Top 10 Grand Prix One-Hit Wonders
Ten racers with as many wins between them – Formula 1 drivers fortunate enough to make it to the top step of the podium, but only once...
Anyone who witnessed Jean Alesi’s drive in the 1990 US Grand Prix would have thought the Frenchman was destined for a win-after-win career in Formula 1. In just his ninth F1 race he led from the outset in his Tyrell, only for Ayrton Senna to get past and force Alesi to settle for second. At the time it seemed like the arrival of a new hero, one that would surely be a future world champion. But, somehow, the Frenchman never uncorked his potential; the 1995 Canadian Grand Prix marked his first and last win at this level.
AutoFact: Post F1, he won two rounds of the DTM.
He had everything going for him: good looks, charisma and talent to spare behind the wheel. Unfortunately, fate was to rob this Frenchman of his chance to shine – in fact, rob him of his life. A close friend and team-mate of Jackie Stewart, Cevert claimed his sole career F1 win at Watkins Glen in 1971. Two years later, he placed second six times and was due to lead the Tyrrell team following Stewart’s retirement at the end of ’73. Sadly, he perished at the season finale, once again at Watkins Glen, after he had a monumental accident during qualifying. He was just 29 years old.
AutoFact: Cevert was also a winner in Can-Am in 1972.
This likable racer and lothario holds the distinction of having won a round of the Formula 1 world championship despite never leading an entire lap. His BRM victory at the 1971 Italian Grand Prix has entered into legend for being the closest in F1 history. His margin of victory following a five-way slipstreaming battle was one-hundredth of a second over Ronnie Peterson, with François Cevert third, 0.009sec behind. Mike Hailwood was fourth just 0.18sec in arrears and Howden Ganley fifth (0.61sec further back). Gethin may not have won another F1 round, but he shone in Formula 5000 and other categories.
AutoFact: He bested F1 cars to win the 1973 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch in his F5000 Chevron.
Strictly speaking, three drivers won on their Formula 1 debut. Nino Farina triumphed in 1950, as someone had to win the first-ever race, while Johnnie Parsons won the Indy 500 that same year when it counted towards the F1 championship. Baghetti, by contrast, won the 1961 French Grand Prix for Ferrari when the series was more than a decade old. What’s more, it followed two prior non-championship grand prix wins. His margin of victory in France over Dan Gurney was a mere tenth of a second. He remained in F1 on and off until 1967, but never bothered the podium again.
AutoFact: He later became a photographer for Playboy among other titles.
One of the most approachable men ever to have won in Formula 1, Mass’s tally of a single grand prix win from 105 starts sells his talent short. What’s more, his sole victory on the Montjuïc street circuit in 1975 was devoid of glory. The Spanish venue had already come in for criticism for its lax attitude towards safety, and the race was stopped after 29 laps following an accident that left five spectators dead from their injuries. ‘Herman the German’, as he was known within the McLaren team, enjoyed stellar success elsewhere in everything from hillclimbing to touring cars.
AutoFact: Mass won the Le Mans 24-hours – a race he loathed – in 1989.
This Swedish driver had considerable promise, but was cut down in his prime. Nilsson won a Formula 3 title en route to F1, and claimed honours in the 1977 Belgian Grand Prix driving for Team Lotus. He signed to Arrows for the following season, only to be diagnosed with testicular cancer. It was terminal. He died in October 1978, just five weeks after fellow Swede and close friend Ronnie Peterson lost his life following an accident at Monza. Nilsson had also shown well driving for the factory BMW team in the World Championship of Makes and the European Touring Car Championship.
AutoFact: Nilsson had previously been a radio operator on a submarine while in the Swedish Navy.
A larger-than-life character, Ireland began racing in 1954 aboard an ex-Mike Hawthorn Riley 9. Scroll forward to 1961, and he scored Team Lotus’ first-ever world championship win in Formula 1 with victory in the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. This, allied to previous non-series wins, should have cemented his place in the squad, but Lotus principal Colin Chapman dropped him shortly thereafter. He viewed fellow Scot Jim Clark as being a better bet. Ireland rarely drove a front-running car again, before calling time on F1 in 1966.
AutoFact: Ireland later became a respected motoring writer and author.
This cultured Swede was rarely a frontrunner in F1, but he did create history by claiming BRM’s first world-championship victory at Zandvoort in 1959. His win in the Netherlands would be his first and last at this level, although he did feature in non-points races. Bonnier is perhaps remembered more for his outings in sportscars – a discipline in which he thrived for several years. He won the 1960 Targa Florio alongside Hans Hermann in a works Porsche 718, and the Sebring 12 Hours two years later, sharing a factory Ferrari with Lucien Bianchi. He died following a crash at Le Mans in 1972.
AutoFact: He won the 1970 European 2.0-Litre Sports Car Championship.
This Californian racer’s 1965 Mexican Grand Prix win marked the first for Honda. It also marked his only victory at this level, despite occasionally starring during prior spells at Ferrari and BRM. He is perhaps remembered more for being a brilliant development driver. That, and as a solid number-two driver. He elected to retire from driving after attempting to qualify for the 1967 Indy 500. A broken fuel line saw him doused in petrol, and the experience was sufficient to see him walk away. He briefly turned to team management, before living a simple life in Mexico.
AutoFact: He had an uncredited role in the film Grand Prix.
This Libyan-born Italian won the 1964 Austrian Grand Prix at the much-loathed Zeltweg airfield circuit. He had the talent to have won more, having led the 1966 French and US rounds until mechanical gremlins ended play. He also won often in sportscars – victorious in the 1963 Le Mans 24-hours with Ludovico Scarfiotti, the 1965 Targa Florio with Nino Vaccarella and the 1967 Daytona 24 alongside Chris Amon. Tragically, his life was ended after he crashed his Ferrari at the harbour chicane during the ’67 Monaco Grand Prix. Bandini suffered extensive burns, and died from his injuries three days later.
AutoFact: Bandini had helped stage a mock accident at the same spot during the filming of the movie Grand Prix.
Images courtesy of LAT and Rota Archive
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