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This list uses 20/20 hindsight to identify which of the 32 F1 World Champions showed exceptional qualities ‘early doors’. During their F1 (Championship) debut season, these 21 drivers delivered one or more performances that marked them out as special. Unlike others who also demonstrated early promise, theirs was no flash in the pan. It was a rich seam of pure gold, as their ensuing Championship glory attested. Some made their debut with teams of race winning pedigree, others began with humbler machinery, but without exception they all caught the eye. As for the 11 World Champions who don’t make this collection, three exclude themselves as established winners before the Drivers’ Championship began, while others showed their potential through non-championship F1 races, or had to serve an apprenticeship in the nether regions of the grid. Only when their F1 planets aligned were they too launched towards stardom.

22 Starred in fourth GP following podium in third
58 Just six laps short of Monaco podium in third GP
75 Obeyed team orders, yielding P2 in fourth GP
91 Second in second GP, on pole at the next
92 Podium in fifth GP, points in second and third
135 Fourth in second GP, more points in fourth
138 Fourth on Nordschleife debut, his seventh GP
139 Won eighth GP following four podiums
172 A home pole in his first proper GP weekend
196 Won fourth GP after points in second
228 From P2 on the grid, led 41 laps of his third GP
230 Podium in fourth GP, points in the previous two
330 In the points for McLaren in his first two GPs
347 Seventh GP podium, then P3 grid-slot at Monaco
394 Almost beat his nemesis for victory in fifth GP
511 Qualified P7 on debut, then points in next three
585 Debut pole, two podiums, then won fourth GP
659 Qualified P3 at Spa, P5 at Suzuka in debut year
664 Points on debut and P4 twice in the next seven
784 Points on debut and P4 in seventh race
Race 785   AUTHOR’S PICK


The Drivers’ title eluded this rookie by a single point

This incredible F1 fairly tale deserved a happy ending. It still grieves me it didn’t.