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5 F1 drivers who did not live up to their potential

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Top 5 / Top 10
2.80K   //    Timeless

Despite having prodigious talent, Rubens Barichello played second fiddle to Michael Schumacher for most of his careerWe have seen some immense talent over the years in Formula One. Some drivers started off on a high, displaying their immense talent from the get-go and maintaining it. Others started off relatively unobtrusively, only to build themselves up and become bankable, reliable drivers for their teams. Several others were either a flash in the pan  â with sporadic, unexpected bursts of talent and skill â but not doing much else after, while several others have showed immense talent that has not gone the distance.We profile five of them.

#5 Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya Kimi Raikkonen Williams 2001
Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates his win at the Brazilian GP in 2004 with 2nd placed teammate Kimi Raikkonen

Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya began his motorsports career later than many he was 22 when he first joined Formula 3000, beginning F1 testing the next year for Williams.

Although he ran testing, he would not have his own Formula One seat until 4 years later, when, in 2001, he was signed to Williams. In the meantime, however, he had already won the CART Championships and showed immense promise.

Partnering Ralf Schumacher at Williams, Montoya showed racing skill from his debut at the Australian Grand Prix that year, and through the year showed an uncanny ability to move up the grid quickly after beginning from what would otherwise have been losing positions outright.

Like several other drivers, he was let down repeatedly by engine failures. That was not the only issue that plagued the driver, however, as he found it difficult to find consistency in his form.

He managed to finish a highest of 3rd in the drivers championship two years in a row, with Williams.

Montoya did manage something few others did in the coming years, however giving a challenge to Ferrari, who had been in charging, dominant form and barely left 1st or 2nd to any other team. Despite no wins in 2002, he managed to finish in 3rd in the drivers championship.

After leaving Williams for McLaren in 2005, a decision that had been taken the previous year, Montoyas form, which had already been on a downward spiral, got worse. The remainder of his F1 career showed very occasional flashes of brilliance, and the end was spelled rather acrimoniously, with McLaren boss Ron Dennis learning via a public announcement that Montoya had chosen to move to NASCAR instead.

Montoyas contract stood terminated with immediate effect, and he joined NASCAR soon thereafter.

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The move proved good for Montoya in the end, though; the Colombian has been racing for Team Penske in the Indy 500 since 2014, and this year finished the championships on top.

#4 Jean Alesi

Jean Alesi Jordan
In the Jordan days: Jean Alesi drove for Eddie Jordans team in 2001

Giovanni Jean Alesi drove for some of Formula Ones most iconic teams: Jordan, Bennetton, Sauber, Jordan and Ferrari.

He had what several drivers over the years notably, in this list, Kimi Raikkonen lacked; a strong passion for driving. In 1991, Alesi was on track to drive for Williams, but offered a contract by Ferrari, a team of which he had been a boyhood fan, the French-Italian driver opted for them instead.

Alesi, driving alongside his compatriot and F1 legend Alain Prost, started off the year with middling to decent results, but in the process showed an aggression that many racing enthusiasts compared to the late Gilles Villeneuve. Unfortunately for both Frenchmen, however, the Ferrari that year had repeated reliability issues, with retirements galore for Alesi.

A frustrated Prost that year declared that the car was like a truck; he took a break from Formula 1, with Alesi taking over the #1 driver mantle at Ferrari in 1992.

Although Alesis overall results were middling, with the driver a regular 4th or 5th in the championship standings by the end of each year, the wins he took were often spectacular, many of them coming in conditions other, more experienced drivers may not have been able to deal with even half as effectively; most notably of these were that years Canadian and French Grands Prix, the latter of which was raced in extremely wet conditions.

Alesi had his best results with Benetton, with a total of 13 podium finishes in the two years he was with the team. He only finished a highest of 4th in the drivers championships, however, unable to fully bring his potential to fruition, in large part due to unreliable vehicles.

After leaving Formula One, he tried his luck at DTM, Le Mans and the Indy 500 before calling it quits from motorsport in 2012.

#3 Rubens Barrichello

Rubens Barichello Ferrari 2005
Always a bridesmaid, never the bride: Rubens Barichello played second fiddle to Schumacher at Ferrari

Wrong place, wrong time or both? Several reasons led to Rubens Barrichello never being able to shine as much as he could have; one of those reasons was perhaps his iconic teammate Michael Schumacher, who many argued was favoured by the time whilst the two were teammates at Scuderia Ferrari.

Barichello was at the Prancing Horse from 2000 to 2005, and, many argue, played second string to his teammate Schumacher for the entirety of that time with team Ferrari largely responsible.

The most notorious instance of this was on full display at the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix. Held at the then A1-Ring, which has since been rechristened the Red Bull Ring, it has long been regarded one of Ferraris (and Schumachers) most suspect race wins, and one of F1s most controversial.

Qualifying in pole position, Barrichello beat the previous years qualifying time (set by teammate Schumacher) by 1.5 seconds, and the German qualified in 3rd in 2002.

Ready to win the race, Barrichello was instructed to hold back so as to let Schumacher take the Grand Prix win. Ferrari had decided that Schumacher should win maximum points on his way to the championship title, and instructed Barrichello to defer to him to facilitate this.

