The only driver to ever win their debut F1 race was born on Christmas Day, which probably made up for the years of getting fewer presents…
It seems unthinkable that a driver could show up into Formula 1 and immediately win on their debut, although recent(ish) history had Lewis Hamilton and Jacques Villeneuve, (and an honourable mention for Markus Winkelhock!) try their best with debuts for McLaren and Williams, respectively.
Aside from the 1950 British Grand Prix – F1’s first championship race – in which every driver was technically making their debut, as well as Johnnie Parson’s win at the 1950 Indy 500 when it counted towards the F1 championship, only one driver has managed the incredible feat of winning their debut F1 championship race.
Giancarlo Baghetti wins for Ferrari at the first time of asking
Italian racing driver Giancarlo Baghetti was born in Milan on the 25th of December 1934. Kicking off a career in racing in the mid-1950s, he moved to low-power single-seaters in 1958.
In 1961, he was selected over two other promising junior Italian drivers to race a Formula Two Ferrari 156 in non-championship Grands Prix as part of a loan deal between a group of independent Italian team owners named FISA (no, not that FISA) and Enzo Ferrari.
Named ‘Team FISA’, Baghetti was entered into the Syracuse Grand Prix and, against the odds, the Italian driver won! A few weeks later, he repeated the feat in the non-championship Napoli Grand Prix.
His big break would come two weeks after the championship Belgian Grand Prix, with Ferrari bringing along an additional 156 for a fourth driver for the fourth championship Grand Prix of the year – the 1961 French GP at Reims.
Regular Ferrari driver Olivier Gendebien had moved to Equipe Nationale Belge, but the team opted to skip the race – leaving a 156 vacant. Ferrari thus awarded the seat to Baghetti, entered on behalf of FISA and thus considered a privateer entry.
Baghetti qualified in 12th for the race, 5.6 seconds off the pace set by the leading trio of Ferraris as eventual World Champion led Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips, and Richie Ginther, and had a slightly less powerful engine as he was given the 65-degree V6 that was around 10bhp down on the others.
A good start to the race had Baghetti fighting with Bruce McLaren to move into the top 10, while the leading factory Ferraris maintained their starting order up front and holding off Stirling Moss in his Lotus.
It was a race full of incidents and accidents, with some gamesmanship up front as team orders saw Hill ordered aside to allow Von Trips through. But it was a short-lived lead, as Von Trips retired with an engine failure on Lap 20.
A mistake from Hill which saw him spin off resulted in him being hit by Moss, opening the door for Baghetti – a door which opened further as Ginther began suffering from oil pressure problems.
Heading into the final laps, it was Baghetti versus the two Porsche entries. Jo Bonnier’s engine would let go with just a lap and a half remaining, while Dan Gurney swept past Baghetti to take the lead at the start of the final lap.
“In the race, I was in a big slipstreaming group, with people like Clark and Gurney and McLaren,” Baghetti would recount to Nigel Roebuck in an interview for Motorsport Magazine in 1985.
“It was incredibly hot, and a lot of cars broke – including two of the Ferraris. Late in the race I was fighting with the Porsches, and when Phil Hill spun, suddenly it was for the lead! Oh, Mamma…”
Entering the pit straight for the final time, Gurney still led but the power of the slipstream along Reims’ long straights allowed Baghetti to duck out from under the Porsche and, just 200 metres before the line, the Italian drew alongside and just a nose in front as the pair crossed the line side-by-side.
It was an incredible win, with just a tenth of a second separating the pair – and Gurney was full of praise for his opponent after being wrong-footed by Baghetti.
“I could have blocked him,” Gurney said, “and I’ll admit it crossed my mind! In those days, though, you didn’t do things like that – and, anyway, Baghetti got it just right, and deserved the win.”
Having won all three of his Formula 1 races up to that point, Baghetti crashed out at Aintree but was given the call up to race for Enzo Ferrari’s factory entry for the Italian GP – unfortunately the race remembered mostly for the tragic fatal accident involving Von Trips at the Parabolica, which also claimed the lives of 11 spectators.
“It was horrible,” Baghetti remembered. “As Wolfgang’s car took off, I went under it, and later, when I took off my helmet, there was a scrape on the top –I was the only lucky one that day…”
Baghetti would go on to win another non-championship F1 race later in the year, at Vallelunga in a Porsche. But, amazingly, his fortunes ended almost immediately and Baghetti’s career slowly stuttered out.
Spectating at the chicane in Monaco in 1967, Baghetti was a first-hand eyewitness to Lorenzo Bandini’s fatal accident in a Ferrari and, after a 1968 crash in an F2 race at Monza, the Italian called time on his career – one which never quite bore the fruits that his debut season had promised.
Having achieved the seemingly impossible at the first time of asking, Baghetti enjoyed a quiet post-motorsport life. He passed away in 1995 after a long battle with cancer.