Bottom-10 Worst F1 Drivers (2005-2015)
Back in 2012 I made a list of drivers from my active following period in Formula Ones which I thought were the worst (NOTE: the list is no longer available). Recently, I’ve wondered about redoing that list for a number of reasons, but I felt that vast majority of the entries on the list were warranted, so I didn’t really want to completely redo the list. Instead, I decided that I would look back from the past 10 years and choose whom I thought were the worst drivers to have driven during this period in F1s.
There are two criteria for people to be on this list…
- They will have had to have started their active F1 career in 2005: being a test-driver in 2004 for instance is allowed, but this means that you will not be seeing a lot of the old names from the prior Top-10 here.
- They will have had to have done something worth-while and/or notable to enter the list: No weak rookie-season-only drivers who never got a second chance basically, there will have to be something tangible to warrant an entry.
Additionally, I was thinking of reinforcing the “no single-season runners” rule I applied to the original list, but at least two entries would have been disqualified because of this, so I decided to let it slide. There’s also a long list of multiple season runners whose careers never amounted to anything which I, regardless, didn’t want to include because writing about them wouldn’t have been too interesting. This list of (dis)honourable mentions includes names such as Vitantonio Liuzzi, Kazuki Nakajima, Karun Chandhok, Jerome d’Ambrosio, Jean-Eric Vergne, Charles Pic, Max Chilton as well as Scott Speed who was featured in the previous Top-10 but whom I didn’t have the heart to include a second time.
But anyway, on with the list…
- Teams driven for: Jordan (2005), Hispania Racing Team (2011-2012)
- Best result: 4th place in the 2005 US Grand Prix (Club Tyregate)
- Reason for inclusion: Has-been grabbing for glory / First Indian F1 driver
Narain Karthikeyan remains the most successful Indian F1 driver in history. That’s because Narain was one of the six drivers who participated in the scandalous 2005 US Grand Prix which led to F1s to never set foot in Indianapolis again (after two more seasons).
Karthikeyan was not rehired after his 2005 debut season when Jordan became the British Midland racing team. Narain instead bid his time and came back driving for possibly the worst F1 team of recent history, Hispania Racing Team. Alongside fellow F1 has-been, Pedro de la Rosa, Karthikeyan failed to make any serious headway during the 2011 season and was even put aside after the eight first GPs of the 2011 season to allow Daniel Ricciardo to drive in his stead.
However, Narain has at least two notable records to his name. Not only was he F1’s first Indian-born driver, he also became the first of his countrymen to race in an F1 race in his homeland (the one time HRT let him behind the wheel for the rest of the season). Narain and De la Rosa finally found themselves without a job when HRT folded at the end of 2012.
Karthikeyan really didn’t need to keep grabbing for glory so long past his prime as an F1 racer. However, it’s worth pointing out that Karthikeyan drove for two of the slowest teams of their respective eras, therefore his chances of true race success (even on a fluke) were small to none (Narain has actually won a few accolades outside F1), so we’ll simply keep him on here as the token has-been.
9. Tiago Monteiro
- Teams driven for: Jordan (2005), Midland (2006)
- Best result: 3rd in the 2005 US Grand Prix (Club Tyregate)
- Reason for inclusion: For being way too pleased with himself
Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan have something in common. Much like his 2005 team-mate, Tiago is the single most successful Portuguese driver in F1 history and for the exact same reason. Monteiro climbed up to the awards podium for his one and only time in F1s in the infamous 2005 US Grand Prix.
Tiago’s inclusion brings mixed feelings even for me. At the time of the fiasco of a race, Monteiro was heavily criticized for openly celebrating his first podium, while the other top-finishing racers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello accepted their awards with light applauds and straight faces. At the same time, many of Tiago’s colleagues have defended Monteiro’s actions since it’s not every day that a rookie-season driver gets to stand on the podium.
And that in fact is all that’s worth noting about Monteiro. He, unlike his team-mate, was able to secure a seat for the 2006 season when Jordan became the Midland team before being replaced by Adrian Sutil for 2007. Monteiro did score one more championship point late in the 2005 season in the Belgian Grand Prix (albeit finishing one-lap down), but his career never really took off. However, just like Karthikeyan, Monteiro drove both seasons in a shitty car, so it would be unfair to have him any higher.
- Teams driven for: Toro Rosso (2008-2009)
- Best result: 7th in the 2008 Australian and Belgian Grand Prixs
- Reason for inclusion: Poor results + Turned TR into a pay day
With the meteoric rise of the German Sebastian Vettel, drivers with the first-name “Seb” were all the rage at Toro Rosso. Unfortunately for Der Seb’s team-mate, Le Seb, F1 fame did not come his way when the German Seb was promoted to replace David Coulthart at Red Bull. Instead, Bourdais was let go after finishing nine Grand Prix weekends in 2009.
Bourdais was outperformed by his rookie team-mate, Sebastian Buemi, but not by much. However, Bourdais who had been multiple CART/Champ Car champion before signing to Toro Rosso proved to be a disappointment which is why his contract was terminated. Bourdais took it personally though and dragged the struggling team to court where he was paid an unannounced sum as a settlement.
