What was the best underdog F1 win? Watch the videos and cast your vote…

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Keke Rosberg won one of the hottest F1 races ever at Dallas

Dozens of drivers were named by F1 Fanatic readers in the quest to find F1’s greatest underdog winner. Here’s the final ten to make your choice from – with videos of each race below to help you make up your mind…

What was the greatest underdog F1 win?

  • Sebastian Vettel - 2008 Italian Grand Prix (37%)
  • Johnny Herbert - 1999 European Grand Prix (8%)
  • Olivier Panis - 1996 Monaco Grand Prix (9%)
  • Michael Schumacher - 1992 Belgian Grand Prix (11%)
  • Keke Rosberg - 1984 United States Grand Prix (Dallas) (4%)
  • John Watson - 1983 United States Grand Prix (Long Beach) (4%)
  • Michele Alboreto - 1982 United States Grand Prix (Las Vegas) (1%)
  • Gilles Villeneuve - 1981 Spanish Grand Prix (16%)
  • Jody Scheckter - 1977 Argentinean Grand Prix (2%)
  • Stirling Moss - 1961 Monaco Grand Prix (8%)

Total Voters: 676

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Stirling Moss – 1961 Monaco Grand Prix

Vintage performance by Moss, holding off the chasing Ferraris of Richie Ginther and Phil Hill for lap after lap.

Jody Scheckter – 1977 Argentinean Grand Prix

A rare victory for a new constructor in its first Grand Prix.

Gilles Villeneuve – 1981 Spanish Grand Prix

Gilles Villeneuve using every ounce of his talent to keep a train of four cars behind him to the flag.

Read more about the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix

Michele Alboreto – 1982 United States Grand Prix (Las Vegas)

Michele Alboreto scoops a surprise win for Tyrrell while Keke Rosberg and John Watson duke it out for the title.

John Watson – 1983 United States Grand Prix (Long Beach)

John Watson sets the record for scoring a win from the worst starting position – 22nd – which remains unbeaten. (See here for more Grands Prix won from the back of the grid).

Keke Rosberg – 1984 United States Grand Prix (Dallas)

Rosberg shrugs off fearsome heat and a disintegrating track to win at Dallas in the unfancied Williams FW09.

Michael Schumacher – 1992 Belgian Grand Prix

Surprisingly not nominated by anyone last week, but Schumacher’s opportunistic win at a damp Spa up against the might of Nigel Mansell’s Williams FW14B definitely deserves a place in the top ten.

Olivier Panis – 1996 Monaco Grand Prix

A popular pick in the nominations, Panis profited from attrition to win at Monaco in 1996.

Johnny Herbert – 1999 European Grand Prix

Front runners Mika Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine took themselves out of the running with tactical blunders, and Johnny Herbert rose from the midfield to give Stewart their only win.

Sebastian Vettel – 2008 Italian Grand Prix

At an unprecedented soaked weekend at Monza, Sebastian Vettel in his Toro Rosso gave his rivals a masterclass in wet weather driving.

Read more: Sebastian Vettel brushes title rivals aside to win (2008 Italian GP review)

Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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37 comments on “What was the best underdog F1 win? Watch the videos and cast your vote…”

  1. I guess the Walter Wolf first win is my favourite but…

    surely the best must be Vettel’s… Because now it’s almost impossible for such a small team to get podiums and all… Look Renault, being former championship winners, they struggled a lot to beat teh BMWs, the Mclarens and the Ferraris… And Vettel (along with Toro Rosso, the STR3 was a great car!) did it, yea, with help from the rain, but he did it…

  2. My vote’s for Vettel, but not with that music…

    Would have been the 1992 Belgian if Brundle had won. (Schumacher was never an underdog. It was in his contract.) Martin’ll still be kicking himself about letting that race go – he was on his way in for wet tyres, but changed his mind after he got ahead of Schumacher (3:20 in the video) and stayed out too long on the wrong tyres.

    Can’t wait for next year, when F1 is all about those kind of decisions again.

    1. What contract? 1992, and Schumacher was only in his first full year as an F1 driver. No team principal in his right frame of mind would give undisputed No.1 status to an unproven green horn.

      He won his undisputed No.1 status over years of brilliant driving where he consistantly destroyed his team mates.

    2. Due to his team mates being either a) not very good (Verstappen, Lehto, Herbert) or b) contracted to move over and let him win on the final lap (Irvine, Barrichello, Barrichello, Barrichello, Massa)

    3. No.1 status is what earned Ferrari 6 constructors and 5 drivers titles in a row. McLaren hav
      Want equal status in your team. Try being McLaren and lose out on both championships like they did in 2007. They learnt their lesson in 2008 with a weaker teammate to Hamilton in Heikki.

