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Surprise F1 Wins and Poles

Andrew Szekler writes about the excitement of Formula One racing.

F1 is one of the more unpredictable sports today. Good performance by the drivers is not enough on its own; the sport is also based on technology. All drivers need a fast car to be able to challenge race wins and podiums.

Lewis Hamilton is an example. This seven-time world champion was racking up win after win at the end of last season, but this season he could not get anywhere near a win so far. Did Hamilton forget to drive in a few months? Of course not. He simply has a worse car this year so far.

The general pattern of F1 is that there are 1 or 2 teams that are usually much quicker than the rest, and this team/teams share the top positions throughout a season.

Luckily for us, there are sometimes surprise team and driver performances that break the pattern of the seasons, and produce a surprise winner or podium that will live in the collective memory of the fans for a long time.

Brawn 2009 Australia

The success of Brawn GP was one of the most unexpected ones in the history of the sport.

A couple of months before the season began, even the participation of the team was in question. Brawn was the former Honda team, which looked in deep trouble in early 2009 as Honda announced its retirement from the sport after the 2008 economic recession.

Nonetheless, team principal Ross Brawn was convinced that the car that Honda had designed for the 2009 season was a potential race winner. The team had shifted its focus in early 2008 to the development of the 2009 car, as it became very clear to them that the 2008 car was a solid point scorer from time to time, but there was no chance of turning that car into a race winner.

Brawn and the former staff of Honda tried to attract potential buyers for the team, but their efforts unfortunately failed. After they failed to get investors into the team, he and his colleagues decided to buy the team themselves, no doubt banking on the prospect of future success bringing in investors.

Brawn arrived late to the pre-season testing but showed incredible speed during the tests they participated in. As the team lacked any sponsors at the time, people believed they were running an illegal car in testing to attract sponsors, and this pace will fade away in the races.

These people were to be proven very wrong in Melbourne. Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello locked out the front row of the grid in qualifying, and the Brawn car looked easily the class of the field.

Button followed up his pole position by a textbook victory on Sunday, where he quite honestly never looked really threatened by anyone. Barrichello had a much more troubled race, but despite a horrid start, fought back to 4th, and finished second after a late-race collision between Vettel and Kubica.


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Jenson Button went on to win the 2009 Driver's Title.
    • Yes
    • No

Answer Key

  1. Yes

Gerhard Berger: 1997 Germany

The 1997 season was dominated by the battle between Michael Schumacher and Jaques Villeneuve for the title. Williams had the best car during the season, but a few technical errors, mistakes from Villeneuve and sheer bad luck like his incident in Australia allowed Michael Schumacher to challenge Villeneuve in an inferior car.

The former team of Schumacher, Bennetton had a decent car, but neither Berger nor Alesi were able to put in a consistent run of results.

A new tyre supplier Bridgestone entered F1 in 1997, which led to a tyre war with Goodyear. The tyres became softer than the 1996 constructions, which caused Bennetton more trouble than any other team.

Berger was also forced to miss a few races in the middle of the season with an illness.

He made his comeback with a bang in Germany. Benetton was finally able to exploit the full potential of the car, and Berger put it on the pole. He was followed in the second position by surprise man Giancarlo Fisichella, who put his Jordan in the front row. Surprisingly the title contenders were left behind, especially Villeneuve, who qualified only 9th.

Berger and Fisichella raced long battle for the win, while Schumacher had to settle for third, which later turned into a lucky second when a puncture forced Fisichella to retire.

Berger and Fisichella were on different strategies, so the race between the two was even more interesting. Fisichella had the better of Berger after the last stop of the Austrian, but using his fresher tyres Berger passed his rival and motored away to a memorable last win of his long career.

Pastor Maldonado: 2012 Spain

2012 was a very strange year. Especially the early part of the season was dominated by the tricky Pirelli tyres. These tyres were very sensitive, degraded unusually quickly and had a narrow operational window.

The first seven races of the season were won by seven different teams, as seemingly nobody was able to fully understand the tyres.

