Pastor Maldonado, 2012 Spanish Grand Prix
Pastor Maldonado’s maiden win at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix was a modern fairytale story with several bizarre twists. Maldonado had arrived at the Grove team the year before with considerable backing from his Venezuelan oil sponsor PDVSA, in what was the team’s worst season in history. The 2012 season was all change for the team, with a revised technical setup and a renewed partnership with engine supplier Renault.
Williams showed improved form in the early races, but the FW34 really seemed to be coming alive in Barcelona and seemed to handle Pirelli’s unpopular tyres well on the Circuit de Catalunya. Maldonado had qualified a shock second, which became pole when McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton was disqualified for not having enough fuel left in the car.
Maldonado was passed at the start by local hero Fernando Alonso, but Williams outsmarted Ferrari with its pitstop strategy and undercut the Spaniard. Maldonado held on to take his first and only victory in F1, and the only Williams win in the past 16 years. The party was spoilt when a fire broke out in the Williams garage, in which several team members suffered burns.
Race winner Pastor Maldonado, Williams FW34 celebrate
Andrew Hone / Motorsport Images
Alessandro Nannini, 1989 Japanese Grand Prix
Alessandro Nannini’s first and only F1 victory was particularly remarkable considering the circumstances. He triumphed in one of the most infamous races in F1 history, although not that many people actually remember who won on the day.
The 1989 Japanese Grand Prix was the final act in the fraught relationship of Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost as McLaren teammates. Senna and Prost famously tangled at the final chicane, which ended Prost’s race. It also appeared to destroy the Frenchman’s title hopes, because Senna did manage to get going.
Senna made a pitstop to change his front wing and set after the Benetton of Nannini, who had benefited from the intra-team incident to take the lead. Senna quickly passed the Italian and took the win, but was controversially excluded because he cut the chicane in the Prost incident.
Alessandro Nannini, Benetton
Luigi Fagioli, 1952 French Grand Prix
Luigi Fagioli was another Italian whose single grand prix win occurred in controversial circumstances. In the pre-war grand prix scene, Fagioli was known for both his speed and temperament, famously coming to blows with Mercedes teammate Rudolf Caracciola over team orders at Mercedes.
Fagioli was already 42 when World War II broke out, but returned to driving after the war and even stuck around for the start of Formula 1. At the age of 52 he competed in F1’s very first world championship for Alfa Romeo. The following year he drove the Alfa 159 as a one-off entry in the French Grand Prix at Reims.
When teammate Juan Manuel Fangio’s car broke down, Fagioli was ordered to pull over and let the Argentine lead driver finish the race in his car. That decision was difficult to accept for Fagioli after his history with team orders at Mercedes.
Fangio eventually won the race, which made Fagioli the oldest ever winner of a grand prix at the age of 53.
Despite taking his first F1 win, an incensed Fagioli retired from grand prix racing on the spot. He went on to drive sports cars for Lancia, but died a year later in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix, which was a sports car race in 1952.
Luigi Fagioli, Alfa Romeo 159
Jochen Mass, 1975 Spanish Grand Prix
Jochen Mass also had little reason to celebrate his only Formula 1 win, which took place in tragic circumstances. The German won the fourth race of the 1975 season, the Spanish Grand Prix on the feared Montjuic street track in Barcelona.
Mass was the only McLaren driver at the start of the race. Many drivers protested against the subpar safety of the track. His teammate and reigning world champion Emerson Fittipaldi even refused to take part.
Fittipaldi’s concerns would prove to be justified during the race. Rolf Stommelen’s lost he rear wing of his Embassy Hill and somersaulted off the track, killing five people.
Formula 1 would never return to Montjuic and Mass would never win another race. Mass did go on to become a highly respected sports car racer, winning the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1989 with the Sauber C9 Mercedes.
Jochen Mass, McLaren M23-Cosworth
Peter Gethin, 1971 Italian Grand Prix
Rather than excelling in Formula 2, the traditional feeder series for F1, Peter Gethin made a name for himself in the European F5000 championship by winning the first four races on his way to the title in the 1969 season. Gethin arrived in F1 the following year in difficult circumstances, filling the seat left by the death of team founder Bruce McLaren.
After a tough year at McLaren, Gethin was given the boot by team manager Teddy Mayer halfway the 1971 season. When Pedro Rodriguez was killed in a sports car race on the Norisring, the Englishman took his seat at BRM. With its powerful V12 engine BRM was particularly competitive on the ultra-fast Monza circuit.
In an unforgettable race, Gethin was part of the leading pack of four cars. He came out of the Parabolica in the lead, hounded by Ronnie Peterson in the March, Tyrrell’s Francois Cevert and Mike Hailwood in the Surtees. Peterson pulled alongside, but Gethin just managed to hang on and win by 0.01s.
The race would end up being Gethin’s only F1 triumph, but would also go down as the fastest ever grand prix. Its average speed record of 242.615 km/h stood for 32 years until the 2003 Italian Grand Prix.
Peter Gethin, BRM P160, wins the 1971 Italian Grand Prix
Jean-Pierre Beltoise, 1972 Monaco Grand Prix
In the 1972 season Gethin was joined at BRM by Frenchman Jean-Pierre Beltoise for the majority of the season. Beltoise was a former motorcycle racer who had shown promise on Formula 2, but didn’t manage to win a race in four seasons with Matra.
