The 10 maiden Formula 1 wins that got away

Formula 1

Having started from pole, and briefly lost the lead to Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr, Norris had moved back to the front and looked to have everything under control as the laps counted down.

But a late race shower turned the Sochi race on its head, and the decision to stay out on slicks proved costly as conditions quickly deteriorated.

The McLaren driver was forced to stop for intermediate tyres three laps from the end – dropping him down the order to eventually finish seventh as Lewis Hamilton clocked his 100th F1 victory.

PLUS: How Mercedes made the “blind faith” call that won Hamilton his 100 milestone at Sochi

His 53rd Grand Prix will long be remembered as the race that got away from Norris, but the 21-year-old may find a crumb of comfort in the knowledge that many others before him havesuffered similar heartbreak before the floodgates opened.

Here we take a look at 10 famous races that could have delivered a maiden victory for some famous names.

Nigel Mansell – 1984 Monaco Grand Prix

Touching the white line on the approach to Massenet proved fateful for Mansell and his relationship with Team Lotus

Touching the white line on the approach to Massenet proved fateful for Mansell and his relationship with Team Lotus

Photo by: Motorsport Images

In atrocious wet conditions in Monte Carlo, Lotus driver Nigel Mansell took the lead from a misfiring poleman Alain Prost on lap 11 – heading the field for the first time in a career that would go on to claim the 1992 world championship title. 

Showing no signs of being intimidated by the rain around the tight and twisty streets, Mansell got down to business and started extending his lead by around two seconds per lap.

But it all went wrong on lap 16 when Mansell lost control on the climb up the hill out of Ste Devote. As his car spun, his rear wing swiped the barriers and punctured his left-rear tyre. 

Mansell attempted to continue, but was soon caught by Prost and spun at Mirabeau as he attempted to drag his car back to the pits. In a flash, his hopes of a first F1 win had evaporated. He would have to wait until the following year, when he joined Williams, to break his duck at the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch.

Ayrton Senna – 1984 Monaco Grand Prix

Red flag amid worsening rain hampered Senna's hopes of catching Prost in the Toleman

Red flag amid worsening rain hampered Senna’s hopes of catching Prost in the Toleman

Photo by: Motorsport Images

That same wet afternoon offered the chance for another future champion to grab his maiden win – as Ayrton Senna put in a late race charge in the unwieldy Toleman.

Having started down in 13th, the Brazilian rookie had climbed up the order and was rapidly closing in on race leader Prost as the rain worsened.

Prost was only too aware of the threat being posed to him, and gesticulated to the stewards to stop the race – as the red flag would guarantee him a useful victory in his title battle against team-mate Niki Lauda.

Clerk of the course Jacky Ickx agreed that the grand prix needed to be halted and, although Senna had found a way past after Prost pulled over following the arrival of the red flag, the rules dictated the result would be taken from the lap before.

It meant Prost took half points for the victory, with Senna having to accept second. He wouldn’t have to wait too much longer though – upon replacing Mansell at Lotus for 1985, he broke through in just the second round of the season in equally atrocious conditions at Estoril.

PLUS: Ayrton Senna’s 10 greatest Formula 1 races

Damon Hill – 1993 German Grand Prix

Hill was denied by a puncture on the penultimate lap at Hockenheim, denied for a second race in succession

Hill was denied by a puncture on the penultimate lap at Hockenheim, denied for a second race in succession

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Damon Hill’s first season with a Williams that was the class of the field in 1993 started with some decent podium finishes, but a maiden victory proved elusive time and again.

At his home British Grand Prix, Hill had come close to hitting that target. He took the lead from poleman Prost at the start and held an advantage over his team-mate until lap 42 of 59, when his Renault engine blew.

Two weeks later at Hockenheim, Hill was again set for victory when he held a comfortable advantage over Prost beginning the penultimate lap.

PLUS: Damon Hill’s 10 greatest Formula 1 races

But as he appeared to be cruising to victory, his left-rear tyre failed approaching the third chicane. The Englishman attempted to crawl back to the pits, but the rubber delaminated and left him driving on the rim. 

He was forced to abandon the car, and described the disappointment as ”about a million times worse than Silverstone because here the job was done”.

