• Top 10 ...fights through the field

Against all odds

Laurence Edmondson and Chris Medland
June 20, 2011

After Jenson Button's spirited drive to victory at the Canadian Grand Prix, we look at ten of the best fight backs in Formula One history

Kimi Raikkonen lines up Giancarlo Fisichella on the last lap © Sutton Images

Kimi Raikkonen - 2005 Japanese Grand Prix
Single-lap qualifying and race-long tyres may not have been the most popular rules in F1's history, but they did create some thrilling grands prix. One such race was the 2005 Japanese Grand Prix when a wet Saturday mixed up the grid for Sunday, with eventual winner Kimi Raikkonen starting from 17th. By the end of the first lap he was 12th, and continued to cut his way through the field after an early safety car period bunched up the pack. New world champion Fernando Alonso, who had started one place ahead in 16th, couldn't match his pace but it wasn't through lack of trying. At the 180mph 130R corner he passed Michael Schumacher's Ferrari on the outside, in what was one of the most daring overtaking maneuvers of the decade. Meanwhile, Raikkonen was lining up his own feat of daring, as he moved up to second place and set about closing down Giancarlo Fisichella's 19-second lead. On the final lap he moved into the Renault's slip stream coming on to the pit straight and launched his car around the outside into turn one to take the lead. His performance was so brilliant that it brought McLaren team principal Ron Dennis to tears.

John Watson - 1983 US Grand Prix West
"We had a lack of tyre temperature. It meant we didn't have much grip..." It sounded like a typical racing driver's excuse as John Watson tried to explain away his 22nd place grid position to reporters at the US Grand Prix West at Long Beach. It had been a bad start to the weekend for Watson, who needed a good result as his McLaren seat was reportedly under threat from Alan Jones. The Ulsterman cut a solitary figure on the grid in the knowledge that Michelin had even harder tyres lined up for the race that, in theory at least, would exacerbate the problem. But over 75 gruelling laps on a baking hot circuit the Michelins proved to be just the ticket. Watson had qualified just ahead of team-mate Niki Lauda and the pair carved their way through the field in the early stages. By lap 28 Lauda was third and Watson was fourth, as they both closed on Jacques Laffite and Riccardo Patrese in first and second. Lauda had led the duo off the line but had also been clearing the way all afternoon while Watson was looking after his tyres. On lap 33 Watson made his move and dived past his team-mate. "Niki didn't exactly invite me to pass," he said after the race. "But we are both elderly and I had the tyre advantage." Patrese then made a mistake and both McLarens got past before passing Laffite to lead with 30 laps still on the board. Watson had taken just 70 minutes to make up 22 places and, despite the heat, he kept his lead to the flag. It's a record that stands to this day and afterwards he struggled to explain how he had gone from a no-hoper in qualifying to victory in the race: "Michelin tried as hard as we did, and I hope they are as bewildered by the result as we are."

Juan Manuel Fangio - 1957 German Grand Prix Juan Manuel Fangio took the Nurburgring by the scruff of the neck and reduced a huge gap to secure his fifth and final world title. Having taken pole position with a time of 9:25.6, Fangio went for a different strategy to that of the Ferrari's of Mike Hawthorn and Peter Collins behind him, deciding to start on softer tyres with half fuel. The two Ferrari's were not going to stop during the race, so it was a setback for Fangio when he dropped to third early on. Having battled back in to the lead he pulled out a 22 second gap in his Maserati before pitting on lap 11. His pit stop was a disaster, however, taking well over a minute and by the end of his out lap Fangio was little less than a minute behind the leading pair. He set about smashing the lap record consistently; on seven consecutive laps at one point, with one lap even reducing the gap by over 15 seconds. Fangio eventually set a time 8.2s quicker than that with which he took pole, and passed both Collins and Hawthorn with two laps to go. He couldn't rest though, as Hawthorn tried to fight back and pushed him hard to the flag, Fangio winning by 3.6s in what turned out to be his final victory, and undoubtedly his finest.

Rubens Barrichello celebrates his first victory in F1 © Getty Images
Rubens Barrichello - 2000 German Grand Prix
As Rubens Barrichello pulled up to his 18th place grid slot ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, there was no reason for him to believe he would fulfil his dream of winning a Formula One race. After 123 attempts over eight years the Brazilian had started from far better positions, but nobody could have predicted what was about to happen over the next 1 hour and 26 minutes of racing. Barrichello did well early in the first half of the race and fought his way to fourth place, albeit some 30 seconds off the leading McLarens of Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard in front. Then came the game changer. On lap 26 a disgruntled Mercedes employee broke on to the circuit and charged across one of Hockenheim's 200mph straights pursued by security guards. Race control acted quickly to bring out a safety car, but it caught McLaren off guard and both its drivers stayed out on track rather than making a 'free' pit stop straight away. Barrichello was further back and so made his stop with plenty of time, rejoining in third by the time the circuit was secure of raving lunatics. Coulthard was now out of the picture and before long only Hakkinen stood between Barrichello and his long-awaited victory. On lap 35 it started to rain in the stadium section of the circuit and Hakkinen reacted immediately, coming in to the pits for a set of wet tyres. Barrichello, however, stayed out on grooved tyres and made up any time he lost in the wet section, by blitzing the drier parts of the circuit out in the forest. The plan worked to perfection and the Brazilian went on shed tears on the top step of the podium.

