Sometimes through no fault of their own, sometimes through inconsistency, sometimes through tragic circusmtances, and sometimes through sheer bad luck there have been a number of world class racing drivers over the years that failed to live up to their god given talent. Bear in mind, that just because someone has had some success, that does not mean that they fulfilled their potential to the fullest. This list wil try and focus on those who underachieved, and as such people like Mark Webber, Ronnie Petersen, David Coulthard, Gerhard Berger and the like who won a lot of races and came close to winning titles will be omitted in favour of those who truly fell short of the pedestal set for them. Also, people like Kimi Raikkonen who perhaps should’ve won more titles than he should have will be omitted for the same reason. The people on this list truly underachieved to the point you have to wonder just what didn’t go right for them.
10. Adrian Sutil
This one is very well known. Sutil raced 128 times and never even stood on the podium, with his bad temperament costing him his F1 career, he had been previously hyped as being a hub of potential. Sutil won junior catergories and was runner up to Lewis Hamilton in the 2005 Formula 3 Euro-series, but failed to carry his success in to F1.
9. Alex Zanardi
Alex Zanardi is a motorsport legend who has gone on to have an amazing career after a dehabilitaing accident caused amputation on his legs. After a middle of the road F1 run, Zanardi won 2 CART titles before his accident. Clearly talented, Zanardi’s form in F1 is certainly puzzling.
8. Stefan Johansson
Driving for both Ferrari and McLaren, ‘Swede Johansson never managed an F1 win in only 79 F1 starts, but he did manage 12 poodiums. Considering he raced solid from 1983 to 1991, with two legendary teams Ferrari and McLaren for 3 years, it is a surprise that Johansson did not have more defined success. His team mates in those 3 years were Rene Arnoux, Michele Alboreto, and the legendary Alain Prost. All of them were multiple race winners. Johansson certainly had promise but unfortunately did not manage to find a win in a period which many drivers would’ve loved to be a part of.
7. Wolfgang Von Trips
The first member of this list to have his life tragically cut short, Von Trips was the runner up of the 1961 world championship, and had his tragic death at Monza (where a 3rd place would have actually won him the championship) not occured there was every opportunity that the German would have gone on to claim many more wins and perhaps a world championship.
6. Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya had, like Coulthard and Barrichello, the unfortunate timing of competing in F1 during the Schumacher dominance years. In 2009 Montoya made the Times top 50 F1 Drivers of all time list, and it’s not hard to see why. Finishing 3rd in the championship 3 times, and winning 5 races, Montoya left F1 mid-way through the 2006 season. He has also won the Indy 500, and Monaco GP – 2/3 of the Triple Crown.
5. Jules Bianchi
Untapped and unknown, the tragedy of Jules Bianchi will stay with F1 fans for a long time. The wonderfully charasmatic and fast Frenchman was taken before his time, but had already made an impact in F1 with Marussia. He scored the teams only points at the 2014 Monaco Grand Prix and was being prepped for a future Ferrari race seat – perhaps to replace the outgoing Fernando Alonso. We miss you Jules.
4. Robert Kubica
Robert Kubica suffered a rally accident and the injuries cut short his potentially legendary F1 career. The Pole was thought at times to be perhaps the most talented and poentially great driver on the grid during a time of rich driving quality in F1. Kubica had sheer speed and was being touted for multiple moves up the grid.
3. Jean Alesi
One of the biggest fan-favourites of all time, this immortal Frenchman only managed 1 win whilst racing for Ferrari for 5 seasons. It was unfortunate Alesi joined the team during a lean period (then joining Benetton after their success ended) – but the Tifosi took Alesi to their hearts and he has gone of to be an F1 great despite his relative lack of success.
2. Nico Hulkenberg
Nico Hulkenberg has 135 F1 starts and has never been on the podium – a record. The German has been talked about for a long time as one of the prodigies in F1, but has never quite made it big despite impressing at every team he has been at. Some have begun to question why this is, and that he hasn’t moved to a big team for a reason. After winning the Le Mans 24 hours his stock again soared, earning him a factory move to the Reanult team. When Nico Rosberg retired after his title win, Mercedes wanted Hulkeberg but his new team blocked the approach – definitely a case of what could have been for Hulkeberg, and the fans. Still young, it is a good guess Hulkenberg should eventually go on to bigger things – the fans certainly hope so.
1. Heikki Kovalainen
At the 2004 Race of Champions Heikki Kovalainen beat David Coulthard, Jean Alesi, Sebastien Loeb, and Michael Schumacher. Cue the hype train. The wealth of excitement around the astounding Fin’ was like nothing seen before, and rightly so. On top of the aforementioned result at the ROC he won the World Series by Nissan, and was a GP2 runner-up. He also beat Felipe Massa and Bernd Schneider at the 2005 ROC. When Kovalainen was signed by world champions Renault, many expected huge things. After a slightly below standard season by the team as a whole, Koavalainen got a big move in only his 2nd season to McLaren where he scored his first win in a season that was slewed with inconsistency from him. He again raced with the team in the challenging 2009 season, before his career took a surprisnlgy downward turn. Kovalainen will always sadly be remebered as what could have been, and that is truly saddening.