Beltoise’s moment de gloire would arrive at that year’s rain-soaked Monaco Grand Prix. Beltoise qualified fourth, just ahead of Gethin and behind pole sitter Emerson Fittipaldi and the Ferraris of Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni.
On a rain-soaked track Beltoise made a terrific start on the inside and vaulted into the lead at Rascasse. The Frenchman was never caught again and won by 38 seconds over Ickx. Everyone else finished a lap down or more.
Beltoise’s first and only win would become even more significant as it proved to be BRM’s seventeenth and final victory in the world championship.
Jean-Pierre Beltoise, BRM P160B
Olivier Panis, 1996 Monaco Grand Prix
Monaco is quite the location to score your first grand prix win, especially as a Frenchman. That’s also what Olivier Panis found out in 1996.
In his third season with the small Ligier outfit, Panis qualified fourteenth in the streets of the principality.
Pole sitter Michael Schumacher crashed out on the first lap and set the tone for what would be a chaotic race, with several other drivers dropping out early on.
Halfway the race Panis was fourth, which became third when he passed Eddie Irvine with a bold move into the Loews hairpin, nudging the Ferrari driver into the armco.
After retirements for both Jean Alesi and Damon Hill, Panis was handed the lead and put in a measured drive to hold off McLaren’s David Coulthard and take his only victory in F1. Only Panis, Coulthard and third-placed Johnny Herbert actually made it to the chequered flag.
David Coulthard, Olivier Panis and Johnny Herbert on the 1996 Monaco podium
Vittorio Brambilla, 1975 Austrian Grand Prix
Rain often provided opportunities for outsiders to shine, and the 1975 Austrian Grand Prix is perhaps one of the most extreme examples.
In the bright orange March, Vittorio Brambilla had only seen the finish three times in eleven starts that season. On the Osterreichring Brambilla had qualified eight, a second behind pole sitter Niki Lauda, but the Monza Gorilla really came into his own in a rainy race.
The fearless Italian quickly moved up the field and chased Lauda and the second-placed Hesketh of James Hunt. When Lauda started struggling with a dry setup and Hunt’s Hesketh lost a cylinder, Brambilla gained the lead and took the chequered flag when the race was called early after 29 of 54 laps.
In his excitement, Brambilla threw his arms aloft as he crossed the finish and promptly spun and clouted the armco. Undeterred, he kept on waving to the crowd on the cool-down lap with a badly damaged front wing. Rightly so, because Brambilla would never step onto the F1 podium again. He retired in 1980.
Vittorio Brambilla celebrates after damaging his March
Jean Alesi, 1995 Canadian Grand Prix
Jean Alesi was one of the most popular drivers of the ‘90s, but seldom found himself in a truly competitive car. The son of Sicilian parents, Alesi went back on a 1991 contract with Williams to follow his heart and join Ferrari instead.
It may not have been the best career move, but with his flair and passion Alesi quickly became a tifosi favourite. Results were few and far between however, as Ferrari hit a major slump in the early nineties and struggled with both performance and reliability.
While reliability was still an issue, Ferrari’s form gradually improved and in 1995 Alesi scored two second places in the first three grands prix. In the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal, Alesi finally scored a win on his 31st birthday and his 91st start.
Ferrari fans flooded the track as Alesi crossed the line in the #27 Ferrari, sporting Gilles Villeneuve’s race number on the track named after the Canadian hero. It would also prove to be the last win in Formula 1 by a V12 engine.
Jean Alesi, Ferrari 412T2
Robert Kubica, 2008 Canadian Grand Prix
Many years later another crowd favourite would take his first win at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Robert Kubica and his BMW Sauber team started off their 2008 campaign strongly, scoring an early pole in Bahrain and taking three podiums in the first six races.
McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton took pole in Canada, but clattered into the back of Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen in a bizarre pitlane collision. That incident unleashed BMW Sauber duo Kubica and Nick Heidfeld into the lead.
Kubica passed Heidfeld shortly after their pitstops and disappeared into the distance. The pair scored a 1-2 win, the first ever win for Sauber.
It would also be Kubica’s one and only win. As is well documented, the Pole was severely injured in a rally accident in February 2011. Kubica made a remarkable recovery and eventually made an unlikely comeback in Formula 1 at the struggling Williams outfit in 2019. After leaving Williams, he took up a role as Alfa Romeo’s test driver.
Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber F1
One-time winners in F1*
1951 French Grand Prix
1952 Swiss Grand Prix
1956 Argentinean Grand Prix
1959 Dutch Grand Prix
1961 French Grand Prix
1961 United States Grand Prix
1964 Austrian Grand Prix
1965 Mexican Grand Prix
1966 Italian Grand Prix
1971 Italian Grand Prix
1971 United States Grand Prix
1972 Monaco Grand Prix
1975 Brazilian Grand Prix
1975 Spanish Grand Prix
1975 Austrian Grand Prix
1977 Belgian Grand Prix
1989 Japanese Grand Prix
1995 Canadian Grand Prix
1996 Monaco Grand Prix
2004 Monaco Grand Prix
2008 Canadian Grand Prix
2008 Hungarian Grand Prix
2012 Spanish Grand Prix
*Doesn't include winners of the Indy 500, which was part of the world championship between 1950 and 1960.