Winning isn’t easy, though sometimes the most unlikely of contenders manage to find themselves on the right side of the line. In light of Pierre Gasly’s shock triumph in one of the wildest races of recent past, we have a glimpse at five other underdog winners who defied expectations and sealed their name in the F1 record books.
5. Jenson Button – Hungary, 2006
Surprisingly, it took Jenson Button seven years and 113 races to clinch his maiden Grand Prix win. By 2009 Button, a newly crowned world champion, was one of the more complete drivers in F1, but in 2006 many thought the Brit was just never going to stand aloft on the rostrum given his unfortunate luck.
That all changed at a wet Hungaroring, a venue that very rarely receives rain, and Button’s unreliable Honda had suffered an engine failure earlier in the weekend which dropped him to 14th on the grid. The car was also only fuelled for 16 laps when it lined up for the start of the race while the preferred strategy in changeable weather conditions was to run as far as possible to minimise time spent in the pitlane.
That said, Button capitalised on the errors of his rivals around him. Michael Schumacher collided with Giancarlo Fisichella, pole-sitter Kimi Raikkonen found trouble with the lapped Vitantonio Liuzzi before race-leader Fernando Alonso retired due to an errant wheel that had come adrift on Lap 51.
It left Button with a race to lose and after a quick stop for dry tyres was able to cruise to his first Grand Prix win.
4. Giancarlo Fisichella – Brazil, 2003
Having failed to win with the champion Benetton team, Fisichella would finally claim victory on his 103rd Grand Prix start with the uncompetitive Jordan team which for the most part spent most of its time at the back of the grid.
The Interlagos circuit was hit with biblical rainfall during the race which had several drivers aquaplane and crash out of the race – including Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso who suffered a hefty accident which ended the race prematurely.
Fisichella had made the inspired decision to pit on Lap 7 to fuel to the end of the race and had miraculously found himself in the lead when the race was red-flagged. He would gloriously cross the line, flames licking from his Jordan as it had caught fire on the previous lap.
While the victory was initially awarded to Kimi Raikkonen due to a timing error, Fisichella would duly receive his maiden GP win at the next race at Imola.
3. Pastor Maldonado – Spain, 2012
Perhaps infamously known for his chronic issue with finding the concrete wall, Maldonado certainly silenced his doubters with a flawless drive at Barcelona in 2012 with the uncompetitive Williams squad.
Promoted to pole following the disqualification of Lewis Hamilton, Maldonado kept his composure all race to survive a full-blooded attack by Fernando Alonso to secure an emotional sole F1 win. No Ferrari in terms of pace, Maldonado and Williams executed a wily undercut strategy to place himself ahead of Alonso who led most of the opening half of the race.
The Venezuelan would only finish in the top five once more in his career.
2. Sebastian Vettel – Italy, 2008
Before he was a four-time world champion who was heralded as ‘the next Schumacher’, Vettel played an impressive hand in only his second season to claim an emphatic maiden win at a wet Italian Grand Prix.
Driving the Adrian Newey-designed Toro Rosso STR-3, Vettel shocked the F1 paddock by outperforming his way to pole position in a wet qualifying. Many predicted Vettel and Toro Rosso would not be able to retain the position come to the race given its documented unreliability exacerbated by four DNFs on the trot from Australia to the Spanish Grand Prix.
But the young German defied expectations as he went on to charge away from the challenging pack, failing to let a blazing Lewis Hamilton deter his focus as he expertly guided his way around the slippery Monza circuit to an incredible victory 12-seconds up on second-placed Heikki Kovalainen.
1. Olivier Panis – Monaco, 1994
Until 1994, no driver had won the Monaco Grand Prix from lower than eighth and French squad Ligier hadn’t won in over 15 years. Even Olivier Panis had only stood on the F1 podium twice before though no one expected the Frenchman to do much from 14th on the grid on the streets of Monte Carlo.
But an earlier shower of rain had dampened the circuit and several drivers were caught out by the treacherous conditions. So much so that the field of 22 was reduced to 16 by the end of the opening lap. The lead would change hands on Lap 41 when Damon Hill experienced an engine failure before Jean Alesi retired with suspension drama 20 laps later.
This left Panis with a shock lead which he would not relinquish as one-by-one drivers dropped out of the race until just four survived at the chequered flag.
The car was immediately shipped to a museum in Japan and Panis wouldn’t reunite with it until just three years ago with the 20th anniversary of a win many consider one of the greatest of them all.