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Six of the Best: Substitute Drivers

12 November 2013

With Kimi Raikkonen due to miss the final two races of the season to undergo back surgery, F1 is set to witness an increasingly rare phenomenon over the final two races of the campaign: the substitute driver.

The early years of Grand Prix racing were littered with driver swaps, teams changing the number of cars entered during the season, races missed through injury, local drivers finding favour for home races or teams entering as one-off privateers - reasons for change that have been mostly lost over the years due to more stringently fixed team and driver rosters.

With Raikkonen missing the final two races of 2013, 2008 remains the sole season in F1 history with no in-season driver changes.

In memory of the lost spirit of driver roulette, from temps to replacements, and stand-ins to outstanding, Crash.net salutes six of the best substitute drivers.


Nigel Mansell (Williams, 1994)

Nigel Mansell's on-off love affair with Williams was integral to the narrative of F1 for a decade, but its bittersweet coda is an oft-forgotten appendix to the story.

The conclusion to Mansell's 1992 championship season left a seemingly irrevocably sour aftertaste. Betrayed by Frank Williams' decision to hire Alain Prost, Mansell very publicly and dramatically retired from F1, taking his title-winning talents to Indycar with devastating effect.

Prost subsequently waltzed to the 1993 title and into retirement, allowing Ayrton Senna to take on the coveted mantle at Williams for 1994. Within three races however, Senna's untimely death left a void at the heart of F1. The sport was without a world champion for the first time since 1959, and, with TV audiences declining, an SOS was dispatched to Mansell.

'Nige' was equally integral to Indycar though as defending champion, and could only compete as his Stateside schedule allowed. His reconciliation with Williams was smoothed by a paycheque of £900,000 per race, a staggering amount compared to the £300,000 that team-mate Damon Hill was paid for the entire season.

Mansell's comeback came at the French GP, and he was instantly on the pace despite the wholesale regulation changes since his last F1 drive, qualifying second. Unsurprisingly, he was outpaced by Michael Schumacher and Hill in the race, but was running third before retiring with transmission failure.

After concluding the Indycar season, Mansell returned for the final three races of the year as Hill's rear-gunner in a tense title battle. He spun out of the European Grand Prix before picking up fourth place in Japan following a classic race-long duel with Jean Alesi.

In Adelaide, amidst the championship showdown between Hill and Schumacher, Mansell took pole and inherited victory after the fateful clash between the title contenders - sealing the Constructors' title for Williams in the process. At 41 years and 97 days, Mansell was the oldest winner in 24 years, his 31st and final victory a glorious post-script to a glittering career. Or should have been, but let's agree to forget the McLaren debacle…

Mario Andretti (Lotus, 1968, 1969, Ferrari, 1972, Parnelli Jones, 1974, Williams, 1982, Ferrari, 1982)

If Mansell was a great stand-in, Mario Andretti was perhaps the greatest substitute of all time, an elite all-rounder whose aptitude made him a dependably premium deputy across a 15-year career in F1.

By then a well-established name in Indycar racing, Andretti made his debut for Lotus at the 1968 American Grand Prix. Entered in a fourth Lotus-Ford, Andretti sensationally took pole position, dicing for the lead with Jackie Stewart before retiring with a clutch failure.

Andretti returned to Lotus for occasional stand-in outings in 1969, and would also serve as a go-to driver for March in 1970. Racing sporadically alongside World Champion Jackie Stewart, Andretti scored his first podium at Jarama, but failed to finish any of his other four starts for the season.

The Italian-American's next temporary home was a spiritual one, pitching up at Ferrari for intermittent outings in 1971 and taking a maiden win on his debut for the Scuderia in South Africa.

Andretti's zenith in F1 came during his permanent years with Lotus in the latter half of the 1970s, taking the World Championship with the iconic Lotus 79 in 1978.

Withdrawing from full-time F1 to after a dismal 1981 season with Alfa Romeo. Andretti was still available off the substitutes bench for Grands Prix as his CART schedule allowed, as both Williams and Ferrari discovered in 1982.

