Always expect the unexpected in Formula One. From ill-timed leg breaks to cheques bouncing, and even being stuck in prison, the teams need to keep an eye on the drivers who are available to stand in for an AWOL driver at the last minute.
BadgerGP takes a look at some of the driver replacements who worked out and those who perhaps wish they just stayed at home.
After a tough season with a struggling Arrows team, Mika Salo found himself sidelined at the beginning of the 1999 season. Pedro de la Rosa’s Repsol cash had ousted him from Arrows rather last minute, leaving Salo with no options left. His chance came when Ricardo Zonta slammed his BAR Supertec into an armco barrier in Brazil; he broke his foot and badly damaged tendons while he was at it. Salo replaced the Brazilian for three races, narrowly missing out on points on two of those occasions.
His performance was enough to thrust him into the watchful eye of the Ferrari team after Michael Schumacher broken his leg during the British Grand Prix. Salo was drafted in for the following race in Austria. A quiet ninth place finish perhaps cast some doubt over Salo’s potential, but he shut the doubters up in superb fashion during a German Grand Prix he very nearly won.
Only team-orders from Ferrari to allow Eddie Irvine through stopped Salo from taking a maiden win; he would finish second, although Irvine would later hand Salo the winner’s trophy in a rare moment of gallantry for F1.
One more podium in front of the Ferrari tifosi in Monza ensured Salo would be remembered as a ‘super-sub’ for years to come.
Gianni Morbidelli/Norberto Fontana
To say Sauber had a nightmare with their number seventeen car in 1997 would be an understatement. Nicola Larini began the season alongside Johnny Herbert at the request of Ferrari, what with him being their test driver and Sauber using Petronas badged Ferrari engines. The relationship between Sauber and Larini turned sour after just five races, and he was replaced by fellow Italian Gianni Morbidelli for the Spanish Grand Prix.
However an nasty shunt during testing at Mangy-Cours left Morbidelli with a badly broken arm. After just two races he himself had to be replaced with tiny Argentinian, Norberto Fontana. A terrible debut in France led to Peter Sauber looking for this third replacement driver of the season. Eventually Fontana was given a second chance, which saw him missing a weigh bridge check during British Grand Prix qualifying and demoted to the back of the grid. He would finish ninth in the race. Another ninth in Germany was enough for the team to bring Morbidelli back for Hungary.
Sadly the arm injury suffered earlier in the season would prove to be enough to end Morbidelli’s career in F1. Fontana was draughted back in for the season finale in Jerez.
During the race he ended up infamously blocking the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve in order to help Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. He would never drive a Sauber again.
After a string of fantastic free practice performances from Robert Kubica on Fridays throughout 2006, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Jacques Villeneuve at BMW-Sauber. The final straw for the team came after Villeneuve crashed out of the German Grand Prix. The official line was that Villeneuve was injured and unable to compete in the following race. The world knew BMW-Sauber finally had the excuse it needed to ship the former world champion out in favour of Kubica.
Immediately, F1’s first Polish driver showed his star quality by finishing in the points in the Hungarian Grand Prix. Only an underweight car prevented him from keeping his seventh place in the final standings. Two races later Kubica would go on to stand on the podium with third place in the Italian Grand Prix. He was the first driver since Alex Wurz in 1997 to stand on the podium within his first three races.
Seems rather funny that Michael Schumacher began his F1 career in a car carrying ‘7up’ as it’s primary sponsor. The young German was handed his big chance after Jordan driver Bertrand Gachot took aim at London cab driver with some pepper spray. Some jail time for Gachot and a little white lie from Schumacher’s manager Willi Weber about his upstart having driving experience of Spa-Francorchamps ensured him of the drive.
Schumacher took the F1 world by storm with some impressive times during practice and a very together performance for seventh place in qualifying. Unfortunately he burned out his clutch and it failed completely as he exited Eau Rouge for the first time on the first lap.
The talent he possessed was abundantly clear. His Jordan spell didn’t last long as he was poached by Benetton boss Flavio Briatore for the very next race in Italy, to replace Roberto Moreno. The rest is history.
Following the tragic death of Ayrton Senna in 1994, Williams drafted back in their former champion Nigel Mansell to help settle the team. He competed in four races and even won the season finale in Adelaide. His form was so good, despite a year our to compete in IndyCar, that McLaren pounced on Mansell for 1995. With Mercedes-Benz engines also promised, it appeared that Mansell and McLaren were on the cusp of great things.
Alas it was not to be. It turned out in pre-season testing that Mansell could barely fit in the new MP4-10 chassis. His debut for the Woking squad was put on hold until they could make alterations to the car. Those finally came to fruition for the San Marino race where Mansell had a strong run in the race. He was lying fifth before a collision with Eddie Irvine late on dropped him to tenth.
It proved to be a false dawn for both Mansell and McLaren. In Spain Mansell’s pace was awful during the race; he blamed the handling of the car and retired it on lap eighteen of the sixty five lap race. McLaren found nothing wrong with the car, Mansell quit the team, and ultimately the sport.
It’s rather easy to forget that Sebastian Vettel didn’t make his grand prix debut while driving a Red Bull sponsored F1 car. Instead he was attired in the blue and white of BMW-Sauber in place of the mildly injured Robert Kubica. He’d already had a decent amount of F1 experience for his young age, after taking part in several Friday practice sessions the previous year.
Just like his hero Michael Schumacher, Vettel went on to qualify in seventh place for his debut. A poor start saw him drop a few places off the line but a well-measured and intelligent drive allowed him to come home and collect a solitary point. He became the first teenager ever to score points in a world championship grand prix, and a star was well and truly born.