5 best performances by Formula One debutants

Lewis Hamilton McLaren 2007
Then Mclaren-Mercedes driver Hamilton finished on the podium on debut
Anuradha Santhanam

The 2016 season has seen a number of drivers make their Formula One debuts - and a new driver made his at the Bahrain Grand Prix. 2015 GP2 champion Stoffel Vandoorne, as reserve driver for McLaren, took over the seat as a result of Fernando Alonso’s injuries.

After we saw three new drivers debut at the Australian Grand Prix – Jolyon Palmer for Renault, andPascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto for Manor, we see Vandoorne the fourth rookie on the grid.

Lewis Hamilton

The Briton recently won his third championship title – and second in a row – at the end of two dominant seasons for constructors Mercedes AMG Petronas. Although the car has been the strongest on the grid for two years, Hamilton has impressed since he made his Formula One debut in 2007 with the erstwhile McLaren-Mercedes.

In a race entirely dominated from start to finish by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, rookie Hamilton qualified in fourth despite some very shaky moments in the session.

Despite a heavier fuel load than teammate Alonso, the Briton managed to hold on through pit stops and nervousness to take a podium spot, finishing third in his debut race in Formula One.

Jacques Villeneuve

Jacques Villeneuve Williams Damon Hill
Like father, like son – Villeneuve emulated the success of father Gilles

The son of Formula One icon Gilles, Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve made his Formula One debut at the 1996 Australian Grand Prix with Williams alongside another son of a Formula One driver – Briton Damon Hill.

Villeneuve had already proved his racing credentials with single-seater series wins in the United States, and followed his father’s footsteps into Formula One that year. At only 24-years-old, Jacques Villeneuve outraced his experienced teammate – and every other driver on the board – by qualifying in pole position.

He would eventually finish in second after an oil leak late in the race marred his progress somewhat.

Between Hill and Villeneuve, Williams locked out the front row in both qualifying and race.

Hill would eventually win the championship that year, becoming the only son of a Formula One world champion to also win a championship – but a strong Villeneuve would win the title the following year.

Giancarlo Baghetti

Giancarlo Baghetti Ferrari
1961 debutant Baghetti won his F1 debut race

Although not now a ‘known’ name in the world of Formula One, former Ferrari driver Baghetti is one of only three drivers in the history of motorsport to win their first world championship race.

He made his Formula One debut in 1961 with Ferrari, and with a less-than-ideal qualifying session, the Italian started the French Grand Prix of 1961 in 12th Neither driver nor fans likely fancied Baghetti’s chances, but he raced flat out until the very end of the race, and would eventually seal his race win in the final 100m of the race after pushing against Porsche's Dan Gurney.

It was Baghetti’s only win in Formula One.

Jean Alesi

Jean Alesi
French driver Jean Alesi was noticed on debut

Not many drivers can say they made Ayrton Senna fight to win – but Jean Alesi did just that, and on debut.

The Frenchman made his debut at the French Grand Prix of 1989, driving for Tyrell-Ford alongside Briton Jonathan Palmer. Alesi had gone 7th quickest in the practice session preceding qualifying, and had already impressed watchers. He was unable to replicate that in qualifying, however, and would end up qualifying halfway through the grid in 16th.

He pulled out all the stops during the race, however, and even managed to lead it for a time as he fought Ayrton Senna for the win. The Brazilian would end up retiring as his differential failed, with teammate Alain Prost taking victory as Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese rounded off the podium.

But it was this debut that truly put Alesi on the Formula One map.

Mark Webber

Mark Webber Minardi 2002
Before his success with Red Bull, Webber struggled in Formula One

The talented Australian driver did not have the easiest entry into Formula One. Webber struggled to enter the notoriously expensive sport early on, and it would take him years before Australian tycoon Paul Stoddart agreed to underwrite the budget for him to test for Arrows in 1999.

Even after his talent was noticed, Webber was not very lucky, losing out on a test driver spot to Fernando Alonso that year.

He finally made his debut in 2002, at his home race – the Australian Grand Prix, for Minardi, known for being one of the least financially viable teams on the grid, with a car that lacked the power or aerodynamics of the others and a team seriously short on budget. He qualified low, in 18th, and began the race near the back of the grid.

The Australian raced the entire track with a faulty launch control and a broken differential, pushing on to race as a shunt between Rubens Barichello and Ralf Schumacher forced a number of other drivers to retire.

Webber’s biggest competition following the issue was the experienced Finn Mika Salo, whom he managed to fend off, with the Australian finishing in 5th and becoming only the fourth Australian driver to score championship points.

Edited by Staff Editor


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