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The greatest debuts in Formula One history

Written by Mina Jigau, Edited by Sharifah Zaqreeztrina


It’s hard to decide which F1 debut takes the reign, considering how different the drivers and their circumstances are at a particular time, but there are definitely a few for the books. This article dives into five of the most impressive debuts of the past few years. 

 

 

Johnny Herbert 

 

A few stepping stones away from Formula One, Johnny Herbert was considered Formula 3000’s most promising talent. Everyone saw the potential in him, the raw talent and love for racing. And the next step for him, as many thought, was Formula One. 


In the wake of a horrible crash in the race of 1988 at Brands Hatch, Herbert was left with detrimental injuries that not only affected his physical state, but also his mental health. His legs had taken the brunt of the impact, and at the time amputation seemed like the best option, though it would mean the end of his career. 


Fortunately, with the care of his medical team, Herbert gradually healed. Within six months, the British driver made his epic Formula One debut in Brazil, driving a Benetton car. Though still recovering, Herbert managed to secure fourth position, an outstanding performance and result given his condition those past few months.


His debut is still considered one of the best in Formula One. Despite no longer racing, his presence in the F1 world is still carried on through his podcast, ‘Lift the Lid’. 


Johnny Herbert at the 1989 Brazilian Grand Prix; Credit: Rex features LTD 2012/All Over Press

Jacques Villeneuve 

 

In the history of F1, there has only been one Formula One World Champion from Canada, and that is Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. The title came a year after his F1 debut in Australia, where he would have won the race if it wasn’t for a leaky oil valve in his Williams car. 

 

The Canadian-born driver came second in his first F1 race, an impressive result paving the way to 11 more podiums and sealed the record for the most wins in his rookie season.


After leaving F1, he is still involved in the motorsport world, venturing into other series including NASCAR and touring car racing. He recently completed the first three rounds for Vanwall in the 2023 World Endurance Championship.


Jacques Villeneuve in February 1996, Portugal; Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

Lewis Hamilton 

 

Although not the youngest driver to debut, Lewis Hamilton certainly took the world by surprise when he stepped on the podium at his maiden race in Formula One back in 2007. The then McLaren driver almost won his first title in his rookie season, separated only by one point. 


Though he did not win the championship, he sure set some records high; Other than scoring the most points in a debut season, Hamilton had the most consecutive top-three finishes in a debut season, finishing on 12 podiums, with four wins.


He had the most prolific rookie season, some would say, as he never ceases to amaze on and off track. The world was again surprised when the British driver recently announced he will be joining Ferrari for the 2025 season, partnering Charles Leclerc.


Lewis Hamilton in Saudi Arabia 2024; Credit: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Max Verstappen 

 

The record for the youngest driver to debut in Formula One has to be handed to last year’s winner of the World Drivers’ Championship, Max Verstappen, who was 17 years old at the time of his first race. 


He also holds the record for the youngest driver to win a Grand Prix, given the victory came only a year post-debut, engraving his name in the history books.


In a nail-biting battle for the championship lead in 2021, Verstappen took on seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton, and proved his brilliant capacity on the track which laid the foundation for two consecutive World Champion titles in 2022 and 2023.


Currently driving for Red Bull, Verstappen has still dominated most of the races, his streak only interrupted a few times by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz. 


Max Verstappen in Australia, 2024; Credit: Michael Potts/BSR Agency/Getty Images

 Oliver Bearman 

 

The youngest Ferrari driver has become quite the internet sensation following his exciting F1 debut this past March. Bearman is a Formula 2 driver, who at the end of last year’s season, was named a reserve driver for Scuderia Ferrari given his impressive debut Formula 2 campaign. 


Following Carlos Sainz’s appendicitis diagnosis that led to the Spanish driver undergoing surgery, Bearman was prepped and trained on qualifying day. This short-term notice should have put him at a disadvantage, but the young Brit underwent intensive training with his team.


This resulted in him finishing seventh place, an absolutely amazing result considering the very difficult and high-speed track at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Saudi Arabia.


Debuts are a tense and exciting experience, not just for the new drivers but also for the fans. This season’s debut definitely fit that criterion, and we cannot wait to see more of Oliver Bearman in the future! 


Oliver Bearman in Australia, March 2024; Credit: Joe Portlock – Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Though there are many other drivers whose debuts we could’ve delved into, none have caught the attention of the public as much as the five mentioned above. They all went on to be successful and prominent influences in the motorsport industry. 


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