Finally Hill’s luck turned in the next race at the Hungaroring, where the future 1996 world champion scored his first of 22 grand prix victories. It was the first of three in a row, as he followed up immediately at Spa and Monza. 

Jean Alesi – 1994 Italian Grand Prix

Alesi led team-mate Berger in the early stages, but poor reliability cost him dearly

Alesi led team-mate Berger in the early stages, but poor reliability cost him dearly

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Jean Alesi was the darling of the tifosi at Monza in 1994 , when he took his maiden pole position at the 81st attempt.

After a first corner pileup instigated by Eddie Irvine spinning Johnny Herbert that caused the race to be red-flagged, Alesi aced the restart to lead team-mate Gerhard Berger. 

Race of my life: Jean Alesi on the 1995 Japanese Grand Prix

With a golden chance to grab his first win after so much frustration in his previous three years at Ferrari, Alesi steadily pulled clear at the front and, by the time of his first stop on lap 14, he held an 11-second lead.

But it all went wrong in an instant as, after taking on new tyres and fuel, the Frenchman’s gearbox failed as he tried to exit the pits.

His race was over, and he would have to wait until the following year’s Canadian Grand Prix – carrying the #27 at the circuit named after fallen Ferrari icon Gilles Villeneuve – to score his one and only F1 win.

Jacques Villeneuve – 1996 Australian Grand Prix

Villeneuve shone on his debut and was on course to win before leaking oil allowed team-mate Hill through

Villeneuve shone on his debut and was on course to win before leaking oil allowed team-mate Hill through

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Jacques Villeneuve had arrived in F1 with Williams in 1996 amid huge hype, as Williams had high hopes for the reigning Indycar and Indianapolis 500 champion.

The French-Canadian did not disappoint and grabbed a debut pole position as F1 made its first visit to Melbourne, team-mate Hill starting alongside in second.

In the race (restarted after Martin Brundle’s spectacular barrel roll), the Williams duo battled hard for the victory. But, despite an off track excursion at Turn 1, Villeneuve appeared to have the better of Hill and set the fastest race lap.

But when an oil leak progressively worsened, Villeneuve was forced to slow his pace and Hill came past with five laps to go, denying his team-mate the accolade of a debut victory.

He set the record straight in round four at the Nurburgring though, jumping ahead of Hill at the start and leading all 67 laps to dominate the European Grand Prix. The 1997 world champion would win a further 10 grands prix, all in Williams-Renaults.  

Mika Hakkinen – 1997 Luxembourg Grand Prix

Hakkinen led 40 laps at the Nurburgring in 1997, but Mercedes engine failure denied him an odds-on victory

Hakkinen led 40 laps at the Nurburgring in 1997, but Mercedes engine failure denied him an odds-on victory

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Mika Hakkinen had proved the growing competitiveness of McLaren-Mercedes with a well judged pole position at the Nurburgring. It was his first in F1, McLaren’s first since Senna at the 1993 Australian Grand Prix – and Mercedes’ first since 1955.

Having missed out on a likely victory with a late engine failure at Silverstone, allowing Villeneuve to capitalise, Hakkinen was determined to set the record straight and got away cleanly at the start to lead team-mate David Coulthard. 

By half distance, his lead over the Australian Grand Prix winner stood at more than 10 seconds, but in a matter of moments everything went wrong for McLaren.

Coulthard suffered an engine failure on lap 42, and Hakkinen’s V10 expired just one lap later – and with it all hopes of victory, with Villeneuve again on-hand to pick up the spoils.

But the Finn’s bad luck was due to turn. When Michael Schumacher and Villeneuve clashed disputing the lead at the Jerez finale, it was Hakkinen who picked up the pieces to win at a then-record 96th attempt – albeit after Coulthard obeyed team orders to hand back the position he’d gained through the pitstop phases.

PLUS: The race that unearthed Schumacher’s greatest rival

Juan Pablo Montoya – 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix

Montoya took Schumacher by surprise with a brave Turn 1 move and had the race in his pocket until Verstappen's intervention

Montoya took Schumacher by surprise with a brave Turn 1 move and had the race in his pocket until Verstappen’s intervention

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Juan Pablo Montoya had arrived in F1 from Indycar with the reputation as a feisty and exciting driver. And for onlookers, there were hopes that the new Williams signing could prove to be the long-term successor to Schumacher as F1’s next dominant force.

