The debate about shortlisting the world’s best Grand Prix racers is always strong and contentious. Names such as Senna, Schumacher, Prost and Fangio are always at the top of the list for rightful reasons. Their strong careers are littered with numerous wins and World Championships, coupled with long and successful careers in F1.
But what about those drivers who only had the distinction of starting one Grand Prix? Those drivers that for whatever reason couldn’t made it on to the grid for more than one race, yet still somehow made an impact on the sport we know and love?
Despite the perhaps unfortunate ‘honour’ of only racing in one Grand Prix, there are still plenty of drivers who have come in for the briefest of stints, yet have walked away being talked about. So who are the Top 10 drivers to have started only one Grand Prix?
10. Jimmy Stewart – 1953 British Grand Prix
The Stewart name in Formula one is synonymous with Sir Jackie, triple World Champion and often regarded as one of the all time greats. But his older brother, Jimmy, actually was the first Stewart to race in the sport. Following on from his racing father, he entered numerous hill climb events in the early 1950s before progressing into Formula Two. This eventually lead him into Formula One.
Starting in the 1953 British Grand Prix for Ecurie Ecosse in a Cooper T20, he qualified in a decent 15th place and impressed the spectators with a storming drive to sixth place. However, on lap 79 he suffered a spin which put him into retirement and he would never be seen in a World Championship race again.
Jimmy would go on to compete in several non-Championship races but was severely injured during Le Mans in 1954 which put him out of the sport to recover. He would soon return in 1955 to racing but after another accident in Silverstone during a sports car event, he hung up his helmet for good. He would support his future champion brother from the sidelines who looked up to him as a hero. Jimmy passed away in 2008.
9. Kurt Adolff – 1953 German Grand Prix
Born into a textile company family, Kurt Adolff served for Germany during the Second World War as a paratrooper. He would eventually find racing in his blood after his military service ended, finding his way as a private entrant in Formula 2 in the early 1950s using BMW-powered cars. Not known for his results, he would find himself acquiring a Ferrari 500 from Rudolf Fischer which would soon bring him to the attention of the Grand Prix circus.
This would lead to his one and only race at the 1953 German Grand Prix using a stripped down Ferrari 166 for the Ecurie Espandon team. Adolff struggled all weekend, only qualifying in 28th place and lasting ’til lap three before he retired with a mechanical failure. He would see this as a sign and retire from single seaters, going on to enjoy some minor success in hillclimbs and touring cars before retiring completely to focus on a business career.
He would also try his hand at bobsleigh racing and serve as the German consul to Chile, before eventually passing away in 2012.
8. Gérard Larrousse – 1974 Belgian Grand Prix
More famous for his team rather than his racing career, Gerard Larrouse did manage to compete in 2 Grand Prix weekends but only lined up on the grid once after failing to qualify in his second race. He was born in the midst of the Second World War in France and grew into a love of rallying, which had to be put on pause after breaking his ankles in a bad parachute landing during his military service for France.
In 1966 he returned to motor racing, having success in sports cars, which included a winning the 1971 Sebring 12 Hours in a Porsche. Touring cars would follow before Formula 1 beckoned.
His solitary start came in the 1974 Belgian Grand Prix (pictured above) where he qualified an impressive eleventh for the Brabham team. However, he was unable to repeat this performance on race day, and retired on lap 53 due to tyre issues.
After failing to qualify for his home race later that year, he would turn back to sports car racing before leaving racing for a management career. As manager of Renault Sport, he spearheaded their entry into Formula One in the late 1970s and remained as manager right until the end of 1985 when they departed the sport. Larrousse then joined Ligier before starting up his own team in 1987, which ran until the end of the 1994 season.
7. Lamberto Leoni – 1978 Argentine Grand Prix
Italian Lamberto Leoni could perhaps be seen as the unluckiest one race starter on this list. Although he only started one race, he attempted to start a further four, failing to qualify on all other attempts. He had mixed results in both Formula 2 and 3 and ended up hiring a Surtees TS19 to attempt to race in his home Grand Prix in 1977 but didn’t qualify. His luck would change though, and he would be signed for the Ensign team in 1978.
During the season opener in Argentina, Leoni would qualify in 22nd place, just ahead of Didier Pironi in the Tyrell. After attempting to work his way through the field, his engine would let go on lap 28, ending his race. He would fail to qualify for the next three races and his Formula 1 career was over.
