These are some of the more infamous achievements in Formula One history, drivers who topped the qualifying time sheets only once in their careers. Even happens to World Champions!
One From de Crasheris
Long Beach — 3 April 1982
Andrea de Cesaris — who shunted out so often he earned the affectionate nickname “de Crasheris” — drove in Formula One for 15 seasons and still holds the all-time record for futility: most GPs without a win. But in the 1982 season, with Alfa Roméo, de Cesaris did the unthinkable, putting his 182 on pole at Long Beach for the United States Grand Prix West over Niki Lauda’s McLaren MP4/1B. In Saturday’s qualifying, the cars running on Michelin tires had a decided advantage over the Goodyear teams, though the Michelin-clad drivers knew that their hard race tires were faster than the softer qualifiers. While Lauda held a hard set in reserve for the race he nonetheless topped the charts through almost the entire session. Yet after crashing into a wall early on, Andrea threw his Alfa around in 1:27.316 to beat Lauda’s time by .012s, a mere three minutes before the session ended. It was the Italian’s first pole position, his only pole in 208 career GP starts, and he was ecstatic — bursting into tears after returning to the pits. In the race on Sunday, de Cesaris led from the start. On lap 15, he was held up by Raul Boesel’s March in the chicane entering Shoreline Drive as he came up to overtake. This gave Lauda the momentum to sweep by into the lead at the end of the straight, and the Austrian pulled away to record his first F1 win after a self-imposed two-year retirement. Distracted by smoke from a mid-race engine fire, Andrea lost concentration and characteristically spun off into the turn five wall on lap 34, ripping off two wheels and his Alfa’s left sidepod. de Cesaris was seen by many to have pure speed and there were brief flashes of brilliance, but more often than not these performances, like Long Beach in ’82, were overshadowed by damaged cars and moments of brain-fade when around other drivers. Classifications.
Hungaroring — 11 Aug. 1990
Belgian Thierry Boutsen drove the doors off his Williams-Renault in Hungary during the 1990 season, qualifying 0.036s ahead of teammate Ricardo Patrese on a day when the top four cars on the grid were all within 1/4 second of each other. Boutsen’s great opportunity had come with a move to Williams in 1989 and he duly took two wet-weather wins. But at the Hungaroring the following year, the new FW13B was strong in the dry. To really take advantage of the situation the usually cool and unassuming Boutsen would have to do something he had never done before in all of his career Formula One appearances — he needed to take pole. “Renault has come up with some new things for the engine which has enabled us to have quite a bit more power for qualifying. The first time I drove out of the pits I could feel a big difference,” said Boutsen. “I can remember every second of that lap.” He won the GP, too, driving an immaculate race to hold off Aryton Senna by a thin margin, Alessandro Nannini and Nigel Mansell to secure his third and final F1 victory. “Forgive me Thierry, I was wrong,” conceded Autosport’s Nigel Roebuck. Nonetheless, Boutsen finished the drivers’ championship in sixth, while Senna went on to take his second World Championship title. Classifications.
Hulme’s Flying Lap
Kyalami — 2 March 1973
As one of the more down-to-earth F1 drivers, 1967 World Champion Denny Hulme shied away from attention and the media and quietly went about making his headlines on the track, earning the nickname “The Bear” for his brusque exterior. Hulme scored eight wins and nine fastest laps in the 1973 season — won by Jackie Stewart — but his outing in South Africa was the only time he ever topped a qualifying session. The event had event greater significance than that, though, for it was also the debut of one of F1’s greatest designs: the McLaren M23. “She’s fast down the straight but really whips through the corners as well,” Hulme said at Kyalami after the M23 topped the speed traps in practice at 185.3mph. Despite rumours of Ronnie Peterson’s Lotus running a 1m16.1s lap, Hulme’s 1m16.28s officially put him on pole, with McLaren new boy Jody Scheckter 3rd in the old M19C. Hulme then comfortably led the race before debris from a multi-car accident punctured a tire. He eventually came home 5th after suffering another deflation. In all, Hulme won six GPs for McLaren but near the end of his Formula One career Hulme’s competitive urges were blunted by a growing apprehension about the dangers of the sport. His fears were well founded and for Denny the final blow came in March of 1974 when he witnessed the gruesome death of his friend and former teammate Peter Revson in a testing accident, ironically also at Kyalami. Denny, then 38, finished the season then left F1 racing for good, though he didn’t stop driving competitively for another 18 years. Classifications.
