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Formula One racing's greatest debut seasons 23 Apr 2007

Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Williams celebrates victory with champagne. Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring, Budapest, Hungary, 11 August 1996. World © Sutton. Jackie Stewart (GBR) BRM P261. 2nd place. Belgian Grand Prix, Spa, Belgium, 13 June 1965.  World © Phipps/Sutton Jackie Stewart (GBR) prepares to race in his BRM P261. He would retire from the race after 2 laps with suspension failure. German Grand Prix, Rd7, Nurburgring, Germany, 2 August 1965. World © Popperfoto/Sutton Second placed Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren celebrates in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Race, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, Sunday, 15 April 2007 Clay Regazzoni (SUI) Ferrari 312B took his first GP victory in only his fifth race. Italian Grand Prix, Monza, 6 September 1970. World ©  Phipps/Sutton.

Can Hamilton succeed where so many greats have failed?

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton has already made the most successful Formula One debut in history, thanks to podium finishes in his first three Grands Prix. But what will he have to do to ensure his is the most successful debut season? No one has ever won the title in his first year - in fact only one man has ever come second. We take a look back at the drivers who rocked the establishment…

Eugenio Castellotti
Debut: 1955; Points: 12; Races won: 0; Championship standing: 3rd

Although the least recognisable name in our list, Eugenio Castellotti nevertheless deserves his place after storming to third in the championship back in 1955. Castellotti, a wealthy country gentleman from Italy, had only bought his first racing car as a 20 year-old in 1950, but five years on was considered good enough to signed up for the season by Lancia.

While his first outing ended in retirement, Castellotti made an instant impression during the second round in Monaco, when he finished second behind Ferrari’s Maurice Trintignant. Although his pole position at the next Grand Prix in Belgium came to nothing after gearbox problems, the young Italian was given the opportunity to drive for Ferrari for the next four races.

Clinching points in a further two Grands Prix that year, including an outstanding third place at his home race in Italy, Castellotti had scored 12 points by the end of the season. Though less than a quarter of the haul of newly-crowned world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, it was enough to earn Castellotti third in the standings - just behind the legendary Stirling Moss.

Sadly, the Italian was never able to surpass his achievement as a debutant. An accident while driving a Ferrari at Modena in 1957 - trying to beat Maserati’s new unofficial lap record for the circuit - claimed his life.

Clay Regazzoni
Debut: 1970; Points: 33; Races won: 1; Championship standing: 3rd

Clay Regazzoni had honed his craft in several junior racing series, including a championship-winning drive in European Formula Two. He made his Formula One debut for Ferrari alongside Jacky Ickx in the 1970 Dutch Grand Prix. It was a memorable first appearance - the Swiss crossed the finish line in fourth and quickly singled himself out as a real contender.

Indeed many of his supporters were instantly tipping him to win the title. And just four races on from his debut, Regazzoni scored a maiden victory at Monza. He went on to make another seven race appearances for Ferrari that season, racking up further podiums in the Canadian and Mexican rounds. It was enough to give him 33 points and third in the championship behind Lotus driver Jochen Rindt and Ferrari team mate Ickx.

Though his success scored him a legion of Italian fans and a permanent contract with Ferrari, Regazzoni had to wait another four seasons before he could better his form during that first year of his Formula One career, finishing runner-up to Emerson Fittipaldi in the 1974 championship.

Jackie Stewart
Debut: 1965; Points: 33; Races won: 1; Championship standing: 3rd

Alhough Jackie Stewart would have to wait until 1969 to be crowned world champion; his debut in ’65 provided a glimpse of what was to follow. After out-pacing veteran driver Bruce McLaren during pre-season testing and landing a seat with the quick BRM squad, things augured well for the Scot even before the season was underway.

However, another legendary Scottish driver - Lotus’s Jim Clark - was still at the peak of his powers, and Stewart knew he must quickly assert himself if he was to make much of an impression. At his first race, the South African Grand Prix, he did just that, finishing sixth and taking a maiden world championship point. A race later, in Monaco, he joined his team mate - and race winner - Graham Hill on the podium after crossing the line in third, while in the next two rounds in Belgium and France he took two consecutive second-placed finishes.

At the Italian Grand Prix, Stewart quickly maximised on Clark’s early retirement, breaking the Lotus driver’s dominant run of five straight race wins to take a well-deserved first victory. Stewart, who had scored in every round he finished, ultimately amassed 33 points to finish the year third in the driver standings - behind world champion Clark and just seven points adrift of his far more experienced team mate Graham Hill.

Jacques Villeneuve
Debut: 1996; Points: 78; Races won: 4; Championship standing: 2nd

The toughest benchmark for Hamilton to beat will be Jacques Villeneuve’s electrifying debut season for Williams in 1996. Despite already being an IndyCar champion in the US, many had expected Villeneuve to spend his first year with the British team learning the ropes and shoring up the title challenge of his more experienced team mate Damon Hill.

Villeneuve, however, had other ideas and very quickly the cynics in the paddock realised they had underestimated his ambitions. Not content with slicing two-tenths off Hill’s qualifying time to take pole position, Villeneuve, looking to equal Giancarlo Baghetti’s 1961 record, was racing for a win at his very first Grand Prix in Australia. The French Canadian would have pulled it off too, were it not for an unfortunate oil leak on his FW18, which forced him to settle for second behind Hill.

Thereafter the season was dominated by a see-saw struggle for the title between the two Williams team mates. Aside from the misfortune of four retirements and a seventh-place finish in Italy, Villeneuve challenged his veteran team mate every step of the way, making it onto the podium in 11 of the 16 races. In the end, however, it was Hill who won the crown, after claiming five victories to Villeneuve’s four. Encouragingly for Hamilton, however, Villeneuve went on to take the title the following year.