Five of the Best: Formula One-Hit-Wonders

Francois Cevert 1973

Daniel Ricciardo became Formula One’s 105th race winner in Montreal last weekend.

Of those, 33 only ever tasted victory once. Two are still active in F1 - Ricciardo and Pastor Maldonado - meaning they could yet leave the one-hit-wonder club, though in Maldonado’s case it doesn’t seem likely any time soon.

And while some simply ran out of talent, a few of those one-time winners have fascinating stories behind their single victory. Here are five of the best.

JEAN ALESI (CANADA 1995, FERRARI)

Jean Alesi established his F1 reputation by dicing with Ayrton Senna at the 1990 US Grand Prix, eventually taking a brilliant second-place. The Brazilian was an established star in the mighty McLaren, Alesi an upstart youngster in a Tyrrell. Most assumed Jean was a champion of the future.

But Alesi never realised that potential, primarily because he turned down the chance to race for Williams in favour of Ferrari. He’d let his heart overrule his head and it cost him dearly: Williams went on to dominate, Ferrari hit a barren patch.

His one and only win came in 1995 in Canada, which thanks to Gilles Villeneuve is second only to Monza for Tifosi power. He was helped by problems for both Williams cars and Michael Schumacher’s Benetton, but the win was no less than Jean deserved.

ROBERT KUBICA (CANADA 2008, BMW-SAUBER)

Like Alesi, Robert Kubica’s one and only win came at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, the Pole leading a one-two finish for the BMW-Sauber squad in 2008.
 
But while Alesi’s career was stymied by his Latin decision making process, Kubica’s was destroyed by a horrendous accident in a rally during February 2011. He was lucky not to lose his right arm, and has gradually come to accept that he will never race in F1 again.
 
Since recovering he has taken up rallying full-time, winning last year’s WRC2 title and now competing in the top-tier for the M-Sport Ford outfit.
 
Kubica’s talent in any kind of car is clear, and had he remained in F1 many suspect he would be a Ferrari driver by now. More wins would surely have followed, but grand prix racing’s loss could be rallying’s gain.                                                                              

FRANCOIS CEVERT (USA 1971, TYRRELL)

Young, handsome and very gifted behind the wheel, Francois Cevert had everything required to be a Formula One megastar.
 
Joining the mighty Tyrrell in 1970, he quickly established a close relationship with team-mate Jackie Stewart. In ’71 the Scot won the title while Cevert claimed his only career win at Watkins Glen and third in the standings.
 
1972 was less fruitful for the Frenchman, but in ’73 he finished second on six occasions while Stewart claimed his third world title. Jackie planned to retire at the end of the season, after which his young friend would become the team’s lead driver.
 
“François was going to be number one in the team for 1974, although he never knew it,” Stewart later recalled. “Ken Tyrrell and I had kept it a secret that I was going to retire after that race.”
 
The final grand prix of the season took place at Watkins Glen, the scene of Cevert’s greatest F1 moment. But towards the end of qualifying, he suffered a huge accident and was killed instantly; he was 29 years old.
 
The team withdrew from the race as a mark of respect and Stewart’s glittering F1 career had come to a bitter end. Had Cevert lived, he would surely have added many more wins.

PETER GETHIN (ITALY 1971, BRM)

Peter Gethin won a single grand prix, but it was something very special: his victory at the 1971 Italian Grand Prix was the closest in F1 history.
 
Driving for the BRM squad, Gethin crossed the line a mere one hundredth of a second clear of Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus. Francois Cevert was third, 0.09 short of victory, with Mike Hailwood fourth (0.18s) and Howard Ganley (0.61s) in fifth. That meant the top five was covered by a shade over half a second.
 
Incredibly, Gethin never even led a full lap in F1 - he’d been fourth when the drivers began their final tour at Monza and never made it to the front again. He left F1 in 1974, but he’d always have a very special grand prix win to his name. Gethin passed way in 2011, aged 71.            
 

GIANCARLO BAGHETTI (FRANCE 1961, FISA-FERRARI)

 

The record books will tell you that three drivers won their debut Formula One World Championship race, but that’s misleading. It’s true that Nino Farina won the first ever F1 grand prix in 1950, while Johnnie Parsons won the Indy 500 that same year when it was part of the F1 championship, but in each case the whole field was made up entirely of debutant drivers.
 
Giancarlo Baghetti did something rather more special. The Italian won his very first F1 championship grand prix in 1961, by which time the series was over a decade old.
 
Armed with a fair bit of experience on the lower rungs, he made his debut at the 1961 French Grand Prix in a FISA-entered Ferrari 156. The car worked beautifully at the ultra-fast circuit, but the works entries of Wolfgang von Trips, Richie Ginther and Phil Hill all succumbed to technical woes. That cleared the way for Baghetti to take a famous debut win, beating Dan Gurney by just one tenth of a second.
 
Baghetti later drove for the works Ferrari team but never won again. He remained in F1 until 1967 and also enjoyed success in touring cars, then became a photographer and journalist. He lost his life to cancer in 1995, aged 60.