One ’n’ done: Formula 1's greatest one-off wins

One ’n’ done: Formula 1's greatest one-off wins

Formula 1

One ’n’ done: Formula 1's greatest one-off wins

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Formula 1’s biggest technical shake-up in decades is underway, and what little we can deduce from test times and reliability so far, we’re expecting some unusual winners in 2014 – perhaps from drivers who may never win again. So which F1 drivers scored the greatest one-off wins since the World Championship began in 1950? Adam Cooper delves into the history books…

The history books reveal that just 22 drivers have scored a single Grand Prix victory, assuming one doesn’t include any winner of the Indy 500, anomalously included in the World Championship from 1950-’60. Take out Luigi Fagioli and Luigi Musso – who both shared ‘half’ wins with Juan Manuel Fangio when asked to hand over their cars – and it becomes an even more exclusive group.

It includes a few names who would or could have gone on to score more victories had fate not intervened, such as Lorenzo Bandini (ABOVE, winning at Zeltweg, Austria in 1964), Ludovico Scarfiotti, Francois Cevert, Carlos Pace, Gunnar Nilsson and Alessandro Nannini. Others simply enjoyed their day of days, when everything fell into place and they elevated themselves from being mere grand prix drivers to grand prix winners.

Almost by definition, few one-offs were dominant victories achieved from the front – very often either wet weather or mechanical attrition ensured that the ball bounced around the roulette wheel a few times before finally settling on a lucky winner.

So what of the top 10 greatest one-off wins? Some races involved so much good fortune for the eventual winner that they didn’t earn a spot. Giancarlo Baghetti may have won his first ever World Championship Prix start at Reims in 1961, but his triumph came only after his three senior Ferrari teammates retired, leaving him in comfortably the fastest car to reach the checkered flag. That same year Innes Ireland scored a somewhat fortuitous first win for Team Lotus at Watkins Glen – but that was a race Ferrari skipped completely.

However, some worthy victors just missed the grade. Cevert won in Watkins Glen in 1971 after teammate Jackie Stewart hit handling problems, but he did beat the rest of the field fair and square, while Scarfiotti put in a solid performance to triumph on home ground for Ferrari at Monza in 1966.

Nor did we consider Pastor Maldonado, Heikki Kovalainen or Robert Kubica for this list, since all three are still active in motorsport, and we would love to see the last named make a return to F1.

It’s interesting to note that in most cases on our final list, the car involved was also a rare winner: Seven were one-off wins for that marque in the given season. In two other examples (Peter Gethin and Pace) the cars had a second win with a different driver. Only the Lotus 78 of Nilsson was – in the hands of his teammate Mario Andretti – a regular pace setter.

Just to clarify – we’re not ranking the driving talent of the winners, but the quality of the win.

10. 1959 Dutch GP, Jo Bonnier (BRM)

Swedish gentleman racer Jo Bonnier is unfairly remembered as a journeyman whose F1 career fizzled out in 1971. But a decade or more earlier he was capable of running regularly in the top six, and on one weekend in Holland in 1959, he did rather better than that.

After scratching around in privateer Maserati 250Fs, “JoBo” joined BRM at the end of 1958, which led to a full-time drive the following year. The rear-engined Cooper was already the car to beat, and so the BRM P25 was part of a fading generation. But at Zandvoort Bonnier took pole, boosted by having tested the week before. In the first part of the race, he battled with the works Coopers of Masten Gregory and Jack Brabham, until both suffered gear selection problems, and the BRM got back in front. With 15 laps to go, Bonnier lost the lead to Stirling Moss, but just three laps after that the Rob Walker-run Cooper also suffered gearbox dramas. Bonnier retook the lead and ran steadily to the flag to record BRM’s first ever grand prix win.

Bonnier raced in F1 for another 12 seasons, but never bettered fifth place.


 

9. 1995 Canadian GP, Jean Alesi (Ferrari)

It might not have been a classic race, but there was so much emotion involved in Jean Alesi’s one and only victory that it earned its place in our top 10. The Frenchman had been a big name in the sport since his early races with Tyrrell marked him as a future star, but his first three years with Ferrari brought a lot of disappointment as he struggled with a car that was at best the third fastest in the field, and was sometimes far worse than that.