In his third grand prix at Interlagos, he certainly proved to be no pushover when he pulled off an audacious move on the reigning world champion at the first corner following a safety car restart, ushering his Ferrari rival to the grass.

Montoya then set about building up a lead, and was almost 30 seconds clear past the halfway stage of the race. But after lapping Jos Verstappen’s Arrows on lap 39, Montoya’s race was ended when the Dutchman missed his braking point and slammed into the back of him.

Rain then arrived, allowing Coulthard to beat Schumacher in one of his finest triumphs.

PLUS: David Coulthard’s top 10 greatest F1 drives

Montoya’s point had been made though, and he eventually took to the top step for the first time later that year at Monza for the first of seven grand prix victories. 

Kimi Raikkonen – 2002 French Grand Prix

Running wide on oil from McNish's expired Toyota cost Raikkonen a maiden win to Schumacher

Running wide on oil from McNish’s expired Toyota cost Raikkonen a maiden win to Schumacher

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Kimi Raikkonen had proved to be a sensation when he arrived in F1 in 2001, and it was no surprise that McLaren duly signed him up for 2002.

Archive: How unflappable rookie Raikkonen took F1 by storm

While able to deliver podium finishes in the first half of the year, a run of results were hard to come by thanks to a number of reliability problems. But at the French Grand Prix, all the pieces looked set to have fallen into place. 

In a race that swung on tyre and fuel strategy, Raikkonen had an apparently comfortable lead with five laps to go. But, unsighted by the Finn, Allan McNish’s Toyota had suffered an engine failure on the way into the hairpin – depositing the contents of its V10 on the straight.

Raikkonen hit the oil and slid wide, handing the lead to a pursuing Schumacher who barged his way through on the exit of the hairpin and clinched his record-equalling fifth world title with six races still to run.

Finishing second to the then four-time champion was little consolation for Raikkonen, who described the result as “the worst race of my life”. But his maiden F1 victory wasn’t too far around the corner, taking the flag first in Malaysia the following year.

Charles Leclerc – 2019 Bahrain Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 3rd position, in Parc Ferme

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 3rd position, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

After an impressive debut season for Sauber in 2018, Charles Leclerc’s step up to Ferrari for the following season – replacing the veteran Raikkonen – was expected to deliver good results in the long term.

But few expected things to get off to such a strong start when, at the second race of the season, he grabbed his maiden pole position. After dropping back at the start, the Monegasque soon recovered to take the lead from team-mate Sebastian Vettel on lap six.

Leclerc then got his head down and pulled well clear at the front – leaving the pursuing Mercedes of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas with little hope of closing him down.

That was until Leclerc was hit late on with a power unit problem which cut one of his cylinders, and his pace dropped away. Powerless to prevent Hamilton and Bottas overtaking him towards the end, he came home a disappointed third.

He delivered his first win later in the year on an emotional day at Spa – the day after his friend Anthoine Hubert lost his life in a Formula 2 accident – and then made it two in a row with a combative drive to fend off Hamilton at Monza.

George Russell – 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W11, in the pits

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W11, in the pits

Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images

After a last-minute call up to replace a COVID-stricken Hamilton, regular Williams driver George Russell seized his big opportunity with Mercedes. 

He qualified on the front row at the shorter Bahrain ‘outer loop’ track, then grabbed the lead from team-mate Bottas at the start and looked set for a dominant win.

But a late safety car, triggered by his Williams replacement Jack Aitken crashing at the final corner, turned the race on its head. As Russell dived to the pits for fresh rubber, a shambolic stop resulted in him being sent out with a mixed set of tyres – which required another visit to the pits.

Having dropped down the order, Russell muscled his way back up to second and had race leader Sergio Perez in his sights when a slow puncture required the disbelieving Briton to pit yet again. 

Scoring his first F1 points in ninth place was scant reward for a standout cameo appearance, although it did much to convince the team’s bosses that he is the right man to join Mercedes full-time for 2022 – when he will hope to avenge his Sakhir disappointment with a first F1 win.

PLUS: How Russell left Mercedes with little real choice over his F1 promotion

But Russell’s misfortune was to Perez’s benefit, as the Racing Point driver duly took his maiden F1 win – making up for his own personal disappointment at losing the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix to Fernando Alonso.



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