There have been plenty of F1 drivers who have been let go from the sport without turning immediately to bite the hand that feeds them, so Bourdais’s case where he actually turned right around, sued and made off with a payday is quite rare. Unfortunately stuff like this tends to burn bridges which is why Bourdais has not been seen in F1s since.
- Teams driven for: Sauber (2013-2014)
- Best result: 7th place in the 2013 Japanese Grand Prix
- Reason for inclusion: Mooching off Sergio Perez’s success
An old rule of F1 which holds very true is that when a driver from a certain country is very successfull, other drivers from that same country become very sought after (examples include the German boom of the mid-2000s). Unfortunately, in their rush to hire these drivers, teams fail to realise that nationality is not the same as race speed and that’s why drivers like Esteban Gutierrez wind up in this sport.
While I have nothing personally against Gutierrez, it’s clear that Sauber hoped to turn him into a Sergio Perez 2.0, when the fast and furious Mexican launched into fame during the 2012 season and got picked up by McLaren in 2013. Both men were backed by then-richest man in the world Carlos Slim, so it wasn’t a surprise that Esteban was promoted from test driver to full on race duty.
While 2014 was unquestionably the weakest season in the Sauber team’s history, what is telling of Gutierrez’s talent (or lack there of) was his 2013 debut season when nearly all of the team’s points were scored by Nico Hülkenberg. Gutierrez at least gets a sympathy award for getting flipped over by Pastor Maldonado in the 2014 Bahrain GP, but that is the extent of his notability as a race driver.
- Teams driven for: Super Aguri (2006)
- Best result: 13th in the Australian Grand Prix
- Reason for inclusion: Dangerously unqualified
Any driver who suffered the indignity of driving for Super Aguri will undoubtedly have an unimpressive resumé, but for his relatively short stint in F1s (four races), Yuji Ide proved that he was anything but ready to race with the big boys. By the admission of team-founder Aguri Suzuki himself, Ide was hired simply because the team wanted an all-Japanese driver line-up. And to be fair, Ide was a rising star in the Super GT and Formula Nippon series.
However, Ide spoke very little English which was a bad sign to start with. Then there was the simple fact that Ide appeared dazed and confused on track, owing to the team not giving him much testing and preparation time before the season started. When asked, Aguri pegged Ide’s lack of racing refinement on his lack of understanding the car (no shit, Sherlock).
Ide was finally fired after crashing furiously with Christijan Albers in the fourth race of the season. The embarrassment was just too much for the team to take and a more seasoned driver, Franck Motagny, replaced him. Ide’s career was undoubtedly set up for failure by a team who cared more that Yuji was Japanese rather than whether he was actually ready to race in F1s. Ide definitely made an impact for the very short amount of time he spent in the sport, it’s just too bad for him that he didn’t get the chance to get better.
- Teams driven for: Caterham (2013)
- Best result: 14th in the 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix
- Reason for inclusion: Demanding a 2015 drive in court.
You know you’re bad when the thing you’re most known for happened off the track. Van der Garde is another single-season runner to get on this list.
Really, there’s not much to say about the Dutchman’s short stint in F1s. Driving for Caterham he was second to last in the season standings by the end of the year, losing out to not only to the late Jules Bianchi, his team-mate Charles Pic but also two-race only driver Heikki Kovalainen. VDG’s only outstanding achievement on-track was his inability to abide to blue flags while being lapped by other drivers, which started to amount to some penalties at the end of the season.
However, VDG was lucky enough to score a test-driver’s position at Sauber for the 2014 season. Unfortunately, he also made a massive stink when he began demanding that he was signed as a race driver for the 2015 season. VDG’s claims weren’t entirely without merit since both a Swiss and an Australian court ruled that he had a valid contract, but come the first race weekend (the same week as the Australian hearing), Sauber stuck to their driver picks, Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr.
To be fair, Sauber were partly to blame for not making it clear which drivers were driving for them and for not dealing with the situation until the first GP weekend was upon them. However, Giedo himself should have realised there was no chance he’d be let behind the wheel, having done no testing for the season and having not even had a seat fitted (though one was begrudgingly made by the team). Rather than walk away gracefully like Adrian Sutil (who briefly demanded his seat for 2015 as well) VDG instead made a payday in a settlement.
- Teams driven for: Super Aguri (2006), Spyker (2007), Hispania Racing Team (2010)
- Best result: 12th in the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix
- Reason for inclusion: Look at teams list.
There are some F1 drivers who are doomed from the start and whose careers go down the completely wrong track. Yamamoto’s career was plagued by terrible choices to drive for teams, none of whom had a chance in hell of ever launching his F1 career properly. Of course, no-one can ever tell how good their team will be until the season starts, but Yamamoto had every chance in the world to avoid making a fool of himself with these teams.
Yamamoto has technically not raced a full season in his whole career since each time he has been let behind the wheel, he’s always been picking up after someone else. At Super Aguri, after Franck Motagny cleansed the team’s pallate from the disappointment of Yuji Ide, the team was up for bringing back an all Japanese line-up for the seven final races of the season. Sadly, Yamamoto achieved no notable achievements during this time.
