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10 times an F1 reserve driver competed in a grand prix

On many occasions Formula 1 teams have entered their reserve driver for a grand prix due to unforeseen circumstances - so how did they perform?

Oliver Bearman, Scuderia Ferrari

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Oliver Bearman received a shock call-up to the 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix when Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz withdrew because of appendicitis.

The 18-year-old therefore became the third-youngest driver to ever compete in an F1 grand prix after getting the opportunity due to being Ferrari’s reserve.

But, there have been many other occasions in the 21st century when a team’s reserve has entered a grand prix in place of one of its main drivers. Here are 10 times it has happened.

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel, BMW Sauber F1.07

Sebastian Vettel, BMW Sauber F1.07

Photo by: Sutton Images

Team: BMW-Sauber
Race: 2007 United States Grand Prix
Race finish: 8th

Sebastian Vettel was 16 days shy of his 20th birthday when he made his F1 debut for BMW-Sauber, after Robert Kubica suffered a heavy crash at the race prior in Montreal. Vettel had been BMW-Sauber’s reserve driver since August 2006 and in his first practice session, FP1 for the 2006 Turkish GP, the eventual four-time world champion claimed the record for the fastest ever penalty - nine seconds - after speeding in the pitlane.

Vettel was eventually given his proper F1 debut for the team at the 2007 United States GP where he was impressive from the off in Indianapolis. A teenage Vettel reached Q3 before finishing eighth, which at the time made him the youngest-ever F1 driver to score a point. Kubica returned for the following race, so later in 2007 BMW-Sauber released Vettel to Toro Rosso meaning he only drove one grand prix for the squad.

Oliver Bearman

Oliver Bearman, Ferrari SF-24, Zhou Guanyu, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber C44

Oliver Bearman, Ferrari SF-24, Zhou Guanyu, Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber C44

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Team: Ferrari
Race: 2024 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Race finish: 7th

Bearman became another teenager to score points in F1 when he impressed on his debut for Ferrari. So surprising was the F1 call that Bearman started the weekend in F2 and claimed pole position for the feature race, but had to withdraw once Sainz was deemed not fit enough to compete.

The Briton’s first session was final practice and despite such limited time in the cockpit, Bearman qualified 11th having been less than one tenth of a second off Q3. Bearman stepped it up in the race as he climbed up to seventh and scored six points for Ferrari after fending off Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps.

Luca Badoer

Luca Badoer, Ferrari

Luca Badoer, Ferrari

Photo by: Sutton Images

Team: Ferrari
Races: 2009 European Grand Prix-2009 Belgian Grand Prix
Best finish: 14th

Not every reserve driver has impressed when racing for the Scuderia though. Luca Badoer made his Ferrari debut at the age of 38, 10 years after his last F1 appearance, due to Felipe Massa fracturing his skull at the Hungaroring when his helmet was struck by a piece of suspension from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car.

Given the context Badoer was expected to struggle, but maybe not as much as he actually did - he qualified last in Valencia and was 1.5 seconds off the next driver. The struggles continued into race day when Badoer came last of the finished cars, while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was on the podium.

Badoer qualified last again in his second appearance, the 2009 Belgian GP, although this time he was within a second of Romain Grosjean in 19th. However, a sign reading "my grandmother is faster than Luca with a Ferrari. Shameful” proved to be the end of his F1 career as he finished last of the runners in Spa-Francorchamps and was subsequently replaced by Giancarlo Fisichella for Monza before Massa’s return in 2010.

Jenson Button

 Jenson Button, McLaren MCL32

Jenson Button, McLaren MCL32

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Team: McLaren
Race: 2017 McLaren Grand Prix
Race finish: DNF

Jenson Button also made a shock return, having quit full-time racing at the end of 2016 and reducing his position to a reserve driver role at McLaren for 2017. He actually wished to retire, but the team convinced the 2009 world champion otherwise.

Button therefore had no interest in making another grand prix start. However, he was contractually obliged to do so at the 2017 Monaco GP when Fernando Alonso instead entered the Indianapolis 500 as part of his bid to claim the illustrious Triple Crown of Motorsport - awarded for winning the Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500 and Le Mans 24 Hours and a feat which has only been achieved by Graham Hill.

The then 37-year-old arguably started the weekend well though. Button reached Q3 and out-qualified team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, but he started from the pitlane as his car was modified under parc ferme conditions due to McLaren exceeding its maximum quota of engine components for the year.

Any good feeling about Button’s individual performance went away in the race. On lap 60 while running at the back, Button made a late lunge down the inside of Turn 8 and clipped Pascal Wehrlein’s rear-right tyre which flipped his Sauber car onto its side against the barriers. The collision also caused Button to retire from the race before leaving McLaren at the end of 2017.

Alexander Wurz

Takuma Sato and Alexander Wurz

Takuma Sato and Alexander Wurz

Photo by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images

Team: McLaren
Race: 2005 San Marino Grand Prix
Race finish: 3rd

Alexander Wurz arguably had the greatest performance of any stand-in driver this century as he finished third at Imola in his first race for five years. Having been a McLaren test driver since 2001, Wurz was selected for the 2005 San Marino GP to replace the injured Juan Pablo Montoya, who had a hairline fracture of the shoulder - the cause of which is debated.

Wurz started in seventh on his F1 return, while his team-mate Raikkonen claimed pole. The Austrian, who is now chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, then drove a solid race as he crossed the line in fourth, but was later promoted into the podium positions due to the disqualification of third-placed Button, whose BAR car was underweight.

Wurz returned to his usual McLaren test driver duties before taking the same role at Williams in 2006, landing a race seat with the team a year later.

