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Six stand-in drivers who recently thrived in F1

Heikki Kovalainen is the last looking to make an impact.
Thursday, November 21, 2013

November 21st, 2013 (F1plus/Bruno Ferreira).- During the history of Formula 1 for various reasons drivers have had to be replaced during the course of a season. Let’s briefly review some of the recent and relevant ones.

Heikki Kovalainen has a though task ahead at Lotus, but there are some examples of success in the short past.

Heikki Kovalainen has an important task to accomplish in the 2013 Brazilian GP. The former McLaren driver was chosen to replace the injured Kimi Raikkonen at Lotus instead of the team’s reserve driver, Davide Valsecchi, to help the squad in the fight for the runner-up spot on the Constructors’ championship.

At first, Lotus’ choice might seem unfair to the Italian, as the 2012 GP2 champion has been spending the whole year getting to know the team’s procedures, and Kovalainen is not exactly the most brilliant driver in the world. However, the Enstone team preferred to pick a safer option, as Kovalainen is quick, experienced and has a background competing with the team after the 2007 season with Renault.

Nevertheless, the Finn’s mission is not easy at all. He still needs to get to grips with the car and the tyres in qualifying and race conditions – and needs to do that racing against a very competitive pack. In his first attempt, at Austin, he struggled to match the pace of the frontrunners, finishing 14th. However, the year is not over at all. To increase his confidence, there are some examples in recent past that show he still has all the possibilities to get his job done

Roberto Moreno/Benetton. 1990 Japanese GP

On the 1990 season, Benetton was an emergent team in F1. After taking over the Toleman Motorsport a few years before, the squad was getting even better results season after season. The maiden win came in Mexico 1986, with Gerhard Berger, following Alessandro Nannini’s triumph at the controversial 1989 Japanese GP.

The Italian driver saw his F1 career coming to a premature end after a helicopter crash that hurt his right arm very seriously, which let Benetton without a driver from then on. Eurobrun’s Roberto Moreno was chosen to join his childhood friend Nelson Piquet.

In the first race of the partnership, Benetton had his best moment in F1 by that time. After Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost collided on the first corner, the team was on very promising positions – Piquet, sixth on the grid, was second after the incidents, and Moreno jumped from eight to third. Ferrari’s Nigel Mansell, the leader, had mechanical problems on the 26th lap, letting the Brazilian duo on the verge to score its first one-two.

At the end of the race, Piquet won for the first time since his Williams days, seven seconds ahead of Moreno, who surprisingly got his first podium on his first attempt as Benetton driver. The short bald Brazilian stayed at the team for almost a year, but was dropped to open the way to Michael Schumacher after the 1991 Belgian GP.

Michael Schumacher/Jordan. 1991 Belgian GP

Before joining Benetton, Michael Schumacher had a quick spell at Jordan, the team was having an interesting debut year in F1. Right before the Belgian GP, one of the team regular drivers, Bertrand Gachot, had been sent to jail for spraying pepper spray in a taxi driver some months before.

Eddie Jordan held talks to several drivers to replace Gachot, including F3000’s champion Christian Fittipaldi. However, he signed the young German after the manager Willi Weber convinced him that Schumacher was an expert in Spa’s tricky corners. Actually he had just a few laps on the track under his belt – in a bike.

On the qualifying session, Schumacher was simply impressive. The German put the car on the fourth row, being 0.7s quicker than his veteran teammate, Andrea de Cesaris. On Sunday tough he was unlucky, as his car suffered clutch problems before the second corner of the race. However, Schumacher did enough to secure his F1 future with Benetton, the team with which he won two championships.

Mika Salo/Ferrari. 1999 German GP

The world champion is unable to drive and the team, instead of replace him with the Italian reserve driver, opted to take a veteran Finnish who was let without a race seat that year. Does it sound familiar?

When Michael Schumacher had his horrific crash at Silverstone, which gave him several leg injuries, Ferrari hired Mika Salo to race at the following six races. That obviously let the reserve Luca Badoer down, as the former F3000 champion felt ready to immediately step in.

On his first race with Ferrari, in Austria, Salo had a low-key performance. While his teammate Eddie Irvine scored his second victory in F1, the Finnish driver had a troublesome race and finished 9th, a lap behind the winner. 

At Hockenheim, on the following round, however, it was a different story. Salo showed a very competitive pace outqualifying Irvine and was on the verge to win for the first time. He needed to let Irvine past though, as the British driver was on the title hunt. Salo crossed the line on second position, which is his best result ever in F1. He also scored another podium three races later, finishing third at Ferrari’s home Monza. Salo played an important role that allowed Ferrari to grab the Constructor’s title for the first time since 1983.

Pedro de la Rosa and Alex Wurz/McLaren. 2005 Bahrain and San Marino GPs

McLaren’s new man for 2005 Juan Pablo Montoya needed to miss two races at the start of the season after suffering shoulder injuries either while playing tennis or in a motorcycle accident – it depends of what you want to believe in.

His replacement was the test driver Pedro de la Rosa, who last competed before that in the 2002 season with Jaguar. The Spaniard surprised the F1 world by beating his teammate Kimi Raikkonen in the bizarre qualifying system with aggregate times from Saturday and Sunday used early that year.

On the race, De La Rosa didn’t manage to keep the pace, as he crossed the line more than 30s behind the Finn. However, he equalled his best result in F1 up to that by finishing fifth and set the fastest lap of the race. Not bad.   

In the next round at Imola the other test driver Alexander Wurz took over the #10 car. He was benefited by Raikkonen’s transmission problems and the disqualification of Jenson Button to finish third, behind Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher – the future and reigning world champions.

Robert Kubica/BMW. 2006 Italian GP

F-Renault 3.5 champion Robert Kubica made his F1 debut in Hungary, replacing the fired Jacques Villeneuve. He would score his first points straight away, but was disqualified after his car was found to be 2 kg under the minimum weight.

But the future held redemption for the young Pole. Two races later, Kubica starred at Monza and finished third, stepping on the podium beside Michael Schumacher, who announced his retiring from F1, and Kimi Raikkonen, the German’s substitute from the following year. 

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