Me and my mates, who liked to make predictions quickly gave up on this habit, and joked that the Pirrelli lottery decided the winnera in 2012.

Jenson Button won the first race, Fernando Alonso the second, Nico Rosberg the third and Sebastian Vettel the fourth.

Lewis Hamilton looked like he was the quickest man in the fifth round in Barcelona, but he lost his pole position after some irregularity. This left Pastor Maldonado of Williams to start the race from the first race.

Still, as Maldonado only had an 8th place that season, most people expected that either Fernando Alonso, who was regarded as the best driver of the field, or Kimi Raikkonen, who had just put in a stunning second place the previous race will dispose of Maldonado on Sunday, the list of this people included me of course.

We were to be proven very wrong, as Maldonado put in the race of his life to fight off the challenge of Fernando Alonso to win his first, and ultimately only victory in F1.

The two man most of us expected to fight for the win had to settle for second and third, a battle which Alonso edged by a few tenths of a second.

Sebastian Vettel: 2008 Italy

Sebastian Vettel is a man who hold many records in F1, usually one of the records which have or had in their description the word youngest.

He became the youngest race winner in F1 in the 2008 Italian GP. The win came out of nowhere and surprised everyone from what I can remember.

The 2008 season was dominated by McLaren and Ferrari, and by the Italian GP, the early season challenge of BMW and Robert Kubica was fading away. Yet, the race in Monza was to bring in what nobody expected.

The whole weekend was wet, and qualifying was no different. Lewis Hamilton was widely regarded as the best wet weather driver in the field, so most expected him to dominate the weekend.

It did not work out like that at all, and Hamilton and his title rival Kimi Raikkonen were out of qualifying very quickly. The third title contender Felipe Massa did better than his rivals, but he only managed sixth place in the end.

It was Sebastian Vettel, from underdog team Scuderia Toro Rosso, that dominated qualifying and took pole position. He was followed by Hamilton’s teammate Heikki Kovalainen and Red Bull man Mark Webber.

Still, as Kovalainen was lining up next to Vettel, the smart money was on him to win the race on Sunday.

It did not work out like that at all. The race was soaking wet, just like the qualifying, and Vettel walked away from Kovalainen during the race. If anyone looked like challenging the German, it was Kovalainen’s teammate Lewis Hamilton, who had a storming drive through the field.

Unfortunately for Hamilton, the track was not drying quickly enough, and when he made his tyre stops, he had to put on full wets again, only to return to the pits some laps later for intermediates. The extra stop completely ruined Hamilton’s one-stop strategy and left Vettel off the hook, who took a comfortable win in the end.

Giancarlo Fisichella: Belgium 2009

The pole position of Giancarlo Fisichella in the 2009 Belgian GP was for me the biggest surprise I have seen since I have started watching F1.

Unlike the other surprise results I have mentioned, Fisichella did not have a top car as Berger or Button had. Nor was the 2009 season affected by unpredictable tyres like 2012, or weather like Vettel’s win in 2008 Italy. Fisichella’s pole position was in bone dry conditions, and he took the pole because he simply was the quickest man of the day.

The result came as a huge shock because the Belgian GP was already in the 12th race of the season, and Fisichella had not scored a single point that season so far, nor did his teammate Sutil fare any better, as he was yet to score a point also. Yet, Fisichella out of nowhere and in stable dry conditions beat everyone to take pole position.

As always, people tried to rationalize the shock, and most were predicting that Fisichella will fall behind during the race.

It did not work out like that at all. Fisichella got away well and build an early lead after the start, but a crash after the start negated his advantage when the SC was deployed. The SC bunched up the field, and unluckily for Fisichella, it was Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari behind him. The Ferrari had the KERS system, which gave Raikkonen an extra 60 horsepower. Using his KERS, Raikkonen passed Fisichella at the restart, but he was never able to pull away from the veteran Italian, who remained in his tail all throughout the race.

The KERS allowed Raikkonen to fend off Fisichella and score Ferrari’s only win of 2009, but it was Fisichella who was the hero of the day and put in performance throughout the weekend that will live on in the collective memory of the sport for decades.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler