Revealed: The shortest F1 careers this century in the brutal world of Formula 1

Thomas Maher
Karun Chandhok, Nyck de Vries, Yuji Ide. Shortest F1 careers

Karun Chandhok, Nyck de Vries, Yuji Ide.

Red Bull’s axing of Nyck de Vries mid-season means the Dutch driver joins an unenviable list of racers who have had incredibly short F1 careers.

For the purposes of this article, we’re looking back at the incredibly short careers of drivers who have signed up to race for teams since the turn of the century, ie. 2000.

For clarity, this list only consists of drivers who have been signed with the intention of being a full-time racer or a full-time replacement – they were not regarded as substitute drivers at the point where they were signed.

Current racing drivers also do not feature, meaning Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant escape being on this list despite their low race tally. With all that in mind, let’s explore what happened to create some incredibly short F1 careers.

Ralph Firman – 14 races

Irish-British driver Ralph Firman had a decent track record before F1, winning the Macau Grand Prix in the late 1990s before winning the 2002 Formula Nippon Championship.

Securing a seat with Jordan for 2003, he competed in 14 races as teammate to Giancarlo Fisichella. While the Italian showed his mettle by winning the Brazilian Grand Prix, Firman struggled to keep pace and it wasn’t until the Spanish Grand Prix he scored his first point.

Firman was injured in a huge crash at the Hungaroring when his rear wing came detached going up the hill, resulting in him being replaced by Hungarian racer Zsolt Baumgartner. He returned for the season finale but wasn’t kept on for 2004.

Switching to Le Mans and A1GP where he raced for Team Ireland, he returned to winning ways in Japan’s Super GT series in 2007. He retired from racing in 2013.

Giorgio Pantano – 14 races

Italian racer Giorgio Pantano spent years on the periphery of F1, having risen through the ranks of karting and being hailed as an “incredible talent”. Winning the German Formula Three championship in 2000, he got his first taste of F1 with a test with Benetton, before a test with McLaren the following year.

Not getting the break he needed for F1, he tested for Williams and Minardi in 2002, as well as finishing third in Formula 3000 with Durango in 2003.

He was lined up as a Jaguar racer for 2004 but, just before signing, the Milton Keynes-based team opted to go with Red Bull-backed Christian Klien due to his ample sponsorship backing.

Pantano was handed a lifeline by Jordan instead but the Irish team was far from the force they had been a few years prior. Racing alongside Nick Heidfeld, the German proved the more impressive racer, and Pantano rarely escaped the very back of the grid.

Timo Glock popped in for a substitute drive in Canada, with the German immediately scoring points. While Pantano got another few races, Glock was given the seat by the end of the year.

The Italian racer later revealed it was his choice to stop racing with Jordan, having felt financial stress and that Jordan was favouring Heidfeld. He never found a way back to the F1 grid but was linked with the HRT team for 2010.

Like the next driver on our list, Pantano dropped back to make his debut in F1’s junior category after already racing in F1, winning the GP2 Championship with Racing Engineering.

Robert Merhi – 13 races

Spanish racer Roberto Merhi has the unusual career distinction of having made his Formula 1 debut before Formula 2 – Merhi was signed as a race driver to the Manor Marussia team for 2015 after stints in DTM, Formula Renault 3.5, and a test role with Caterham.

But, right from the off, Merhi struggled for any sort of pace or form, with teammate Will Stevens – himself a rookie – faring marginally better throughout.

He was dropped in favour of reserve Alexander Rossi for several of the last few races of the year and didn’t secure a return to the cockpit.

Merhi then switched to Formula 2 in a substitute capacity in 2017, signing with MP Motorsport as a full-timer for 2018. He was linked with an F1 development role in 2019, although with whom never became public.

Recently, Merhi signed up to race in Formula E – he currently competes with Mahindra.

Rio Haryanto – 12 races

To this day, Haryanto remains the only Indonesian driver to ever compete in a Formula 1 race.

Rising through Formula BMW Pacific and faring respectably in GP3 and GP2 as a racer with DAMS, he spent three seasons as a test driver for the Marussia-backed Virgin/Manor team.

He was confirmed as a race driver for 2016, lining up alongside 2015 DTM Champion Pascal Wehrlein for the year.

However, Haryanto struggled to keep pace with Wehrlein throughout their 12-race partnership, with Haryanto’s best result being 15th at that year’s Monaco Grand Prix.

Manor replaced him with Esteban Ocon from the Belgian Grand Prix onwards, demoting the Indonesian to reserve due to a failure of the Indonesian Ministry of Youth and Sport to pay his sponsorship fees. The payments had been blocked by Parliament in Indonesia, citing invalid procedures taken by their Minister of Youth and Sport Imam Nahrawi.

While he’s remained a somewhat active racing driver, taking part in some Asian Le Mans races and Blancpain GT, he has since become a restaurant owner and helps oversee his father’s printing company.

Patrick Friesacher – 11 races

14-year-old Austrian Patrick Friesacher was Red Bull’s very first junior driver, having been signed by the company in 1994, but lost a lot of career momentum during 1997 as he suffered severe leg injuries in a crash that left him re-learning how to walk.

Solid but unspectacular through Formula 3000, Friesacher was dropped by Red Bull at the end of 2004 as he declined a switch to Formula Nippon. But both Jordan and Minardi had their eye on the Austrian, with Paul Stoddart giving Friesacher a test at Misano.

Friesacher was duly signed by Minardi but, lacking sponsorship money, was only given the third driver role. With Nicolas Kiesa signed as a race driver, the Danish driver struggled to raise sponsorship money himself – handing Friesacher his opportunity.

