Special Feature: When The Small Teams Do Well!
Everyone likes to see the “under-dogs” do well at some point, and following on from Force India’s epic weekend in Spa, where they had the fastest car and scored a second place finish on the back of pole position we look back at some fine performances from the minnows from the late 1990’s through to 2008!
1996 Monaco Grand Prix – Olivier Panis
It was a wet morning before the Monaco Grand Prix and changeable weather conditions were a possibility. In the warm-up pre-race Andrea Montermini crashed his Forti and wouldn’t make the start of the Grand Prix. Jos Verstappen hit the wall within moments of the race start as he was on slicks. After just 5 laps there were only 13 cars remaining with Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello, Ukyo Katayama, Ricardo Rosset and Pedro Diniz all retiring through incident.
Gerhard Berger then retired, and Martin Brundle spun. Heinz Harald Frentzen lost his nosecone and ended up well down the field. At Lowes hairpin, Olivier Panis managed to muscle his way passed Eddie Irvine in the Ferrari. Irvine lost control and was getting out of the car when the Ferrari engine coughed back into life for him. Jean Alesi took an impromptu lead but lost it when his suspension failed. Jacques Villeneuve retired when he was in an incident with Luca Badoer in the Forti who was some 6 laps DOWN on the leaders.
Olivier Panis took his first and only Formula One victory after the two hour limit was passed, it was Ligier’s final victory also and their first for 15 years in the sport. True underdog stuff.
1997 Hungarian Grand Prix – Damon Hill & Shinya Nakano
Damon Hill, despite being world champion was driving for the very uncompetitive Arrows Yamaha team and had been experiencing a shocking season. However in Hungary, the Bridgestone tyres the team used were working well and after qualifying 3rd, Hill managed to lead the race after making a daring move down the inside of Michael Schumacher. He lead for the majority of the race but ended up finishing second after a throttle linkage failure. The failure was caused by a small washer, valued at only 50pence but it took away Arrows’ first ever win. It would be their last podium finish.
Also worth noting in Shinya Nakano’s performance here to 6th place, where he managed to score a single point!
1998 Belgian Grand Prix – Jordan’s 1-2
Eddie Jordan’s team had always been there or thereabouts at the top of the tables, but this race really put them on the map.
In the rain at Spa Francorchamps there was a huge incident between the La Source hairpin and Eau Rouge with almost every single car in the field involved. It was caused by David Coulthard losing control, and with terrible spray and mist other drivers piled in at full speed. Without enough spare cars, many did not restart the race and those that did ended up in accidents themselves with just 8 cars finishing the event, and last placed Shinya Nakano was 5 laps down…at Spa!
Still a brilliant performance from both Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher led to the team getting a 1-2 finish and sending Eddie Jordan into eclectic jubliation.
1999 European Grand Prix – Minardi Points; Stewart 1-3
After a fairly large incident on the first corner taking out two cars this was a pretty crazy Grand Prix all in. When the rain came it just added to everyone’s problems and cars were spinning off the track all ways. The standard amount of mechanical problems added into the mix too led to both Minardi’s being in the points. Disaster struck the story late on when Luca Badoer retired from 4th place with mechanical problems but his team mate Marc Gene managed 6th and a solitary point which was as ever incredibly vital for the team. However, in recent years it has been suggested that Gene changed the champion of that season, had he been passed by Irvine then Eddie could have won the World Championship by a single point. But he did not, and Mika Hakkinen took his second and final title.
Worth noting also that Jackie Stewart’s team got a 1-3 finish in the race. But Minardi were even more of an underdog than Stewart!!
2003 Brazilian Grand Prix – Fisichella Shines In The Rain
Rain hit the Brazilian GP, and the drains on track couldn’t cope with the monsoon conditions. With standing water all over the place, many crashed around turn 3 including some of the big names such as Michael Schumacher. Coy pitting allowed Giancarlo Fisichella up the front of the pack and he completed a beautiful pass over Kimi Raikkonen to take the lead moments before Mark Webber had a huge crash coming into the main straight. The safety car came out and Fisichella dived into the pits giving Raikkonen the lead again. When Fernando Alonso had a huge shunt in the same place just moments later the race was red flagged and Raikkonen handed the win.
However in the days following the race, it was discovered the leader from the last full lap won the race and that was Giancarlo Fisichella! He was belatedly handed the trophy at the San Marino Grand Prix a few weeks later.
2005 United States Grand Prix
When Ralf Schumacher had another crash at Indianapolis, Michelin realised their tyres were not up to the job of the circuit and moments before the race started they asked the Michelin running cars to pull into the garages post formation lap.
They did so, and we were left with just 6 Bridgestone tyre runners to complete the USGP. There were shocking scenes that day, but it allowed Jordan and Minardi to score many points and indeed Tiago Montiero to take his first and only podium finish.
2008 Italian Grand Prix – Vettel Wins For What Was Minardi!
Sebastian Vettel was drafted into Toro Rosso late in 2007 and showed great promise as a driver. When the Italian GP came, adverse weather allowed the young driver to put his car on pole, from there he strolled home in the terribly wet conditions while others lost their heads. Vettel delivered Toro Rosso a win, the team that used to be Minardi and indeed before the big brother Red Bull team even got one!