His fourth year with the Scuderia started well, despite Benetton and Williams continuing to set the pace, and he picked up second places in Argentina and Imola. In Montreal from fifth on the grid he passed Gerhard Berger and Damon Hill and worked his way into another solid second place. Then leader Michael Schumacher hit an electronic glitch, and fell off the pace. Alesi swept into the lead with 11 laps to go and made it safely to the flag. He’d waited 91 races, it was his 31st birthday, and he was driving the famous No. 27 Ferrari on Gilles Villeneuve’s home ground. The tears flowed.

Jean would race on for another six seasons, but unfathomably his career ended with just one win on a résumé that included 31 other podium finishes.

 

8. 1975 Brazilian GP: Carlos Pace (Brabham)

Carlos Pace had always lived in the shadow of countryman Emerson Fittipaldi, but many believed that he was just as talented as his fellow Brazilian. After driving for Frank Williams and John Surtees, Pace got his big break when he moved to Brabham in the middle of 1974. In the final race of the year at Watkins Glen he took runner-up spot behind team mate Carlos Reutemann. In the second race of ’75 at Interlagos he started only sixth, but inspired by his home crowd, drove the race of his life.

He jumped up to third on the first lap, and relieved Reutemann of second on lap 14. Leader Jean-Pierre Jarier remained out of reach, but with eight laps to go, the Shadow coasted to a halt. Pace sailed into the lead and, staying safely ahead of Fittipaldi, brought the car home to a hero’s welcome. There were podiums but no more wins before his death in a plane crash two years later, after which Interlagos was renamed as the Autodromo Jose Carlos Pace.


7. 1977 Belgian GP, Gunnar Nilsson (Lotus)

Motor racing has been steeped in tragedy over the decades, but there are few sadder stories than that of Gunnar Nilsson. He was cut down by cancer in 1978 at the age of just 29, only weeks after friend and fellow Swede Ronnie Peterson lost his life after his crash at Monza.

Nilsson had sprung to prominence at Lotus in 1976 as teammate to Mario Andretti, earning a pair of third places in his rookie season. Happy to play understudy to the master, he took over the leading role on a wet afternoon at Zolder the following year. Having qualified a career-best third, he watched as front row men Andretti and John Watson tangled on the first lap, and Gunnar himself went off in the confusion, dropping to second behind Jody Scheckter. He pursued the Wolf driver before falling back after a tardy pit stop for slicks as the track dried. Thereafter he moved steadily back up the order, despite further showers making the track very difficult, before picking off Niki Lauda’s Ferrari for the lead on lap 50. Over the remaining 20 laps he pulled clear of the ’75 champion, in a mature and well-judged drive.

 

6. 1996 Monaco GP, Olivier Panis (Ligier)

Lunchtime, Monaco 1996. This writer is in the media center when a phone on a nearby desk rings unanswered. Frustrated by the noise, I pick it up. It’s an Australian radio station. Cheekily, they ask if I can I go on air and talk about the warm-up session. With no time to discuss it I agree. “The warm-up was meaningless,” I tell the night owl citizens of Sydney. “Olivier Panis was fastest for Ligier!”

Panis himself had other plans. He’d only qualified 14th, but having shown good race pace on Sunday morning, was presented with the bonus of wet track come the race. Michael Schumacher crashed out on the first lap, and luck smiled on Panis as he picked his way through the field, giving Ferrari’s Eddie Irvine a little nudge into the barrier along the way. Both Damon Hill and Jean Alesi both retired from the lead, and the Frenchman hit the front on lap 60. Only four cars were still running at the flag as Ligier scored its first win for 15 years. The best Panis could manage over the balance of the season was a fifth.


5. 1965 Mexican GP, Richie Ginther (Honda)

In his first six seasons as an F1 driver with Ferrari and latterly BRM Richie Ginther proved to be a steady performer who was adept at bringing a car home, a handy talent in an era of fragile machinery. Remarkably he had earned eight second places without actually having the luck to win a race.

For 1965, though, he accepted an offer to join Honda. The Japanese marque had made a low-key F1 debut only the previous year, and yet Ginther soon proved to be a strong qualifier, and even led at Monza. But there was little in the way of hard results until the finale in Mexico City, which was also the last race of the 1.5-liter formula. Ginther qualified third but took the lead on the first lap when pole man Jim Clark suffered an engine problem. He remained in front for the full 65-lap duration, and managed to stay ahead of countryman Dan Gurney.