Following the shock early-season retirement of Carlos Reutemann, Williams had a vacancy for the United States Grand Prix West, and Andretti willingly took the drive, racing strongly before colliding with one of Long Beach's concrete walls.

Andretti's final F1 appearances saw him take the Ferrari no. 28, left vacant since Didier Peroni's horror smash at Hockenheim, for the last two races of the season. Rolling back the years, Andretti took pole and a podium at Monza, helping Ferrari clinch the Constructors' Championship in the process.

An F1 swansong in Vegas ended in suspension failure, but the Andretti legend would live on for a further twenty years across Indycar and sportscar racing, proving Mario's enduring status as one of the all-time greats of motorsport.

Mika Salo (Lotus, 1994, BAR, 1999, Ferrari, 1999)>

A laconic underdog with a cavalier throwback attitude, Mika Salo had all the makings of a cult hero in F1, but rarely had the opportunity to express his potential fan favourite credentials in competitive machinery.

In 1999, after four years of midfield toil, Salo was left without a drive, but circumstance was to conspire in his favour. A three-race stint replacing the injured Riccardo Zonta at BAR saw Salo deliver strong finishes in a woeful car. Then, after Michael Schumacher's leg-break at Silverstone, Salo was handed the ultimate call-up: a race seat at Ferrari while the German recuperated.

Catapulted into race-winning machinery, Salo played a crucial supporting role in both Eddie Irvine's championship challenge and Ferrari's Constructors' Championship victory.

Salo's Scuderia debut, in Austria, was inauspicious, floundering in ninth while Irvine took a fine win, but his second race, at Hockenheim, was masterful. Qualifying fourth, ahead of Irvine, Salo ran second to Hakkinen in the early stages, assuming the lead after his countryman's bungled pit-stop. Hakkinen's subsequent tyre failure left the Ferraris cruising out front, with Salo magnanimously handing victory to the championship-chasing Irvine and scoring a career-best second place.

Salo was dismal in Hungary and mediocre at Spa, failing to live with Irvine or take points off his rivals, but he resumed front-line performance at Monza, proving an affinity for low-downforce circuits with a battling third place having briefly led the race.

The race-by-race fluctuations in performance for Ferrari were enormous, and the Maranello outfit were again off the pace for Salo's final outing at the Nurburgring. In a helter-skelter dry-wet-dry race, Salo missed out on the high-attrition points lottery after suffering a mid-race brake failure.

Replaced by the fit again Schumacher for the final two rounds of the campaign, Salo had nevertheless impressed sufficiently to earn a full-time seat at Sauber for 2000 – although he would never again reach the giddy heights of his championship-chasing Ferrari cameo.

Markus Winkelhock (Spkyer, 2007)

For F1's equivalent of White Town, Deep Blue Something or Lou Bega, look no further than the one-hit wonder of the 2007 European Grand Prix, Markus Winkelhock.

Part of the German Winkelhock racing lineage, Markus made his one and only F1 appearance at the Nurburging, drafted into the flailing Spyker team in place of Christijan Albers.

Qualifying last, 1.5 seconds down on teammate Adrian Sutil, Winkelhock's expectations were no mightier than an afternoon of trundling mobile chicanery. However, inspired opportunism by Spyker Technical Director Mike Gascoyne at the end of the formation lap saw the team pit Winkelhock for wet tyres as rain began to fall ahead of the start.

In traditional Eiffel Mountain style, the spots of rain became a deluge, and Spyker's gamble turned into a masterstroke. So slippery was the circuit that Kimi Raikkönen slithered straight through the pit entrance as the leaders flocked to the pits to change tyres at the end of lap one.

Winkelhock quickly assumed the lead, passing the crawling Raikkonen as monsoon-like conditions set in. At the end of lap 2, the Spyker incredibly led Felipe Massa by over 19 seconds. As a plethora of cars aquaplaned straight on at turn one, Winkelhock retained his composure to extend his lead to 33 seconds by lap 4.

With seven cars in the gravel trap at the first turn, the race was finally stopped on lap 5, obliterating Winkelhock's lead.

Opting to gamble again, Spyker kept Winkelhock on full wets for the restart, but on a drying track he was a sitting duck as the race resumed. Winkelhock was engulfed by Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso into turn one, and quickly fell further back as his tyres disintegrated.