But this incident was not the first time the Brazilian had been asked to defer to his teammate; he also yielded P2 to Schumacher at the previous years race.

Could Barrichello have been far more successful in a team that allowed him to realise his own potential? He did well in his year with Brawn GP, partnering that years eventual championship winner Jenson Button. Despite a number of fuel and vehicle issues, including one where his car caught fire in the pit lane following the race, Barrichello drove fiercely to end the year helping Brawn clinch the constructors championship, finishing third in the standings himself behind Sebastian Vettel, who had made his debut with Red Bull Racing that year.

He attempted to return to F1 in 2014 after being dropped for Bruno Senna in 2012, but the team Caterham would go into administration, leaving him without a ride.

Proving his racing credentials, though, Barrichello now races in Stock Car Brasil and won the championship in only his 2nd series.. a feat he sadly never achieved in Formula One.

#2 Heinz-Harald Frentzen

Heinz-Harald Frentzen Patrick Head Williams
Frentzens strained relationship with Williams head engineer Patrick Head (pictured) caused issues for the driver

HHF, as he is popularly known, was part of a crop of drivers from one of F1s hotbeds Germany who all surfaced in the sport at the same time. Frentzens entry into motorsport and his subsequent rise were meteoric; aged only 14, he won the German Junior Kart Championships and entered Formula Ford a mere 3 years later.

He drove for Formula Opel Lotus in 1988 under the tutelage of former F1 driver Jochen Mass, almost immediately progressing to Formula 3, where he would first share a track with Michael Schumacher in 1989. Frentzen gave Schumacher stiff competition in the pairs F3 days, although it was Schumacher who won the Formula One test seat that Bernie Ecclestone had put on offer after looking for a German driver.

Frentzen ended that season of Formula 3 as a joint runner-up with Schumacher, however, proving his mettle straightaway. He would spend a few years waiting for an F1 seat, however, finally picked up by Sauber in 1994; he would partner the man to whom he and Schumacher had lost the title in 1989 Karl Wendlinger.

His F1 career was always subject to extremes points finishes or retirements, often nothing in between. He picked up over the next few years with Williams, finishing a career best 2nd in 1997; his teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, won the WDC that year, giving Rothmans-Williams the constructors championship as well.

A lackluster 1998 season, however, saw Williams unable to match up to Ferraris sheer power, with the new engine unsuited to the pace needed to win; both drivers ended up being replaced the next year, with Frentzen moving to Jordan replacing Ralf Schumacher, who took his place at Williams. Happy with the Mugen-Honda powered vehicles, he scored points nearly every race that year to finish 3rd in the drivers championships.

Luck would not be on Frentzens side, however, preventing him from having a much stronger racing career. The 2000 season was fraught with financial difficulty for Jordan in addition to issues with management, with things getting so bad at one point that Frentzen offered to pay for repairs himself.

He was replaced by another driver on this list Jean Alesi at the team, in turn replacing Alesi at team Prost and doing quite well with them.

Unfortunately, Prost had its own difficulties and folded at the end of that season. This would sadly become a pattern for Frentzen, who joined Arrows the next year.. with that team going bankrupt as well.

Part of an occasional drive for Sauber in 2003, he proved his mettle once again and even managed a podium. Although he did not officially announce his retirement, he quit Formula One that year, joining the DTM in 2004, managing two 3rd-place race finishes in 2005 and 2006.

In more recent years, he has won the ROC Legends leg of the Race of Champions in 2011 and although he is no longer active in motorsport, he builds his own cars.

Often described as one of the most naturally talented drivers F1 has ever seen, Frentzen was unable due to circumstance, and in the case of Williams, disagreement with team management, to realise his full potential.

Could we have seen Heinz-Harald Frentzens name up there with Michael Schumachers? Perhaps.

#1 Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2007 Championship
Raikkonen won the 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix to seal that years championship title

This choice may seem strange to several, considering the Iceman is a championship-winning driver, taking the title in 2007 during his first stint with Scuderia Ferrari. The Finn has had several strong seasons 3, in fact, where he finished in the top 3 in the drivers championship, winning it one of those times.

He is undoubtedly one of the most talented, iconic drivers in Formula One, but several Formula One enthusiasts and analysts will agree that Raikkonen lacks the drive and winners attitude that his compatriot, the original Flying Finn, Mika Hakkinen possessed.

Prodigiously skilled, it is largely on the basis of that skill that Raikkonen rose to the heights he did in Formula One. He is known for his cool, unflappable attitude and unemotional nature; but it is this that may have put a damper on a racer who could have had the trifecta of skill, speed and aggression.

He famously fell out with Ferrari management and crew earlier in the year over race controls, but eventually had his contract renewed by the team through to the 2016 season. He has not been able to live up to his first stint at the Prancing Horse, by far his most successful years in Formula One one of them championship-winning.

Earlier this year, Raikkonen had a bad start at the Italian Grand Prix, which would eventually be down to the drivers lack of concentration. Although he managed to scrape a decent points win, it did not befit one of the quickest drivers Formula One has seen.

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FEATURED COLUMNIST
Tennis, Formula One, motorsports and running editor at Sportskeeda. Serious F1 enthusiast and data collector, Senna fan, swimmer, runner and musician. Contactable at: anuradha@sportskeeda.com
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