Formula 1's great one-off pole laps

Kevin Turner
·14-min read

Lance Stroll became the latest member of that club after taking a shock pole for Racing Point in mixed conditions, becoming the first new pole-winner since Max Verstappen's long-overdue maiden P1 at the Hungaroring last year.

He joins a club featuring a world champion and several grand prix winners, albeit with an overwhelming bias towards the 20th century when serious accidents were more common and the ubiquitous Cosworth DFV gave several smaller teams opportunities to challenge the main players.

Ferrari driver Wolfgang von Trips never got the opportunity to add to his one and only pole at Monza in 1961 when he was tragically killed during the race, while Lorenzo Bandini was killed at Monaco within a year of his only pole at Reims in 1966.

In 1975, a year dominated by Niki Lauda, no less than four drivers scored their maiden pole positions with a DFV engine behind them, while for three - Carlos Pace, Vittorio Brambilla and Tom Pryce - it was their sole time starting at the front.

Only six drivers, Stroll included, have taken a singleton pole in the past two decades - with most new additions to the pole winners list utilising front-running machinery to quickly rack up a tally, as Charles Leclerc managed last year with seven pole positions in his first season as a Ferrari driver.

Of these six, three were during the era of refuelling when drivers could mask their true pace by qualifying with a light car, while another was inherited by Pastor Maldonado at the 2012 Spanish GP when all-time pole record-holder Lewis Hamilton was booted out for not having enough fuel to provide a sample.

Nick Heidfeld's pole at the 2005 European GP was largely down to his Williams carrying less fuel than Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren and teammate Mark Webber, both of whom were quicker on fuel-corrected times.

Heidfeld's 2008 teammate Robert Kubica also owed his only top qualifying slot to carrying less fuel. His BMW Sauber was around 11kg lighter than Felipe Massa's Ferrari in Bahrain qualifying that year and lapped just 0.027s quicker.

Heikki Kovalainen's top spot at Silverstone the same year wasn't entirely thanks to a light fuel load, although he did have two less laps than teammate Lewis Hamilton, who famously turned the tables in the rain on race day.

Stroll's race unravelled badly with severe graining on his second set of intermediates and unseen damage to his front wing which preceded a gradual slide back to ninth, but at the age of 22, he still has plenty of time on his side to add more poles to his tally.

Here are some of Motorsport.com's most impressive one-off pole laps.

Eugenio Castellotti, 1955 Belgian Grand Prix
Car: Lancia D50
Margin: 0.5s

Eugenio Castellotti, Lancia D50

Eugenio Castellotti, Lancia D50<span class="copyright">Motorsport Images</span>
Eugenio Castellotti, Lancia D50Motorsport Images

Motorsport Images

Following the death of team leader Alberto Ascari, Gianni Lancia gave up motorsport. But he did grant works driver Castellotti permission to race a D50 under his own name at the Belgian GP.

Incredibly for his first time at the old and fearsome 8.8-mile Spa, Castellotti went out for Friday afternoon practice and broke Juan Manuel Fangio's circuit record by half a second. That proved enough for pole when rain arrived on Saturday.

Legendary journalist/racer Paul Frere described the effort as superhuman, perhaps incorporating the spirit of his late mentor Ascari, who had been laid to rest less than a week earlier.

Castellotti nevertheless believed the D50 was the key element. "I am not completely satisfied," he told Frere. "The Lancia is going marvellously enough to be slightly superior to the Mercedes. With his class and experience, Ascari would have been able to do much, much more."

Though he agreed Ascari was the greater driver, Stirling Moss thought that was a tad harsh. "He was like a Peter Collins," he said. "He was very fast."

Nevertheless, Fangio and Moss quickly overcame Castellotti in the race and headed off to a Mercedes one-two in their W196s. Castellotti held third until the D50's gearbox broke, putting the Italian out, although decent results in Ferraris later in the year took him to third in the 1955 drivers' standings.