    4. In Kovalainen they got the best driver available to them at the time. I think it’s telling they only gave him a one year contract and only gave him a one year extension for 2009. I think they’re keeping their options open for 2010 in case someone they think is better becomes available.

      But you have to ask, who is there? Raikkonen and Alonso have both been and gone from McLaren. Rosberg’s got to be a good tip I reckon.

      ‘Equal status’ versus ‘undisputed number one’ isn’t as clear-cut as you make it seem. If you’ve got the two best drivers in the business it stands to reason you’re going to develop your car better than the opposition can, which potentially negates the effect of the two drivers taking points off each other.

      To me, ‘equal status’ confers more integrity on a champion than ‘undisputed number one’ – but they don’t give points for integrity in Formula 1!

  3. Most of these “underdog” victories were in fact due to mechanical failures or bad driving from the lead cars.
    I think Vettel’s performance at Monza truly deserves the titles of “underdog”

  4. Rick DeNatale
    2nd March 2009, 0:07

    I think the results so far are showing the age of the readers.

    Stirling Moss’s victory at Monaco in 1961 is legendary. He was driving a Lotus-Climax for the privateer team owned by Rob Walker. The rules had changed that year and Moss’s Lotus was underpowered compared to the Ferraris.

    I think that this still stands as the most impressive underdog win in F1 history.

    1. i`m totally agree ….

  5. Indeed many seem lucky wins. Especially of the ones that I actually saw.

    So I’m going with Vettel too. I’m missing the Senna vs Mansell batlle at Monaco. Probably mostly a lucky win for Senna too (problems for Mansell), but that was great fun to watch.

    Talking about Monza though. I still wonder what would have happened if Hamilton actually would have gotten the right tyres at his last stop. He would have gotten extremely close to victory if he didn’t have to make that last unscheduled extra stop for tyres.

  6. Seems Vettel is going to take this accolade but surely this has a lot to do with the fact that his Monza triumph was pretty much last week relative to the others.

    …and I doubt this will not be the only accolade his has chance of winning in 2009

  7. For me there is no competition. Gilles’s car was not remotely competitive yet he held off a string of faster cars when a single mistake would have dropped him to fifth. It was a triumph of fantastic driving and sheer will power over the laws of physics and reality.

    It is also worth remembering that he won the previous race at Monaco in that same piece of garbage. The engine was powerful and great on a straight but the chassis was primitive. The car didn’t do corners but Gilles won Monaco in it after qualifying 15 places ahead of his team mate.

    In the race in question his team mate Pironi finished 4 laps behind him. I know Gilles won’t win this poll because it was so long ago and most people who comment hear won’t remember it but it is worth bearing in mind that the only F1 driver who has a number that is ‘his’ is Villeneuve and number 27. Alan Jones took Williams first championship in 1980 carrying this number and Gilles only had it for 18 races after that yet his performances with that number were so incredible that Villeneuve is 27 and 27 is Gilles Villeneuve.

    1. I completely agree. Giles’ win is way better than any of the other nominations.

      Rest all are down to weather, attrition or others’ bad luck.

      Here’s a driver with a dog of a car; perfectly blue skies, held off 4 drivers for 66 laps.

      Vettel’s win will win the poll since it is the latest onw; but honestly; the TorroRosso had found some brilliant pace before this race. It was a a masterful win; but aided with a good car.

  8. Jody Scheckter – 1977 Argentinean Grand Prix

    Not only was it a win for a new constructor, but they won in their very first race with a one car operation. Scheckter did end up with a good season and two or three more wins that year, but as said, it was the team’s very first race.

  9. what is going on with the commentary on the clip of the 1982 usgp? the best part: “nothing could diminish the finnish finish.”

    1. That’s from the official F1 season review for 1982. Clive James at his best. Every F1 fan should get this video: “The Official End of Season Review” (1982).

  10. I thought about voting for Panis, but I didn’t because it was a bit lucky. But thinking back to it, he was comfortably the fastest car on the track for most of the race, so he didn’t luck into it too much. But then he wouldn’t have had a chance of beating Hill until his Renault expired. So Vettel it is – a truly great, magical underdog win that still makes me smile when I think of it!

  11. StrFerrari4Ever
    2nd March 2009, 7:05

    I’m going with Vettel that weekend was truly amazing i bunked school on friday to stay and watch practice then saturday the weather was still terrible in monza so i was getting a feeling something big was gonna happen then Vettel was on pole i couldnt stop smiling the race went perfect didnt put a foot wrong i was so happy i hope for more moments like this in the 09 season :)

  12. I’ll take out wins for World Champion constructors in their respective eras, like Williams’ and McLaren’s. Then I’ll take out lucky wins that just fell into certain drivers’ laps, like Panis and Herbert.