Winkelhock's adventure was ended by a hydraulic failure on lap 13, and it would be his last act in F1, with the German discarded by Spyker ahead of the next race in favour of Sakon Yamamoto's copious sponsorship dollars.

Kamui Kobayashi (Toyota, 2009)

As F1 has become more technologically homogenised, individual driving styles have become more difficult to distinguish. As a consequence, it's become more of a challenge for drivers to make a discernible difference, and the sort of spectacular first impressions that the fledgling careers of drivers such as Jean Alesi, Ayrton Senna, and Michael Schumacher made have become a relic of the past

Arguably the last driver to leave an indelible instant impression was Kamui Kobayashi, drafted in to Toyota for the final two races of 2009 after Timo Glock suffered fractured vertebrae in a qualifying accident at Suzuka.

Kobayashi had been Toyota's test and reserve driver since the start of the 2008 season, but after an underwhelming couple of years in GP2 he was something of an unknown quantity ahead of his F1 debut at the Brazilian Grand Prix.

After qualifying a respectable 11th in a rain-delayed session, Kobayashi would play an unwitting role in the title battle. Running an impressive sixth, Kobayashi delayed championship chasing Jenson Button's progress through the field through hyper-aggressive defending into the first corner. Kobayashi's refusal to be cowed earned him plaudits, although the praise was tempered by a block on countryman Kazuki Nakajima which indirectly caused the Williams driver's retirement.

In Abu Dhabi, Kobayashi's stock rose further, as he established his trademark proclivity for last of the late braking overtakes. Qualifying twelfth, Kobayashi drove steadily and maturely, and spectacularly went wheel to wheel with World Champion Button in passing the Brawn driver on lap 17.

More importantly, Kobayashi brought the car home in sixth place for his first points, finishing ahead of veteran teammate Jarno Trulli, and sufficiently impressing Toyota's bosses to be under consideration for a full race seat in 2010.

Despite the Japanese marque's subsequent withdrawal from F1, Kobayashi found a home at Sauber for the next three seasons. Although spotted with sporadic impressive performances, his career never truly lived up to the excitable hype that followed his flamboyant first impression.


Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar, 2001, McLaren, 2005, McLaren, 2006, Sauber, 2011)

Few men have endured such a peripatetic patchwork of a career as Pedro de la Rosa, the default go-to super sub for teams in need of a steady pair of hands for the best part of the past decade.

The amiable Spaniard's first stand-in appearance came in 2001, replacing the axed Luciano Burti at Jaguar after four races and seeing out the season with the Milton Keynes outfit, scoring three points in the process.

His performances earned him a full-time seat for 2002, but the season was a dismal failure, and de la Rosa was himself cast adrift at the end of the campaign, landing at McLaren as a test driver from 2003.

After two years in testing purgatory, de la Rosa was drafted in to replace the injured Juan-Pablo Montoya at the 2005 Bahrain Grand Prix. He performed admirably, reminding the paddock of his credentials with an aggressive, overtake-laden performance that saw him earn fifth place and set fastest lap on his McLaren debut.

A year later, de la Rosa was back at McLaren, this time for an eight race stint replacing Montoya after the Colombian flounced off to NASCAR mid-season. His performances were again strong, bringing home points at a comparable rate to teammate Kimi Raikkonen and scoring a career-best second place at the Hungarian Grand Prix.

After another lengthy period in the wilderness, during which he was implicated in the 2007 'Spygate' scandal and elected president of the GPDA, de la Rosa was picked as a 'safe hands' option for the resurrected Sauber team in 2010. However, he himself was replaced mid-season by Nick Heidfeld, before returning to Sauber as a one off substitute at the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, racing in place of the injured Sergio Perez at Montreal.

At 42, de la Rosa is still retained as a test driver by Ferrari, his considerable experience deemed a valuable developmental asset by the Maranello outfit. If the stars align, perhaps de la Rosa's legacy of stand-in roulette may yet feature a substitute bow for the Scuderia…


Will Saunders
@formulawill


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