Formula 1 had way over a hundred winners since the inception of the sport in 1950. We have witnessed many drivers who went on to rack up wins after wins, while some others won a few races and never managed to reciprocate their earlier success. Drivers generally say that the first win is the hardest, and once that is achieved a psychological barrier is passed by the drivers. Different drivers won their first race in very different circumstances. Some romped away from the field in dominant cars, others won in a closely matched fight against one or more rivals, while some others had a real rollercoaster ride during their first win.
In this article I will list the five first wins that impressed me the most, from the races that I have seen.
5. Mark Webber: 2009 German GP
Mark Webber was regarded as a fast, but incredibly unlucky driver during the early years of his career. The Aussie was held back by bad career choices and incredibly bad reliability before 2009. Thanks to technical failures, he often failed to convert to points and podiums even his standout drives like in the 2006 Monaco GP or the 2006 German GP.
Webber’s luck finally turned for the better in 2009
when he finally found himself in a race-winning car. Yet, in the first half of the season, it was Webber’s younger teammate Sebastian Vettel that won two races for Red Bull, not the more experienced Webber. Webber was struggling somewhat in the first few races with his injuries from a bike accident and some bad luck, but overall his season was going nicely up until the German GP, only the inaugural win was missing.
During the practice sessions of the German GP, Webber’s Red Bull team looked very strong, and Webber confirmed their fine form by taking pole position in the qualifying session.
After a dream qualifying, the Australian got a nightmare start when he was beaten off the line by Brawn’s Rubens Barrichello, and to make matters worse, Webber also hit Barrichello, which earned him a drive-through.
Before the first stop, the Australian was stuck behind his rival, but once Barrichello pitted and released Webber, the Australian showed his true pace. Throughout most of the race, Webber was in a class of his own and won the race comfortably even with a drive-through.
The Red Bull no doubt was the class of the field, but Webber’s teammate Vettel was no slouch and was completely unable to match his teammate, which underlined the fact that the win was not just down to the car.
4. Jenson Button: 2006 Hungarian GP
Just like Webber, Button also had the reputation of a fast, but a very unlucky driver in the earlier parts of his career. He made his debut in 2000 but failed to win his first race until 2006.
Unlike Webber, Button did not have an all-out race-winning car in 2006. His Honda looked like a decent package in the opening races of the season, but as the season progressed, their form steadily deteriorated. Honda made a comeback after the French GP, but they still were a long way off from fighting for the wins.
The Hungarian GP looked no different in this regard. Schumacher and Alonso both got foolishly penalised for dangerous driving in the practice sessions, which meant that both of them had to start from the middle of the grid, Button was not better off either, as he had received a 10 place grid drop for an engine change.
After his engine change, he started on the 14th position.
The race was soaking wet, which surprisingly favoured Michelin tyres, as in the previous seasons it was the Bridgestones who had the upper hand. Fernando Alonso charged through the field to take the lead, but Button also had a good performance and climbed through quickly. An accident between Kimi Raikkonen and Liuzzi brought out the SC, and Button found himself right at the back of Alonso’s back.
The two were pulling away from the rest after the restart. Alonso decided to pit for dry tyres, but unluckily for him, his crew made a mistake and did not put on his tyres properly. Alonso crashed out with a loose tyre, which left Button unchallenged at the top.
The Brit went on to claim an easy victory after Alonso’s retirement, the first of his career.
3. Rubens Barrichello: 2000 German GP
Rubens Barrichello had a similar reputation as the two drivers I have previously mentioned in this article before. He received his first race winner car in 2000, but throughout the first half of the season, he only really got close to winning a race once, in the British Gp. Whether he could have won the British GP nobody got to know, as he retired from the lead with a technical problem.
The German GP started off horribly for Barrichello. He had a poor qualifying and managed only 18th place.
Ferrari had no more luck than their Brazilian driver as lead driver Michael Schumacher was out of the race after a first-lap accident. Barrichello was making good progress throughout the race as he carved through his way from 18th to 3rd, but his two-stop strategy did not look enough for more than 4th after the fuel stops were finished.
