Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked: Alesi, Maldonado and more

Kevin Turner
·19-min read
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

The Formula 1 record books are dominated by drivers that rack up the big numbers, such as Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher, but there is a small group of racers who have just one victory on their CVs.

Excluding the anomalous Indianapolis 500, which was a points-scoring round between 1950 and 1960, 23 drivers have taken a single world championship F1 success.

Some of those drivers should have won many more races, while others got on the list through good fortune or an outstanding performance on their day of days.

Here is our pick of F1's top 10 one-hit wonders, based on their drives to victory, the circumstances of that success and their overall careers.

10. Jean Alesi, 1995 Canadian GP

Car: Ferrari 412T2
Started: 5th

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

Jean Alesi makes it onto this list because he should have won so much more during his 201-race F1 career. Having made an immediate impact with Tyrrell when he arrived in 1989, finishing fourth on debut in the French Grand Prix and notched two second places in 1990, Alesi then spent five frustrating seasons in Ferraris that were not as competitive as hoped.

Even then there were days he was in a position to win, such as the 1994 Italian Grand Prix, only for Alesi to be robbed by mechanical failure. But at the 1995 Canadian GP, on the French-Sicilian's 31st birthday, Alesi's luck finally changed.

He qualified his 412T2 fifth and moved past Ferrari team-mate Gerhard Berger just as the Williams of David Coulthard spun off in front of them.

While Schumacher's Benetton streaked ahead, the Ferrari duo closed on Damon Hill, struggling with his Williams. Alesi made it by at the hairpin on lap 17.

"When Michael's car stopped I thought, 'Finally!' I knew I could win and I started to cry in the car" Jean Alesi

After the stops, Schumacher was around half a minute clear and Alesi had settled for yet another second place. Then, with a little over 11 of the 69 laps to go, Schumacher hit gearbox trouble.

Alesi swept by and cruised home to finally record his first F1 victory in his 91st GP. It was a popular success too, the #27 Ferrari winning at the circuit renamed in honour of Gilles Villeneuve, who had used the same number during his Ferrari career.

"It felt unbelievable to win; I finished second 16 times," Alesi told Autosport years later. "OK, I won, but it was more of a relief than anything.

"When Michael's car stopped I thought, 'Finally!' I knew I could win and I started to cry in the car. Then I was worried about the fuel, because Gerhard had run out before his pitstop. I ran out on the slowing-down lap!"

There would be many more near misses and Alesi would end his 12-year stint in F1 with 32 podium visits. But his luck would never again hold like it did that day in Montreal.

9. Giancarlo Baghetti, 1961 French GP

Car: Ferrari 156
Started: 12th

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

If we included non-championship races, Giancarlo Baghetti wouldn't be on this list. Remarkably, he won his first three F1 events, the Syracuse and Naples successes coming before he appeared at Reims for the 1961 French GP.

Ferrari's 156 'Sharknose' was the dominant car of the season and Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Richie Ginther qualified 1-2-3, with Baghetti (entered under the 'FISA' banner, a conglomeration of Italian clubs but with Ferrari mechanics) in 12th with an older-specification 65-degree V6 compared to the newer 120-degree version.

After a slow start, the Italian soon started making up lost ground and was helped by a high rate of attrition for the faster runners. Stirling Moss suffered brake trouble, von Trips retired with engine problems, then leader Hill clashed with Moss while trying to lap the Lotus.

Ginther soon started slowing with sagging oil pressure and so, on lap 41 of 52, Baghetti moved to the front for the first time. He had been embroiled in an epic multi-car slipstreaming battle for much of the race and now the fight for victory was between the rookie in the faster car and the more experienced Dan Gurney and Jo Bonnier in Porsches.

When Bonnier's engine started to smoke, it left Baghetti-Gurney duel and they continued to swap places. Gurney led going onto the final lap, Baghetti slipstreamed past and then the Porsche got back ahead under braking for the final Thillois right-hander.

But the combination of Ferrari V6 and slipstream was too much for the four-cylinder Porsche and Baghetti drove by in the final yards to win by 0.1 seconds.

He would not get near winning another GP. Ferrari was leapfrogged by several teams in 1962 and Baghetti joined the disastrous ATS operation for 1963 before his career petered out.

8. Robert Kubica, 2008 Canadian GP

Car: BMW Sauber F1.08
Started: 2nd

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

In terms of overall driving level, Robert Kubica would be at the top of this list. He was regarded as in the same class as Hamilton and Fernando Alonso when he suffered the rally crash in 2011 that severely hampered his career.

But instead of becoming a multiple winner and world champion, Kubica has just one F1 victory to his name, and BMW Sauber team orders helped him get it.

PLUS: Top 25 drivers who never won the F1 title

Kubica was already one of the top performers of the season before he qualified second in Montreal, scene of his serious crash the year before.

