With Antonio Giovinazzi making a splash on his debut, I’ve decided to take a look at another ten drivers who surpassed all expectations their first time on track. These racers did even better than Giovinazzi’s 12th, and went on to get poles, wins and even the odd championship.
From F1 past…
In 1972 Carlos Reutemann took pole position when he made his debut in front of his home crowd in Argentina. He beat reigning world champion Jackie Stewart to start at the front of the grid, but slowly dropped back throughout the race to end in a respectable seventh.
Johnny Herbert managed to out qualify his teammate and finish fourth on his debut in 1989. This was made all the more amazing as he was suffering with injuries so severe that he couldn’t get in or out of the car without assistance, and had been told he would never walk again, never mind race, only six months before.
Perhaps most impressively of all, Jacques Villeneuve also managed to take pole in his very first F1 race in 1996 and only dropped down to second after being told to slow down as he was suffering an oil leak.
However Mario Andretti was the first driver to achieve pole position on his debut in 1968. Jackie Stewart had taken the lead by the end of the first lap, and Andretti subsequently retired later on in the race, but he was never expected to do anything near that well.
Nico Rosberg may only have come seventh in his first race, but he set the fastest lap and he made up five places from his grid position.
When Felipe Nasr made his debut in an uncompetitive Sauber in 2015, he beat his teammate to finish an impressive fifth. Only 11 cars finished the race and it was Nasr’s best finish in his two years of F1 racing.
Kimi Raikkonen’s F1 debut came after just 23 single seater races. However his doubters were soon shown to be wrong when he went from 13th to finish sixth. While 2001 wasn’t a spectacular debut for Raikkonen, it proved that he was more than worthy of a place in F1.
Lewis Hamilton managed to get on the podium on his first drive for McLaren, kick-starting his title battle against teammate Fernando Alonso. Hamilton was immediately on the pace in 2007, setting a very high standard for rookies everywhere.
A disqualification for Daniel Ricciardo after a fuel flow issue meant that Kevin Magnussen was promoted to second on his debut, even though he only celebrated third on the podium. Magnussen’s year could only go downhill from that point as McLaren became less competitive.
Stoffel Vandoorne made his debut after Fernando Alonso was pronounced unfit to race in Bahrain last year. Vandoorne managed to score a point, beat teammate Jenson Button in both qualifying and the race and took McLaren’s first point of the season.
While it’s impossible to predict exactly which young talents will make their debut in F1 over the coming years, we can make a good guess based on who teams have chosen to put their faith in as third and test drivers. It would be surprising if the likes of Pierre Gasley and Charles Leclerc don’t make their debuts soon, and they too could be added to the list of drivers that took the world by storm.