After Sergio Perez made our afternoon chasing down Fernando Alonso, the Badgerometer has roared into life to look through the ages and seek out other surprising second places.
Eddie Cheever – Detroit, 1982
If you ignore the fact that John Watson came from 17th on the grid to win in the US heat, then this was a sterling drive from American Cheever on home soil, beating the likes of Keke Rosberg, Niki Lauda and Alain Prost (all of whom would win titles in the 1980s).
The grid had been mixed up thanks to rain in the afternoon session, and Cheever lined up 9th, ahead of Lauda’s McLaren. In a shock result, reigning champion Nelson Piquet failed to qualify.
Seven laps in, the race was red flagged due to a collision between Roberto Guerroro and Elio De Angelis that also collected Ricardo Patrese. The red flag was shown as the stationary cars were collected, with the race to continue with aggregate timing. With the race back underway, Prost led, but was caught and passed by Rosberg. Cheever diced with Lauda in the group behind, which also contained Didier Pironi and the recovering Watson.
As the race wore on, Prost dropped out due to electrical problems, while Rosberg was caught and passed by Watson. Earlier, Watson had – in just one overtaking manoeuvre – overtaken Pironi, Lauda and Cheever! Rosberg struggled with fuel issues and dropped back, at which point Lauda eliminated himself trying to pass the ailing Williams.
Eddie hung on for second – an American driver’s best result since Mario Andretti won the 1978 Dutch GP.
Shame that his achievement was overshadowed by John Watson coming through from 17th though…
Jean Alesi – Phoenix, 1990
Where have we heard this before; young driver in his second season, challenging a World Champion in one of the first races of the year? Rewind 22 years, and your pretty much reciting the opening race of the 1990 season, but the comparisons don’t end there.
With the sport still reeling from the fallout of Prost vs Senna in Suzuka the previous season, the introduction of Pirelli tyres to the sport threw up some surprise qualifying results, with a Minardi on the front row.
At the start, Jean Alesi, in only his second season at Tyrrell, jumped everyone to pass polesitter Gerhard Berger and led into the first corner. The Austrian’s teammate, Aryton Senna, had only managed 5th on the grid, but was soon up to third and chasing Berger down. Alesi started to rocket away at almost half a second a lap.
Senna passed Berger, who promptly spun out in frustration. Senna then looked to close down the 8 second lead Alesi, and looked to make a pass on lap 34, but the Frenchman didn’t give it up easily…
With his Pirellis struggling to last the race, Alesi gave up the chance of victory for a podium place. It was a shock to see the underfunded Tyrrell team back up there, and many top teams started to clamour for Alesi’s signature, especially after he repeated the feat at Monaco.
He eventually chose Ferrari, echoing the current rumours that surround a certain Mexican.
John Love – Kyalami, 1967
The former colonial state of Rhodesia was hardly what you’d call a motor racing hotspot. You could fill books with history and debate about the country that is today Zimbabwe without ever mentioning motorsport; it’d just seem a bit out of place amongst the bloodshed and racial tensions.
But in the 1960s and ’70s five ‘Rhodesians’ entered grand prix, chief amongst them multiple South African F1 champion John Love. Never a regular, Love contested the South African event yearly between 1962 and ’72 and, in 1967, nearly won the thing in a privately entered Cooper-Climax.*
1967 was the first time Kyalami hosted the race, giving South African racing veteran Love an advantage over his more illustrious rivals. He qualified a heady fifth, climbed to third and inherited second spot when leader Jack Brabham retired. Love then assumed the lead when Denny Hulme was forced into the pits with brake woes.
However, his fairytale win was not to be. Love ran low on fuel late in the race, forcing him to duck in for a quick splash of fuel. That allowed Pedro Rodriguez into the lead, Love taking a still magnificent second place finish. He would contest five more South African Grands Prix without ever troubling the points scorers again, but memories of his incredible run in ’67 would not soon be forgotten.
* With no South African GP in ’64 Love instead attempted the Italian round. He failed to qualify, meaning all nine of his GP starts were on South African soil.
Giancarlo Fisichella – Spa, 2009
There had been a sense throughout the 2009 campaign that Force India’s VJM02 was a bit special, but it was August’s Belgian Grand Prix before they really got a chance to show it. Arriving at the race with no points on the board, it was naturally a surprise to pretty much everyone when Giancarlo Fisichella pipped Jarno Trulli’s Toyota to pole.
His advantage in the race didn’t last long as Kimi Raikkonen blasted into the lead after a post-safety car restart. The Finn has KERS; Fisichella’s mount did not.
From there Kimi was expected to pull away, yet after initially dropping back Fisi not only hung on to the Finn but quickly began catching the Ferrari. By the closing laps he was within touching distance, but the Italian never made a move. He finished second, less than a second behind the victor.
There are shades of Perez here. At the time, Fisichella was criticised by some for not slinging one down the inside of Raikkonen, but not only were Force India on for a maiden podium, the team was hunting its first points in Formula One. Perhaps they could have won that day, but the runner-up spot was still a stunning effort.
Damon Hill – Hungaroring, 1997
If there ever was the threat of a true “underdog” victory, then Damon Hill nearly pulled off the feat one summer’s day in 1997. The season that should have been his celebration of finally securing a World Championship turned out to be a struggle in an underpowered and fragile Arrows, having left Williams after holding out for more money. The low point was being out-qualified by Pedro Diniz, the man brought in to pay for his salary.
By mid-season the car started to come together, with a 6th place, and a single point, at the British Grand Prix. By Hungary, it had started to work well, and Bridgestone had brought a softer compound for their teams. This all culminated in a surprise 3rd place on the grid, only three-tenths off pole position.
At the start, Hill leapfogged second-placed man Jacques Villenueve, and then chased down and passed Michael Schumacher for the lead (an event the ITV coverage missed thanks to an ill-timed ad break). Damon then shot off like a rocket – something that was unheard of.
Pit-stops came and went, and Hill was still leading from Villenueve. Then, with 2 laps to go, the Canadian took 10 seconds out of the Arrow’s lead. The car had developed a throttle fault, and Hill was cruising. Villenueve passed him on the very last lap – not before he was pushed onto the grass by the Englishman – to take the win. On the warm down lap, Hill was seen bashing his hands against the steering wheel.
Second place wasn’t something to be angry with though, but thanks to a piece of kit worth around 50p, it could have been so much more.