What was the best underdog race win?

Does Sebastian Vettel's Monza win rank among the top underdog triumphs?

Does Sebastian Vettel's Monza win rank among the top underdog triumphs?

Carlos di Bello sent in this question via Skribit:

What are the top ten races where superior driving overcame inferior mechanical means?

I thought that was a good question to put to the collective wisdom of F1 Fanatic readers. What do you think was the best victory for a driver in a sub-par car? Here?s my suggestion:

Gilles Villeneuve, 1981 Spanish Grand Prix, Ferrari

Gilles Villeneuve’s Ferrari 126CK was a dog of a car – to put it bluntly. Yes, it was an improvement over the team’s disastrous 1980 effort, but it lacked the ground effect capabilities of its rivals and floundered in corners. If any circuit was going to demonstrate the handling shortcomings of the car it would be the twisty Jarama track, host of that year’s Spanish Grand Prix:

Instead what unfolded was a showcase of Villeneuve?s staggering talent. A lightning start left him running second, and perfectly poised to inherit the lead when Alan Jones crashed. That was on lap 14. When the chequered flag came out 66 laps later Villeneuve was, incredibly, still in the lead, with Jacques Laffite, John Watson, Carlos Reutemann and Elio de Angelis queued up behind him, covered by less than 1.24s.

What’s more, Villeneuve accomplished this without the kind of chopping and barging we’re used to seeing today. As ever his track manners were scrupulously fair. As Steven Roy wrote recently:

He didn?t do it by blocking or making ??one move?. He drove a perfect, clean line lap after lap after lap and won the race despite having four faster cars on his tail for the whole race. He knew that if he made one small mistake he could drop four positions.

No way should his Ferrari have even been in the points that day. Sad to think in this era of compulsory pit stops this extraordinary feat cannot be reproduced.

Who better to give the ultimate homage to a man who had shrugged off the deficiencies of his machinery to claim an improbable win than ace designer Gordon Murray?:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a driver put in a performance like that. Not one wheel out of place all afternoon.

Watch the video and judge for yourself:

That?s my choice for the greatest win by a driver in a car that wasn?t up to the task. What do you think was the best underdog triumph? Name your nominees in the comments, post quotes and video links, and we’ll vote on the top ten on Sunday.

This article was suggested by Carlos di Bello using Skribit. To suggest an idea for an F1 Fanatic article, use the Skribit box on the community page. You can also vote for other people?s article ideas.

Image (C) Red Bull / GEPA

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63 comments on What was the best underdog race win?

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  1. Clare msj said on 26th February 2009, 10:42

    My F1 memory will only stretch back as 1995, so i will post a couple from relatively recent years that i can think of, although the first two err a little on the fortuitous side, rather than complete driver effort..

    Not total underdogs but Jordan not only taking the win, but second as well in Belgium 1998. Bit of a chaotic race, but a great win nonetheless. I have to admit I wasnt happy with the Jordan ‘team orders’ at the time, but given Ralf’s slightly erratic overtaking ability at the time it probably was the best decision in the end.

    Also Johnny Herbert winning in the Stewart in the European race in 1999 – possibly a little fortunate, several people did fall out of the lead – Ralf and Fisichella to name just two – quite late on. But it was Herbert who was there to pick up the pieces, and there were about ten finishers or so if i remember rightly, a couple of whom should have been capable of winning.

    But my favourite of recent years, in fact very recent, is Vettel winning in the Toro Rosso -it was masterful – and unlike the other two I have mentioned it wasnt remotely fortuitous, and was not just a race domination, but a whole weekend. Brilliant brilliant achievement! It was a good enough achievement when he got it in the points, let alone on that top step.

  2. Race win? Hmm, I’m thinking race drive, and it was Damon Hill in his Arrows in Hungary before mechanical problems robbed him of the win.

    • Clare msj said on 26th February 2009, 11:16

      Yeah if it was race drive, Hill would definitely had a mention – was a brilliant achievement – that Arrows was terrible! And the fact it was only mechanical problems that robbed him as well, nothing to do with his driving was even tougher

    • ajokay said on 26th February 2009, 12:07

      Had Hill have won, that day in Hungary would have been my pick too, as with Clare, My F1 memories start at about the same time.

      But those others mentioned, Panis at Monaco in ’96, Hill in Belgium ’98, and Johnny at the ‘Ring in ’99 were just about as much luck as judgement. So for me it’ll have to be Vettel’s Monza Masterpiece last ‘summer’.

  3. Whewbacca the Cookie said on 26th February 2009, 11:09

    1996 Monte Carlo comes to mind. Panis was lucky at best but I think he’d never have won that race if more than three cars had managed to finish. That was also probably the race with the fewest finishers to date.

  4. Nuvolari at the Ring in 35.

  5. Scott Joslin said on 26th February 2009, 11:30

    Great topic – Determing what is an underdog will be interesting….Here are a few that spring to my mind

    John Watson 1982 – USA – John Started 17th on the grid I think in an slow Mclaren he managed to drag the Mclaren home first.

    Michele Alboret – 1982 – Las Vegas – Anyone expect the normally asperated Tyrell to win?

    John Watson 1983 – USA Long Beach – Another awesome performance from Watson, both Mclarens nearly failed to qualify and started 22nd and 23rd – John again stormed through the field to Win.

    Nigel Mansell 1989 – Brazil. The ferrari had not completed more than a couple of laps in testing or in qualifying, neither Berger or Mansell expected the car to finish so Mansell had booked his flights home for during the race as he was so sure he would retire – he didn’t and won.

    Nigel Mansell 1989 – Hungary – Again in disaray in qualifying, nigel started 12th on a track where you couldn’t pass, he managed to fight through the field to overtake senna in a magnificant move.

