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F1's mid-season driver swaps: Part 1
Laura Leslie takes a look at some of the driver replacements who worked out and those who perhaps wish they just stayed at home.
Sep 09, 2021 at 4:00 PM
by: Laura Leslie
Formula One
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Always expect the unexpected in Formula One. From ill-timed leg breaks, positive COVID tests, cheques bouncing, and even being stuck in prison, the teams need to keep an eye on the drivers who are available to stand in for another driver at the last minute. Laura Leslie takes a look at some of the driver replacements who worked out and those who perhaps wish they just stayed at home.

Robert Kubica

After a string of fantastic free practice performances from Robert Kubica on Fridays throughout 2006, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Jacques Villeneuve at BMW-Sauber. The final straw for the team came after Villeneuve crashed out of the German Grand Prix. The official line was that Villeneuve was injured and unable to compete in the following race. The world knew BMW-Sauber finally had the excuse it needed to ship the former world champion out in favour of Kubica.

Immediately, F1’s first Polish driver showed his star quality by finishing in the points in the Hungarian Grand Prix. Only an underweight car prevented him from keeping his seventh place in the final standings. Two races later Kubica would go on to stand on the podium with third place in the Italian Grand Prix. He was the first driver since Alex Wurz in 1997 to stand on the podium within his first three races.

Fast-forward 15 years and Kubica is once again playing the 'super-sub' and again at the same team, albeit with a different name. Kubica replaced Kimi Raikkonen at Alfa Romeo after the Finn had tested positive for COVID on the Saturday morning of the Dutch Grand Prix. Kubica will get a second go in the car for the Italian Grand Prix after Raikkonen was not declared clear to return.

Mika Salo

After a tough season with a struggling Arrows team, Mika Salo found himself sidelined at the beginning of the 1999 season. Pedro de la Rosa’s Repsol cash had ousted him from Arrows rather last minute, leaving Salo with no options left. His chance came when Ricardo Zonta slammed his BAR Supertec into an armco barrier in Brazil; he broke his foot and badly damaged tendons while he was at it. Salo replaced the Brazilian for three races, narrowly missing out on points on two of those occasions.

His performance was enough to thrust him into the watchful eye of the Ferrari team after Michael Schumacher broken his leg during the British Grand Prix. Salo was drafted in for the following race in Austria. A quiet ninth place finish perhaps cast some doubt over Salo’s potential, but he shut the doubters up in superb fashion during a German Grand Prix he very nearly won.

Only team-orders from Ferrari to allow Eddie Irvine through stopped Salo from taking a maiden win; he would finish second, although Irvine would later hand Salo the winner’s trophy in a rare moment of gallantry for F1.

One more podium in front of the Ferrari tifosi in Monza ensured Salo would be remembered as a ‘super-sub’ for years to come.

Gianni Morbidelli/Norberto Fontana

To say Sauber had a nightmare with their number seventeen car in 1997 would be an understatement. Nicola Larini began the season alongside Johnny Herbert at the request of Ferrari, what with him being their test driver and Sauber using Petronas badged Ferrari engines. The relationship between Sauber and Larini turned sour after just five races, and he was replaced by fellow Italian Gianni Morbidelli for the Spanish Grand Prix.

However an nasty shunt during testing at Mangy-Cours left Morbidelli with a badly broken arm. After just two races he himself had to be replaced with tiny Argentinian, Norberto Fontana. A terrible debut in France led to Peter Sauber looking for this third replacement driver of the season. Eventually Fontana was given a second chance, which saw him missing a weigh bridge check during British Grand Prix qualifying and demoted to the back of the grid. He would finish ninth in the race. Another ninth in Germany was enough for the team to bring Morbidelli back for Hungary.

Sadly the arm injury suffered earlier in the season would prove to be enough to end Morbidelli’s career in F1. Fontana was draughted back in for the season finale in Jerez.

During the race he ended up infamously blocking the Williams of Jacques Villeneuve in order to help Ferrari and Michael Schumacher. He would never drive a Sauber again.