The idea of the underdog is one that has brought excitement and upset to almost any sport – whether you look at basketball, rugby or even tennis, history has shown time and time again that you can’t underestimate anyone.
When it comes to motorsports, the history books have no shortage of underdog comebacks and victories. Formula One, WRC, MotoGP have all seen their fair share of unexpected champions over past decades.
In races all over the world, motorsports stars like Damon Hill and Keke Rosberg have demonstrated technical skill and unbelievable determination in breaking motorsport records. Yes, you can look at almost any country in the world and see that they have some amazing stories – a select few Australian underdog stories are particularly intriguing – but not one sport can boast international underdog victories to the extent that motorsport does.
With this being said, here are some of the biggest underdog stories in motorsport history.
Lewis Hamilton at the 2018 Germany Grand Prix
Starting off with a more recent story, Lewis Hamilton is by no means an underdog – nonetheless, he made a comeback that was nothing short of impressive in the 2018 Germany Grand Prix. Soon after the race began, a disastrous hydraulics problem saw Hamilton in close to last place. Sebastian Vettel, driving for Ferrari, was in an easy first place and was a clear favourite – he had just come from his third Australian GP win, and had recently achieved his 100th podium placement.
In the 25th lap, a sudden downpour of rain caused mayhem for the winning racers – Vettel crashed into the barriers, and fellow competitor Max Verstappen was forced to make two pit stops in just three laps. Thanks to experience and expertise, Hamilton made the best of the weather and managed to make his way into first place, achieving yet another Formula One win.
Olivier Panis at the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix
Following the trend of Grand Prix comebacks, Olivier Panis is another professional racing driver – unlike Lewis Hamilton, Panis is a true underdog, and his only ever Grand Prix win was at the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix.
In an exhilarating F1 race that was accompanied by torrential rain, racing favorite Michael Schumacher was an early victim to the weather. As a result, the winning driver seemingly continued to switch between Panis, Johnny Herbert and David Coulthard – after a back and forth battle that dragged on and on, the race came to a close with Panis fighting off a sprint attack by Coulthard to win the GP.
Panis’ win made him the only driver to ever have won the Monaco Grand Prix that wasn’t in the top 8 on the grid.
Gilles Villeneuve at the 1981 Spanish Grand Prix
Next on the list is another GP win, this time by racing legend Gilles Villenueve. In race 7 of 15 within the 1981 F1 World Championship, Villenueve made one of the best driving performances of all time.
Driving a comparatively disadvantaged car, Villeneuve’s daring driving style and immaculate technique saw him make a perfect start. Only behind Alan Jones, he managed to take the lead in lap 14, and managed to hold it until the very end – all with a well mannered driving style and perfect racing technique.
This was the final victory of Villeneuve’s career, and the last GP to be held at Jarama thanks to the punishing track design. On top of Villeneuve’s win being astounding in itself, it was the second closest finish in an F1 race – the four cars behind Villeneuve had all passed the finish line within 1.24 seconds of the winner.
Andrea Dovizioso at the 2009 British Grand Prix
To round off the list, here’s a MotoGP win – in 2009, Andrea Dovizioso went up against some of the world’s best to make a huge comeback and secure the win.
He was against a number of well established riders – Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, and Valentino Rossi, to name a few. Weather conditions were mixed, and so competitors had to answer for it with whatever approach they could come up with. Dovizioso was a racer with limited experience, and started the race with a near crash.
After a rocky start, Dovizioso pulled his act together and roared past competitors up to second position – when Rossi, in first place, lost control thanks to the rain, Dovizioso pulled past to take the lead. Managing to fight off the competition who were close behind, he took the victory.