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Top Ten Tuesday: Most Grands Prix before first F1 win

Valtteri Bottas secured his first Formula One victory at the Russian Grand Prix, in his 82nd race. He made suggestions to the press afterwards that he believed it had been a long time coming, but there are drivers who have had to wait much longer for their moment in the spotlight. A win on his 82nd race puts him equal tenth on the list of ‘most Grands Prix before first victory’ list, but here’s a run-down of who’s in the rest of the top ten:

=10) Valtteri Bottas – 82nd race – 2017 Russian Grand Prix

=10) Eddie Irvine – 82nd race – 1999 Australian Grand Prix

The opening race of the 1999 season set the scene for an unexpected year, where Eddie Irvine became Ferrari’s number one driver and faltering McLarens would almost cost Mika Hakkinen the drivers’ title.

The McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard had been the quickest by far in Melbourne, but their nearest challenger, Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, suffered from a variety of problems; he stalled on the grid, had a puncture and a broken front wing and had to pit for a new steering wheel in the race.

It should’ve been an easy one-two for McLaren, but both retired. Coulthard was out in the initial .Sp5rl!47rs with transmission problems, whilst Hakkinen discovered throttle problems when trying to accelerate after a safety car restart. Irvine took the lead and would control the race to take his maiden victory in the sport. He would take a further three wins en route to finishing runner-up to Hakkinen by two points.

9) Jean Alesi – 91st race – 1995 Canadian Grand Prix

In a career which was often blighted by poor fortune, the 1995 Canadian Grand prix saw the arrival of some good fortune for Ferrari’s Jean Alesi.

Starting fifth, Alesi was able to pass team-mate Gerhard Berger and benefit from a race-ending error for Williams’ David Coulthard to move up into third place. He soon passed the other Williams of Damon Hill – who would eventually retire with a gearbox problem – to sit second, some 30 seconds behind Michael Schumacher. However, Schumacher’s Benetton suffered an electrical problem with eleven laps to go, gifting Alesi his first – and only – Formula One win.

Ferrari SpA / Amaduzzi

8) Thierry Boutsen – 95th race – 1989 Canadian Grand Prix

The 1989 season was part of the dominant McLaren-Honda era, where races were often won by either Alain Prost or Ayrton Senna. However, changeable conditions in a topsy-turvy race threatened to disrupt the form book.

With a drying track in the opening .Sp5rl!47rs of the race, the majority started on wet tyres, but many drivers pitted for slick tyres only to find the track being drenched by a downpour of rain moments later. Alain Prost was out with suspension issues early on and Williams’ Boutsen – starting sixth – had initially put himself out of race contention by making the wrong decision to switch to slicks. His team-mate Riccardo Patrese had profited by keeping his wet tyres to lead the race.

Senna, who had tried to stay out on the slick tyres on the wet track before pitting eventually caught back up to Patrese and passed him through the pit stops. Owing to retirements and the performance of the Williams, Boutsen had recovered up to third, and soon passed Patrese for second when the Italian damaged his Williams’ undertray. Boutsen then inherited the lead with a couple of laps to go when Senna’s Honda engine gave up, giving the Belgian his first Formula One win.

7) Mika Hakkinen – 96th race – 1997 European Grand Prix

The 1997 European Grand Prix in Jerez is perhaps known for a certain controversial championship fight between Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher, but a lesser-known fact is that it was also the scene of Mika Hakkinen’s first victory.

The Finn spent most of the race close to his team-mate David Coulthard, with the pair moving up to third and fourth place over the course of the race. Following the infamous collision which left Schumacher out of the race and Villeneuve in the lead, Hakkinen was able to catch – and pass – Villeneuve on the final lap of the race. The Canadian had refused to fight the charging McLaren’s and yielded to them both, giving the Woking team a one-two finish, with Hakkinen taking his first victory in the sport.


