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Underdog Power: F1 Winners Against All Odds

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Formula 1 is known for its high-speed thrills, intense competition, and drama. The sport attracts the best drivers and teams from around the world, who compete in races across the globe to determine the world champion.

While the top teams and drivers often dominate the sport, there have been numerous occasions where underdogs have pulled off surprising wins and upset the establishment. We take a look at some of the most memorable and surprising wins by underdogs in F1.

Betting on an underdog is generally considered a bad idea. Although bets on the less likely winner clearly come with the potential of a bigger payout, the risk is also much higher.

The chances of an underdog winning a Grand Prix are comparable to the odds of hitting a jackpot at one of the top casino games in Australia – but the payoff is also sweet. Just ask those who bet on the underdogs in these amazing races.

Giancarlo Baghetti – 1961 French Grand Prix

SPEEDWEEK Steckbrief Giancarlo Baghetti

The 1961 French Grand Prix marked the first win for Italian driver Giancarlo Baghetti, who was competing in only his third Formula 1 race. Baghetti was driving for the small Scuderia Centro Sud team and was considered a huge underdog compared to the top teams and drivers of the day.

Despite the odds against him, Baghetti managed to win the chaotic and wet race, becoming the first driver in F1 history to win his  debut race.

Jochen Rindt – 1970 Monaco Grand Prix

Formel-1-Historie: Jochen Rindt - Der Champion

Austrian driver Jochen Rindt was a talented and often-underrated driver, who competed for several small teams throughout his career. In 1970, Rindt was driving for the Lotus team, which was not considered a top team at the time.

However, at the  Monaco Grand Prix, Rindt put on a masterful performance, driving a flawless race to win the event and secure his only Monaco win.

James Hunt – 1976 Championship title

Video: James Hunt - F1 World Champion in a Race of Uncertainty |  HistoricRacingNews.com

British driver James Hunt was known for his flamboyant lifestyle and wild driving style, but in 1976 he pulled off one of the biggest upsets in F1 history. Hunt was competing for the McLaren team, which was not considered a top team at the time – the car he drove was rebuilt in a hurry for the new season, and many doubted that he will be able to pull off anything that year.

The 1976 season was one of the most controversial and dramatic ones in history, with disqualifications, restarted races, and a constant rivalry with Niki Lauda. Against all odds, Hunt pulled off one of the most successful seasons in his career, beating Lauda by just one point (and racing legend Mario Andretti by quite a few).

Nigel Mansell – 1987 Silverstone Grand Prix

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British driver Nigel Mansell was considered one of the best drivers of his generation, but in 1987 he pulled off a surprising win at Silverstone that qualifies as “against all odds”.

At one point, Mansell was forced to change his tires, during which he amassed a time lag of 28 seconds behind his teammate, Brazilian legend Nelson Piquet. Not many drivers can recover from such a disadvantage – but the man with the mustache pulled it off, breaking lap record after lap record and finally winning the race.

Michael Schumacher – 1991 Belgian Grand Prix

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In 1991, though, he showed a glimpse of his potential when he pulled off a surprise win in his first Formula 1 race. He was a replacement for Bertrand Gachot, imprisoned for the Irish Jordan-Ford team, chosen because his manager claimed he knew Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps very well – which, in fact, he has only seen as a spectator.

Actually, Schumi only learned the track on the race weekend, on a foldable bike he brought with him. This didn’t stop him from qualifying third and finishing the race first – against all odds, we must say.

Jenson Button – 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix

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British driver Jenson Button was a talented and often-underrated driver, who competed for several teams throughout his career. In 2006, Button was driving for Honda, a team that did well but not brilliantly throughout the year.

With years of experience behind him, and the backing of the team, Button scored points in almost half of the races he drove in but nobody considered him a favorite – especially in Hungary, where he started the race from the 14th position.

To everyone’s surprise, Button ran an excellent race on the rain-affected Hungaroring, winning the race ahead of de la Rosa and Heidfeld.

This win seemingly boosted his confidence – for the rest of the season, he earned more points than any other driver.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to Formula 1, you can always expect the unexpected. Whether it’s an engine failure or brilliant driving by a rookie pilot, surprises can and will be coming your way.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, though, that most of the drivers above, who have shown a moment of brilliance in their early years, went on to have long and successful careers. But it wasn’t something we knew at the time, in most cases, making them unlikely underdogs who pulled of spectacular wins.