Then a lunatic appeared on the side of the track, an ex-employee of Mercedes who was protesting against the firm. The appearance of the lunatic brought out an SC, which neutralised the race and annulled the advantage of the leading McLaren-Mercedes duo.
Still, after the race was restarted, Hakkinen and Coulthard looked in control, but then arrived the rain. As it started to spit heavier, the two McLaren drivers pitted for wet tyres, while Barrichello opted to stay out on dries. The Hockenheimring was a very long track, so the drivers had the strange experience of driving on a part bone dry and part wet track. The McLaren drivers quickly destroyed their wet tyres on the dry bits of the track and were ultimately unable to catch Barrichello, whose gamble paid off.
Barrichello won his first race spectacularly in one of the most memorable first wins in the history of the sport.
2. Giancarlo Fisichella: 2003 Brazilian GP
Fisichella’s Brazilian GP was truly one of the most surprising wins I have ever seen.
The Jordan team for which Fisichella was driving was in a steady and continuous decline since 1999. The team lost their Honda engines the previous year and even had to hire pay drivers to help the finances the team.
At the start of the 2003 season, things looked bleak for Jordan. The car did not look either fast or very reliable either. Fisichella may have been a highly rated driver, but he was not a magician either.
Yet as very often happened in the past, the Gods of motorsport sent some rain to spice up the show.
The Brazilian GP was as wet as it could have been. Many great drivers, including Michael Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Fernando Alonso crashed out. Another top driver Rubens Barrichello had a technical failure that forced him to stop from the lead.
Throughout most of the race, the Michelins and Bridgestones looked evenly matched, but the Bridgestones had better tyre war, so the Bridgestone shod cars were generally faster in the latter parts of their stints. Barrichello used this advantage to take the lead and pull away before he stopped. The two McLarens were still in the running, but David Coulthard got unlucky with his fuel stop, which had happened just before the race was interrupted. Fisichella in the meantime passed Kimi Raikkonen and took the lead. Unfortunately for him, Alonso’s massive crash brought out a red flag.
The official race result was the one before Fisichella passed Raikkonen, so it was the Finn who was proclaimed the winner after the race. Controversy emerged after the race, and after much debate and haggling, the provisional race result was overruled, and Fisichella was proclaimed as the winner of the Brazilian GP, albeit after a week.
1. Max Verstappen: 2016 Spanish GP
Max Verstappen had become the youngest race winner in F1’s history at the 2016 Spanish GP. The Dutchman was only 18 years old at the time of the race, and his win astounded the whole paddock.
Verstappen was highly rated already, but before the 2016 season began, nobody could have expected him to win a race that season. Verstappen began the season at Red Bull’s Junior team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, but after an incident-packed start of his season, Daniil Kvyat was demoted from Red Bull to Toro Rosso, while Verstappen moved the other way and replaced Kvyat at Red Bull.
Red Bull had a quick car at the beginning of the 2016 season, but they were still a long way off Mercedes.
Mercedes confirmed their superb form at the Spanish GP also when they locked out the front row. Verstappen’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo was 3rd, while Verstappen got 4th in his first Red Bull weekend, beating both Ferraris in qualifying.
The start was a disaster for Mercedes, as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg collided with each other, and both of them were out of the race.
Ricciardo inherited the lead and led the race after the restart. Verstappen followed his teammate, while the Ferraris of Vettel and Raikkonen were 3rd and 4th. The Ferraris looked slightly quicker, but they were unable to get close enough to overtake. To Vettel’s aggressive 3 stop strategy Red Bull reacted with Ricciardo. Verstappen and Raikkonen, on the other hand, opted for a two-stop and stayed out longer.
As the race progressed, it became clear that as a matter of fact, the 2 stops looked the better option. Vettel and Ricciardo were unable to make up the deficit their extra stop give them, and Verstappen held off Raikkonen to win his first race on his Red Bull debut.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Andrew Szekler