He would race the first half of the 2005 season, taking part in 11 races and scoring his first points by coming home sixth in the six-car United States Grand Prix.

Due to a failure of his personal sponsors to pay agreed fees, Friesacher was dropped after the 2005 British Grand Prix and never found a way back onto the grid – he also declined a return to GP2 after an offer from the Coloni squad. recommends

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Robert Doornbos – 11 races

Dutch racing driver Robert Doornbos, who had switched to a career in racing after attending the 1998 Belgian Grand Prix as a guest of Williams, was brought in as a full-time replacement for Patrick Friesacher at Minardi mid-way through 2005.

Doornbos had spent late 2004 as Jordan’s Friday test driver, completing plenty of outings for the Irish team over the course of the months leading up to his Minardi signing.

He competed in eight races for Minardi, before securing a position as Red Bull reserve for 2006 – new team boss Christian Horner knew him from their days racing together in Formula 3000.

Doornbos competed in three races for Red Bull towards the end of 2006, after Christian Klien was dropped by the team, and he remained on as their reserve for 2007.

He would go on to appear in Champcar, IndyCar, and Superleague Formula. After his racing career, Doornbos changed career paths dramatically as he entered the world of sex toy manufacturing – he established his own company, Kiiroo, seven years ago.

Karun Chandhok – 11 races

Next up on our list of the shortest F1 careers is well-known broadcaster Karun Chandhok. He was a somewhat anonymous GP2 racer when he was signed by the new HRT team as one of their race drivers for the 2010 F1 season.

But the team was as ill-prepared as Chandhok himself was, with hydraulic problems in Bahrain meaning it took until qualifying to drive the car for the first time. Chandhok promptly crashed out of the race after a single lap but showed better in Australia as he finished 14th.

Two further finishes towards the back of the field in Malaysia and China were followed by three straight retirements with suspension failure, a collision, and mechanical issues.

He was dropped for the German Grand Prix, with HRT swapping in Sakon Yamamoto into his seat – this gave him the chance to appear on BBC Radio 5’s live coverage of the race, sparking off an esteemed broadcasting career.

He served as Lotus reserve in 2011, before taking in seasons in endurance racing and Formula E.

Nyck de Vries – 11 races

Nyck de Vries has competed in 11 races in Formula 1, having made his debut as a one-off substitute for the ill Alex Albon at the 2022 Italian Grand Prix. His performance was eye-catching, coming home in eighth place, and he was signed by Red Bull as a full-time racing driver for 2023 as teammate for Yuki Tsunoda at AlphaTauri.

Unfortunately for the Dutchman, he was up against it from the first day as Red Bull never appeared to be fully convinced by him having initially tried to sign IndyCar star Colton Herta. With De Vries underperforming and Daniel Ricciardo waiting patiently in the wings, a strong showing from Ricciardo at a Pirelli tyre test was enough to compel Red Bull to pull the trigger and replace De Vries from mid-season.

With 11 races under his belt and not much hope of adding to that list, De Vries has had one of the shortest F1 careers of the century.

Nicolas Kiesa – 5 races

Danish racing driver Nicolas Kiesa was brought into the fold at Minardi towards the end of 2003, as the Faenza-based squad needed a replacement for Robert Doornbos as the Dutch driver moved across to Jaguar.

He had been racing in International Formula 3000 before getting the call-up, and performed respectably during a five-race stint with Minardi. He finished every race, with a best result of 11th at Indianapolis.

But, without much financial backing behind him, Kiesa was overlooked for a race seat for 2004. He was strongly linked with a seat alongside Christijan Albers at Minardi in 2005 after spending the interim time chasing sponsorship in his native Denmark, but ultimately missed out – he served as a test driver for Jordan towards the end of the year but ultimately failed to ever find an F1 race seat again.

Yuji Ide – 4 races

The Japanese driver had to cope with the indignity of having his FIA super licence stripped away from him early on in the 2006 F1 season, having competed in just four race weekends – one of the shortest F1 careers ever.

He had fared respectably on the Japanese racing scene, having just finished second in the Formula Nippon (now Super Formula) category in 2005 and, with Honda looking for an all-Japanese line-up for their secondary project at Super Aguri, signed Ide as Takuma Sato’s teammate for 2006.

At 31 years old for his rookie season, Ide immediately struggled to adjust to Formula 1 – not helped by his lack of proficiency at speaking English. He spent his first three race weekends spinning off, driving around on unusual racing lines, and just generally struggling with the car.

Even team boss Aguri Suzuki, who had been a supporter of Ide initially, had to increase the pressure to improve on Ide as he told the media his driver fundamentally lacked understanding of his car – he had only completed 200 kilometres of testing prior to his debut in Bahrain.

But, at Imola, Ide was the trigger for a serious collision involving Christijan Albers – the Dutch driver’s car coming to rest upside down in the gravel trap. The FIA had to intervene, and quickly.

The governing body took matters out of Super Aguri’s hands, stripping Ide of his super licence and preventing him from racing in F1. Franck Montagny was brought in as a short-term replacement for the next handful of races.

“Super Aguri confirms that the FIA permit office has retracted Yuji Ide’s super license,” the team said in a statement before the race at the Nurburgring.

“He will therefore not be participating in any further official FIA Formula 1 world championship events this year.”

Ide returned to Formula Nippon with Dandelion Racing, finishing the year with zero points. Unsurprisingly, an F1 return never materialised.

Substitute drivers:

  • Franck Montagny – 7 races
  • Alexander Rossi – 5 races
  • Tomas Enge – 3 races
  • Luca Badoer – 2 races
  • Pietro Fittipaldi – 2 races
  • Markus Winklehock – 1 race
  • Andre Lotterer – 1 race
  • Jack Aitken – 1 race

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