Poleman Hamilton led from the off, with Kubica second. The McLaren pulled away, only to lose all the hard work thanks to a safety car.

Heidfeld didn't make life too difficult for his team-mate, but was asked to hold Alonso back to protect the other BMW, despite the fact he also had a chance to win

Many cars came in and Hamilton took on a lot of fuel, putting him behind Kubica and Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari as they raced down the pitlane, at the end of which was a red light. The BMW Sauber and Ferrari stopped, the McLaren didn't - and Raikkonen and Hamilton were eliminated in the ensuing collision.

Nick Heidfeld, running on a one-stop strategy as opposed to team-mate Kubica's two-stop, now took the lead. The German rejoined from his pitstop ahead of the lighter Kubica, who had Alonso's Renault right behind.

Heidfeld didn't make life too difficult for his team-mate, but was asked to hold Alonso back to protect the other BMW, despite the fact Heidfeld also had a chance to win his first Grand Prix.

Kubica was able to streak away. When he came in for his second and final stop on lap 49 of 70 he rejoined ahead of Heidfeld and reeled off the remaining miles to lead a 1-2.

"The crucial point was when Timo Glock went into the pits and I had eight laps to make a margin so that I could come back out after my second stop in front of Nick," said Kubica, who left Canada at the top of the points table.

"That was seven laps of qualifying! I knew I had to make around a 21s gap and I managed 24s, so it was a great race."

7. Olivier Panis, 1996 Monaco GP

Car: Ligier JS43
Started: 14th

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

The 1996 Monaco GP was one of those dramatic, unpredictable races that the streets of Monte Carlo sometimes produce.

The main reason Olivier Panis's shock win isn't higher on this list is because he needed some key retirements for it to happen, but it was still a fine drive.

Panis started 14th at Monaco but moved forward consistently. Partly that was due to the mistakes of others - including Schumacher on the first lap - but he also made some aggressive passes. He gained crucial spots with a well-timed stop for slick tyres and made perhaps his boldest move on Eddie Irvine's Ferrari at Loews hairpin on lap 36. That took the Ligier to third.

At half distance Hill led Alesi's Benetton by 28.7s, with Panis 50.1s behind the Williams. Then, on lap 41 of what would be a 75-lapper thanks to the two-hour rule, Hill's Renault engine blew up - "I had a quick spin on his oil," said Panis. Alesi seemed set to win until he too retired, with suspension damage.

Panis thus took over at the front for the final 16 laps and successfully kept Coulthard's McLaren at arm's length to record the ninth and last world championship victory for the French team.

"Six laps from the end, the team called me in because they weren't sure I had enough fuel to finish, but I told them there was no way I was stopping," Panis told Autosport in 2011, when interviewed about the race of his life.

"I switched the engine to the leanest setting, didn't use sixth gear and tried to save fuel."

Despite seven more seasons in F1, including a promising campaign with Prost in 1997, Panis never quite managed to add to his solo success.

6. Gunnar Nilsson, 1977 Belgian GP

Car: Lotus 78
Started: 3rd

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

Mario Andretti helped lead the Lotus revival across the 1976 and 1977 seasons, but Swede Gunnar Nilsson was a solid number two.

The ground-effect Lotus 78 grew into more and more of a threat and Andretti took pole at Zolder - his second of the season, at round seven - by 1.54s, with Nilsson third in the spare car.

Rain shortly before the start had everyone (except James Hunt) rushing to change to wet tyres. John Watson's Brabham beat Andretti away, only to be thumped from behind by the Lotus heading into the first chicane.

In the confusion, Jody Scheckter's Wolf jumped Nilsson, now back in his race chassis after an engine change, to grab the lead.

Scheckter pulled away, but an off - one of many in the tricky conditions - on lap 17 handed the lead to Nilsson, who immediately pitted to change to dry rubber. His stop was slow and, once everyone had been in, the Lotus was only eighth, with Niki Lauda's Ferrari out front.

Nilsson did not delay his attack, outbraking Lauda into the chicane and swiftly moving clear. His eventual winning margin was 14.2s

As drizzle returned, however, Nilsson charged. When Jochen Mass spun off on lap 40 of 70, only Lauda remained ahead.

The lead was considerable, but Lauda had not been happy with the Ferrari's handing all weekend and Nilsson took great chunks out of the Austrian's advantage on every lap. With 20 laps to go, with the track again drying, the two cars were together.

Nilsson did not delay his attack, outbraking Lauda into the chicane and swiftly moving clear. His eventual winning margin was 14.2s.

Sadly, Nilsson would not lead another GP and only started 10 more. Less than a year and a half later, he was dead, having succumbed to cancer. But that day at Zolder had shown just what he was capable of.

