Following Kimi Raikkonen’s decision to undergo back surgery and subsequently miss the final two rounds of the 2013 Formula One season, a somewhat unexpected race has been sparked to claim the vacant seat at Lotus. The team’s reserve driver, Davide Valsecchi, is widely expected to deputize for the Finn and make his Formula One debut. Although it may be an unconventional way of getting into the sport, many other legends of the sport have come in through the same route – accidental, but incredibly impressive – as well as acting as a replacement in the twilight of their careers.
Mario Andretti – Italy 1982
Andretti’s role as a stand-in is slightly different, as it came at the end of his career. Having won the drivers’ championship in 1978, he failed to successfully defend his title and entered the 1982 season without a drive. Andretti took part in one race for Williams as a replacement for Carlos Reutemann, but following a career-ending accident for Didier Pironi, He enjoyed one final hurrah with Ferrari. On debut for the Italian team, Andretti scored pole position before going on to finish in third place at Monza in an emotional result for the Italian-American. However, he could not repeat this feat in the season finale at Caesar’s Palace thanks to a suspension failure. Nevertheless, it was a fitting end to an illustrious F1 career.
Michael Schumacher – Belgium 1991
Statistically, Michael Schumacher is the greatest driver in the history of Formula One. However, his debut came under rather strange circumstances. The German driver was drafted in by enigmatic team owner Eddie Jordan after full-time driver Betrand Gachot was jailed for two months. At the tender age of twenty-two, Schumacher immediately impressed to qualify seventh ahead of teammate Andrea de Cesaris. Despite retiring on the first lap of the race due to a clutch problem, Schumacher had done enough to secure himself a drive with Benetton for the rest of the season, with whom he would go on to win his first two championships in 1994 and 1995.
Sebastian Vettel – USA 2007
In the final United States Grand Prix at The Brickyard back in 2007, a young German driver by the name of Sebastian Vettel made his debut. BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica had a huge crash at the Canadian Grand Prix that he was lucky to escape from, but under advice from his doctor, the Pole opted not to race at Indianapolis. Therefore, the team drafted in Vettel – just six days shy of his twentieth birthday – and he immediately proved his credentials as a star for the future. After qualifying in seventh place, Vettel went on to finish the race in eighth just behind future teammate Mark Webber. Four races later, Vettel was given a full-time drive with Toro Rosso after Scott Speed‘s exit; six years later, he’s a four time world champion.
Michael Schumacher (almost) – Europe 2009
Eighteen years after standing in to make his debut, the then-retired Schumacher was on the verge of a shock comeback with Ferrari. Felipe Massa had suffered a severe head injury at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix and was unable to take part in the rest of the season. Therefore, Ferrari had to find a replacement, and who better than the most successful driver in the history of the team? Schumacher, who had last raced in 2006, was all set to step in. However, a neck injury that he had suffered on a motorbike flared up and meant that he could not represent the Italian team. Luca Badoer was eventually promoted from his test driver role, but he lasted two races before being replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella.