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Has Formula 1 ever produced a Leicester City type success story?
Posted By: Alex Kalinauckas  |  03 May 2016   |  2:04 pm GMT  |  82 comments

Unquestionably the biggest story in world sport right now is Leicester City’s championship victory in the English Premier League – a result that was almost unthinkable at the beginning of the season. It is being billed as the greatest David and Goliath story in the history of British football.

The new champions were given odds of 5,000-1 to win the title in August 2015, so we thought (with a little encouragement from a JA on F1 reader) we’d take a look back at the most unlikely Formula 1 race wins and championship victories from the history of the category to seek parallels.

So, in no particular order, here are six of F1’s best surprise stories:

Brawn GP’s 2009 triumphs

Brawn GP Brazil 2009

We start with the only one where a championship was won by a minnow.

The obvious caveat here is that Honda, which had owned the Brackley-based squad in 2008 before pulling out at the end of that year, had invested heavily in the development of this car, even sacrificed most of the 2007 season to produce what would become the BGP 001, but the Japanese manufacturer’s exit rocked F1 and the team was run on a shoestring with only two chassis built.

Ross Brawn himself travelled on Easyjet to European GPs (albeit with Speedy Boarding the only luxury).

Brawn had stepped into rescue the team at the final hour and despite only taking part in the final one of the pre-season tests, the team turned up in Australia and duly delivered a one-two win, with Jenson Button the victor over Rubens Barrichello.

Button won six from the first seven races and the British driver and his team survived a heavily funded Red Bull development fight back to win both world titles, despite Brawn being forced to cut back severely in headcount over the course of the season.

Spain 2012

Pastor Maldonado Spain 2012

Renault may have rather unceremoniously dumped Pastor Maldonado out F1 at the start of this season (the irony of his many crashes is not lost on us here), but his win at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix will live long in the memory.

Maldonado inherited pole position due to Lewis Hamilton’s disqualification from qualifying, but the Venezuelan was forced to chase Fernando Alonso hard as he lost out to the Ferrari driver off the line.

After passing Alonso at the second round of pitstops, Maldonado held on for a famous win and gave Williams it’s first win since the end of 2004.

Japan 2005

Kimi Raikkonen Japan 2005

Again, bear with us here as a driver who would finish second in the championship with arguably the quickest car of the year winning a race would not ordinarily be a fairy-tale story, but the sheer unlikeness of Kimi Raikkonen’s win at Suzuka means it merits its inclusion on this list.

Raikkonen, Alonso and Michael Schumacher were all forced to start towards the back of the grid because of rain in qualifying, but they came through the pack in probably the greatest demonstration of reverse grid races as we’re ever going to get – although this is not the time or place for that argument…

The 2007 world champion, then driving for McLaren, caught and passed Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap of the race to steal a sensational victory, which the former Renault driver will still be wondering how he lost.

James Hunt vs Niki Lauda 1976

The Rush movie has immortalised the James Hunt and Niki Lauda’s titanic tussle for the 1976 crown, which ended with the Briton’s first, and only F1 world title.

Hunt had sealed a move to McLaren after spending the early part of his career at Hesketh and won in his fourth race for the British team. But the stewards took away that victory, which came in Spain, as they deemed the McLaren to be too wide.

Lauda was clear at the top of the standings before a shocking crash in the German Grand Prix, which Hunt won, nearly killed him. The Austrian driver miraculously recovered and only missed two races before returning to action.

Hunt’s Spain win was reinstated and his wins in the Netherlands, Canada and the USA meant the championship went down to the wire in Fuji, a race that took place in atrocious weather. Lauda ultimately stopped his Ferrari due to the conditions and Hunt did just enough to seal the crown with third place.

Lauda would go on to win the 1984 title for McLaren and in doing so he claimed his third F1 championship and succeeded in a career comeback after he had briefly retired in 1980.

Jordan GP – Spa 1998

Was this the F1 race that had it all? The first lap featured a 13-car pile up and lengthy red flag, and then Mika Hakkinen was eliminated at the first corner of the restart.

His title rival Michael Schumacher raced through to the front and looked to be heading to a dominant win when he slammed into the back of Hakkinen’s McLaren teammate, David Coulthard.

As Schumacher sought retribution from the Scot in the pitlane, Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher were busy sealing a one-two win for Jordan – the team’s first ever race win.

Toro Rosso – Monza 2008

Sebastian Vettel Monza 2008

To date, Sebastian Vettel’s win in the 2008 Italian Grand Prix remains Toro Rosso’s only visit to the F1 podium.

The German driver, who had scored points on his debut for BMW-Sauber as a 19-year-old in 2007, seized pole and won in soaking conditions across the Monza weekend.

That season’s championship challengers’ were forced to race through from lowly grid spots but Vettel, by then 21, was peerless in taking the first F1 win of his own career and the first ever for the former Minardi team.

Sebastian Vettel Monza 2008

As there were plenty of splendid races and championships that didn’t make the cut, what do you think we have missed? Would you have picked any other F1 races for this list? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JAonF1 Facebook page for more discussion.

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1977 Walter Wolf racing. 1st GP entered and won, Argentine GP. Jody Scheckter goes on to win Monaco and Canada. finishes second in wdc to Lauda. Wolf Racing 4th constructors. Thanks to Dr Harvey Postlethwaite I am sure.

Kenny Carwash

I don’t think any single race can compare to what Leicester have achieved. Brawn are the obvious comparison, but I knew some mechanics at Honda back then and they knew the 2009 car was going to be something special.


Brawn is proof to Ronald Dennis and McHonda that customer engines can win championships.