    That leaves me only 4 or 5 serious candidates: drivers and cars that performed beyond their regular form: Moss, Scheckter, Alboreto and Vettel, although perhaps Villeneuve should be in there, too.

    Now, Walker’s private team won other races in that period, too, and Lotus was already quite succesful in Grand Prix racing, so I’ll skip that. I’m not too sure about Wolf’s pre-season form and expectations, but I reckon the team’s performance didn’t suddenly fall from the sky.

    Villeneuve’s Ferrari was far from top material in 81, but the team had won 7 titles in the mid to late 70s and would go on to somewhat dominate in 82 and 83, so I’ll skip this, too. And because Tyrrell was very succesful during the early 70s and took the odd win in the late 70s, I’ll have to skip that, as well.

    And that leaves me to Vettel’s and Toro Rosso’s 2008 win at Monza. Although effectively a customer team, STR out-performed their mother outfit consistently throughout the season. Nonetheless Vettel had a solid weekend, scoring pole position, and beating all his competitors, including mother team Red Bull AND engine supplier Ferrari, on Sunday afternoon.

    1. Rick DeNatale
      3rd March 2009, 16:11

      Lustigson wrote: “Now, Walker’s private team won other races in that period, too, and Lotus was already quite succesful in Grand Prix racing, so I’ll skip that. I’m not too sure about Wolf’s pre-season form and expectations, but I reckon the team’s performance didn’t suddenly fall from the sky.”

      Let me put Moss’ win in the Lotus 18 at Monaco in 1961 in a bit more perspective.

      The 1961 season was the beginning of a new 1.5 liter formula, and most teams had been hoping to stop this and keep with the older 2.5 liter engines. When the FIA put the new regulations into effect at the beginning of the season, only Ferrari was really prepared with a competitive 1.5 Liter engine.

      Moss’ Lotus 18 used a four-cylinder Coventry-Climax engine which produced 151 bhp at 7,500 r.p.m. compared to the Ferrari’s 180 bhp at 9,000 r.p.m. quite a power disadvantage.

      Yes, Walker and Lotus had other successes in the period, but:

      Walkers earlier wins were 2 in 1958 (both with Cooper-Climaxes), 2 in 1959 (again Cooper-Climax), and 2 in 1960 using a Lotus-Climax under the 2.5 liter formula.

      At Monaco, Moss was driving the older Lotus 18, Jim Clark introduced the new Lotus 24 at the race and finished in P10, 11 laps down.

      If we are to rule out underdog wins simply because the team, car, or driver had other successes in the period, I would argue that most if not all of the other candidates should be disqualified.

      In 1961, other than Monaco, until the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Ferrari won everything.

      Moss won the German GP, because he insisted on starting on rain tires, despite the objections of Dunlop, got a 15 seconds in the first 5 laps under damp conditions, held on through a dry eight lap period, and won when the rain came again, nursing his worn tires. The weather conditions negated Ferrari’s power advantage.

      Walker/Moss also nearly won the 1961 USGP, but retired with an oil loss. The race went to Innes Ireland Jim Clark’s Lotus factory teammate.

      What happened to Ferrari in the USGP? The didn’t even enter since the championship had been decided in Monza with Phil Hill the first American champion with the tragic death of Von Trips, leading to the sad fact that it wasn’t until 1978 that a newly crowned American driving champion, Mario Andretti had the opportunity to perform before his home crowd.

      As a personal note, I was at Watkins Glen at that 1978 race, and got to witness Andretti, who had grabbed pole with a track record, suffer a broken rear axle right after negotiating the hairpin before the down hill section to the anvil, and crash on the last warm up lap.

      He started the race with a spare, but retired with a blown engine.

      So getting back to Moss and Walker and underdog status. They were underdogs all year, and the 1961 Monaco Grand Prix is still my candidate for the best underdog win in F! of all time.

  13. For me it was between Jody Scheckter and Gilles. I ended up going for Gilles, his car was a dog and he had to fight tooth and nail to keep his spot, some of the other drivers got their wins by attrition by others.

    Stats wise – Jody’s Wolf team won 3 races and 9 podiums through 1977, whereas in 1981 Gilles’ Ferrari’s 2 wins and only 3 podiums show it was outclassed by the opposition.
    So on the fact that it was purely his skill that got him there and that it wasn’t a fast car or luck, I went for Gilles. For him to hold off 4 cars for as long as he did was excellent. People complain about a lack of overtaking in modern F1, but no overtaking can be just as exciting!

    Thats not taking anything away from Jody and the Wolf team, for their car to be that good in their first proper season was a great achievement. But they lose to Gilles because they had a fast car and he didn’t.

