Ranking the worst Formula 1 cars to win a grand prix
Cars that rarely looked like contenders for victory have occasionally slipped through the net to become winners of world championship Formula 1 races. But which was the worst of the bunch?
Most cars that win in Formula 1 are special. The level of competition ensures that genuinely poor designs rarely get near a podium, particularly given the reliability of modern racing machines.
But sometimes a combination of luck, inspiration and/or unusual weather gives underdog cars their moment in the limelight. For this list, we looked at the overall pace of the cars, their reliability, how difficult they were to drive and the circumstances of their success.
So, here are Autosport’s top 10 worst cars to win a world championship grand prix…
10. Ferrari F60
Raikkonen's victory at Spa in 2009 owed much to the KERS unit on his Ferrari F60 that allowed him to blast past Fisichella's Force India at a restart
Photo by: Andrew Ferraro / Motorsport Images
Victory: 2009 Belgian GP, Kimi Raikkonen
Best other finish: 2nd
Constructors’ championship: 4th
Ferrari's car for F1’s new 2009 regulations was poor. Not only did the team miss the double-diffuser trick, most effectively utilised by Brawn, the F60 lacked the ideal weight distribution thanks to its KERS, although a longer wheelbase introduced at the British GP in June helped matters.
Ferrari didn’t agree with the legality of the double diffuser and, with testing restrictions, didn’t respond as quickly as it might have done previously. It also sometimes struggled to get the best out of the Bridgestone tyres. The top eight cars scored points that season and it took Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa four races to get Ferrari off the mark.
A safety car he helped cause and KERS enabled Raikkonen to snatch victory at Spa from Giancarlo Fisichella’s KERS-less Force India during a strong four-race run, but the woeful (and point-less) performances of Luca Badoer and Fisichella – both of whom stepped in after Massa's serious Hungary qualifying crash – underlined how difficult the car was.
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“We didn’t have enough downforce or efficiency,” said then team manager Chris Dyer in the official 2009 F1 season review. “Both Luca and Giancarlo found the car hard to balance under braking with KERS.”
Had Toyota been more operationally savvy, it’s possible Ferrari would have finished fifth in the constructors' table, having taken the crown in 2008.
9. Shadow DN8
Jones triumphed on a chaotic afternoon at the Osterreichring for Shadow in 1977
Photo by: LAT Photographic
Victory: 1977 Austrian GP, Alan Jones
Best other result: 3rd
Constructors’ championship: 7th
Initially designed by Tony Southgate and completed by Dave Wass in 1976, the DN8 scored points in each of its three F1 seasons. But it was never cutting-edge.
On a good day in 1977 Shadow could get one of its cars into the top six, usually driven by future world champion Alan Jones. On a bad day – and there were a few – it posted a double retirement and Shadow was only seventh in the constructors’ championship.
That would have been eighth had it not been for a remarkable day at the Osterreichring. Jones started 14th in a DN8 with revised bodywork, but a wet track on race day provided an opportunity.
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Most runners started on slicks and Jones made impressive progress in the early slippery conditions, gaining a place almost every lap. After 16 of the 54 laps, Jones was second, with only reigning world champion James Hunt ahead.
Hunt nevertheless looked in command until his McLaren’s Cosworth DFV cried enough with just 11 laps to go. Jones, who had been saved from a potential Gunnar Nilsson challenge when the Lotus driver’s engine failed, was left to beat Niki Lauda’s Ferrari by 20 seconds to secure Shadow’s only F1 world championship victory.
“I knew it was a fluke; winning had to be a fluke in the car I had,” said Jones in his autobiography, Driving Ambition. “I knew there wasn't much we could do short of a new car. The one we had was overweight and very slow in a straight line.”
8. Toro Rosso STR3
Vettel delivered a virtuoso maiden win at Monza in a Toro Rosso which had never been a victory contender at any other point
Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images
Victory: 2008 Italian GP, Sebastian Vettel
Best other result: 4th
Constructor’s championship: 6th
Despite the odd eye-catching qualifying performance – often due to Pirelli rubber – Minardi was much more likely to finish at the back than the front. And that didn’t seem to change significantly when Red Bull bought the team and renamed it Toro Rosso (before rebranding it as AlphaTauri) for 2005.
