F1’s best and worst mid-season replacements

Following the news earlier this week that Daniil Kvyat and Max Verstappen are to swap seats for the Spanish Grand Prix, let’s take a look back at some of Formula One’s best mid-season replacements of the last 25 years, along with some of the worst.

Michael Schumacher (Jordan and Benetton, 1991)

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He may be the most successful driver in Formula One history, but back in August 1991, Michael Schumacher was a relative unknown, partway through a World Sportscar Championship campaign as a Mercedes factory driver.

At the same time, Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot was busy securing himself a stretch behind bars by spraying CS gas into the face of a London taxi driver, leaving Eddie Jordan with a vacancy to fill ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix.

Schumacher duly got the call, and despite having never driven F1 machinery in anger, turned up at Spa and qualified a remarkable seventh, nearly a second ahead of teammate Andrea de Cesaris, who had been driving the car all season.

A clutch failure prevented Schumacher from taking the start, but he had caught the eye of Benetton, who promptly signed the future seven-time world champion before the next race at Monza.

There followed an impressive fifth place, ahead of triple world champion teammate Nelson Piquet, before a pair of sixth places in the next two races secured Schumacher a full-time contract with the Enstone team.

The rest, as they say, is history…

Mika Hakkinen (McLaren, 1993)

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Having started his Grand Prix career with two strong seasons at Lotus, Mika Hakkinen was supposed to race for McLaren from the start of 1993, but a last-minute decision by Ayrton Senna to race for the Woking squad and the signing of CART racer Michael Andretti left the Finn on the sidelines.

Fortunately for Hakkinen, Andretti never settled in Formula One, and with three races of the season remaining, the American was sent back across the pond to resume his career stateside. His departure gave Hakkinen his chance at the Portuguese Grand Prix, where he stunned the world by outqualifying the legendary Senna.

Hakkinen crashed out of the race the following day, but made amends by securing his maiden podium finish at the next round in Japan. The Finn had more than proved his worth at one of the sport’s most famous names.

He went onto race for McLaren for the next eight seasons, winning two world championships, 20 Grands Prix and securing 26 pole positions, earning his place among the sport’s greats.

Sebastian Vettel (Toro Rosso, 2007)

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A highly touted 19-year-old that was running away with the World Series by Renault crown, Sebastian Vettel had already impressed in a one-off cameo appearance for BMW Sauber in 2007, scoring a point for eighth place in Indianapolis in place of the injured Robert Kubica.

A member of the Red Bull Young Driver Programme, a permanent break came before that year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, when Scott Speed was ousted from the Toro Rosso outfit, reportedly after a physical altercation with team boss Franz Tost at the Nurburgring.

Vettel grabbed his opportunity with both hands, and was running in an astounding third place in torrential rain in Fuji when he crashed into Mark Webber behind the safety car, eliminating both. Undeterred by heartbreak in Japan, the youngster bounced back at the next race in China and made amends with a fine drive to fourth place.

A full-time contract for 2008 followed, where an exceptional maiden win at Monza more than justified his promotion to the main Red Bull outfit in 2009. After winning four straight championships between 2010 and 2013, a move to Ferrari followed two years later.

Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber, 2006)

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Robert Kubica’s debut at the 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix was initially billed as a one-off in place of the injured Jacques Villeneuve, but a strong drive to seventh place – a result that was later taken away from him due to a technical infringement – gave the Pole a seat for the remainder of the season.

A low-key 12th place finish in Turkey came next, before Kubica announced as a star of the future by scoring his maiden podium finish at Monza, in just his third Grand Prix.

No more points were to follow in 2006, but Kubica had done enough to earn a full season with the Hinwil squad the following year, where he would remain until BMW’s withdrawal from F1 in 2009, having won one Grand Prix and grabbed a best championship placing of fourth in 2008.