Rather than sticking with the Japanese constructor, Sakon jumped ship to the Spyker (former Midland) team halfway through their abysmal 2007 season, which regardless banked them one championship point through the courtesy of Adrian Sutil. However, once the team was bought out and became Force India the following season, Sakon was again out of a job.
The final disappointing nail on the coffin of his F1 career was when he joined up Hispania Racing Team’s disastrous driver-roulette, first as a temporary replacement for Bruno Senna (whose conduct was under question), then as a semi-permanent replacement for Karun Chandhok who was ousted from the team halfway through the season. But even in this position Yamamoto couldn’t hold on to success for very long, being replaced by Christian Klien, first for the Singapore GP and then finally for the last two races of the season.
- Teams driven for: Hispania Racing Team (2010), Lotus/Renault (2011), Williams (2012)
- Best result: 6th in the 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix
- Reason for inclusion: Trying to bank on his uncle’s last name.
While second generation racers are not uncommon in Formula Ones, drivers like Bruno Senna are what give them a bad name. Or at least they will make any driver with the same last name as some famous driver look like they’re just out to bank on their name (in this case, Bruno’s uncle Ayrton; his real last name is Lalli).
To his credit, Senna drove almost the entire miserable debut season of the Hispania Racing Team (with the exception of British Grand Prix due to disagreements Senna had with his team at the time). However, in what stands as probably the most inexcusable cash-grab move by an F1 team in recent history, Senna shuffled on to the Lotus-Renault team halfway through the 2011 season, replacing (a then podium-winner) Nick Heidfeld. The truth is that the team was struggling for cash at the time, but whereas Nick would have probably scored valuable points for the struggling team, Senna pretty much just rode on his bank-account.
His Williams season wasn’t a total loss, but it was still an embarrassing season for the team. With Pastor Maldonado failing to score any points after his Monaco victory and Senna only ever reaching the bottom half of the score-table, it wasn’t a surprise that he was let go in favour of Finnish test-driver (now multiple podium winner) Valtteri Bottas.
2. Christijan Albers
- Teams driven for: Minardi (2005), Midland (2006), Spyker (2007)
- Best result: 5th in the 2005 US Grand Prix (Club Tyregate)
- Reason for inclusion: The Hose Incident (+ stint at the helm of Caterham)
Dutch driver Christijan Albers is another name who would seem unfairly put on a list. He was unlucky enough to drive for three terrible F1 teams (two of which were technically the same team) – but nothing quite tops the way Mr. Albers made his exit from the sport.
Albers is our final Club Tyregate member of this list with him and his half-season team-mate Parick Friesacher scoring Minardi’s only points of the season in the 2005 US Grand Prix. When Minardi was bought out at the end of the season, Albers jumped ship to Midland where his season highlight was getting disqualified from the German Grand Prix with an illegally bending rear wing.
However, when Dutch manufacturer Spyker bought out the team for the 2007 season, Albers seemed to be in luck as pretty much the only Dutch driver on the grid. Unfortunaly for him, his chances in the sport where shot down in the French Grand Prix when Albers stupidly left the pits with his fuel-hose still attached, delibirately ignoring the lollipop-man trying to stop him. Albers ripped the hose clean off his rig and had to pull over on the grass not long after leaving the pits. He still competed in the following European Grand Prix in Nürburgring before Midland quietly replaced him with Markus Winkelhock.
Albers made an unlikely return to F1s in 2014 as the team principal for the struggling Caterham who would claim bankruptsy at the end of the season. Albers was hired on the recommendation of Colin Kolles, former principal for such teams as Jordan, Midland, Spyker, Force India and Hispania Racing Team. Albers only stuck around for a couple of race weekends. Predictably, his presense didn’t much improve Caterham’s standings that year.
- Teams driven for: Renault (2008-2009)
- Best result: 2nd place in the 2008 German Grand Prix
- Reason for inclusion: Crashgate 2009
Nelson Piquet Jr., son of a three time World Champion, entered the sport yet again seemingly riding on his well-known father’s name value in 2008. The Brazilian rookie really failed to give Fernando Alonso a run for his money during said season. Things started to improve a little bit towards the season end and a smart strategic call granted him his one and only podium in the German Grand Prix.
However, 2009 started disappointingly with no points scored and, ten races in, Piquet was fired and replaced by Romainn Grosjean who finished the season in his stead. It was then that Nelson spilled the beans and revealed to the FIA that he had intentionally crashed in the Singapore Grand Prix the previous year on the orders of team principal Flavio Briatore. The intentional crash was done to improve the standings of his team-mate Fernando Alonso.
Piquet’s actions led to some good with Briatore being formally ejected from the sport. However, Piquet received no punishment for his actions and simply walked away from F1s forever. Many felt (justifiably) that Piquet himself should have been punished as well since, after all, he was the one who intentionally crashed in order to confuse the race.
Piquet has since made a huge comeback in the world of motorsports, winning the inaugural Formula E championship this summer. However, it seems unlikely that Piquet has any chance of ever returning to F1s.