Lewis Hamilton coming second equal to Fernando in 2007. i dont think anyone especially Alonso expected Lewis to be so competitive. And if it wasnt for the pitlane accident he would have won the championship in his debut season paired with a double world champion.


No mention of Button’s first ever win from 14th in a car that was not a Mclaren or a Ferrari.


Has to be Jordan Spa 98 for me.

I’d love to say Brawn, it was a fairy tale after all, but because it was a team that rose from the ashes rather than achieved so much with relatively little.

Jordan on the other hand won primarily because everyone else expected to win crashed out whilst they ran a near flawless race.

Just like Leicester.


The thing about Leicester’s success is that it’s lasted an entire season, rather than a one-off. So maybe Brawn are the closest comparison. Others? The guy who referenced Tyrrell in 1971 has a point; ditto Williams’ rise out of nowhere in 1979-80. More recently, Jordan and Stewart in 1999 are the closest I can think of (though neither won titles). And did anyone genuinely see Benetton being drivers’ champions in 1994 before the start of the season, whatever caveats we may have about legality? So there are some examples, maybe not quite as dramatic as Leicester but not far off!

Regarding one-off underdog victories, Olivier Panis and Monaco 1996 is the main one for me. Lots of good examples here, and I agree about Maldonado in Spain 2012. Two other ones I had were Brazil 2003 and Fisichella (as some have already mentioned); and Jean-Pierre Beltoise in Monaco 1972 (think that was BRM’s final F1 win).

Stephen Kellett

This is an F1 website. Maybe trying sticking with F1 stories and stopping with football analogies? Would make for more interesting reading.

Your site, run it how you wish. But please don’t make the mistake that all people interested in F1 think football is interesting. I’d rather watch paint dry.


Brawn are an example of proof to Ronald McHonda, that customer engine teams can win championships. To make it doubly embarrassing for Ronald, Mercedes were then tied up with Merc….and Brawn beat them!


The premiership is more competitive because of the way it has shared income from TV deals. For example, the new 2016 deal sees the winner getting 146m, going down gradually to 96m for the bottom team – so the bottom team gets only about a third less than the winner. Of course the ‘bigger’ teams get more from ticket sales, merchandising and sponsorship to top that up, but even so, the bottom teams get more than enough to run a competitive setup, and this is why there are no easy games in the premiership. Any team can beat any other. That said, what Leicester have done is still quite astounding when you consider their spending compared to the ‘big’ teams.


No… F1 has never achieved anything remotely similar to what Football and the Premier League has done…F1 would need Minardi or Sauber becoming the Constructors Champions – which would never happen in a gazillion years.

F1 is dysfunctional and not a true sport…you have ‘World Champions’ such as Alonso and Button just trundling around the midfield – it would be like Messi and Ronaldo just scrapping around in the lower divisions of a football league.

F1 is currently dull and predictable…even Bernie wouldn’t waste his money on the ticket prices!


Race wins are not comparable to me to Leicester winning the title. Too often race wins can be down to chaos and luck such as Panis winning Monaco in 96.

Brawn is the only thing comparable.


you forgot the best team ever, shame on you..

Tyrrell!!! Good old uncle Ken! (RIP)

Started designing their own cars at the end of 1970 and won the 1971 constructors title!


Just as a side note, the ’05 car looks fantastic compared to the ’12 model. Looks obviously aren’t the most important thing in F1, but it does add that little something special.


In comparison to a relative minnow challenging – and beating – the establishment, then Hesketh Racing deserves a mention. Hunt’s win in the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix was the stand-out moment, but the team’s overall hooray stick-it-to-em attitude is what is most fondly remembered.


I’m going back a few years but Nuvolari in his underpowered Alfa at the 1935 German Grand Prix and Tony Brooks in a Connaught at the 1955 Syracuse Grand Prix spring to mind.


I have one that didn’t happen … but almost did.
Hill – Arrows – 1997 – Hungary


I did not see a single comment for Kimi’s 2007 title… I don’t remember the odds, but he was 17 points (the equivalent of 43 points from todays points system) behind the championship leader. Right now people are saying that Lewis cannot come back from the same deficit with 17 races to go and Kimi did it in just 2. That was a major underdog win scenario.


Poor Fisichella what a lovely guy he is, but I think he was always totally in awe of Kimi. I mean in 2001 he literally followed Kimi off track and into the wall at Magny Cors in 2001, 2005 Juancarlo was just stunned bumy Kimi’s pace and went into defence mode 3 laps too soon – crazy, he lost that race .!. 2009 At SPA Kimi ruins FI’s strongest chance of a win again in the last lap & surely this is another one for here!.

After he finished F1 Fisi always spoke extremely well of Kimi- I think he could see something in him that did not exist in others.


I had a minor regurgitative moment when I saw that 2012 Renault. That is one ugly nose that only a designer could love.


Yes. It looks like a putty knife on wheels.


Olivier Panis in Monaco


Lauda would for sure go on to win the 1984 title, but before that he would also have won in ’77…


I know Hakkinen had a good car but there was no way to overtake Schumacher at Spa in 2000. This is how Hakkinen did it:


Oh, it’s not about football…..

Actually there have been a few – big ones RedBulls rise to power and Mercs too when you think about it.

Massive spend is no guarantee.


Almost in 2007 with Hamilton???


Nah – not with that car and that much testing. Had a similar level of opportunity to the other Ferrari and McLaren drivers


It’s not Leicester-like, but it was a feat not likely to ever be repeated … rookie beats his reigning champion teammate, and almost becomes the only rookie to win the F1 title.

Will. Never. Happen. Again.

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