Formula One

F1’s Biggest Upsets – The most surprising wins in Formula 1 history

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Photo by Photo4 / Icon Sport

Big upsets are one of the most beautiful aspects of all sporting competitions and for Formula 1 it is no different. We have seen many upsets in the 73 years of the most prestigious championship in motorsport and we are going to focus on a few of the races that produced shocking winners and unexpected results, from a more modern era.

1996 Monaco Grand Prix

The circuit of Monte Carlo is famous for its difficulty in overtaking, so for someone to win from fourteenth on the grid, you know it would take a crazy race. And not only that, but it was a midfielder that came out on top, the French combination of Olivier Panis and Ligier.

The polesitter, Michael Schumacher, crashed on the opening lap on the wet track. Damon Hill dominated until his engine blew halfway through. Jean Alesi became the leader, but his suspension failed with fifteen laps to go. From there, Panis took over, having climbed on his own right through clever strategy as the track was drying. Such was the chaos, that only three cars saw the chequered flag, second-placed David Coulthard and third-placed Johnny Herbert, along with the victor.

The triumph was a huge outlier in the season for the team, which only had a best finish of fifth and five more points outside of Monaco. For the Frenchman, it was his first and only career victory. His promising career took a turn for the worst in the next season, as he broke both his legs in a crash at Canada. As for Ligier, it was their first win since 1981 as well as its last, with the team getting sold at the end of that season.

2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

This race took place on the April 6th and the underdog winner did not have the victory until five days later! The 2003 Brazilian GP was a chaotic race, with heavy rain providing a huge challenge for all drivers. Giancarlo Fisichella, driving for Jordan, started the race in an impressive eighth position, his first of two top ten starts in the season.

Rubens Barrichello qualified on pole at home soil, but was overtaken by David Coulthard as soon as the race started. The Scot’s teammate, Kimi Raikkonen showed impressive pace early on and soon emerged as the leader. Barrichello led again briefly, until mechanical gremlins halted his car on lap 46. Six laps later, Coulthard -who had taken the lead- pitted for new tyres. Raikkonen became the leader on lap 53, before getting passed by Fisichella on lap 54.

Then, Mark Webber crashed and Fernando Alonso collected debris and hit the wall hard. The red flag was out, and with the 75% of the race completed, the Grand Prix was over. Confusion over whether results from lap 53 or 54 should be counted reigned. Initially, Raikkonen was declared the winner and stepped on the top step of the podium, but after an investigation the win was given to Fisichella, who claimed his trophy two weeks later, ahead of the race at Imola. The pair would only score two more points in 2003, six months later.

2008 Italian Grand Prix

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

Sebastian Vettel may have one of the most prestigious resumes in Formula 1 history, but his maiden victory was anything but expected. The German, 21 years old at the time, was driving for Toro Rosso, the outfit previously known as Minardi, the famous minnows of F1.

Neither the team or the driver had ever stepped on the podium prior to the very wet 2008 Italian GP, but they dominated the weekend, starting from pole and showing commanding pace from lights to flag. While the usual suspects for victory struggled further back, Vettel remained unfazed by the rain and took an unexpected first victory in Monza, ahead of Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica.

Vettel showed more signs of incredible talent and earned a graduation to Red Bull, a move that proved fruitful and earned him four World Championships by 2013, the highlight of an amazing career. Toro Rosso remained in the midfield and didn’t win again under this name again. The outfit did win again though, as you will read later.

2012 Spanish Grand Prix

On the 13th of May 2012, it is fair to say that one of the most shocking winners in Formula 1 history emerged and it was a cult hero as well. Pastor Maldonado, notorious to F1 fans for his tendency of crashing climbed on the top step of the podium. The Venezuelan inherited pole position after Lewis Hamilton was disqualified from qualifying for not having a sufficient sample of fuel.

However, the race was anything but straight forward for the second-year driver, who at the time had a best finish of eighth. Fernando Alonso, starting second, took over the lead of the race heading to the first corner and held onto the lead for the first half of the Grand Prix. Maldonado drove a fantastic race though, stayed close and proceeded to undercut the home hero on the second round of stops to reclaim the lead, which he maintained with a calm drive.

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

With a gap of three seconds at the chequered flag, the Venezuelan emerged victorious! The reasons behind the shocking resurgence are unknown, although it could very much come down to Maldonado finally being able to convert a good qualifying performance. For Williams, it was the first win since the 2004 season finale at Interlagos and the last to this day, while Maldonado left F1 at the end of 2015 with no more podiums to his name.

2020 Italian Grand Prix

Twelve years after Sebastian Vettel triumphed behind the wheel of a car built in Faenza, Pierre Gasly repeated the feat. Two were the main differences, the first being the rebranding of the team as Alpha Tauri and the second being the way the victory was achieved.

Gasly qualified tenth and stayed in the midfield until lap 17, when the race changed. Kevin Magnussen’s car broke down on pit entry, forcing a safety car intervention and a pitlane closure. Lewis Hamilton, the leader, stopped despite that and earned a penalty, while the rest of the field pitted after bunching up. Not Gasly though, as he had already pitted earlier and would restart third. He passed Lance Stroll in a subsequent red flag restart and became the leader after Hamilton served his penalty.

Despite late pressure from Carlos Sainz, Gasly became a Grand Prix winner, a year after getting demoted from Red Bull to Alpha Tauri. It remains his only victory so far, with two more podiums to his name and he hopes to add to his tally driving for Alpine.

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