Five drivers who never reached their potential

Last weekend was Nico Hulkenberg’s final race in Formula 1 for the foreseeable future, and a driver who should have had more success has left without an unwanted record.

In this article Last Lap looks at five drivers who never fulfilled their potential in Formula 1.

Nico Hulkenberg

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Nico Hulkenberg has the unwanted record of most races started without scoring a podium.

The German driver entered Formula 1, having had a successful junior career and arrived with many expecting him to be a future world champion.

His debut season with Williams began to live up to that hype, having taken pole position in the Brazilian Grand Prix, and subsequent seasons with Sauber and Force India highlighted that he was a dependable driver, capable of strong results.

But, Hulkenberg has never managed to get a top three result, despite there being opportunities for him to do so, and as a result, he never got the top drive his junior career suggested he should have had.

Juan Pablo Montoya

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Juan Pablo Montoya arrived in to the Formula 1 scene with a bang, immediately giving Michael Schumacher a run for his money, but the Columbian was never able to mount a serious title challenge.

He was aggressive, fast and capable of some tremendous moves, and arrived in Formula 1 having won the International F3000 championship in 1998 and the CART championship the following year for Chip Ganassi Racing.

After 94 starts and six years in the series, Montoya racked up seven wins, and arguably should have challenged for titles at some stage in his career, but with Williams falling from grace, and his move to McLaren not working out due to clashes with team boss Ron Dennis, Montoya headed back to America having never fully achieved what he was capable of.

Jean Alesi

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Jean Alesi made an immediate impact when he made his F1 debut for Tyrrell in 1989.

The French driver finished fourth on his debut for the British team at Paul Ricard, and followed it up with two more points finishes before the season was over.

In the opening race at Phoenix the following year, Alesi once again demonstrated his potential as he put together an excellent defence to hold off Ayrton Senna in the superior McLaren for the lead over a scintillating 25 laps, with Alesi eventually losing the lead to the Brazilian and crossing the line in second place.

But, despite the speed and talent Alesi had, he was only able to convert it into one victory over his entire career, a win in Montreal on his birthday in 1995.

Alesi’s career promised so much for him, but he failed to make it count when needed and left the series 12 years after his debut, having never won multiple Grand Prix, or challenged for a world championship.

Jan Magnussen

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On the face of it, Magnussen should have dominated at some point in his F1 career, going by his junior career record, but it turned out to be the complete opposite.

The Dane had a great junior career, breaking Ayrton Senna’s British Formula 3 record of most wins in a single season in 1994, after winning 14 of the 18 races and that firmly put him on the radar of a number of F1 teams.

He made his debut the following year for McLaren, making a one-off appearance to replace an unwell Mika Hakkinen at the Pacific Grand Prix, and finished the race 10th, and he earned a full-time seat with Stewart Grand Prix for 1996.

Unfortunately, his debut season did not go to plan, as Magnussen only managed to finish five races throughout the season, and didn’t fare any better when the next season began in 1997.

After scoring his one and only point in F1, at the Canadian Grand Prix, Magnussen was replaced by Jos Verstappen, and never raced in the series again.

Having been promoted as the most talented driver since Ayrton Senna, Magnussen’s F1 career was hugely underwhelming.

Andrea de Cesaris

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Andrea De Cesaris still holds the unfortunate record of most races without a win.

The Italian made his F1 debut in 1980 for Alfa Romeo at the final two races of the season, but he retired from both events after a mechanical issue in Canada and an accident in the United States.

He took his first podium result in 1982 at the Monaco Grand Prix, after being classified third, despite not finishing the race, having run out of fuel.

De Cesaris followed it up with two second place finishes in the following season, but despite flashes of brilliance, he was never able to string together a consistent set of strong results, and was therefore overlooked by a number of top teams.

He managed a third place in 1987, driving a Brabham, a result that was astonishing since he only finished two races that year, and De Cesaris took his last podium in 1989 at Canada, driving the uncompetitive BMS Scuderia Italia.

De Cesaris should have had better results to his name, but misfortune, and a habit for crashing, meant that he would leave the series in 1994, having never stood on the top step.