The D50 would go on to win the 1956 title, badged as a Ferrari, but Castellotti would never quite manage to win a GP before his death in a testing accident at Modena in 1957.

Peter Revson, 1972 Canadian Grand Prix
Car: McLaren M19C
Margin: 0.3s

Peter Revson, McLaren M19C Ford

Peter Revson, McLaren M19C Ford<span class="copyright">Motorsport Images</span>
Peter Revson, McLaren M19C FordMotorsport Images

Motorsport Images

Although perhaps not quite top drawer, American Peter Revson was a regular front-runner in the 1970s. He won the 1971 Can-Am title, finished second in the Indianapolis 500 the same year, and took two F1 wins in 1973 before losing his life in a testing crash early the following season with Shadow.

Part of the family that owned the Revlon Cosmetics firm, Revson also managed an F1 pole - for McLaren at Mosport Park in 1972.

Early on Saturday, he and teammate Denny Hulme went out on their soft-compound Goodyear rubber. Hulme managed 1m13.9s, but Revson stayed out and recorded 1m13.6s, the first official lap of the track at over 120mph.

"The M19s were obviously well suited to the circuit," wrote Autosport's Pete Lyons, "their width combined with perhaps more wing angle than most helping them through the long swerves and their suspensions set to give a distinctly smooth ride over the bumps."

Sticking throttles hampered both Revson and Hulme off the line, but they recovered to second and third respectively after battling drives behind a dominant Jackie Stewart.

Denny Hulme, 1973 South African Grand Prix
Car: McLaren M23
Margin: 0.13s

Denny Hulme, 1973 South African GP

Denny Hulme, 1973 South African GP<span class="copyright">Motorsport.com</span>
Denny Hulme, 1973 South African GPMotorsport.com

Motorsport.com

The only world champion on this list, the 1967 title winner has the fewest pole positions of the 33 drivers who ended the year on top of the standings (Jody Scheckter the next fewest with three, and Mike Hawthorn four). 'The Bear' scored eight wins and nine fastest laps in the world championship, but his 1973 effort at Kyalami was the only time he topped a qualifying session.

The event had even greater significance, for it was also the debut of one of F1's greatest designs: the McLaren M23.

"On our first test day there we ran faster than we had ever managed with the M19, even after the thousands of test miles we must have run round there in the past two years," Hulme told Autosport. Revealing he at first found it difficult to judge what the rear wheels were doing, he soon reached the stage "where I could set it oversteering and control it to a far greater degree than I had been able to with the M19. The new car oversteers and stays out there in a nice comfortable slide."

When timed practice started, the new car was also very handy on the straights, topping the speed traps at 185.3mph.

"As we had hoped, the new M23 was fabulous," Hulme continued. "After the first day, our Yardley Macs were 1-2-3! It must be a long time since any team has turned on a show like that in a Grand Prix with a new car."

Despite rumours of Ronnie Peterson's Lotus running a 1m16.1s lap, Hulme's 1m16.28s officially put him on pole, with McLaren new-boy Scheckter third in the old M19C. To mark the occasion, Austrian journalist Heinz Pruller presented Hulme with a bottle of champagne "that he has been toting around the world waiting for just such an occasion. Waiting that long, of course, it was vintage.."

Hulme then comfortably led the race before debris from a multi-car accident punctured a tyre. He eventually came home fifth after suffering another deflation.

"A car with a future, a car to beat," reckoned Lyons in his Autosport report.

Patrick Depailler, 1974 Swedish Grand Prix
Car: Tyrrell 007
Margin: 0.318s

Patrick Depailler, 1974 Swedish GP

Patrick Depailler, 1974 Swedish GP<span class="copyright">Motorsport.com</span>
Patrick Depailler, 1974 Swedish GPMotorsport.com

Motorsport.com

Four teams and five drivers had won races before the unpredictable 1974 season arrived at Anderstorp for round seven. And the trend continued as Tyrrell led the way.

