Lewis Hamilton’s testing debut for Mercedes did not go according to plan when a brake failure caused him to crash in Jerez after just 15 laps in the car.
He’ll be anxious for a better race debut for his new team. As will Sergio Perez, Nico Hulkenberg and Charles Pic, all of whom have donned new overalls this year.
And some of them might even have the chance to make a perfect start to their new relationship with a first-time win. Guest writer Greg Morland picks out ten of the best first-time winners with new teams.
Juan Manuel Fangio
The original Mercedes Grand Prix team made their first appearance in the world championship almost 60 years ago. Juan Manuel Fangio, the 1951 world champion, had begun the season with Maserati and scored two victories while he waited for them to appear.
Mercedes had been a major force in pre-war Grand Prix racing and they were quickly restored to that position on their return. The W196 was the class of the field at Reims. At the wheel of the elegant “Type Monza” closed wheel car Fangio lapped everyone but his team mate Karl Kling on his way to victory.
After Mercedes pulled out of motorsport following the Le Mans disaster of 1955, Fangio moved to Ferrari, where he again won at the first time of asking. This time, though, he shared the win and the points with team mate Luigi Musso, who handed over his car midway through the race when Fangio suffered mechanical trouble.
1961 French Grand Prix, Ferrari
Never mind winning for a new team, Giancarlo Baghetti took victory in his first ever world championship Grand Prix for Ferrari at Reims in 1961.
Admittedly, the 26-year-old Italian had already taken part in two non-championship races for the Scuderia earlier that season – and won those too. Having been rewarded with a shot at a world championship event in a Ferrari, Baghetti capitalised on the retirements of several frontrunners to make it three in a row in France, beating Dan Gurney to the chequered flag by a tenth of a second.
It seemed F1 had a new star on its hands, but Baghetti’s career had already peaked. Despite featuring in a further 20 world championship events over the subsequent six years, Baghetti managed just two additional points finishes.
But that superb debut at Reims ensured Giancarlo Baghetti would go down in the history as the first and so far only driver – with the exception of Giuseppe Farina and Indianapolis 500 driver Johnnie Parsons in the inaugural world championship season – to win a championship Grand Prix at the very first attempt.
1967 South African Grand Prix, Cooper
With Sergio Perez moving to McLaren and Esteban Gutierrez promoted to a race seat at Sauber, the 43-year wait for a Mexican Grand Prix winner could be nearing its conclusion.
Of the four previous Mexican drivers to have started a Grand Prix, Pedro Rodriguez enjoyed the most success, with two victories and seven podium finishes. The first of his wins, at Kyalami in 1967, came in only his tenth world championship start and his first for Cooper.
It came at the expense of Zimbabwean privateer John Love, who came close to causing a major upset by winning in his own Cooper, until he had to top up with fuel late in the race.
Rodriquez departed Cooper at the end of the season, and later drove for Ferrari and BRM. However, as was all too common with drivers of the era, he was killed during competition. Rodriguez crashed and died in a sports car race at the Norisring in 1971.
1971 South African Grand Prix, Ferrari
Mario Andretti was a late entrant to the world of motorsport – mainly due to his turbulent early life in which he lived in a refugee camp before emigrating from his native Italy to the United States at the age of 15.
Making his Grand Prix debut in a Lotus in the 1968 United States Grand Prix, Andretti took a sensational pole position and ran second in the early stages of the race, before bodywork damage and later a clutch failure ruined his afternoon.
At first Andretti prioritised racing in America over competing in Grands Prix. In the two seasons following his debut, he made just eight starts for Lotus and March, with a solitary podium all he had to show for them.
But a move to Ferrari revitalised Andretti’s F1 career. On his debut for the Italian marque at Kyalami, he qualified a competitive fourth, and beat Jackie Stewart to victory on race day.
Eleven years later, with a world championship and 11 further wins under his belt, 42-year-old Andretti returned to Ferrari to replace Didier Pironi, who had suffered career-ending accident at Hockenheim a month earlier. Incredibly, he again took pole at the first time attempt at Monza, before finishing third in the race. It provided some respite in an otherwise sombre season for the Scuderia, which also saw the death of Gilles Villeneuve.
1977 Argentinian Grand Prix, Wolf
Would you expect a car produced by the likes of Harvey Postlethwaite, Patrick Head, Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey to do any less than win its first race?
There was just one Wolf WR1 on the grid at Buenos Aires for the first race of the 1977. It was driven by Jody Scheckter, who gave Walter Wolf’s eponymous team a debut victory.
He was aided by the retirement of the drivers who had filled the first five positions on the grid and took the chequered flag 43 seconds clear of his closest challenger.
