germany's first Formula One star, Von Trips nearly claimed the world title only to meet a tragic end. He spent much of his grand prix career driving for Ferrari, and fittingly first stood on an F1 podium at the Italian Grand Prix in 1957.

1961 should have been the culmination of Von Trips' career. Wins in the Netherlands and Great Britain, plus second-place finishes in Belgium and on home turf, put him in the world championship lead with two rounds remaining. The penultimate event was at Ferrari's home circuit, Monza, and Von Trips continued his great form by qualifying on pole. But on lap two of the race the German crashed at the fast Parabolica corner. His car was launched into the crowd and 15 spectators were killed, along with Von Trips himself. It was perhaps the most appalling accident in F1 history.

Von Trip's Ferrari team-mate Phil Hill went on to win the race and the world title, and it would be 33 years before a German challenged for the F1 championship again.

Stefan Bellof

One of Formula One's greatest lost talents, Bellof looked set to enjoy a glittering career only to lose his life in a sportscar race aged just 27.

The Giessen-born racer rose to prominence with success in his native Formula Ford and F3 championships, then found fame in endurance racing. Bellof raced Porsches alongside the great Derek Bell, amassing several victories and gaining a reputation as one of the fastest drivers over a single lap. He won the 1984 World Endurance Championship, and was also famed for his abilities on the Nurburgring's fearsome Nordschleife loop.

He landed an F1 seat in 1984, joining a young Martin Brundle at Tyrrell. He quickly caught the paddock's eye by finishing third at Monaco from 20th on the grid, but the team were subsequently disqualified from the championship for using illegal ballast in their fuel tanks. Still, Bellof had attracted admiring glances, and though he remained with Tyrrell for '85 Ferrari were interested in his services.

But Bellof would never get the chance to switch to the Scuderia. Contesting a sportscar race at Spa, he had a huge off while racing Jacky Ickx. His wrecked Porsche caught fire, making extracting him all the more difficult, and the German later died from his injuries. Had he lived, many believe Bellof could have reached the highest echelons of the sport.

Nico Rosberg

If you listen to Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg "isn't really German," but as far as we’re concerned he's more than welcome on this list. The son of 1982 world champion Keke, Rosberg won the inaugural GP2 title in 2005 and served his F1 apprenticeship with Williams, bagging a pair of podiums between 2006 and 2009.

His spell at Mercedes took a little while to get going, but there were a number of impressive displays while Rosberg got the better of a past-his-prime Michael Schumacher.

And in 2014 everything has really clicked with the brilliant W05, helping him to score three wins and lead the standings from team-mate Hamilton ahead of this weekend’s race. There's still a great deal of hard work ahead, but Rosberg has a great chance to become Germany's third world champion. Or Monaco's first, if you're still listening to Lewis.

Honourable mentions go to Ralf Schumacher, who carved out a solid career of his own despite the mile-long shadow of brother Michael; Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who finished third in the 1999 world championship for Jordan; and Jochen Mass, the only German to win a race between Von Trips in 1961 and Schumacher in '92.