5. Vittorio Brambilla, 1975 Austrian GP

Car: March 751
Started: 8th

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

Vittorio Brambilla's time at March was peppered by incidents and mechanical problems, interspersed with flashes of pace.

At the high-speed Osterreichring the Italian only qualified eighth, but moved up to sixth on the opening lap of the wet race, while poleman Lauda led Hunt's Hesketh at the front.

Brambilla made swift progress, rising to third after six laps (passing fellow March driver and rainmaster Hans Stuck in the process). He then started to bridge the gap to Hunt, who was pressuring Lauda.

They made it by the Ferrari on lap 15, as conditions worsened, and four laps later Brambilla's orange March moved to the front with a fine move on Hunt in traffic.

"He simply drove away from everyone and was ahead by 24s when the race was stopped as conditions worsened," wrote Autosport's reporter Pete Lyons.

Perhaps surprised at the premature end (which also meant half points), Brambilla celebrated, lost control of the car and crashed.

That's probably the part that of the event that is most famous, but it shouldn't detract from the superb wet-weather drive that gets Brambilla into this top 10.

4. Jarno Trulli, 2004 Monaco GP

Car: Renault R24
Started: 1st

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

Given that Jarno Trulli led the 1997 Austrian GP in his first season of F1 and had undoubted speed, it's perhaps a surprise he only scored one F1 victory. He developed a reputation as a poor racer, sometimes falling back in races, but that was often because he'd qualified higher up than his machinery should have allowed.

PLUS: How to become a qualifying master

He was rapid around the streets of Monaco, as he had proved by qualifying his Jordan second in 2000, and a stunning performance brought him his first F1 pole in 2004.

"The highest point of 2004 was Trulli's masterpiece of a pole lap at Monaco, half a second faster than anyone else, and probably as close to perfection as a man and a racing car have ever been," wrote Autosport's Nigel Roebuck at season's end.

It wasn't a straightforward victory from pole, though. Up to second at the start was team-mate Fernando Alonso, who Trulli felt was favoured within the team, and the Renaults initially pulled away from Jenson Button's BAR until an early safety car brought the pack together.

The Renaults pulled clear again at the restart, but when the pitstops began Michael Schumacher, who had won the first five races of the season and was now third, unleashed his Ferrari's pace. He started chipping away at the 10s gap to Trulli.

There were 31 laps to go when the race went green, but there was traffic between Trulli and Button, and the BAR was 6.7s behind by the time he cleared it

The Italian managed to open a 4s cushion to Alonso, and Trulli was still ahead after both Renaults had made their stops. Then Alonso crashed while trying to lap Ralf Schumacher's Williams in the tunnel. That brought out another safety car, triggering more stops. But Ferrari left Michael out, hoping he could open a big enough advantage when racing resumed to stop and keep the lead.

He never got the chance. While accelerating and braking in the tunnel behind the safety car, Schumacher's Ferrari was hit by the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya, putting him in the wall and out of the race. "As I passed their crash I was really laughing inside my helmet," said Trulli in 2012 after selecting the GP as the race of his life.

But Trulli's day was still not done. Now he had Button, similarly hungry for his first GP win, in second. There were 31 laps to go when the race went green, but there was traffic between them, and Button was 6.7s behind by the time he cleared it.

Now Button charged and he finally got within 1s of the Renault with three laps to go. But Trulli held firm, taking the flag 0.5s ahead.

Most were pleased that Trulli had finally taken victory - at his 117th attempt - and he scored 10/10 in Autosport's driver ratings, but it ultimately wasn't enough to keep him at Renault for 2005.

3. Peter Gethin, 1971 Italian GP

Car: BRM P160
Started: 11th

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

If you're only going to win one race, doing so in one of the most famous and dramatic finishes in F1 history at a then-record speed is a pretty good way to do it.

Having started 1971 with McLaren, Peter Gethin joined BRM for round eight at the Austrian GP before heading to round nine Monza. He qualified his powerful V12 P160 11th, with 1.9s covering the top 14.

The race was a classic pre-chicane Monza slipstreamer, with Gethin comfortably running in the top 10 in the early stages. After 12 of the 55 laps, the top 11 cars were covered by just 3.8s.

Engine failures soon accounted for three of the leading contenders - Jackie Stewart's Tyrrell and the Ferraris of Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni. Gethin's team-mate and Austrian GP winner Jo Siffert also looked strong until he succumbed to gearbox trouble.

At one stage Gethin fell away from the lead group going through backmarkers, but he edged back into contention and was part of the five-car pack after Chris Amon infamously tore off both his visors and lost a possible victory in a faceful of fast-moving air.