    1. Oh yeah, and Vettel in a very close 3rd position for me. He outdrove absolutely everyone that weekend. The only negative for his performance was that he had a Ferrari engine at a track where engines are important. Still he took a midfield car and decimated everyone, it was a brilliant drive. Actually now I think about it, it really was a top class drive equal to that of Gilles because it was an average car decimating everyone. Gilles won, Seb slaughtered.

  14. Only reason I vote Vettel is because its still so fresh in my memory and I still get chills of excitement…

  15. i guess a new constructor winning a race in their first season is quite a feat, john watson had a fairly fast car when he won however fromm 22nd position is quite a feat. But the one i have to go for was 1981 jarama Giles vileneuve using purely driver skill to outclass oppossition

  16. my picks were down to moss, schekter, villenueve and rosberg. the wild finish of the 1984 usgp, culminating in mansell dropping from exhaustion as he pushed the car to the finish line, is what did it for me.

  17. So no one remembers Estoril ’85? It was Senna’s revenge from the race they stole him at Monaco ’84. I had already changed allegiances from Piquet to him the year before, but many people converted to the new religion after that Portuguese GP.

  18. Vettel – from the front, no promotion due to attrition, just pure class driving in the wet in mid-pack machinary. A quality drive.

  19. Gilles win was the best by far. Just after I started watching f1 in ’97 I was given a murry walker video which had a segment on Gilles Villeneuve which included that win in Spain. Despite my young age and lack of f1 knowladge I was amazed by his performance and skill. I think he was best driver to never win the title (as well as Moss of course).

  20. This poll came to early :(
    What about DC in Australia 1997 and Monaco 2002.

  21. Scott Joslin
    2nd March 2009, 15:58

    I wish Clive James would commentate on the F1 reviews of today – they would be hilarious!

    It is interesting that a lot of these supposed underdog drives are comming from tight and twisty circuits. 7 out of the 10 come on road course (if we include spa) and 4 of them involve wet weather.

    I am not sure Michael Schumacher’s 1992 win is a tale of an underdog, more of a race win that got away from Nigel Mansell. Mansell had made his last pitstop and was inexerably closing in on Schumacher when his exhaust fell off, leaving him down on power and helpless to catch Schumacher.

    Yes Schumacher showed great decision making by pitting at the right time to get to the front, but surely not an underdog win. Schumacher had already shown his skill in the rain is spain earlier, so at least he had some form previously in the wet.

    There is a great case for Villeneuve in the S**t box Ferrari but his Ferrari suited the situation where it would power away from the other cars out of the corners and down the straight. The most amazing thing he did that day was get to the front in the first place – awesome start and did well to dispose of Reuterman.

    I am going to stick with Watson – 22nd to first!

  22. I think that two of those stand out the most, since they were achieved in cars that were never in a month of Sundays friendly things to drive. Gilles, of course, in that undrivable Ferrari 126C, holding 5 faster guys behind him for three quarters of a race through sheer skill, is an example of precision mixed with madness. But for the sheer difficulty of the whole race, I’d go for Keke’s win in Dallas, on a track which was breaking up worse than Swiss cheese, in a chassis that didn’t suit the very nervous power curve of the early Honda V6 turbo.

  23. KingHamilton
    2nd March 2009, 20:07

    Wolfs first win with schekter at its first GP was pretty good going, but I voted for Vettel for the simple reason he dominated a race against the strength of Ferrari and Mclaren. Plus ofcourse Toro Rosso who made the winning car used to be Minardi,(although they’re not the same team) They’ve come a long way in 3 years……

  24. Hi Keith,

    I think you forgot about Kimi Raikkonen’s victory in SPA 2004…..Michale was winning everything and Kimi drove extraordinarily to make a screeching halt to his brutal winning ways in the season.

    Coming to the poll.I think Vettle deserved the win (with many more to come),he drove spectacularly in the wet conditions when everyone in the grid was making mistakes.

    1. I didn’t forget about anything – no-one nominated Raikkonen’s win from ’04. If he’d done it in the car he had in the first half of that season I probably would have put it forward, but the B-spec MP4/19 he had at Spa was a heck of an improvement.

      Don’t get me wrong it was an excellent win, probably his best after Suzuka ’05, but not up there with the likes of Villeneuve’s I reckon.

  25. Scott Joslin
    5th March 2009, 11:32

    Interestingly Murray Walker posts his thoughts on Villeneuve’s drive in spain on the new BBC F1 Web site


    1. Rick DeNatale
      5th March 2009, 13:31

      Which the beeb won’t let us poor benighted colonials in America watch!

  26. Vettel is best! It is my video (Vettel wins).

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