A move to Renault in 2010 followed, with three podium finishes in an underpowered car promising much for the future, but Kubica’s career was tragically cut short after a severe rally accident shortly before the 2011 season left him with serious injuries.

Mika Salo (BAR and Ferrari, 1999)

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Mika Salo had spent the latter part of the 1990s forging a reputation as a solid midfield runner, having enjoyed spells with Lotus, Tyrrell and Arrows. Without a permanent drive for 1999, Salo first found temporary solace at BAR when he replaced the injured Ricardo Zonta for three races. A seventh place finish at Imola proved to be the team’s best result in a wretched debut year.

Salo’s most notable opportunity that year came when he was drafted in to replace Michael Schumacher at Ferrari after the German suffered a broken leg in a crash at the British Grand Prix. Despite having never driven the car, Salo worked himself into the lead of his second race for the Scuderia at Hockenheim, and only missed out on the win when he was forced to concede to Eddie Irvine, who was fighting for the championship.

The rest of Salo’s six-race spell was less fruitful, but the Finn enjoyed a second podium finish when he took third place in front of the tifosi at Monza. Salo’s efforts at Maranello helped to earn him a full-time drive at Sauber in 2000.

And three that didn’t fare so well…

Luca Badoer (Ferrari, 2009)

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In his defence, the odds could not have been stacked further against Luca Badoer when he was called upon to replace the injured Felipe Massa at Ferrari in 2009.

Badoer had several seasons of F1 experience with the unfancied Scuderia Italia, Forti and Minardi teams, but his most recent Grand Prix had been in 1999 and the Italian had not raced in any meaningful championship in the intervening ten years. Added to that, the Ferrari tester was tasked with racing a car he had never driven, and which, fitted with the hybrid KERS system, was notoriously difficult to drive.

He was given the drive as a “thank you” for his service to the Scuderia after Massa’s intended replacement Michael Schumacher was declared unfit to race due to a neck injury, but Badoer did little to repay his long-time employers on the track. He qualified last in Valencia – having been fined four times for speeding in the pit lane in practice – and his most notable moment during the race came when he forgot to disengage his pit lane speed limiter after a stop and was overtaken by Romain Grosjean.

Badoer was given a second chance at Spa, but after he again qualified and finished the race last, this time almost a lap behind teammate and race winner Kimi Raikkonen, he was replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella, the man who had taken pole and finished second that day. To put Badoer’s struggles into context, Fisichella also failed to score a point in his five races.

Romain Grosjean (Renault, 2009)

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At 23, Romain Grosjean was embroiled in a fight with Nico Hulkenberg and Vitaly Petrov for the GP2 title when he was given his F1 break with Renault in 2009, in place of the sacked Nelson Piquet Jr.

The Frenchman made his debut in Valencia, the same race where Badoer began his temporary spell with Ferrari (above) but in his seven races, he struggled to match teammate Fernando Alonso and ended an unimpressive debut season without a point.

It was during this period that Piquet Jr, incensed by his firing, revealed all about his role in the Crashgate scandal at the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix and left the Enstone outfit in tatters.

Renault sold the team at the end of 2009, and Grosjean found himself out of Formula One. Knocked back, he went on to rebuild his career in the junior categories over the next two seasons, culminating in him finally winning the GP2 title in 2011.

He earned a second chance at Enstone – now rebadged at Lotus – in 2012, where after a topsy-turvy campaign that saw a succession of first lap crashes and a one-race suspension, Grosjean is now regarded as one of the sport’s most consistent drivers.

Jacques Villeneuve (Renault, 2004)

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Jacques Villeneuve was riding the crest of the wave at the end of 1997, having clinched the world championship with Williams following a now-infamous showdown with Michael Schumacher.

That day at Jerez was as good as it was ever going to get for the French-Canadian, who after a winless 1998 with Williams, moved to the all-new BAR team the following year. Five years, and just two podium finishes later, Villeneuve walked out on the Brackley squad shortly before the end of 2003 and took a sabbatical from Formula One.