Scheckter generally had the upper-hand over teammate Patrick Depailler, but on this occasion the Frenchman proved quicker in practice. Scheckter was faster initially, from Lauda's Ferrari, but it was Depailler who broke the 1m25s barrier.

He wanted another go, but Ken Tyrrell won that fight. He was proved right as Depailler's earlier time was easily enough, being 0.3s better than his teammate and 0.4s ahead of Lauda.

But in the race, too much wheelspin hurt Depailler's start and that proved decisive to the outcome. The challenges of Ronnie Peterson and the Ferraris hit reliability problems and the rapid Hesketh of James Hunt lost too much time behind Lauda.

Although Depailler closed on Scheckter and set fastest lap, one of four in his F1 career, he had to stay put.

"The strategy was that the start had determined the outcome," wrote Autosport's Lyons. "Although Patrick was pressing right up the back of Jody he was instructed firmly to 'STAY' in his place."

Neither Tyrrell would qualify in the top two for the rest of the season, but Scheckter would finish third in the standings. Depailler went on to take a win apiece for Tyrrell and Ligier before losing his life in an Alfa Romeo testing accident at Hockenheim in 1980.

Tom Pryce, 1975 British Grand Prix
Car: Shadow DN5A
Margin: 0.14s

Tom Pryce, Shadow DN5 Ford

Tom Pryce, Shadow DN5 Ford<span class="copyright">Ercole Colombo</span>
Tom Pryce, Shadow DN5 FordErcole Colombo

Ercole Colombo

Welshman Pryce was really getting into his stride in 1975. He started the season with Shadow's old DN3B, while teammate Jean-Pierre Jarier stunned F1 with a brace of poles with the new DN5A. Once he got his hands on the newer car, Pryce became a contender too.

He won the Race of Champions at Brands Hatch and then qualified on the front row at Monaco, second only to Lauda. Come race weekend at Silverstone, Pryce continued his form, managing two laps good enough for pole.

"I was behind a couple of cars on those laps, so maybe I could shave off a tenth but it was pretty well the fastest I can go," Pryce told Lyons in Autocourse.

Pryce got involved in a multi-car fight early in the race, then grabbed the lead, only to find a rain shower at Becketts and slide off.

Despite scoring a couple of podiums, Pryce would never again lead a world championship GP and was killed in South Africa in 1977 when he drove into a marshal who had run across the track.

Bruno Giacomelli, 1980 US Grand Prix
Car: Alfa Romeo 179B
Margin: 0.789s

Bruno Giacomelli, Alfa Romeo 179

Bruno Giacomelli, Alfa Romeo 179<span class="copyright">David Phipps</span>
Bruno Giacomelli, Alfa Romeo 179David Phipps

David Phipps

Giacomelli's 1980 season had been largely spoiled by unreliability, but he at least got to star at the Watkins Glen finale, taking pole and leading a points-paying GP for the first and last time. Until the Alfa broke again.

"After all the problems we had during the year, it all seemed to be coming good," he said in a 2013 interview. "We'd had bad reliability, a car that was too soft for most of the circuits, and then we lost Patrick Depailler [in a testing crash]. We needed something to lift us up.

"Watkins Glen was a fantastic circuit with lots of long-radius, fast corners and lots of ups and downs. Because our car was so soft but had immense ground effect, it suited the circuit. Plus, we'd found some solutions to the problems we'd been having and they totally transformed the car. The engine, in particular, was so useable; the power delivery was far less aggressive than it had been.

"From the first lap I could make the car do whatever I wanted. It was fast on the straights, handled neutrally in every corner and had fantastic traction and braking.

"It was the best car I ever drove in F1; so fast through the long corners that I managed to wear out a set of qualifying tyres in less than a lap, so I had to qualify on race tyres. And I was still able to take the last corner in fourth gear on my pole lap. The rest were doing it in third! That day was a dream."

