Racing into the 21st century with Ferrari, McLaren, and Alpha Tauri – The Three Best Driver Comebacks of the Formula One
The Formula One (F1) is one of the biggest sports in the world, with a cult following and rich history.
Starting in 1950, the sport has had some amazing moments from it’s drivers, whose skills behind the wheel radiate strength, courage and determination.
The masses that enjoy the sport have witnessed challenges and triumphs worthy of the movies- with some even making it that far!
Everyone loves a good ‘unlikely winner’ story, so I will be delving into the greatest driver comebacks of the 21st century. It’s stories like these that inspire a plethora of people the world over to never give up.
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3. Pierre Gasly of Alpha Tauri – Italian Grand Prix, 2020
Starting from the most recent season of Formula One, Pierre Gasly had one of the best comebacks in years. Fans saw the unlikely hero’s comeback watching the Italian Grand Prix and from Episode 6 of Drive to Survive: Season 3, titled ‘The Comeback Kid’.
Gasly had a promising racing career in front of him. He started off carting, moving onto the Super Formula races, and eventually winning the 2016 F2 (a tier below the F1).
He won a seat with Toro Rosso in the 2017 F1 and achieved high results in his debut season.
He was moved to Red Bull Racing in 2019, which was a huge step in his career. Gasly said, “Red Bull was my first chance to drive for a top team and prove to everyone what I could do in one of the best cars in the world”. Red Bull Racing has a high reputation; drivers from Toro Rosso and Alpha Tauri are always striving to get better so that they can move to Red Bull Racing. Gasly was given that chance very soon into his F1 career and at a very young age.
However, his first season with Red Bull didn’t go as expected. Gasly said, “From the moment I made my first mistake in a car, I felt like people there slowly began to turn on me”. Starting from his pre-season crash in 2019, it was a slow decline for Gasly.
All the initial hype for Gasly died down quickly, as he failed to achieve a podium place until the second last race of the season. By that time, Red Bull had made their decision. He was dropped by Red Bull, then picked up by Alpha Tauri.
In an effort to prove himself, Gasly vowed to do well for a chance to get back into the Red Bull team.
The Monzo Grand Prix of 2020 was the comeback everyone was waiting for. Gasly started 10th on the grid and slowly worked his way up to the top of the leaderboard. Lewis Hamilton had received a ten-second penalty for entering the pit lane when it was closed, which was a huge advantage for Gasly. A mere 0.415 seconds ahead of Carlo Sainz (McLaren) saw Gasly win his first race and prove to everyone that he could do it.
Gasly will continue to drive with Alpha Tauri in the 2021 season, but if he keeps up his driving, we may see him in Red Bull again before we know it.
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2. Jenson Button of McLaren – Canadian Grand Prix, 2011
Button is often regarded as a driver who can adapt to any changes and conditions successfully. Debuting in 2000, Button has had 15 wins in the F1, the most notable, however, is his win at the Canadian Grand Prix in 2011. One of the most memorable races for its duration and general chaos, Button was its unlikely hero.
Unlike Gasly, Button was already a successful driver, and his comeback was solely for this race. It was a very messy race, and the longest in F1 history (4 hours, 4 minutes, 39 seconds) for multiple reasons, including a two-hour rain suspension.
The odds were stacked against Button. With two collisions and last place position, he was the least expected to win this race.
He originally started in 7th place. In the 9th lap, he didn’t see his fellow McLaren team mate, Lewis Hamilton, and collided with him. Debris went all over the track, and Button received a penalty for speeding whilst under the safety car. This meant he was down to 15th place, 6 places below his original starting position. He definitely needed to step it up in order to get even a podium position. But with the extreme conditions, it was the last thing anyone expected. After his second collision with Fernando Alonso of Ferrari, he found himself in last place by lap 40.
Button’s decision to change to different sets of tires (first intermediate, then dry-weather slick tires) gave him an immediate advantage. He worked his way up the ranks quite quickly. A crucial mistake by Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull allowed Button to steal first place by the 70th lap. That’s where Button stayed, and won the race.
From last to first in just 30 laps, this was one of the greatest, and most unlikely victories in F1 history.
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1. Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari – German Grand Prix, 2000
Much like Button, Rubens Barrichello was soon after known as a driver who could skilfully adapt to any changing conditions following his win at the German Grand Prix in 2000. Making his debut in 1993, his first win would not be until seven years later. It wasn’t just his first win, it was an amazing and unlikely one, cementing his legacy as a skilled driver.
Everyone had their eyes on Michael Schumacher of Ferrari as he had impressed more so than others that year. Already claiming five wins in earlier races of the season, everyone was confident that he was going to win this race too.
Meanwhile, Barrichello was to start at 18th position due to his poor performance in the qualifying round. After issues with his car, he had to use a car he was unfamiliar with in the qualifiers, giving him a major disadvantage.
Mere seconds into the game, Michael Schumacher crashed with another driver. The race was anyone’s win now, but no one expected Barrichello. He soon moved from 18th place to 10th in just one lap, which was unheard of in the world of the F1. He quickly became a threat to other drivers.
Much like Button’s famous race, conditions were unfavourable and constantly changing, causing the need for numerous safety cars throughout the race. Despite this, Barrichello refused to stop and change to appropriate tires like every other driver had. This did give him a time advantage, but everyone assumed he would either crash due to the weather or eventually stop for the tires and even out the time advantage. This was not the case for Barrichello.
His skilful driving shocked everyone, as he was able to maintain most of his time advantage (it was originally 10 seconds ahead, but dropped to 7 seconds in the end) and win the race with his original dry tires on. It is a very memorable race as it was risky but definitely paid off for Barrichello in the end and got him his first F1 win.
The F1 has had numerous other comeback stories, but these three are by far the most impressive. From Gasly being demoted then proving his worth, to Button and Barrichello starting in low positions with various odds stacked against them, these drivers are some of the most skilled the F1 has seen by far.