Villeneuve was given the chance to drive the last three races of 2004 with Renault after Jarno Trulli was sacked following a fall out with team principal Flavio Briatore, but finished outside the points on each occasion. In comparison, Fernando Alonso scored 14 points in the same car, and Villeneuve’s failure to perform had helped the team lose second place in the constructors’ championship, ironically to BAR.

Villeneuve would join Sauber in 2005 and remained with the team when it was bought out by BMW the following year. He was released partway through the season when Robert Kubica impressed in his absence at Hungary (above), ending his Grand Prix career.

Stephen D’Albiac

Classic Chinese Grand Prix: 2011

Formula One returns to action this weekend after a three-week break as China plays host to the third race of an already enthralling season.

The Shanghai circuit has thrown up many an entertaining race since it made its debut on the F1 calendar back in 2004, and for the latest installment of Torque F1’s ‘Classic Grand Prix’ feature, here is a look back at the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix.

The McLarens of Button and Hamilton get the jump on Vettel at the start of the race

Sebastian Vettel arrived in China for this race in fine spirits. The German had dominated the first two rounds of the season in Australia and Malaysia, and looked finely poised to start off the year with a hat-trick of wins.

And the world champion’s confidence could only have grown after qualifying, after he obliterated the field to secure his third pole position on the bounce by almost three quarters of a second. The McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton completed the top three, while an impressive lap by Nico Rosberg saw the Mercedes driver qualify fourth.

The surprise packages of qualifying were the Toro Rosso drivers, with Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi both producing stunning laps to get themselves into Q3. They started seventh and ninth respectively.

If three of the four Red Bull-backed drivers enjoyed fine Saturdays, the session could not have been more different for Mark Webber. The Australian suffered a disastrous Q1 and became the shock elimination at the first hurdle, leaving him down in 18th on the grid.

Race day dawned in Shanghai, and all expectations were again on Vettel running and hiding at the front.

But as the five lights went out the Red Bull did not get away at all well, and the McLarens did not need a second invitation to snatch the lead away from him. As the field entered the first corner, Button led from Hamilton, with Vettel down in third.

Jenson Button leaves the right pit box in Shanghai

It was a relatively quiet first stint of the race, with the most exciting action occurring on lap 10 when Alguersuari’s wheel came off following a botched pit stop from his team. The incident forced the Spaniard into retirement, a disappointing result after such a good qualifying session.

Button continued to lead, but Hamilton and Vettel were keeping him honest out front. As the top three entered lap 14, the gap between the three of them was no more than a second.

With pit stops imminent the McLarens’ tyres were beginning to go off, and Hamilton paid the price for it, as he dropped out of the DRS activation zone and Vettel completed an easy pass on the back straight to move up to second, before both he and Button peeled off into the pits at the end of the lap.

With the RB7 looking the dominant car in the field in 2011, it is perhaps a given that 22 of the 24 drivers wished they were driving it. But none of them made their desire to drive for the world champions quite as public as Button, who clearly felt he belonged at Red Bull and decided to have them service his car. The amount of time it took him to remember that it was McLaren who had a new set of tyres ready for him cost him the position to Vettel.

The McLarens fought out a thrilling duel during the race, with Hamilton eventually coming out on top

One man who everyone had forgotten about was Rosberg. The Mercedes driver had gambled on making his first stop earlier than everyone else and it paid dividends in fine style, as he got the undercut on the top three and moved himself into the lead of the race. Button and Vettel followed behind, while Hamilton had lost out as a result of the pit stops, and he ended up down in fourth.

The downside to Rosberg’s gamble was that he was now on worn rubber, and although he went on to lead the second and third stints of the race, his chances of winning the race would be minimal as he would have to complete longer runs than his rivals.