"The reason I think the race was a good one for me is because from about half distance, when I lost contact, until the end of the race, I had to drive every fraction of every lap absolutely flat out," said Gethin years later when selecting the GP as the race of his life. He also admitted to going 500rpm over the recommended limit in his bid to get back on terms.

Gethin led across the line for the first time with three laps to go, but it was Ronnie Peterson's March - which had led more than any other car - that was ahead going onto the final tour, chased by Francois Cevert's Tyrrell, the Surtees of Mike Hailwood and the BRMs of Gethin and Howden Ganley.

Gethin slipstreamed by Hailwood shortly after the start/finish line and was third as the group blasted towards the final corner, with Peterson and Cevert side-by-side.

Peterson completed the move early enough for Gethin to also dive inside the Tyrrell entering the Parabolica. He had a tighter line and more momentum than the March as they exited the right-hander to move ahead.

Peterson got back in the BRM's tow and pulled out to pass on the final run to the line, but missed out by 0.01s.

"To try and convince them that I was the winner I put my hand up on the line, so they would think I'd won!" said Gethin, but there was no doubt, even though the top five were covered by 0.61s. Gethin had also averaged nearly 151mph.

2. Pastor Maldonado, 2012 Spanish GP

Car: Williams FW34
Started: 1st

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

Is this the most random, out-of-the-blue performance in F1 history? As more time passes it seems ever-more unbelievable that Pastor Maldonado - sometimes rapid but incident-prone - managed to defeat Alonso in a straight fight and at his home event.

Prior to the 2012 Spanish GP, Maldonado had not finished higher than eighth in F1. And Williams, which hadn't won a race for eight years, hasn't added to its 114 victories in the seasons since.

The FW34 is one of the team's better cars of the 21st century, but even so it was a surprise to see Maldonado go second quickest in qualifying. That meant he inherited pole when Hamilton was put to the back of the grid, a legacy of not having enough fuel in his McLaren.

A crucial moment came on lap 24 of 66, when Williams decided to bring Maldonado in early for his second stop. Alonso came in two laps later and emerged behind the Venezuelan

Clutch slip dropped Maldonado behind Alonso's Ferrari at the start, with the Lotus of Raikkonen in third. The Finn couldn't keep up with the top two and, with other quick runners mired in the pack, it became a duel between the two-time world champion and his inexperienced challenger.

A crucial moment came on lap 24 of 66, when Williams decided to bring Maldonado in early for his second stop. Alonso came in two laps later and emerged behind the Venezuelan.

At one stage the gap was over 7s, but a combination of a charging Alonso, slow final stop for the leader and time stuck behind the yet-to-pit Raikkonen meant Maldonado had red filling his mirrors for the final quarter of the race.

Maldonado had to hold off Alonso while at the same time looking after his tricky Pirelli tyres, the factor that had mixed up the competitive order in the first place. "Maldonado soaked up everything Alonso could throw at him," said Autosport's report.

When the Ferrari picked up some light damage and fell back, the race was won. Maldonado crossed the line 3.2s clear.

"He extracted the maximum performance from the car," said Williams chief operations engineer Mark Gillan. "He didn't put a foot wrong."

1. Jean-Pierre Beltoise, 1972 Monaco GP

Car: BRM P160B
Started: 4th

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

It's not shocking to suggest that the greatest F1 drives normally come from the greatest drivers. But Jean-Pierre Beltoise's one-off success stands comparison with any of the best wet-weather masterclasses.

Beltoise's performance wasn't quite as shocking as Maldonado's - the Frenchman had shone in the wet before, charging from 16th to second in the 1968 Dutch GP for Matra - but it's probably fair to say that nobody expected him to show rainmaster Ickx the way around Monaco in appalling conditions.

Qualifying his BRM fourth had been no mean feat, albeit 1.1s behind title contender Emerson Fittipaldi's polesitting Lotus, but the race performance was on another level.

Beltoise shot through into the lead at the start and was five seconds ahead after three laps. When Ickx jumped to second after Regazzoni and Fittipaldi both made errors, Beltoise's lead looked under more threat, but the Ferrari never got within range.

"Beltoise continued to drive with inspired confidence," wrote Patrick McNally in Autosport's report. "Any thoughts that it was a sprayless road that enabled him to pull away were quickly dispelled by the way JPB handled traffic.

"He passed people on the left, right and centre and wasn't above putting a couple of wheels on the pavement if the situation demanded."

Despite a wild moment at Portier, Beltoise remained in the lead and took the flag 38.2s clear of Ickx. Everyone else was lapped and Beltoise's best lap was 0.6s faster than anyone else.

Beltoise scored no other points in 1972 and would only take one more podium in his F1 world championship career, but that only adds to the feeling that his inspired Monaco win is F1's greatest one-hit wonder.

Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked
Top 10 F1 one hit wonders ranked

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