Thierry Boutsen, 1990 Hungarian Grand Prix
Car: Williams FW13B
Margin: 0.036s

Race winner Thierry Boutsen, Williams leads Ayrton Senna, McLaren

Race winner Thierry Boutsen, Williams leads Ayrton Senna, McLaren<span class="copyright">Sutton Images</span>
Race winner Thierry Boutsen, Williams leads Ayrton Senna, McLarenSutton Images

Sutton Images

"Forgive me Thierry, I was wrong," wrote Autosport's Nigel Roebuck. "I had my doubts you could ever win a race like this, from the front, in the dry, under pressure. In Hungary, though, you took pole, led from the start and - give or take a few hundred revs - made no mistakes."

Boutsen's great opportunity had come with a move to Williams in 1989 and he duly took two wet-weather wins. But at the Hungaroring, the FW13B was strong in the dry.
Jean Alesi (Tyrell) and Gerhard Berger's McLaren starred initially, with times in the 1m18s, before Boutsen came out of nowhere to pip them with a 1m17.919s.

"The car is a lot better here than it was at Hockenheim [the previous round]," said the Belgian at the time. "We made a big improvement with the chassis but also Renault has come up with some new things for the engine which has enabled us to have quite a bit more power for qualifying. The first time I drove out of the pits I could feel a big difference."

teammate Riccardo Patrese underlined the pace of the improved Williams-Renault combination by taking second. Even a late Ayrton Senna effort couldn't break the British squad's one two.

"I can remember every second of that lap," Boutsen recalled years later. "I knew our car wasn't so good on race tyres, but it was very good on qualifiers.

"I started the lap slower than I could have done to keep the tyres fresh over the whole lap. I knew that was my chance to get pole. I took the first two corners easy and I think I was much faster than everyone in the final split. I knew I couldn't win the race if I didn't start from pole."

Boutsen duly made a decent getaway and withstood attacks from Berger, Alessandro Nannini and Senna to force that apology from our man on the ground.

Nico Hulkenberg, 2010 Brazilian Grand Prix
Car: Williams FW32
Margin: 1.049s

Nico Hulkenberg, Williams FW32

Nico Hulkenberg, Williams FW32<span class="copyright">Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images</span>
Nico Hulkenberg, Williams FW32Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images

"Well, he made all of us look pretty average there today. He found a different racetrack to the rest of us."

Some ascribe Nico Hulkenberg's sensational pole for unfancied Williams to good fortune and being the last man over the line on a damp but ever-improving track. Not so, for as Mark Webber hinted, the German rookie was a different class that day and banged in two laps good enough for top spot.

Key to his success was a rapid out-lap, maintaining tyre temperature in a way his more cautious rivals couldn't match. teammate Rubens Barrichello had made the switch to slicks half a lap earlier than Hulkenberg, but the Brazilian veteran lost 17s on his out-lap compared to his teammate, Autosport noted, "through being trapped in traffic and then sliding off."

Knowing he was facing the exit door at Williams due to the impending arrival of well-backed GP2 champion Pastor Maldonado, Hulkenberg opted to go for broke with a lap Autosport observed as "in the annals of Williams history, right up there with Keke Rosberg, Silverstone 1985".

Knowing disaster awaited if he put a wheel out of place, he laid everything on the line. Several times he was on the verge of sliding off, particularly at the last corner, but he kept it together to take one of the most popular poles in F1 history - and a first in over 100 races for Williams since 2005 - ahead of Red Bull pair Sebastian Vettel and Webber.

Few would have predicted at the time that Hulkenberg would never repeat the feat, but his career never yielded a shot in a front-line car. It would be another six years before his next front-row start, at the Red Bull Ring in 2016 for Force India, and in a cruel statistical injustice, the German has racked up the most F1 starts - 179 - without a podium, dwarfing Adrian Sutil's 128.

Hulkenberg's strong drives as a Racing Point super-sub this year have put him in the frame for the second Red Bull seat next year if Alex Albon isn't retained, but unlike Stroll, the opportunity to add to his tally isn't in his own hands.