It left Vettel in the net lead ahead of Button and Hamilton, and it was Lewis who was the quicker of the two McLarens. After reeling in his teammate, he pulled off a characteristically ballsy move on lap 36 when he pounced up the inside of Jenson into the first corner and took second place, behind the still leading Rosberg.

The race had been good up to that point. Not a classic by any means, but a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a Sunday morning (BST). Now was when it began to get interesting, as it became clear that Vettel was going to try and complete the race by making only two stops, while the McLarens behind him were to visit the pits on three occasions.

It meant Vettel had made his second and final stop on lap 32, and enjoyed several tours of the Shanghai circuit with much more grip than the Englishman.

But when Hamilton made his third stop the fight for the win really began. He exited the pits fourth, behind Rosberg, Vettel and Felipe Massa.

Rosberg exited the pits for the final time ahead of Hamilton, but the McLaren driver quickly dispatched his future teammate and set about passing Massa’s Ferrari, which he duly did at the start of lap 45.

Twelve laps remained. Hamilton had six seconds to make up on Vettel, and he was on tyres that were able to last much longer than the Red Bull.

Vettel and Hamilton fight it out for the win in the closing stages

He began to quickly and consistently reel in Vettel, gaining on him at more than a second a lap, and by the end of lap 50 he was right on the leader’s gearbox.

With the benefit of DRS he tried a pass on the back straight, but Vettel was wise to his advances and held him off for another lap. Whilst Hamilton had the time and the pace to pull off an easy move to take the lead, that would have been boring. The Englishman has style in abundance, and he wanted to find a more adventurous way to take first place and all but secure his second win in China.

And he did so on perhaps the most unlikely part of the track. Hamilton was saving KERS over the first part of the 52nd lap, and as the leading pair exited the hairpin at turn six it looked like Vettel was safe in first place for the next few corners.

He wasn’t. Hamilton deployed his KERS and the effect it had on his McLaren was similar to that of a rocket-booster. He shot alongside the Red Bull and flew up the inside at turn seven. Hamilton had pulled it off, he had the lead and he was on his way to taking the chequered flag for the first time in 2011.

Now, whilst being fashionably late is a rite of passage reserved for almost all partygoers around the world, it isn’t something you’d associate with a racing driver while he is competing.

Clearly, no-one had told Mark Webber about that. The second of the Red Bulls had run a virtually anonymous race from his disappointing grid slot. He’d clawed himself up into the points, but he’d done nothing to make his presence known in the race.

Mark Webber drove a storming race from 18th to finish on the podium

One advantage, however, of being knocked out in Q1 is that you are able to save more sets of the faster soft tyre, for the race, and it was a weapon that Webber waited until the last possible moment to utilise. Schumacher and Alonso were swept aside, quickly followed by Massa and Rosberg, which left the Aussie four laps to close in on Button and incredibly, claim the final podium position.

He did so on the penultimate lap of the race, making full use of the DRS zone to drive clean past the McLaren driver. From 18th of the grid, Webber was going to finish on the podium.

It was a late charge that was equally as impressive as Hamilton’s, but it took nothing away from the quality of the McLaren driver’s performance. After nearly failing to make the start after his car suffered a fuel problem just before the race, the Englishman stretched his advantage over Vettel in the last few laps and secured his first win of the season.

Vettel followed him home, ahead of Webber, Button and Rosberg. Massa finished sixth, ahead of an unusually quiet Alonso, while Schumacher, Vitaly Petrov and Kamui Kobayashi completed the points.

