How can backmarkers win F1 races

hill arrows 1997

On this day…. August 10th 1997

In the history of Formula One there have been some highly unlikely race victories. The only championship upset – similar to the 2016 Leicester City minnows winning the Premier League story – was in 2009 when Brawn GP beat the hundreds of millions spent by the big boys.

In terms of most unlikely driver wins, the most recent unexpected win was Pastor Maldonado for Williams at the 2012 Spanish GP. Maldonado inherited pole after Lewis Hamilton was disqualified and held off a racy Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari for Williams’ first win since 2004.

For the next ‘surprising’ win we now have to go back to 2008 when Sebastian Vettel claimed Toro Rosso’s one and only GP win and podium place at the very wet Italian GP.

Roll back a decade and F1 fans of a certain age will recall Spa 1998, a 13 car pile-up on lap 1 and race winning 1-2 for Damon Hill and Ralph Schumacher’s yellow Jordan cars.

However, on this day a year earlier, a certain Damon Hill was involved in what should have been the most unlikely race victory ever in F1.

In his Arrows-Yamaha car, Hill was 35 seconds ahead of second place Jacques Villeneuve with just 3 laps to go when heartbreak struck at the Hungaroring. Technical problems developed with Hill’s gearbox, leaving him stuck in third gear. Fans around the world agonised as Villeneuve chipped away at the half minute lead of Hill, only to see the British driver overtaken with a few hundred metres to the chequered flag.

Damon’s bitter rival Michael Schumacher paid tribute to the Brit’s driver following the race. “I hoped he would win, because he deserved to, and I congratulate him,” said Schumacher, before coyly adding: “I also hoped he’d win, because it would have helped me in the championship.”

The days of a minnow like Arrows winning an F1 race are long gone, simply because safety cars and red flags will never allow all the big boys on the grid to be wiped out. And lets not even get into how the manufacturers control the sport in it’s entirety.

Back in 2015, Bernie Ecclestone, Max Mosley and Adam Parr (former chairman of Williams) voiced their concern that F1’s engine manufacturers have become too powerful.

“The moment you have one or two or even three manufacturers and they are involved at board level…then they control Formula 1, you don’t control Formula 1,” said Mosley.

“If Mercedes were supplying you with engines and they wanted a vote on something, you’d have to put your hand up and vote for whatever they wanted otherwise maybe you’re not going to get the engine you want.” agreed Bernie.

Adam Parr famously joined in by Tweeting at the time that F1’s endgame was “3 car A-teams and customer B-Teams with engine makers creating the rules”.

So 3 years down the line and with Liberty Media’s take over complete, are we likely to see a change in this trajectory?

I will leave that up to you in the comments to discuss.

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