He returned to Formula 2 and then Formula 3000 and even ran his own team called First Racing in 1987. He attempted to enter Formula One with the team but was unsuccessful, selling the still born car designed for the sport to the short lived Life team for the 1990 season. After motor racing he turned his attention to powerboat racing where he achieved great success and nearly winning the 1993 World Powerboat Championship.
6. Leo Kinnunen – 1974 Swedish Grand Prix
It’s not often you find a one race Formula One driver holding a record, but Leo Kinnunen is one such driver who can lay claim to an F1 record. He is in fact the last driver in the history of the sport to wear an open-face helmet, and also can lay claim to being the first ever Finnish Grand Prix racer, setting the path for future World Champions Keke Rosberg, Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen.
Originally starting his motor racing career on motorbikes, he turned to cars in the early 1960s and before achieving some early success in rallying and autocross, as well as ice racing. He was runner up in the 1967 Finnish Rally Championship before moving into the Finnish F3 championship where he would have strong battles with future F1 star Ronnie Peterson. Further success came with sports car racing, including winning the 1970 Daytona 24 hours.
Although his F1 debut would come in 1974, he was very close to entering the sport as early as 1971 for Team Lotus with the help of Jochen Rindt. However after Rindt’s death, negotiations fell through when Bernie Ecclestone requested that Kinnunen still drive in the sport but for free. His chance would come though in 1974 as he was offered a seat with the AAW Racing Team driving a Surtees Ford. He failed to qualify in the Belgian Grand Prix and his only start came during the Swedish Grand Prix later that year. Despite qualifying 25th in a 24-car race, he was allowed to start due to his good relations with Swedish motor racing and found himself in a car that was not built to finish the race. Fuelled for only ten laps for a ‘press run’, he impressed overtaking five cars in eight laps before retiring with a spark plug failure. He would go on to fail to qualify for a further four races, and his F1 career was over.
He returned to sports car racing after his time in F1 and also raced in a few rally events in his home country, before retiring to concentrate on a career in sports administration. He was also hand-picked by actor Steve McQueen to driver in the film Le Mans but his Porsche contract at the time didn’t allow him to take part and he was replaced by David Piper, who then would suffer serious injuries during filming.
5. Markus Winkelhock – 2007 German Grand Prix
The most recent driver on this countdown, Winkelhock comes from a strong Grand Prix family. His father Manfred and uncle Joachim both raced in the sport during the 1980s and it was always destined for Markus to do likewise.
Successful in the junior categories, he turned his attention to DTM in 2004 but was unable to score a point. He switched back to single seaters in 2005, winning three races in the World Series by Renault for the Draco team. He became test driver for Midland in 2006 and took part in several Friday practice sessions and maintained his role in 2007 for the newly named Spyker team. After Christijan Albers was dumped after the British Grand Prix, it was announced that Markus would race for one Grand Prix only at his home track, the Nurburgring.
Qualifying last in 22nd place, Winkelhock was faced with a wet race for his Grand Prix debut. His Spyker team switched him to intermediate tyres before the race began, despite no rain having fallen and everyone else starting the race on dry tyres. It would turn out to be an inspirational decision, as nearly the entire field pitted at the end of the opening lap for wet tyres. He then made his way through to the lead, even passing eventual World Champion Kimi Raikkonen in a Ferrari. At the end of lap 4 with everyone playing catch up, he held an amazing 33-second lead over second placed Felipe Massa.
The fairytale wasn’t to last, however, as the race would soon be stopped to wait for the rain to subside after several runners skated off into the Turn 1 gravel. On the restart, he would start from ‘pole’ and risked it once again by starting on full wets despite the rain now having stopped. As expected, he was soon quickly overtaken by most of the field, and retired on lap 15 with hydraulic issues. He did, however, leave as the only ever driver in the sport to start last on the grid and lead the race on debut, and the only driver to ever start last and first in the same Grand Prix, due to the restart.
After Sakon Yamamoto took his seat for the remainder of the season, Winkelhock returned to DTM as well as competing in the FIA GT1 World Championship with limited success.
4. Neville Lederle – 1962 South African Grand Prix
One of only four one-time drivers to score points in their only race, Lederle rose through the ranks in his native South Africa to strong interest, and was widely regarded as one of his country’s brightest prospects for future success in the sport.
He was successful in numerous non-Championship events, including coming fifth in the 1962 Rand Grand Prix and fourth in the Natal Grand Prix that year as well. His form would lead him into a Formula One debut at his home Grand Prix in East London.