Victory for Hamilton in China

Classification (after 56 laps)
1) Lewis Hamilton (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
2) Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Red Bull-Renault
3) Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault
4) Jenson Button (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
5) Nico Rosberg (Ger) Mercedes
6) Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari
7) Fernando Alonso (Esp) Ferrari
8) Michael Schumacher (Ger) Mercedes
9) Vitaly Petrov (Rus) Renault
10) Kamui Kobayashi (Jpn) Sauber-Ferrari
11) Paul di Resta (GB) Force India-Mercedes
12) Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Renault
13) Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Williams-Cosworth
14) Sebastien Buemi (Sui) Toro Rosso-Ferrari
15) Adrian Sutil (Ger) Force India-Mercedes
16) Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Team Lotus-Renault
17) Sergio Perez (Mex) Sauber-Ferrari
18) Pastor Maldonado (Ven) Williams-Cosworth
19) Jarno Trulli (Ita) Team Lotus-Renault
20) Jerome D’Ambrosio (Bel) Virgin-Cosworth
21) Timo Glock (Ger) Virgin-Cosworth
22) Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) HRT-Cosworth
23) Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) HRT-Cosworth

Not Classified
Jaime Alguersuari (Esp) Toro Rosso-Ferrari

Stephen D’Albiac

P.S. I’d like to say a big thank you to Sarah, who runs the @F1_Fans_Updates account on Twitter, for allowing me to use her poll to decide the ‘Classic Grand Prix’ for this weekend. Much appreciated.

Classic Australian Grand Prix: 2002

In the first of a new feature for this season, Torque F1 looks at Grand Prix fans’ favourite race in each country that Formula One will visit this year.

Starting with this weekend’s season opener in Australia, Formula One fans were asked via Twitter for their favourite ever Grand Prix ‘Down Under’, with the most popular choice getting an article written about it.

The voting was very close, with 1989, 1995 and 1996 all proving popular with fans of the sport, but in the end the 2002 race came out on top, and therefore won the first of what will be 19 classic race articles throughout the season.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Ralf Schumacher forgetting this is a Grand Prix and not the Red Bull Air Race

The Australian Grand Prix started the 2002 Formula One world championship in spectacular fashion. It had everything, from great racing to dramatic collisions to amazing underdog performances. As far as classic races go, this one is right up there.

In a rain-affected qualifying session, Rubens Barrichello took pole, his first in almost two years. He was joined on the front row by Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher, with Ralf Schumacher, the McLaren duo of David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the top six.

Further back, Felipe Massa produced a good lap on his Formula One debut to start ninth and ahead of his more experienced Sauber teammate Nick Heidfeld. Toyota marked their first race in Formula One with 14th and 16th for Mika Salo and Allan McNish, whilst Mark Webber, also making his Grand Prix bow, qualified an impressive 18th in his Minardi and ahead of both Jaguars.

The start to this race quickly entered Formula One folklore. Ralf Schumacher got the best getaway from the second row and immediately passed brother Michael for second. He was well placed to take the lead from Barrichello into the first corner, but instead of braking like everyone else, simply forgot to slow down.

The result was inevitable. Ralf flew over the top of the Ferrari and hurtled into the gravel trap, ending both their races. That was just the beginning of it though, as into turn one Giancarlo Fisichella collided with the two Saubers, who then collected Jenson Button, Olivier Panis and McNish. Michael Schumacher and Raikkonen were both forced across the grass and lost time.

What was left of half the field after turn one

With less than 30 seconds of the 2002 Formula One season gone, eight cars were out of the race, although fortunately without any injury. In addition, both Arrows cars were then disqualified, Heinz-Harald Frentzen for jumping a red light in the pitline and Enrique Bernoldi for joining the circuit in the spare car.

Once the predictable lengthy safety car period was out of the way, it was Coulthard who led from Jarno Trulli, Montoya and the one remaining, elder Schumacher.  Montoya attempted to pass Trulli’s Renault on the restart but the Colombian got it all wrong, sliding wide at turn one and losing the place to Schumacher.

Coulthard began to pull away from Trulli, who was now having to deal with considerable pressure from Schumacher. The Italian managed to keep the world champion at bay for a few laps, before losing his head (and the car) and spinning into the wall after turn two.

Enter Mercedes AMG safety car. Take two.