Jim Clark - 1967 Italian Grand Prix
One of Jim Clark's greatest drives, that was to ultimately end without victory but is more than worthy of its place in this list. In a championship that was headed by the Brabham pair of Denny Hulme and team owner Jack Brabham, Clark needed to win all three remaining races to have any chance of overhauling Hulme for the title. Having taken pole by 0.3s from Brabham, Clark led away but was forced to pit after suffering a puncture on the 13th lap. The delay dropped him back in to the leading group but a lap down in fifteenth place. The lead changed regularly as Hulme, Brabham and Surtees slipstreamed each other along Monza's long straights, but Clark came through the leaders to unlap himself and started to pull away in an attempt to make up the lost lap. Hulme dropped out with overheating issues, leaving Graham Hill as the only man to be able to get within a second of Clark's lap times before he too retired. Clark relentlessly pushed his car to the limit and with seven laps to go completed the unthinkable by re-catching the lead pair of Brabham and Surtees, cruising through to take the lead. With Clark beginning his last lap the Lotus team gathered on the pit wall, but out of view his car began to splutter as he ran low on fuel, and half way round the lap Brabham and Surtees roared past to cruelly relegate Clark to third.

John Watson - 1982 Detroit Grand Prix
A chaotic first race on the Detroit street circuit saw John Watson come from 17th on the grid to victory, despite the race being restarted due to a pile-up. Back in 1982 a restart meant that the two halves of the race were aggregated to make one, meaning Watson, who was 13th as the race got back underway, also had a 20-second time deficit to Alain Prost and Keke Rosberg. The one thing Watson had going for him, however, was a significant tyre advantage on the hard-wearing Michelins, and he picked his way through the field as the Good Years fitted to his rivals melted away in the Mid-Western sun. He finished the 62 lap race 15 seconds ahead of his closest rival Eddie Cheever - more than enough to secure victory.

Jenson Button 2010 Australian Grand Prix
Many questioned Jenson Button's decision to join McLaren in 2010, but he proved his critics wrong at just his second race for the team by securing a brilliant victory at the Australian Grand Prix. Just like in Canada last weekend, Button fought back from dead last to win in changeable conditions and outsmart his opponents. As the rain started to fall in the early stages of the race he switched to intermediate tyres two laps earlier than the rest of the field and, while it looked like a mistake as he slithered wide at turn three on his outlap, it proved to be inspired. He emerged from the pit stops in second and the final element fell into place when Sebastian Vettel crashed out of the lead on lap 26 with a loose wheel nut.

Jackie Stewart on his way to victory after passing 15 cars in the first seven laps © Getty Images
Jackie Stewart - 1973 South African Grand Prix
Rather than a race-long fight back, Jackie Stewart took just seven laps to go from 16th on the grid to first at Kyalami in 1973. He was undoubtedly helped by a huge accident that accounted for three retirements, but it was also a feat of bravery as Stewart himself had crashed his Tyrrell at 180 mph the previous day in qualifying. As Tyrrell's No.1 driver he took over Francois Cevert's car for the race and as he explained in his post-race column for the Daily Express, the victory was very much a team effort: "Ken Tyrrell's mechanics had to work through the night and right up to the last minute, changing the suspension on Cevert's car for me to drive and then made a major change to the rear of which improved the performance no end. It all worked superbly - Tyrrell has the best crew in the business - and although I had to start in 16th position on the grid, I never had any problems." He went on to praise his Cosworth V8 engine and the Tyrrell's aero efficiency as major factors for his victory: "I certainly had what I considered to be the fastest car on the straight." But there was no doubt that his opening seven laps had been some of the best of his career and a well-deserved victory was his reward.

Michael Schumacher - 1995 Belgium Grand Prix
For many it was a race that summed up Michael Schumacher as a racing driver. On the one hand it was an exhibition of extreme skill and bravery, but on the other it was a window into the more worrying side of his character. Schumacher started from 16th on the grid, picking his way through the field at the daunting Spa Francorchamps to lead ahead of his first pit stop. Then came the rain, which saw Hill pit but Schumacher try his luck on slick tyres and take the lead. Hill quickly made up the lost time, but when he came up behind the Benetton he found every passing opportunity blocked off. For many - including Hill - blocking through the high-speed corners of Blanchimont and Raidillon was dangerous, but clipping wheels at those points was simply unacceptable. "Michael drove very very defensively, so much so that our wheels touched at one point," Hill said. "That's all well and good if it's accidental but if it is on purpose then I would be pretty upset." Third place Martin Brundle quipped: "I am disappointed to be third rather than second - maybe these two should run into each other a bit harder next time." The FIA slapped Schumacher with one-race suspended ban but the victory stood and, depending on your view on diving ethics, it is still one of his greatest.

Jenson Button - 2006 Hungarian Grand Prix
As this top ten was inspired by Jenson Button's win in Canada, it seemed appropriate to add his first ever grand prix victory to the list. It's a certainly a worthy candidate that like many of the victories above required some supreme driving as well as a healthy slice of good fortune. Button started from 14th on the grid but wet weather and a safety car period allowed him to carve his way through the field and up to second place behind Fernando Alonso on lap 32. Alonso looked set for an impressive victory from 15th on the grid, but disaster struck on lap 51 when a loose wheel nut turned his Renault into a tricycle. It left Button clear to seal victory on his 113th attempt and marked him out as one of F1's top wet weather drivers - a reputation he still lives up to today.