But this was no one-off: further wins followed in Monaco (pictured) and Canada. But Scheckter only spent one more season with the team before joining Ferrari and winning the world championship.
Having rejected an offer to remain at Brabbham, the team at which he had won two world titles, Nelson Piquet switched to Williams for the 1986 season. With the best car on the grid at his disposal and two world titles on his resume, the Brazilian was favourite to win the championship.
Piquet hit the ground running with an impressive win at the season-opening Brazilian Grand Prix after team mate Nigel Mansell tangled with Ayrton Senna and crashed.
But things soon turned sour at Williams. Despite enjoying the internal support of engine suppliers Honda, and an agreement with team boss Frank Williams that he would be the undisputed lead driver, Piquet found himself battling with Mansell for the championship.
In the end, neither won it, as McLaren’s Alain Prost capitalised on the Williams infighting to claim his second world title by just two points.
Piquet did make amends the following year with his third and final championship success, but by then the damage had been done, and he departed for Lotus – along with the Honda engine supply – at the end of the season.
1989 Brazilian Grand Prix, Ferrari
Though largely considered synonymous with Williams, Nigel Mansell’s association with the Grove based team was punctuated by a two year spell at Ferrari. He was the last driver to be signed to the team by founder Enzo Ferrari before his death.
After a miserable season in the Judd-engined Williams in 1988, Mansell looked to revitalise his career at Ferrari. But expectations for the season opening Brazilian Grand Prix weren’t high – the Ferrari 640’s new semi-automatic gearbox had been unreliable in testing. So much so that Mansell had bought tickets on a plane home which was scheduled to depart before the end of the race.
But the Ferrari lasted the distance to the surprise of everyone, above all all Mansell. He won the race before somehow managing to cut his hands on his winner’s trophy.
Despite the brilliant start to his Ferrari career, Mansell only added two more Ferrari victories to his tally, and never threatened a championship challenge. In typically theatrical style, he announced his retirement when his car broke down during the British Grand Prix the following year, before backtracking and re-signing for Williams.
There aren’t many instances of a debut win with a new team being predictable, but Alain Prost was the clear favourite to win his first race for Williams in 1993.
This was partly because of an extraordinary turn of events which saw Williams dominate the 1992 championship yet both of their drivers leave the team. Having learned of Prost’s imminent arrival Mansell left the team to race in IndyCar. Meanwhile Riccardo Patrese, expecting Prost to take his place, had already signed for Benetton.
So Prost started his first race for Williams in a car which was the class of the field and alongside Damon Hill, who had just two Grand Prix starts to his name.
Senna gave Prost a hard time but couldn’t keep the Williams driver from the win. That set the tone of the season to come but the superiority of the FW15C ultimately told. Prost took seven wins and thirteen pole positions en route to his fourth world championship.
This wasn’t Prost’s only winning start following a change of team. Nine years previously he won at Jacarepagua on his return to McLaren, having previously departed following a miserable debut season in 1980.
There were three drivers in contention for victory at the 2007 Australian Grand Prix who were making their first starts for new teams, including reigning champion Fernando Alonso in his first race for McLaren and rookie team mate Lewis Hamilton.
But the win went to Kimi Raikkonen, who looked perfectly cast as Michael Schumacher’s successor at Ferrari as he won on his debut for them.
Raikkonen was never challenged as he strolled to a comfortable victory, and Alonso followed the Ferrari home eight seconds behind. His early lead in the points standings didn’t last long, but he regained it in sensational style at the season finale to score a memorable championship victory.
- 2007 Australian Grand Prix: Raikkonen wins on Ferrari debut as Hamilton starts F1 career with podium
Raikkonen’s victory for Ferrari did not mark the start of a new Schumacher era at the team. After a disappointing 2008 and 2009 he was dropped and replaced by Alonso. He duly became the latest in a long line of drivers to make the perfect start to his Ferrari career by winning his first race for the Scuderia.
Despite being outpaced by new team mate Felipe Massa in qualifying Alonso muscled his way through into second at the start – setting the tone for their future relationship – before inheriting the lead from an ailing Sebastian Vettel towards the end of the race.
In fact, Alonso has proven to be something of a debut race specialist. In addition to the aforementioned first race podium for McLaren, the Spaniard took points at the first attempt during both his stints at Renault.
Over to you
There are other drivers who technically scored debut wins with teams. Giancarlo Fisichella won his first start for Renault in 2005, though he had previously driven for the team when they were Benetton.
Likewise Jenson Button gave Brawn a debut victory in 2009, though he had been with the team through two changes of identity including BAR and Honda.
Which other drivers excelled on their debut for a new team, in F1 or elsewhere in the world of motor sport? And which career moves didn’t get off to such a good start? Have your say in the comments.
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