The second restart was just as dramatic as the first. Coulthard was all set to lead the pack around, but inexplicably slid off at the second to last corner and onto the grass. As a result the Scot went backwards, and Schumacher now had the lead from Montoya.

That’s if you can call a 20-second stint out front assuming the lead. For Montoya found something special on the restart, and the Williams driver drove clean around the outside of the Ferrari to give himself the advantage.

Montoya and Schumacher fight for the lead

It was an advantage that wasn’t to last long. Angry at losing the lead, and determined to start his season on a high, Schumacher climbed all over the back of Montoya’s gearbox. He was made to wait by a defensive Colombian, but on lap 17 Schumacher pressured his rival into a mistake at the first corner, and the lead was his before he could say ‘Danke’.

Schumacher then disappeared into the distance, leaving Montoya to fight off the advances of Raikkonen, who had recovered from his off at the first corner and was producing a sterling drive on this, his McLaren debut, fully justifying the faith the Woking squad had shown by promoting him from Sauber (sound familiar?).

It was a battle for second that raged until the final round of pit stops, when Raikkonen got the jump on the Williams to move himself into second place. But in the one mistake the young Finn made all day, he slid wide in his excitement and Montoya took the opportunity to regain the position with both hands. It was a mistake that lost him the place for good.

Despite the thrilling nature of the race up-front, there was an even bigger story developing a bit further back, in the form of a local hero. Mark Webber, driving his first race for minnows Minardi, had driven brilliantly. He’d stayed clear of trouble in the carnage of lap one and with all the chaos going on around him, the Australian had found himself running in the points.

When Coulthard’s McLaren began to give up the ghost, Webber passed the Scot and moved himself into an incredible fifth place and Minardi’s best position for the best part of a decade.

It was the stuff Hollywood is built on. A local hero, driving his first race in a vastly disadvantaged car and running in a position even Webber himself would not have dreamt possible. However, the Minardi was about to be put under severe pressure in the form of Toyota’s Mika Salo.

Mark Webber en route to an amazing fifth place

Salo, in a much quicker car began to bear down on Webber, taking chunks of time out of him and ramping up the pressure. Fifth place was there for the taking for the experienced Finn.

But then the unbelievable happened. Despite the pressure coming exclusively from the direction of Salo, it was the Toyota that cracked. Webber, producing a masterclass in defensive driving, refused to bow to the quicker car and Salo spun while attempting the overtake. Fifth place was Webber’s, to the sheer jubilation of a capacity Australian crowd, who could never have dreamed that such a result would be given to them by their compatriot.

Out front, Schumacher won from Montoya and Raikkonen, who scored the first podium of his still young career. Fourth place went to Eddie Irvine, who drove an almost anonymous race in a Jaguar that wildly underperformed expectations for a manufacturer team.

But the biggest celebrations were reserved for Webber, who crossed the line fifth to score Minardi’s first points since 1999 and cap a fairytale debut in Formula One.

Webber is congratulated by Minardi team principal Paul Stoddart after the race

Classification (after 58 laps)
1) Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari
2) Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW
3) Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes
4) Eddie Irvine (GB) Jaguar-Cosworth
5) Mark Webber (Aus) Minardi-Asiatech
6) Mika Salo (Fin) Toyota
7) Alex Yoong (May) Minardi-Asiatech
8) Pedro de la Rosa (Esp) Jaguar-Cosworth

Not Classified
David Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes
Jacques Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Honda
Takuma Sato (Jpn) Jordan-Honda
Jarno Trulli (Ita) Renault
Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari
Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW
Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Jordan-Honda
Felipe Massa (Bra) Sauber-Petronas
Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber-Petronas
Jenson Button (GB) Renault
Olivier Panis (Fra) BAR-Honda
Allan McNish (GB) Toyota

Disqualified
Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Ger) Arrows-Cosworth
Enrique Bernoldi (Bra) Arrows-Cosworth

Stephen D’Albiac