    Rubens Barrichello – 2000 – Germany – Started 18th on the Grid in tricky conditions to score his first win

  6. Clare msj said on 26th February 2009, 11:38

    Again not really an underdog, he had been threatening it on occasion, but did any one expect Button to win at Hungary 2006? And it was part merit, I think Alonso was the only one ahead of him who hit trouble close to the end, and there was the Raikkonen incident with Liuzzi early on, but Button had come from fourteenth, just as far back as Alonso and Schumacher did. Even getting near the front was a good drive. I am a little biased over this race though..

  7. Adrian said on 26th February 2009, 11:48

    Button @ Hungary 06 is a good one, but my vote goes for Johnny Herbert in the Stewart at the European GP in 99. Now there was a driver who deserved to win more races than he did…

  8. I’m ruling out all wins that involved a lot of luck and attrition – I love seeing them win, and what it means for them to do so, but I’d rather pick someone who got there on merit alone – although that’s a hard one to quantify in itself, as being one of the few remaining can be on merit as well.

    Had Hill won Hungary in the Arrows, that would’ve been up there. But then again, had Senna won in the Toleman at Monaco in the rain, that surely would’ve surpassed it.

    I honestly can’t think of an actual win, in living memory at least (and mine is shocking), that can better Vettel’s achievement at Monza last season – there was no question over his win. I remember that Ferrari were struggling for pace, and Lewis didn’t do so well in qualifying, which takes out usual major players, but I don’t think any of this detracts from Vettels win in the slightest. He capitalised on his pole position and didn’t put a strip of rubber wrong in absolute torrid conditions.

    And who could forget the celebrations in STR corner when Vettel crossed the line. STR were doing well that weekend, Bourdais didn’t capitalise in quali, but the team pulled something out the bag. It’s another thing great about this win: it was a team effort. The emotions brought out help cement Vettels win as one of the best underdog wins imo.

    • Clare msj said on 26th February 2009, 13:33

      I just watched Vettel’s win again the other day, and I completely agree with you about the emotions from everyone in the team helping to cement it as a great underdog win. Easily the best one I can remmeber, and the only one I can remember where it didnt have that element of good fortune. He just beat everyone else. Everyone had the same conditions as he did in qualifying and the race, so he didnt have any sort of advantage over others, he was just simply better and quicker than all the others that weekend. Brilliant!

      It was the same as their previous guise Minardi was like whenever they scored points, except on a much bigger scale.

  9. Michael Schumacher, Hungary 1998 (if I remember well).
    Three pit stops, tactic shifting during the race and tens round at qualifying pace.
    Amazing.
    At that time McLaren was great and all the season of Schumi was as an underdog role.

  10. Sasquatsch said on 26th February 2009, 11:54

    The first that comes to mind is Giancarlo Baghetti, who won his very first Grand Prix in 1961 in France.

    Others are Beltoise in Monaco 1972, Brambilla in Austria in 1975, Alan Jones in a Shadow in 1977 in Austria, Scheckter in the Wolf (It’s first race) in Argentina in 1977, Alboreto in the Tyrrell in Las Vegas 1982 and Panis in Monaco 1996.

    More recently I think that the win of Fisichella in a Jordan in the Brazilian GP in 2003 was unexpected. And last yeat Vettel in Monza.

    • Clare msj said on 26th February 2009, 13:38

      You know, I watched Brazil 03 the other day (I have a habit of keeping random races on dvd), and I had forgotten quite how action packed that race was. Literally you couldnt go more than about two laps without something happening, someone going off (Turn 3 was comical!). Really was a great race – probably why I kept it to be honest!

      Fisichella winning it though, whilst it was most definitely unexpected, was purely because his pit stop hadnt happened before the race got stopped. If Webber and Alonso’s crashes had happened one lap earlier, Kimi would have won, and two laps earlier DC would have won it.

    • That was certainly an eventful race, nobody was sure who won – didn’t it go Fisi, then Kimi, then back to Fisi?

      And didn’t Fisi’s Jordan throw a hissi fit, in the form of a little fire, in Parc Ferme?

  11. Scott Joslin said on 26th February 2009, 12:00

    you could argue that Boutsen’s win at the Hungaroring in 1990 was very similar to Villeneuve’s win in 1981

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIOcMuBCrk4

    There are plenty of nearly win’s we could talk about – perhaps another discussion all together

  12. I think Senna’s 1993 victory’s are underrated sometimes, as the Renault was so far superior, yet he won some races that year!
    And in 1996 Schumacher winning races was a great achievement.

    And Suzuka 2005 springs to mind. Kimi racing from the back to win the race in the very very end. What a race!
    Ok he did have the best car but still.

    • pseudohendrix said on 26th February 2009, 12:37

      I think the Gilles one at Jarama is about as good as they come. i can’t think of any that better that.

      If we are allowed to include drivers that almost won races then Stefan Bellof at Monaco in 1984 is the most incredible drive I have ever heard of or seen. Senna in that race also comes to mind but Bellof was catching him faster than he was catching Prost and was in a slower car that started further back…

  13. TommyB said on 26th February 2009, 12:56

    Damon Hill 1997 Hungary. 40 seconds ahead in the worst car on the grid before his problems with a few laps to go. It has to be

    • Mouse_Nightshirt said on 26th February 2009, 13:15

      Without a shadow of a doubt, this was one of the best drives in recent history. Just goes to show the Englishman did have some talent!

  14. i think vettel’s win in monza is the best and im not an old watcher of formula 1 but kimi’s win in suzuka 2005 is great too
    and let’s not forget alonso’s win in fugi last summer it was good too

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