• Top ten ... debuts and replacement drivers

Making an entrance

Chris Medland
September 20, 2011

After Bruno Senna stepped in for Nick Heidfeld with two consecutive top-ten qualifying performances and world championship points in just his second race, ESPNF1 looks back at ten standout replacement and debut drivers, both good and bad.

Gilles Villeneuve stunned the whole field with his qualifying performance at Silverstone © Sutton Images
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Gilles Villeneuve 1977
Turned up for the British GP to run a two year old McLaren, and had to take part in pre-qualifying on the Wednesday before the race. Having finished both sessions as the quickest man, the paddock were taking notice, but he still stunned everyone by putting his car ninth on the grid, within a second of pole. Showing he wasn't just a one-lap specialist, Villeneuve ran on the leaders pace throughout the race too, setting the fifth fastest lap, but lost a lot of time in the pits with an engine gauge problem to finish two laps down in 11th.

Robert Kubica 2006
Deputised for the injured Jacques Villeneuve, who had scored just seven points all season, at the Hungarian Grand Prix. While his performance was somewhat overshadowed by Jenson Button's first victory in a chaotic race, Kubica survived a couple of spins and changeable conditions to finished seventh but was disqualified for being underweight. However, he'd showed promise and gained the seat full-time by the next race, going on to qualify in the top ten at every race and stepping on to the podium at just his third grand prix.

Giancarlo Baghetti 1961
Highlighting just how important experience is, Giancarlo Baghetti remains the only man to have won on his Formula One debut. Baghetti benefited from a scheme to give young Italian drivers a Ferrari for non-championship races. Having won two Italian races, he was handed the drive at Reims, where Ferrari was expected to be strong. The three works Ferrari's pulled away in to the lead, but one by one dropped out, leaving Baghetti to battle it out with the Porsche of Dan Gurney. Second out of the last corner, Baghetti slipstreamed past to take a famous victory, though he would never climb on the podium again.

Mario Andretti led away from pole in front of a packed Watkins Glen crowd © Sutton Images
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Mario Andretti 1968
While forging a successful open-wheel racing career in the United States, Andretti met Colin Chapman at the Indianapolis 500 and told him he'd like to drive in Formula One in future. After a practice session for Team Lotus in Italy, Andretti was given his first race drive at Watkins Glen. In front of his home crowd he qualified on pole, threatening to throw a spanner in to the works of the championship battle raging between Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart and Denny Hulme. A huge crowd turned out to see if Andretti could take victory on his debut, and he was competitively running second when he was forced to pit with bodywork hanging off and eventually retired with clutch failure.

Sebastian Vettel 2007
Given his first taste of Formula One in practice for the Turkish Grand Prix, Vettel took full advantage by setting the fastest time of the day. While it may have been a headline time thanks to a light fuel load, Vettel had signalled his talent at just 19 years old, and was therefore drafted in to replace Robert Kubica at Indianapolis following his huge shunt in Canada. After qualifying an impressive seventh, Vettel seemed to have blown his opportunity by running wide at turn one. Having escaped damage though, he proceeded to climb back into points contention and eventually crossed the line eighth to become Formula One's youngest points scorer.

Ricardo Rodriguez 1961
With Ferrari desperate for success in front of the Tifosi at Monza, it ran five cars for the Italian Grand Prix, with Rodriguez and Giancarlo Baghetti the privateer entries alongside the main three drivers of Wolfgang von Trips, Phil Hill and Richie Ginther. Rodriguez shook up the hierarchy by qualifying second at the tender age of just 19 - making him the youngest driver ever to start a grand prix - and then led for a while as carnage unfolded behind when von Trips and Jim Clark collided, resulting in the death of 14 spectators and von Trips himself. There would be no fairytale ending for Rodriguez though, as he was forced to retire on the 14th lap.

Mark Webber 2002
As can be the problem with the smaller teams, testing for Minardi didn't go to plan in pre-season, which meant Webber turned up at his home grand prix for his debut with limited mileage under his belt. He was only on an initial three race contract, but having comfortably outqualified his team-mate, Webber then delivered a remarkable performance. His start was compromised by a launch control problem, but he stayed out of trouble in a race of attrition, and despite struggling with a broken differential still managed to hold off Mika Salo to secure two world championship points in fifth place. His contract was soon extended as the points would secure Minardi a windfall for scoring in the constructor's championship.

Michael Schumacher's debut marked him out as a future world champion © Sutton Images
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Michael Schumacher 1991
When Jordan's Bertrand Gachot was jailed for assaulting a taxi driver in London with CS gas, team principal Eddie Jordan brought in Schumacher after being approached by Mercedes. Despite not having driven at Spa-Francorchamps before, he stunned everyone by qualifying seventh, beating his team-mate. The race was over before it had begun due to a clutch failure, but he had shown just what he could do and was snapped up by Benetton by the next race.

Jean Alesi 1989
When Tyrrell secured a sponsorship deal with Camel, the Marlboro-backed Michele Alboreto was replaced with a French youngster for his home grand prix at Paul Ricard. Tyrrell had started the season well, but hadn't scored since Alboreto's third place three races previously. After qualifying, there were five new debutants on the grid, and Bertrand Gachot was the pick of the bunch in 11th, meaning little attention was paid to Alesi in 16th. Following a big first corner crash triggered by Mauricio Gugelmin, the race was restarted and a number of cars dropped out. Alesi steered clear of trouble and ran as high as second before pitting, and eventually finishing a highly impressive fourth to take three points on debut.

And one bad...

Luca Badoer 2009
After Felipe Massa suffered life-threatening injuries in a crash at Hungary, Ferrari needed to replace him with a driver which had experience of the car because of the testing ban. Badoer was drafted in to the improving Ferrari but qualified last in both races he took part in and was always a second off the pace. In the first race in Valencia team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was third and Badoer a lap down and second last, while it was worse in Belgium; Raikkonen won and Badoer was last. He was replaced for the next grand prix.

Chris Medland is an assistant editor on ESPNF1

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