Stoffel Vandoorne

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MP4-30 Honda

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren MP4-30 Honda

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Team: McLaren
Race: 2016 Bahrain Grand Prix
Race finish: 10th

Vandoorne was another driver to appear as a McLaren stand-in when he made his F1 debut at the 2016 Bahrain GP. It came after joining McLaren’s junior programme in 2013 before becoming its third driver the following year with much hype around him. So, when Alonso broke his ribs in a crash at the season-opening 2016 Australian GP, Vandoorne’s F1 opportunity had finally arrived.

At the time McLaren was not very competitive and, lining up alongside Button, Bahrain could easily have been a difficult weekend for Vandoorne. He delivered on the promise though, out-qualifying his world champion team-mate before scoring McLaren’s first point of the season in 10th.

Although it was Vandoorne’s only grand prix of 2016, he was back in the McLaren seat the following year as Button stepped away. F1 ultimately ended in disappointment for Vandoorne as he had just two full seasons with McLaren, finishing 16th in the championship both years, before moving to Formula E where he clinched the 2022 title.

Nyck de Vries

Nyck de Vries, Williams

Nyck de Vries, Williams

Photo by: Williams

Team: Williams
Race: 2022 Italian Grand Prix
Race finish: 9th

Nyck de Vries’ F1 debut came later than most, as he was 27-years-old and had already won the F2 and Formula E championships. De Vries made his debut with Williams, having received the call-up just before final practice for the 2023 Italian GP after Alex Albon withdrew because of appendicitis.

It was a weird year for De Vries, who completed a practice session each for three teams - Williams, Mercedes and Aston Martin - in 2023 due to his ties with the Silver Arrows. On top of that, his Aston Martin drive came only the day before he replaced Albon at Monza. But what a debut it was for De Vries.

De Vries was immediately on the pace as he qualified 13th, three spots above team-mate Nicholas Latifi, and he finished the job by scoring points in ninth. At the time that result put him above Latifi in the championship, despite only doing one race, meaning De Vries was immediately in contention for an F1 seat in 2023.

Many teams were in the mix, but he eventually went to AlphaTauri. De Vries’ time as a full-time F1 driver was disastrous though, as he scored zero points before getting dropped after 10 grands prix and returning to Formula E and then also the World Endurance Championship.

Liam Lawson

Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri AT04

Liam Lawson, AlphaTauri AT04

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Team: AlphaTauri
Races: 2023 Dutch Grand Prix-2023 Qatar Grand Prix
Best finish: 9th

Liam Lawson received a late call-up for AlphaTauri at the 2023 Dutch GP after Daniel Ricciardo, who replaced De Vries, crashed in second practice and broke his hand. Lawson had never previously driven a competitive session in F1 before, with his only experience coming in first practice for the 2022 Belgian, Mexico and Abu Dhabi GPs alongside F2 duties.

The F1 world was shocked by how well Lawson did. He finished a respectable 13th on his debut before consistently being in or around the points over the following three grands prix, which included ninth in Singapore after Lawson remarkably reached Q3. His F1 stint ended in disappointment as Lawson finished last of the runners in Qatar, however the New Zealander had already staked a solid claim for a full-time seat in 2024.

Many fans wanted Lawson to receive the opportunity, especially because he was classified above team-mate Yuki Tsunoda in all but one of the grands prix they both competed in. However, AlphaTauri kept Tsunoda and Ricciardo as its pairing for 2024 with Lawson as reserve driver. Red Bull boss Christian Horner stated that Lawson will become “a grand prix driver at some stage”.

Kazuki Nakajima

Kazuki Nakajima, Williams FW29 in a media scrum

Kazuki Nakajima, Williams FW29 in a media scrum

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Team: Williams
Race: 2007 Brazilian Grand Prix
Race finish: 10th

Kazuki Nakajima drove the final grand prix of the 2007 season for Williams after Wurz quit prematurely, stating “if you have a moment's doubt about what you are doing, then it is time to stop”.

So, with a spot now open at Williams for 2008, the 2007 Brazilian GP was practically an audition for Nakajima to claim that seat. The Japanese driver did not get the best of starts as he was eliminated from Q1 in 19th, while team-mate Nico Rosberg reached the final session.

However, Nakajima then delivered a solid recovery drive to 10th even though he did knock down two Williams mechanics after going too far into his pit box. Despite that, Williams was still impressed enough to give Nakajima an F1 seat for 2008 and he stayed for two seasons before moving to Japan’s Formula Nippon/Super Formula and Super GT.

Nakajima took the Super Formula title in 2012 and 2014, and was also part of the winning Toyota driver line-up in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 Le Mans 24 Hours. The Japanese driver was also crowned World Endurance Champion in the 2018-19 super season alongside Fernando Alonso and Sebastien Buemi.

Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato, BAR 005 Honda, leads Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F2003-GA

Takuma Sato, BAR 005 Honda, leads Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F2003-GA

Photo by: Motorsport Images

Team: BAR
Race: 2003 Japanese Grand Prix
Race finish: 6th

Honda-backed Takuma Sato drove his rookie season with Jordan in 2002, but when the Japanese manufacturer shifted its full focus to BAR for the following year, Sato joined the team as its reserve driver. Sato finally made his BAR debut at the 2003 season finale in Suzuka when Jacques Villeneuve suddenly quit the team after it had refused to renew his contract for 2004.

Villeneuve had been with BAR since its debut in 1999, so Sato had some big shoes to fill. Sato  climbed up to sixth in the race after starting 13th in a valiant drive, and he was offered a BAR seat for the 2004 season as a result of his performance.

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