What was the best underdog race win?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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

Read more about the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix

63 comments on “What was the best underdog race win?”

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  1. I suggested the question and now I’m amazed at the sheer quantity of stuff you guys have mentioned, I think I’ll have a really great time researching all those races! I don’t have an answer myself, so many GPs seen from 35 years ago but… my Alzheimer is worsening, I can only recall a superb race from Gilles blocking everyone else, must have been that ’81 Jarama GP Keith voted for. Also those early Ayrton rain masterpieces, Monaco ’84 (with a…Toleman! and if ever was a moral winner it was then…) and Estoril ’85 when he took a whole lap from the third and more than a minute from the runner-up. More recent memories are Donington ’93, (Senna’s car was “sub-par” at least with respect to the Williams) and of course, last year Vettel’s masterpiece.

  2. Not a win, but Schumi finishing second despite only having fifth gear for half of the race is quite amazing.

  3. I think Fisi in Brazil ’03 was pretty spectacular. Ok, so the race was stopped and he hadn’t pitted yet, but he was the fastest driver on track for the last part of the race, and by a good margin too if I remember it correctly. Vettel was pretty amazing – because it wasn’t down to luck – but the Ferrari power and Red Bull chassis takes a little bit away from it. They’re pretty far from Minardi these days, really. Love the story about Tony Brooks though, have to check up on that one!

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