Five of the biggest upsets in modern F1

Sports fans love an underdog story. A tale where the most unlikely heros emerge and write headlines which will never be forgotten. Leicester City have managed to make these headlines, becoming Barclays Premier League Champions despite narrowly avoiding relegation from the division just 12 months ago. A phenomenal sporting achievement and one which will unquestionably go down as one of the greatest tales of underdog glory.

F1 has had plenty of it’s own unlikely victors over the years. Here are the top five F1 underdog success stories since the Premier League’s inception in 1992.


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5) Vettel’s championship triumph in 2010

While the Adrian Newey designed Red Bull RB6 was the class of the field in 2010, the manner in which Sebastian Vettel’s maiden title winning campaign played out made him an albeit unlikely underdog.

The German finished as runner up to Jenson Button in 2009, and looked to go one better in 2010. However, a number of incidents throughout the season derailed his progress. The dramatic clash with teammate Mark Webber at Turkey was followed by a crash with Jenson Button at Spa and an untimely engine failure in Korea.

Despite winning the penultimate race in Brazil, Vettel headed to the final round of the season in Abu Dhabi 15 points behind title favourite Fernando Alonso and seven behind Webber. Vettel’s fate was out of his hands.

Nevertheless, he was unrelenting in his charge for glory, winning the race at a canter and doing everything he needed to spoil the party for his direct competitors. Alonso and Webber endured one of their worst races of the year, getting stuck behind Vitaly Petrov and Jaime Alguersuari respectively. It resulted in seventh for Alonso and eighth for Webber.

Vettel claimed the title by a slender four points. To add to his rivals’ pain, this was the first time that Sebastian had led the championship all year. Proof that it is not about how you start, it is about how you finish.

4) Maldonado’s first and only Grand Prix win


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If not your first team, Williams are more often than not your second. The hugely popular independent has enjoyed enormous success over the years, claiming 8 Constructors’ titles, 7 Drivers’ Championships and 114 race victories along the way.

The last of those 114 ended a winless streak stretching back to 2003, and came courtesy of Pastor Maldonado in what was a thrilling weekend in Barcelona.

Williams clearly had a stronger package in 2012 compared with that faced in a dire 2011 campaign. The new construction of Pirelli tyres had a narrow operating window, meaning that fine margins defined success and failure and had the potential to spring surprising results.

After Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from the Qualifying results having not retained enough fuel in the car to provide a sample, Maldonado was promoted to Pole Position. The Venezuelan managed to fend off Ferrari’s Alonso throughout the duration of the race and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen was unable to make a contra-strategy work, meaning that his maiden pole was converted into his maiden race victory for Maldonado.

To put the result into context, Pastor was unable to add to his points tally for another ten races. However, his triumph at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix meant that he joined the likes of Peter Gethin, Jean Alesi and Robert Kubica as drivers to have claimed one Grand Prix victory.

3) Jordan’s famous 1-2 finish

While Mercedes’ imperious performances sometimes serve to suggest otherwise, finishing 1-2 in a Grand Prix is a remarkable feat. Jordan would enjoy such a result only once, when Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher avoided all the chaos on a sodden day at Spa-Francorchamps in 1998.

The famous 14 car pile-up instigated by a spinning David Coulthard provided the precedent for what was to come in the remainder of the race, where Michael Schumacher, Mika Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine would all either crash or spin out of contention.

Conscious of the treacherous conditions and scale of the result available, Team Principal Eddie Jordan issued team orders to his two chargers, calling off the fight between them. Hill would Schumacher home in what was the Briton’s last career victory. Jordan scored 16 points in one race – nearly half of their total come the end of the season.

2) A French driver winning in a French car at Monte-Carlo

Qualifying well in Monaco is always seen as essential to Sunday success. Nelson Piquet famously described the challenge of Monaco as like trying to ride a bicycle around your living room, which highlights just why overtaking is seen as such a challenge. It does, of course, mean that incidents are always on the radar.

In 1996, the rain fell heavily on Sunday morning. It became a race of attrition, with Pole sitter Michael Schumacher crashing out, Damon Hill suffering engine dramas, Jacques Villeneuve colliding with Luca Badoer, and nearly the entire field failing to reach the finish.

Just four cars managed to take the chequered flag and at the front of the field, Olivier Panis claimed his first and only career victory, having started only 14th. For Ligier, it was their last Grand Prix victory, as the team was sold to Alain Prost in 1997.

Significantly, this was a French driver winning in a French car at Monaco, from an unprecedented grid position. 


Image Credit: Steve Gregory (via Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0]

1) Brawn GP – The greatest underdog story of all

Equal to Leicester City’s achievement if not eclipsing it, Brawn GP’s phenomenal 2009 campaign is one of motorsport’s most incredible stories. Rising from the ashes of Honda, who pulled out of the sport at the end of 2008, Jenson Button and Ruberns Barichello were simply surprised to find that they had drive’s at all in 2009.

When the sparsely-sponsored Brawn car rolled out of the garage for the first time, it was obvious that Ross Brawn’s investment was an inspired decision. The car, with innovations such as the double-dip diffuser, was the class of the field.

Button was in the form of his life at the start of the season, claiming six wins in the first seven races to cement his lead in the championship. It was a position that he never relinquished, with Brawn also maintaining their position at the top of the Constructors’ Championship throughout the year.

The team was sold at the end of the season to Mercedes. While their name only featured on the grid for a solitary season, their place in F1 folk-law will remain for as long as the sport. To think that the car nearly failed to make it to a race-track is astonishing.

Brawn GP redefined the underdog success story.


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