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The STR3, which arrived for the sixth round of the 2008 season, was really a Red Bull RB4 with a Ferrari engine instead of Renault power. It wasn’t a bad car and often scored points in the hands of Sebastian Vettel during a season largely dominated by McLaren and Ferrari.
But it only ever looked remotely like a winner once. The combination of wet weather, Vettel’s ability, Ferrari power and a weight distribution that was further to the rear than many, made it a contender at Monza.
Vettel qualified on pole and, despite a wild moment, led every lap aside from during the pitstops to take a brilliant victory – the first for team and driver.
"It was an incredible day, with a package that wasn't supposed to be close to the podium," said Vettel.
Even so, Toro Rosso finished sixth in the constructors’ table and wouldn’t score another podium for more than a decade.
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7. Tyrrell 011B
Alboreto's win aboard the Tyrrell 011 was the last for Uncle Ken's famed team
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Victory: 1983 Detroit GP, Michele Alboreto
Best other finish: 5th
Constructors’ championship: 7th (Tyrrell 012 used at some venues)
Ken Tyrrell's eponymous squad was a bastion of the normally aspirated Ford Cosworth DFV engine against the turbo hordes in the early 1980s. To call the 011B a bad car might be rather harsh as it was always going to be outgunned, but in truth it was not normally on the pace.
A development of the reasonably competitive 1982 011, the flat-bottomed B version ended up with the ultimate DFY version of Cosworth's legendary powerplant, but it struggled to finish in the top 10, on the occasions that it actually reached the chequered flag in 1983.
Tight street tracks, which minimised the power advantage of the turbos and highlighted their problems of lag, were the last venues the Cosworth still had a chance.
In Detroit, Michele Alboreto qualified sixth, second fastest of the Cosworth runners. He jumped Marc Surer on lap one, gained another spot when Elio de Angelis’s Lotus suffered crown-wheel-and-pinion failure, then lost it as Keke Rosberg’s Cosworth-engined Williams flew by. Alboreto overcame the Alfa Romeo of Andrea de Cesaris to run fourth again, but Rosberg, Nelson Piquet (Brabham) and Rene Arnoux (Ferrari) seemed out of reach.
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The Tyrrell got ahead of Rosberg when the Williams made a refuelling/tyre stop, which proved to be slow, and moved into second when fuel system problems put out runaway leader Arnoux. Although Alboreto kept the pressure on Piquet, it wasn’t until the Brabham picked up a puncture with 10 laps to go that the non-stopping Tyrrell first hit the front.
Apart from Alboreto's win – Tyrrell’s last – the 011B's best 1983 finish was fifth and it was replaced by the 012 before the end of the campaign.
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6. Ferrari 126CK
Villeneuve defied the awkward Ferrari 126CK to score an improbable victory in Monaco when Jones's Williams hit trouble
Photo by: Ercole Colombo
Victories: 1981 Monaco and Spanish GP, Gilles Villeneuve
Best other result: 3rd
Constructors’ championship: 5th
The first turbocharged Ferrari was all about a powerful engine strapped into a chassis nowhere near as good as most of its rivals. Ferrari, coming off the back of one of its worst seasons in 1980, eventually finished fifth in the constructors’ table and scored just three podiums. But two of those were victories.
Remarkably, they came at two of the season’s three slowest venues. The first was made possible by one of the greatest qualifying laps in F1 history, as Gilles Villeneuve put his Ferrari second on the grid, 2.5s faster than team-mate (and 1980 Monaco polesitter) Didier Pironi.
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Poleman Nelson Piquet’s nimbler Brabham inevitably pulled clear of Villeneuve in the early stages and the Ferrari soon had to make way for Jones’s charging Williams. Jones edged towards Piquet, who was still 3.4s ahead when he crashed in traffic.
Jones inherited the lead, 32.9s clear of Villeneuve, but he was already suffering from fuel-system problems and decided to stop for more petrol. He rejoined with a much-reduced lead, only to find the engine still spluttering. Villeneuve swept by with four laps to go to take victory, finishing a lap clear of fourth-placed Pironi.
Villeneuve qualified seventh, ‘only’ 0.7s ahead of Pironi and 1.2s off pole next time out at Jarama. This time it was an incredible start that combined with Jones drama to help Ferrari win again. Villeneuve rocketed off the line to reach the first corner in third, then drove around the outside of Carlos Reutemann’s Williams at the start of lap two.