6) Giancarlo Fisichella – 110th race – 2003 Brazilian Grand Prix

A man known for dragging notable performances out of midfield machinery, Giancarlo Fisichella was a surprise candidate for the race lead at a wet Brazilian Grand Prix in the uncompetitive Jordan-Ford. With several drivers spinning out of podium contention, Fisichella benefitted from a mistake from McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen to lead the race on lap 54 out of 71. However, a huge crash for Jaguar’s Mark Webber and Renault’s Fernando Alonso resulted in the race being red flagged on lap 55.

According to the rules, if a red flag is shown after a race is over 75% complete, then the final results are taken from two laps prior to the incident. There was confusion over whether the win belonged to Raikkonen or Fisichella. The former was originally awarded the win, but evidence seen several days after the race showed that Fisichella had started his 56th lap at the time of the red flag, meaning that the results – taken from the end of lap 54 instead of 53 – should’ve given Fisichella the win. He was handed the trophy in a small handover ceremony at the next race weekend in Imola.

5) Nico Rosberg – 111th race – 2012 Chinese Grand Prix

With the 2012 season looking like a close-fought year, seven different drivers took wins in the first seven races. Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg beat McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton to take his first pole position by over half a second. Team-mate Michael Schumacher inherited second place on the grid following a penalty for Hamilton to result in an all-Mercedes front row lock-out. Following a strong start, Rosberg was mostly untroubled and took a commanding first Formula One victory – Mercedes’ first as a manufacturer since 1955.

4) Jenson Button – 113th race – 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix

Despite already achieving multiple podium finishes, Button entered 2006 still looking for that elusive first win. With Honda failing to hit the performance heights that they managed in 2004, he looked like he was in for another win-less season.

His odds at the Hungaroring didn’t look great, either. He started 14th after a penalty for an engine change, but was presented an opportunity to progress when rain fell before the race start.

Gradually picking off drivers over the course of the race – including seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher – Button took advantage of a safety car period to move up into second place when many chose to make pit stops. He inherited the lead later on when Renault’s Fernando Alonso spun into retirement and sealed one of the unlikeliest victories of that era.

Jarno Trulli Renault 2004 Monaco Grand Prix
The Cahier Archive

3) Jarno Trulli – 119th race – 2004 Monaco Grand Prix

In a race where plenty of drivers were involved in collisions – including Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, Renault’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren’s David Coulthard – Renault driver Jarno Trulli started from pole position and lead most of the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix, surviving early pressure from team-mate Alonso and late-race pressure from BAR-Honda’s Jenson Button. However, the Italian would lose his Renault seat to Giancarlo Fisichella and miss out on Renault’s successful 2005-2006 seasons.

2) Rubens Barrichello – 123rd race – 2000 German Grand Prix

The year 2000 was another season-long McLaren vs Ferrari affair, with Rubens Barrichello brought in to replace Eddie Irvine at the Scuderia alongside Michael Schumacher. He dutifully played the ‘number two’ role, but when Schumacher retired from the German Grand Prix at the first corner, Ferrari were left with just one car on-track. With Barrichello starting 18th on the grid, their chances of disrupting a McLaren 1-2 looked slim, but thanks to numerous overtakes, safety car periods and a gamble to stay on dry tyres on a damp circuit, Barrichello took an emotional first Formula One victory.

1) Mark Webber – 130th race – 2009 German Grand Prix

The likeable Aussie began his career in 2002, but despite podiums and impressive qualifying performances, his first chance in race-winning machinery came in 2009 with Red Bull Racing. Having already seen young team-mate Sebastian Vettel win that year, Webber responded by winning on his team-mate’s home turf in Germany. At the Nurburgring, he took his first Formula One pole position and his maiden victory – despite receiving a drive-through penalty for some wheel-banging with Rubens Barrichello.

Mark Webber Red Bull Racing German Grand Prix
Red Bull Racing

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Aron Day

Co-owner, Chief Editor and a journalist for - Ireland's only accredited F1 & Formula E website. Also working in the Irish Tech industry.

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