Driving his own Lotus 21, he managed to practice the art of racing in F1 after being overtaken by Jim Clark in qualifying. Watching how Clark took the fast Potters Pass bend, he soon improved his time by over four seconds and landed tenth place on the grid, the highest spot by a private entrant. During the race itself, he drove an unspectacular race but did enough to keep his head and finish in 6th place, bringing him his first and only World Championship point on debut. This was done amazingly with a cracked cylinder, and came with high praise from Lotus founder Colin Chapman, who called Lederle a ‘natural racing driver’. Despite the praise from Chapman as well as from the local South African media, a full-time drive in the sport would never come.
He would compete in sports car racing but was absent for a long period after breaking his leg in practice for the Rand 9 Hours in 1964. He attempted to once again qualify as a private entrant to the 1965 South African Grand Prix but failed to do so, and retired from racing altogether to run a Volkswagen dealership.
3. Eric Thompson – 1952 British Grand Prix
Taking out bronze on our list is British racer Eric Thompson. A successful sports car racer, he took a class win at the 1949 Le Mans 24 Hours and even managed a couple of handicap wins during some sports car outings at Goodwood. An integral part of the Aston Martin team until 1953, he scored a podium finish at the 1953 Le Mans race as well as competing in several single seater categories.
Thompson’s one and only Grand Prix outing came at his home race at Silverstone in 1952. He qualified an impressive ninth place in his Connaught, ahead of the likes of Stirling Moss and Maurice Trintignant, albeit seven seconds off Giuseppe Farnia’s pole position.
During the race he fought his way steadily through the field and maintained a cool head to walk away with an impressive fifth place, taking two World Championship points with him. He was unable however to expand on this and wasn’t able to maintain a full drive in the sport.
After his Grand Prix race, he went back to sport scars as well as becoming a winner in Formula 2 before retiring from motor sport in 1956. He became an insurance broker after his retirement and currently is a dealer in rare motoring books at the ripe old age of 93.
2. Oscar Alfredo Gálvez – 1953 Argentine Grand Prix
Our runner-up is none other than Argentina’s Oscar Alfredo Gálvez, a man who has the honour of having the Buenos Aires Grand Prix Circuit named after him.
One of five brothers, he honed his motoring passion in his father’s engineering workshop and often entered local races with his brothers, against the wishes of their dad. As he worked his way up the ranks in Argentina he built a strong fan base, earning the nickname of ‘the small eagle’ as he battled it out against a certain Argentinean driver called Juan Manuel Fangio.
He won numerous Argentinean national championships in the 40s and 50s and moved to single seat racing in 1947 to further success. A huge star in his home country, he wasn’t able to bring that success to Europe, as the Argentine President at the time Juan Peron didn’t support him like he did with Fangio and Jose Froilan Gonzalez so he was forced to dominate his local racing categories. Formula 1, however, would beckon for the star in 1953 as the sport came to Argentina and he was soon scooped up by Maserati to race in the Grand Prix.
Qualifying in ninth, he worked his way through the field to finish an impressive fifth, only 1 lap behind the winner Alberto Ascari. It was a good race for Argentina, as Jose Froilan Gonzalez managed to finish in third in the sister Maserati. He walked away from the sport having scored two championship points.
After his one and only race, he continued in motor sport until 1961. He had the circuit at Buenos Aires named after him in 1989, the same year he passed away due to skin cancer.
1. Dorino Serafini – 1950 Italian Grand Prix
One Grand Prix and one podium. Sounds too good to be true? Well if your name is Dorino Serafini, it certainly isn’t.
A former motorcycle racer (and racewinner), his switch to four-wheeled competition almost led to his death in the 1947 Comminges Grand Prix, when his steering wheel broke, sending him straight into a tree and suffered multiple bone breakages. After recovering, he returned to racing where he would race in the first ever Italian Grand Prix as replacement for the injured Luigi Villoresi.
Qualifying in sixth place, Serafini would end up having to give his car to team mate Alberto Ascari during the race and ‘shared’ the drive. Before Ascari’s retirement from the race, Serafini was in a strong battle with Fagioli for second place but a lap behind race leader Giuseppe Farina.
It would turn out to be a good omen for Serafini, as he would become the first (and so far only) driver to score a podium during their only World Championship race. It was also the race that crowned Farina as the first ever Formula One World Champion.
Given it was a shared drive; he would share the points with Ascari at the end of the race. He holds the distinction of having the highest podium places percentage in the history of the sport, being that it sits at 100%!
After his one race for Ferrari he would go on to compete in numerous non-Championship Formula One race. He died in 2000.