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What is the biggest shock in F1 history? Surprise as Charles Leclerc takes Monaco GP pole

James Black May 22, 2021
Photo by SEBASTIEN NOGIER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

What is the biggest shock in F1 history? Here, we take a look.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc grabbed a surprise pole position for the 2021 Monaco Grand Prix as the Monegasque driver pipped Max Verstappen to the chequered flag

However, it has some way to go to be considered one of the biggest shocks in Formula One history.

Photo by Charles Coates/Getty Images

Despite taking pole, Leclerc crashed on his final lap causing the session to end early and denying his rivals one last chance at beating his time of 1:10:346.

Ferrari haven’t started a race from the front of the grid since last year’s Mexican Grand Prix but the sport has delivered its fair share of surprises in the past.

Leclerc has a disappointing record in his home race – failing to finish in four races in different categories prior to 2021 – and will hope to end that when the race gets under way.

As Leclerc looks to record his first, and Ferrari’s first, win of the season, we take a look at some of the biggest surprises from F1’s past:

Pastor Maldonado wins in Spain

Pastor may be better remembered as a meme than a race winner but the Venezuelan stood on the top step of the podium at the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix.

With the Williams teams in one of their historic low spells, Maldonado took everyone by surprise when he was promoted to pole on the Saturday after Lewis Hamilton was excluded, with the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso alongside him on the front row.

A solid, if unspectacular race from Pastor would follow, and he cruised home fairly comfortably from Alonso and Romain Grosjean to take his first, and only, win in F1.

As if the race win wasn’t enough of a shock for Williams, their garage caught fire shortly after the podium celebrations wrapped up.

  • FEATURED: Which current F1 drivers live in Monaco?

Brawn win the double

F1 has been a battle of the chequebooks for a long time now with progress on-track directly linked to spending off it.

So when Ross Brawn bought what had been the Honda Racing team he had led through the 2008 season before the Japanese constructor decided to withdraw from the sport, few were expecting the hastily thrown together eponymous team to be anything more than a midfield runner.

Then the season started.

Photo credit should read BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images

Brawn’s driver duo of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were incredibly quick and Button would go on to win six of the season’s first seven races to help him secure the Driver’s Championship while a couple more wins for Barrichello helped to seal the Constructor’s.

It seems unlikely anyone will repeat Brawn GP’s record of winning both titles in their one and only season in the sport – and the circumstances that led to it make it only more remarkable.

The team would be sold at the end of the 2009 season and be rebranded Mercedes.

Olivier Panis wins in Monaco

The 1996 Monaco GP was more a race of attrition than anything else as Panis pulled off an incredible shock win as only three cars ended the weather-affected race.

Two hours of racing around the sodden streets of Monte Carlo produced farcical scenes as car after car lost control and went into the barriers, leaving the final laps looking like some sort of post-apocalyptic scrap yard.

After qualifying in 14th, Panis would score his only win here, sharing the podium with David Couthard and Johnny Herbert.

Points scorers Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Mika Salo and Mika Hakkinen didn’t even manage to finish the race but were still classified – with Eddie Irvine also classified in seventh but failing to score a point.

Damon Hill join Arrows – and gets on the podium

Damon Hill should never have raced for Arrows.

When Williams decided they would let the British driver move on at the end of the 1996 season, little did they know he would follow in the footsteps of his father and become World Champion.

However, when that did become reality, there was no ‘competitive’ seat on the grid for the champion and when he penned a one-year contract at perennial backmarkers Arrows it was undoubtedly one of F1’s biggest surprises.

29 Jun 1997: Damon Hill of Great Britain cuts close to a corner in his TWR Arrows-Yamaha during the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours in Nevers, France. \ Mandatory Credit: Mike Cooper /Allsport

Unsurprisingly, in his first 11 races for Arrows, Hill finished no higher than sixth – although with seven retirements to his name by that point, he’d failed to finish almost twice as many races as he’d completed.

That all changed at the Hungaroring where, after an impressive qualifying saw him start third, he quickly overtook Jacques Villeneuve before passing old foe Michael Schumacher and leading the race by as much as 35 seconds.

Just as he looked like recording a famous win, a hydraulic issue saw Hill’s gearbox give up and stick in third.

Villeneuve would regain the lead on the final lap to snatch the win from Hill, with the British driver ending the race in second.

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James has been with Not The Old Firm since the beginning and took over as Managing Editor in 2021. As well as NTOF, James has written for HITC, Rangers News, The Daily Record, SB Nation, Shoot! Magazine and Youth Football Scotland. He can be found on Twitter @jamesblack1986 and, away from Scottish football, has a keen interest in MLS (Chicago Fire) and Formula 1.