The Hulk’s Moment
Interlagos — 6 Nov. 2010
Driving for AT&T Williams GP in 2010, Formula One rookie German Nico Hülkenberg would finish a lowly 14th in the World Championship standings, his best result being a solitary 6th place in Hungary. At the season’s penultimate race in Brazil, however, The Hulk gained his first and still only Formula One pole position, spectacularly putting the FW32 into P1 on a drying Interlgos circuit by more than a full second over Sebastian Vettel after switching to slicks late in Q3. Hülkenberg completed a final lap after pole was already secured, increasing his gap over the rest of the field. He performed brilliantly and the big names, out at the same time, simply failed to beat him. Some speculated that the Williams was set up for wet conditions, but that was not correct; Hülkenberg just drove a balls-out, perfect lap. On slicks and knowing it was treacherous if he put a wheel out of place, he laid it on the line. Several times Hülkenbergwas on the verge of sliding off, particularly at the last corner, but he kept it together to take one of the most popular poles in F1 history. This was the team’s first pole position since the 2005 European Grand Prix and the first for a Cosworth-powered F1 car since Rubens Barrichello in a Stewart at the 1999 French Grand Prix. Said Vettel, “It was very tricky in these conditions, very easy to do a mistake. Nico was better than all of us today.” Webber added: “He gave us all a driving lesson out there, and he found a different race track from the rest of us.” The GP itself was a different story entirely, though. After losing the race lead on the opening lap, Nico eventually finished an unremarkable 8th place. Classifications.
Watkins Glen — 4 Oct. 1980
Bruno Giacomelli’s 1980 season had been largely spoiled by unreliability, but he at least got to star at the Watkins Glen finale, taking pole and leading a points-paying GP for the first and last time. Until the Alfa Roméo 179B broke again. “After all the problems we had during the year, it all seemed to be coming good,” says the 60-year-old today. “We’d had bad reliability, a car that was too soft for most of the circuits, and then we lost Patrick Depailler [in a testing crash]. We needed something to lift us up. Because our car was so soft but had immense ground effect, it suited the Watkins Glen circuit. From the first lap I could make the car do whatever I wanted. It was fast on the straights, handled neutrally in every corner and had fantastic traction and braking.” It all added up to a set-up that allowed the Italian to put his Alfa on pole by a full 0.789s over Nelson Piquet. “That day was a dream.” There was something about Bruno that appealed to team managers (his speed), the press (his approachability) and to fans (he looked so cuddly). But he never posted results to match his pace. In the race on Sunday he retired after a great drive on lap 31 due to an electronics failure. It would have been Bruno’s first Formula One victory, but he was cursed with bad luck. Out of F1 in 1984, Giacomelli made occasional racing appearances thereafter — albeit usually with little impact — in endurance racing and Indy Cars. Classifications.
Pryce Shines Briefly
Silverstone — 18 July 1975
Welshman Tom Pryce scored his first points at the Nürburgring in Germany in only his fourth Grand Prix in 1974. The next season Pryce was really getting into stride. He started the 1975 campaign with Shadow’s old DN3B, while teammate Jean-Pierre Jarier stunned F1 with a brace of poles in the new DN5A. Once he got his hands on the newer car, Pryce became a contender too. He won the non-championship Formula One Race of Champions at Brands Hatch and then qualified on the front row at Monaco, second only to Niki Lauda’s Ferrari. He also broke the Silverstone lap record in testing. Come race weekend at the 1975 British GP — in which a lights system was used for the first time at the start, replacing the traditional national flag – Pryce continued his form, managing two laps good enough for pole. “I was behind a couple of cars on those laps, so maybe I could shave off a tenth but it was pretty well the fastest I can go,” Pryce told Autocourse. Pryce got involved in a multi-car fight early in the race, then grabbed the lead, only to find a rain shower at Becketts and slide off on lap 20. Despite scoring a couple of podiums, Pryce would never again lead a Grand Prix race, and was killed in South Africa in 1977 when, after climbing from last to 13th place, he collided at high speed with a teenage race marshal running across the track. Pryce’s Shadow DN8 left the circuit towards the right, the car scraping the metal armco barriers before veering back onto the tarmac and hitting Jacques Laffite’s Ligier, sending both Pryce and Laffite head-on into the guard rails. Pryce was killed instantly. The marshal’s injuries were so severe that, initially, his body was only identified after the race director had summoned all of the race marshals and he was not among them. The eventual race winner was Austrian Lauda, scoring his first GP win since his near-fatal accident during the 1976 German Grand Prix. At first Lauda announced the win as the greatest victory of his career, but when told on the podium of Pryce’s death said “there was no joy after that.” Classifications.