It was not only a historic first win for both Ginther and Honda, but also for Goodyear. Within two years, the Californian opted for retirement.

 

4. 1975 Austrian GP, Vittorio Brambilla (March)

Heavy rain has often tipped the odds in favor of the underdog, and that was certainly the case in the 1975 Austrian GP. In two years with the works March team the 37-year-old Italian had shown flashes of inspiration, but had never bettered fifth place. He was tainted, and not unfairly, with a reputation as a crasher, and had to put up with the nickname of the Monza Gorilla.

However, he seized his chance at a soaking wet Osterreichring. From eighth on the grid he gained a couple of spots on the first lap, before passing reigning World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi on the second. He then picked off wet weather ace Hans Stuck and Patrick Depailler to move into third. Only local hero Niki Lauda and James Hunt were still ahead, and as the rain intensified, Brambilla began to reel them in. Struggling with his setup, Lauda slipped back to third, leaving the Italian to relieve Hunt of the lead on lap 19. Ten laps later, officials bowed to pressure to stop the race, and threw the checker. The leader crossed the line, waved his fist, and promptly spun into the pit wall. The premature stoppage meant half points, but it was a win nevertheless – and the only podium of Brambilla’s career.


 

3. 2004 Monaco GP, Jarno Trulli (Renault)

Regarded as a potential World Champion when he arrived in F1 in 1997 and led the Austrian GP for the Prost team, Jarno Trulli quickly faded from memory after he was dropped by Caterham 14 years later. In between, he regularly showed great pace in qualifying and logged a few podiums, but only once did everything really click into place. At Monaco in 2004, he took a brilliant pole position, beating teammate Fernando Alonso as well as everyone else. If he could get into Ste Devote in front and stay out of trouble  – and avoid the sort of mechanical gremlins that so often seemed to bug him – the win was there for taking.

He did a perfect job, reeling off the laps and only losing the lead briefly to Alonso and Michael Schumacher when he pitted. Over the closing laps, he was caught by the BAR-Honda of Jenson Button, who was also chasing his maiden victory. Trulli survived immense pressure to win by less than half a second, and his faultless drive at the most challenging track earned what some might think to be a surprisingly high place on this list.

 

2. 1972 Monaco GP: Jean-Pierre Beltoise (BRM)
Another Monaco GP and another dominant performance, but this time achieved in the rain. Beltoise had been Matra’s French hero for several years, firstly with the Tyrrell-run team and later with the French-based works outfit. He’d scored podiums here and there, but for the most part was regarded as journeyman, albeit one of above-average ability. In 1972 he moved to BRM. His first two outings were unspectacular, but when it rained on race day at Monaco, he raised his game to another level. From fourth on the grid he shot past Jacky Ickx and Emerson Fittipaldi to claim the lead at Ste Devote and, with a clear track ahead, he put his foot down and pulled away from his pursuers at over a second a lap. As others crashed or lost time by sliding up escape roads, J-PB put in a faultless drive to eventually beat acknowledged rain expert Ickx by 32 seconds. A truly virtuoso performance, and an unexpected one, too.


 1. 1971 Italian GP, Peter Gethin (BRM)

Peter Gethin’s victory at Monza is surely the classic one-off win. The Brit never came close to repeating it, logging just a couple of sixth places, but he also remained in the record books for years to come as winner of the fastest race in history, and of the race with the closest photo finish. Quick in F5000, Gethin was drafted into McLaren in 1970 after team founder Bruce was killed in testing, but he struggled to make an impression. In the middle of the following year he moved to BRM to replace the late Pedro Rodriguez. The car was good at fast circuits, as was demonstrated when Jo Siffert won in Austria. In the slipstreaming battle in the next race at Monza, Gethin ran as low as 10th before he began to make his way up the order, helped by some attrition at the front. With four laps to go, he worked his way to the front of the lead group, only to drop back to fourth with a just lap to go. A mighty effort at Parabolica on the final lap saw him edge out Francois Cevert and slingshot past Ronnie Peterson to win by a tiny margin. It was a superb, opportunistic effort, and achievement he was destined never to come close to matching.

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