Reigning champion Jones nevertheless looked out of reach until he inexplicably went off on lap 14. For the rest of the 80-lap event, Villeneuve defended the lead, holding back an ever-growing gaggle of faster cars thanks to careful placement of the Ferrari and its prodigious straightline speed. The result was the top five finishing within 1.24s of the winner.
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Neither win could detract from the fact that Ferrari was generally outpaced by the Brabham and Williams cars that led the DFV brigade and the turbo Renaults in 1981. The 126CK was also unreliable, 10 of Ferrari’s 15 retirements in 15 races being due to mechanical problems.
5. Ligier JS43
Nobody saw Panis's 1996 Monaco victory coming - the Frenchman scored his one and only win in a race of remarkable attrition
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Victory: 1996 Monaco GP, Olivier Panis
Best other result: 5th
Constructors’ championship: 6th
Oliver Panis’s day of days delivered the JS43 a shock victory in one of those crazy Monaco GPs that occasionally crops up. On average, the Mugen-Honda-powered Ligier was the seventh fastest car of 1996, 2.502% off the Williams FW18. To put that into perspective, that’s very similar to the difference between the pacesetting Ferrari and backmarker Williams machines in 2022.
Panis qualified 14th at Monaco, two seconds off Michael Schumacher’s acrobatic Ferrari pole. But the wet race proved to be one of attrition, and Panis was inspired.
Multiple shunts, including Schumacher on the first lap, helped Panis, but he was also prepared to make some aggressive passes. Perhaps the boldest was his move on Eddie Irvine at Loews hairpin, which briefly left the Ferrari stationary.
By the time the remaining runners had switched to slicks, Panis was up to third, behind Damon Hill’s Williams and the Benetton of Jean Alesi. Hill was 26.3s clear – and 48.5s ahead of Panis – when his Renault engine blew up on lap 41 of what would be a 75-lapper thanks to the two-hour rule. Alesi then led until, with 16 laps to go, he retired with suspension damage.
Panis took over at the front and successfully kept David Coulthard’s McLaren at arm’s length despite fuel concerns to record his only world championship victory, and the ninth and last for the French team.
Ligier only scored five points in the other 15 races of 1996, but the 10 from Monaco allowed it to finish sixth in the constructors’ table in Ligier’s final season before being renamed Prost.
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4. Williams FW09
The first turbo-charged Williams struggled to cope with the Honda engine's abrupt power delivery but Rosberg managed to hustle a result on the deteriorating Dallas streets
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Victory: 1984 Dallas GP, Keke Rosberg
Best other result: 2nd
Constructors’ championship: 6th
Honda took time to get things right prior to its pre-eminence as F1's leading engine manufacturer in the 1980s. After getting things started with the minnow Spirit outfit, Honda joined forces with Williams at the end of 1983. The FW09 was Williams's first turbocar and struggled to deal with the Honda's abrupt power delivery.
As with several entries on this list, the car’s victory owed a lot to the person behind the wheel. Rosberg was better prepared for the sweltering heat of Dallas, having a water-cooled skullcap for round nine of the 1984 F1 season. He started only seventh (fourth-place qualifier Arnoux having been forced to the back) but moved forward immediately.
After Derek Warwick crashed trying to take the lead, Rosberg – having already overtaken Lauda’s McLaren – moved forward to challenge the Lotuses of Nigel Mansell and de Angelis. Rosberg quickly got into second, but Mansell proved tougher, the Williams not grabbing top spot until just after half distance.
Alain Prost’s McLaren then emerged as Rosberg’s main challenger and the Frenchman seemed to have the race won after he moved ahead and started to draw away. But with the track surface deteriorating, many drivers ended their day in the wall and Prost was one of them. Rosberg thus coolly came through to record the first turbocharged Williams victory.
The FW09B was introduced immediately after Dallas, but only managed two finishes – neither in the points – in the remaining seven races. The 1985 FW10 would be the first truly successful product of the Williams-Honda relationship.
3. Lotus 43
Remarkably Clark's victory at Watkins Glen in 1966 was the only race his Lotus 43 finished that year
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Victory: 1966 United States GP, Jim Clark
Best other result: No other finishes
Constructors’ championship: 5th (Lotus 33 used at some venues)
This had to make it onto the list. The 43 failed to finish all five GPs it started, apart from Jim Clark’s Watkins Glen success.
