One brilliant race cannot save a F1 career merely help to prolong it but a single race can destroy a driver’s reputation and then destroy their future prospects in the sport.
Heikki Kovalainen came into F1 having just missed out on the inaugural GP2 crown in 2006 to Nico Rosberg. Ultimately, that didn’t matter as he made his debut with Renault for the 2007 season. The car wasn’t good enough to win races or even finish on the podium regularly but he had a stroke of luck when Alonso parted with McLaren at the end of that year, leaving a seat open for which Heikki was snapped up for.
For most of the 2008 season, Heikki simply couldn’t match the blistering pace of Lewis Hamilton but when the Italian Grand Prix came around, Lewis was off the pace and failed to make the third part in a rainy qualifying session leaving a perfect opportunity for him where he qualified second beaten only by Sebastian Vettel in the Toro Rosso.
The common consensus through the paddock that evening was that Heikki would cruise to his second win in a much superior car to the polesitter but Vettel shocked the world by powering his way to his first victory. From there, Heikki’s McLaren career never really recovered and he spent 2009 being totally annihilated by Hamilton leading to him being replaced in the team by Jenson Button leaving Heikki to drive for the new back of the grid Lotus team.
The 2009 Belgian Grand Prix sprung a huge surprise in qualifying that year with Nick Heidfeld, Jarno Trulli and Giancarlo Fisichella taking up the first three places on the grid with Fisi taking the pole spot. All year long, the Force India was a car that brought up the rear of the pack but at Spa, the low drag nature of the car saw it become a frontrunner for the weekend in Fisi’s hands.
Giancarlo led the race from the first corner but at Les Combes, a four car pile up brought out the safety car. When the race restarted, Kimi Raikkonen was right on the tail of Fisi but crucially the Ferrari had a KERS system fitted where the Force India didn’t. So on the restart, Kimi got past Fisi on the run through Eau Rouge to Les Combes. Unfortunately for Fisi, his lack of straight line speed cost him a win but even so, a second place was hailed as a massive achievement for the smallest team in F1.
That race caught the eye of Ferrari who after the accident of Felipe Massa who had the hapless and desperately underperforming Luca Badouer as the replacement. Ferrari approached Force India so Fisi could move to Ferrari which inevitably happened as the lure of a Ferrari drive is just irresistible to an Italian driver.
Fisi’s Ferrari career was a not a success and he retired for F1 at the end of the year. It was just a shame that a one brilliant race ended up finishing off a career which probably would have been extended into 2010 if he had stayed at the Force.
A lot of people will think this next choice is strange but for this driver, the events of the race in question sent his career freefalling into limbo for two years . The driver in question is Fernando Alonso.
As most people will recall, tensions between Hamilton and Alonso had reached boiling point by the summer and when Lewis overtook Alonso in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, Fernando responded by holding position in his pit box forcing Lewis to queue behind and wait for his tyres to be changed. In the end, Lewis lost enough time that he wasn’t able to start his final lap thanks to the session running of out of time which saw Alonso receiving a five place grid penalty for holding Lewis up.
In the morning of the race, Alonso threatened his bosses Ron Dennis and Martin Whitmarsh by saying he would go to the FIA to be the whistleblower about the team having and using Ferrari secrets. Dennis though called his bluff and informed the FIA himself leading to the team being $100 million dollars. After the season had finished, the two parties agreed to terminate the contract leaving Alonso without a race winning car for two years until he got himself into a Ferrari for 2010.