There have been several Formula One drivers whose race-winning skills have been on early display, leaving fans in no doubt as to their championship-winning potential.
Notable examples include Emerson Fittipaldi who made his F1 debut for Lotus at the 1970 British Grand Prix after winning the prestigious British F3 championship. He won his fifth F1 race – the US GP – going on to clinch the World Drivers’ Championship in 1972 at the age of 25. He was the (then) youngest F1 world champion.
Emerson later moved to McLaren, winning the Drivers’ World Championship once again, before heading to the US where he won the Indy 500 twice, becoming CART (IndyCar) champion in 1989.
Ayrton Senna won the 1983 British F3 championship and immediately moved into F1 making his debut with the back-marker Toleman-Hart team the following year.
Challenging Alain Prost for the win at a rain-soaked Monaco in the unfancied Toleman marked Ayrton as a future “great”. After moving to McLaren, he would make a lasting impact on motorsport on his way to winning three world championship titles – in 1988, 1990 and 1991.
Fernando Alonso made his F1 debut in 2001 with Minardi, another back-marker team. Undeterred, he was able to score championship points in his third race and go on to win two world championship titles in 2005 and ‘06 with Renault. Alonso is currently considered to be one of the best drivers on the grid.
Lewis Hamilton made his F1 debut in 2007 with McLaren and finished on the podium on debut and in the following eight GPs which incorporated wins in his sixth and seventh starts. He holds several F1 debut season records, including the most consecutive top-three finishes and the most points scored (109).
Hamilton would win his first championship with McLaren in 2008 and go onto win six more titles with Mercedes-Benz between 2014 and 2020.
After a stellar junior karting career, but only a handful of single-seater races in Formula Renault and European F3, Max Verstappen made his F1 debut for Toro Rosso as a Friday-practice driver at the 2014 Japanese GP Just 17, Verstappen was the youngest driver in history to participate in a F1 event.
He became the youngest driver to start a world championship F1 race at the 2015 Australian GP and scored his first points in Malaysia soon after by finishing seventh.
Max became the youngest driver at 18 years and 228 days to win a race when he won the Spanish GP on debut for Red Bull in 2016. In his first eight races with Red Bull, he achieved six top-five finishes, including four podiums
Another current driver who impressed immediately is Charles Leclerc who made his F1 debut in 2018 with Sauber. He scored points in his first two races and went on to finish in the top 10 in his next four events. His performances at Ferrari have surely marked him as a future world champion.
But who has had an entrance into F1 as grand as that of Giancarlo Baghetti? He began his racing career in sports cars in the late 1950s and made his F1 debut in a Ferrari at the non-championship Syracuse GP in 1961. He qualified second on the grid and drove superbly to win on debut against a strong field. A future champion in the making?
Amazingly, he repeated the feat a few weeks later to win the Napoli GP, another non-championship F1 race.
Soon after, he joined the “works” Ferrari team for the 1961 French GP at Rheims – his first world championship race. When his illustrious teammates all retired with various maladies, Baghetti was left to uphold Ferrari honour and he duly won, beating the Porsche of Dan Gurney.
Baghetti had scored a hattrick of F1 wins from his first three GPs and many expected his early successes to herald the start of a glittering career.
But, despite racing at the top echelons of F1 for another six years – often driving for notable factory teams such as Ferrari, Brabham and Lotus – he would not win another GP, let alone stand on the podium again. Many refer to his time in F1 as a “career in reverse”.