In terms of pace, the successor to the title-winning 33 was in the ballpark. Clark qualified in the top three every time he raced the car, indicating the chassis was not a bad one, and it was the same in the 1966 United States GP.
Clark qualified second, behind recently crowned world champion Jack Brabham, but his H16 failed at the end of practice and Lotus had to borrow BRM’s spare engine! Clark initially followed the fast-starting Ferrari of Lorenzo Bandini, but soon fell behind Brabham and John Surtees’ Cooper, dropping Clark to fourth.
Then Surtees clashed with a backmarker and Bandini’s engine blew. Brabham was left with a comfortable lead, only to hit engine troubles of his own. In a race of attrition, Clark was thus left to cruise to victory by a lap.
Elsewhere, the 43 would not hold together, with gearbox gremlins among the car’s woes. The main, however, issue was the BRM P75 H16 engine, which was too heavy, unreliable, and not as powerful as hoped under the new three-litre regulations.
It was an interim measure for Lotus, following Coventry Climax’s F1 withdrawal and before the new Cosworth was ready, and BRM’s own struggles with the unit underlined the fact it was too complex for its own good. Indeed, Clark’s success was the powerplant’s only world championship victory; the best BRM could manage with it was Jackie Stewart’s second place at Spa in 1967.
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2. Ferrari 625 (555)
Trintignant inherited victory with the Ferrari 625 at Monaco in 1955 when both Mercedes retired
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Victory: 1955 Monaco GP, Maurice Trintignant
Best other result: 2nd
Constructors’ championship: Not held
The 1955 F1 season was all about the Mercedes-Benz W196s of Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss, with the superb but underfunded Lancia D50 showing hints of its potential.
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A second and a third, and then a victory in the first two races of the season do not indicate that the 625 with the 555 four-cylinder engine was too bad. But in truth it was outclassed by the straight-eight Silver Arrow and V8 Lancia.
Maurice Trintignant qualified as the fastest Ferrari at Monaco, but that was only good enough for ninth, 3.3s behind polesitter Fangio. The Mercedes ace made the early running, before going out with transmission problems. Moss took over, but he suffered a rare Mercedes engine failure with 20 laps to go.
Alberto Ascari would have taken the lead but instead had his famous dip in the harbour with his D50. All that left Trintignant to take his first world championship GP win by 20s, from the Lancia of Eugenio Castellotti.
Thereafter, the gap between Mercedes and Ferrari at the flag could normally be measured in minutes, with Maserati’s new 250F sometimes getting in between. It’s fair to say Ferrari lacked a top-line driver for much of the season, but the margins indicate that wasn’t the team’s only problem.
It took Mercedes’ withdrawal from motorsport, and the beleaguered Lancia handing its D50s over to Enzo Ferrari, to put the Scuderia back on top in 1956.
1. Jordan EJ13
Fisichella emerged through chaos at Sao Paolo in 2003 to deliver Jordan its final F1 victory
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Victory: 2003 Brazilian GP, Giancarlo Fisichella
Best other result: 7th
Constructors’ championship: 9th
Most of the cars mentioned so far could be described as midfielders but this winner was a backmarker. Only Minardi was slower than Jordan in 2003 and the EJ13 was 2.197% off the pace of the title-winning Ferrari squad across the season.
Funding was an issue due to a lack of sponsorship and Honda engines were replaced by old Ford Cosworth units. A troubled gestation also meant the car lacked downforce and it was unreliable. So, how did it win a GP?
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The first crucial point was rain at Interlagos and the second was the decision to pit early to get enough fuel into Giancarlo Fisichella’s EJ13 to take it to lap 54, at which full points would be awarded in the event of a red flag.
After his stop, Fisichella was 18th, only ahead of his team-mate Ralph Firman. But as others pitted, spun off or crashed (including Firman following a suspension problem), the Italian moved forward.
On lap 54 leader Raikkonen made a small mistake and Fisichella went by the McLaren. Then Mark Webber crashed, Fernando Alonso ploughed into some of the wreckage and red flags flew.
While Fisichella’s car then caught fire, Raikkonen was initially declared the winner. But, following an inquiry, the result was called after 54 laps, giving Fisichella his first GP win – and the EJ13 a finish six places higher than its next-best result!
A more familiar position to find a Jordan in 2003 - Fisichella is about to be lapped by eventual winner Alonso's Renault in Hungary
Photo by: Sutton Images
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