It’s easy to think that Formula 1 champions (especially nowadays) have spent their whole careers winning everything, but it isn’t always the case – as Ayrton Senna made abundantly clear when he named unknown karting rival Terry Fullerton as his greatest ever rival, ahead of the likes of Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell.
The cars in junior formulae are vastly different to F1 cars, sometimes a driver might not ‘click’ with a car right away, sometimes the equipment might not be the best and even though the cars are far more equal than in Formula One, being in the right team can make a difference. That means there are quite a few occasions where drivers who went on to make it big in F1 were defeated by not only some surprising people, but some who you may not even have heard of. Here are six of the most unusual.
1999 British Formula 3 – Marc Hynes 1st, Jenson Button 3rd
British F3 was once a hotbed for young talent. Jenson Button was the embodiment of this when he secured a seat with Williams after the 1999 season, which was just his second year in car racing. Three wins and four other podium finishes were good enough for him to take third in the championship and top rookie, but he was beaten to the title by Marc Hynes. Hynes had already won championships in British Formula Vauxhall and British Formula Renault, and in his second season of F3 managed to win the title by just four points over another future F1 driver, Luciano Burti (other future F1 drivers racing that season were Narain Karthikeyan, Alex Yoong and Takuma Sato).
After his F3 title success Hynes raced less successfully in F3000, tested for BAR and dabbled in a number of other series. More recently he worked as a driver coach at Marussia, and in 2014 raced a full season in the wildly competitive British Touring Car Championship.
2000 International F3000 Championship – Bruno Junqueira 1st, Fernando Alonso 4th
Jenson Button got his seat at Williams after winning a testing ‘shoot-out’ with Brazilian driver Bruno Junqueira. After missing out on the seat Junqueira went back to compete in F3000 for a third season, this time winning the championship – future double world champion Fernando Alonso was 4th, just behind Mark Webber in 3rd. Other future F1 drivers racing that season were Enrique Bernoldi, Franck Montagny, Tomas Enge, Sebastien Bourdais and the late Justin Wilson. Stephane Sarrazin, who had a one-off drive for Minardi in 1999 also raced that year.
In spite of his performance Junqueira’s F1 chance never came so he went to America to race in the CART series, where he finished as championship runner-up in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He also qualified on pole for the Indy 500 in 2002 and finished 5th in the race twice.
1963 British Formula 3 – Peter Arundell 1st, Denny Hulme 2nd
Peter Arundell actually went on to have a brief but reasonably successful career in Formula One, finishing his first two races on the podium, but an after an accident caused him to miss almost a years worth of races, by the time he came back he seemed to have lost his edge, and by the end of the decade had retired from racing altogether. Hulme went on to enjoy a successful career, including the 1967 world championship, but in one of the more bizarre career changes Arundell would set up a company making pornographic games for the Atari. Hmm.
2004 Formula 3 Euroseries – Jamie Green 1st, Lewis Hamilton 5th
Hamilton has dominated pretty much every championship he’s raced in; in 2005 he won 15 of 20 races to win the F3 Euroseries title, but in 2004 the dominant driver was another Brit – Jamie Green. Green won the title by 51 points over Alexandre Prémat, who would go on to be team mate to both Hamilton and Rosberg in GP2. Rosberg was also racing that season, finishing 4th in the championship, whilst future F1 drivers Robert Kubica, Adrian Sutil and Giedo van der Garde also took part.
After winning the championship Jamie Green went into the DTM, where he still races to this day, having won a number of races and finishing runner-up in 2015. For Hamilton, 2004 wasn’t even the first time Green had beaten him – in 2002 Hamilton finished 3rd in the Formula Renault UK Championship, Green was 2nd, and Danny Watts beat the pair of them!
2006 Formula Renault 3.5 Series – Alx Danielsson 1st (112pts), Sebastian Vettel 15th (28pts)
Ok, so this is a bit of a cheat – Vettel only started three races, and the in the two that he finished his results were 2nd and 1st, but this season is too remarkable not to have included. Firstly, Alx Danielsson’s championship campaign was bizarre. After the first 10 races he had a best result of 4th and had failed to finish four of them (including a massive crash at Spa), but then he won four of the last six races to take the title. Secondly, had he not been disqualified earlier in the season for a technical infringement, the title would have gone to WTF1 favourite Pastor Maldonado.
There were several other prominent drivers racing that year. Maldonado of course went on to win the GP2 championship and the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix. Davide Valsecchi also won the GP2 championship, and both Alvaro Parente and Mikhail Aleshin would win the FR3.5 championship in the future before going on to have success in other championships across the world. Vettel went to Formula One and had some ok results. For 2006 champion Danielsson however, his career went in some very unexpected directions for someone who’d won one of the most respected junior single-seater titles. In 2007 he did half a season of European F3000 but since then has dabbled in the Porsche Carrera Cup, NASCAR Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series, Swedish Touring Car Championship and World Rallycross. He won the Scandinavian Ferrari Challenge in 2009, but that’s about it. Of course, not all drivers are going to go on to great success even after winning a championship, but this one stands out as being unusual simply because it’s so recent. Maybe he had funding issues, maybe not. Maybe racing on the same track as Maldonado made him think twice about his career.