Formula One

Top F1 stand-in performances – The substitutes who shined

Liam Lawson completed a successful stand-in performance in the Dutch Grand Prix, as he replaced the injured Daniel Ricciardo to make is Formula 1 debut.

Many drivers have had the opportunity to temporarily replace another driver in a team, so let’s look at the top F1 stand-in performances.

Emerson Fittipaldi – 1970 United States Grand Prix

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Photo by PA Images / Icon Sport

Even though the 1970 Unites States Grand Prix was not the first race of Emerson Fittipaldi at Lotus, his participation was very much a stand-in performance. The young Brazilian became the third driver of the team halfway through the season and drove the older Lotus 49 car, which had been introduced in 1967.

The fatal accident of Jochen Rindt at Monza left that seat vacant and Fittipaldi got promoted. He stepped into the brand new Lotus 72 for the first time at Watkins Glen. He started third and maintained that position until Jackie Stewart retired and Pedro Rodriguez pitted as he ran out of fuel.

The 23-year-old emerged triumphant by over half a minute to Rodriguez and gave Lotus another reason to celebrate. His win meant that Rindt was posthumously crowned as a World Champion, the only Formula 1 driver to achieve that feat.

Michael Schumacher – 1991 Belgian Grand Prix

Michael Schumacher's debut is one of the Top F1 stand-in performances
Photo by Aldo Liverani / Icon Sport

When Michael Schumacher made his debut, it came in strange circumstances. Jordan was in need of a driver, as Bertrand Gachot received a prison sentence for a road rage incident. At the time, the German was a driver in the sports car program of Mercedes.

The 22-year-old tested the car for one day at Silverstone and headed to Spa-Francorchamps for his debut. He had no prior experience at the circuit, despite his manager convincing team owner, Eddie Jordan, that he knew the track. Instead, his preparation was limited to a few laps around the track on a bicycle.

Despite his inexperience, Schumacher qualified seventh for the Grand Prix in the uncompetitive Jordan. It was the team’s best qualifying result of the season. His race ended after a few corners, as clutch issues forced him to park his car. His performance was impressive though and led Benetton to snatch him for the next race, despite a legal dispute with Jordan.  It was the start of a legendary career.

Alexander Wurz – 1997 Canadian Grand Prix and 2005 San Marino Grand Prix

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

An illness for Gerhard Berger ahead of the race in Montreal sidelined him for three races in 1997 and Alexander Wurz stepped into his seat. He had won the Le Mans 24 Hours a year prior and he was racing in GT equipment for 1997. A seat at Benetton seemed like a great opportunity, as the team was coming off its second podium of the season.

He grabbed the opportunity instantly, as he qualified seventh and ahead of his fast teammate, Jean Alesi. His race was even better, as he was running in the podium positions until his gearbox failed. Two more races followed for Wurz and in the last one, at Silverstone, he got his podium finish.

It led to a full-time seat at the team in 1998. After three seasons at the team, he became a test driver for McLaren. There, he would earn another opportunity to race, when Juan Pablo Montoya suffered a shoulder injury, in the 2005 race in Imola. There, he finished fourth but he was promoted on the podium when Jenson Button was disqualified because of a fuel irregularity.

Those were two of his three podium finishes in Formula 1, his third coming in the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix. That was during his last F1 season, before he moved back to sportscar, where he won the 2009 Le Mans 24 Hours.

Kamui Kobayashi – 2009 Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix

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Photo by XPB / Icon SportPhoto

Kamui Kobayashi was 23 years old when he made his Formula 1 debut and he was on the back end of a lackluster sophomore season in GP2 (which was what is now known as Formula 2). As such, his chances to join F1 were slim.

He was Toyota’s reserve driver though, so when Timo Glock broke his leg in an accident during qualifying in Suzuka, it was Kobayashi who got the call to step in for the last two races of the season.

On his debut, Kobayashi finished ninth, but he scored no points because of the old points system. He still impressed though, thanks to his stern defence against Jenson Button, who was trying to secure the championship. The final race of the season was even better for him. He started twelfth but a spectacular drive saw him cross the finish line in sixth, ahead of his experienced teammate, Jarno Trulli.

Toyota left the sport after that race, but his performances in his first two races earned him a drive at Sauber for the next three seasons. He scored one podium in Formula 1 and went on to bigger things at the World Endurance Championship, where he was crowned as champion twice and won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2021, again with Toyota.

Nyck de Vries – 2022 Italian Grand Prix

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Photo by XPB / Icon Sport

While Nyck de Vries had a pretty torrid time at Alpha Tauri this season, he would never have that seat if it was not for an impressive debut drive with Williams at Monza in 2022. At the time, the Dutchman was a test driver for Mercedes and driving for the team in Formula E.

On the Saturday of the Italian Grand Prix, Alexander Albon was ruled out because of appendicitis and de Vries was drafted in. Coincidentally, he had driven an Aston Martin in FP1 on Friday. His qualifying effort was good, as he was ahead of his teammate, Nicholas Latifi. Starting eighth, five places higher than he qualified because of others’ penalties, he was in a great spot.

In the race, he impressed with his pace, as he held on to ninth while Latifi languished in fifteenth. He scored two of the team’s eight total points in 2022 and impressed plenty, including the fans that voted him Driver of the Day and Helmut Marko, who signed him for an Alpha Tauri drive in 2023.

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