Racing's greatest debuts: Lundqvist joins list with IndyCar bow

Racing History

Opportunities come few and far between in motor sport, so rookies must grab any chance with both hands. From F1 to MotoGP, Linus Lundqvist's IndyCar drive lives among some of the greatest racing debuts in motor sport history

IndyCar Feature

The greatest racing debuts in motor sport history

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Linus Lunqvist rejoins the IndyCar grid this weekend, courtesy of a spectacular series debut that saw him outqualify a legendary team-mate and then go on to set the fastest lap in last Sunday’s Music City Grand Prix.

A proven winner in junior racing with a point to prove after being overlooked this season, the 24-year-old Swede offered a textbook example of how to seize the moment when it really matters.

In a sport where there’s no shortage of competition and decisions are made ruthlessly, first impressions count more than ever. So while an unforgiving spotlight can break a newcomer’s career, it can also turbocharge a driver’s chances if they shine.

From Marc Márquez’s brilliant first battle with MotoGP‘s best to Gilles Villeneuve’s eye-opening introduction at Silverstone, here are some of racing’s greatest debuts.


Marc Márquez

2013 MotoGP Qatar Grand Prix

MotoGP 2013 Marc Marquez

A debut podium in Qatar: the start of a highly successful future for Marc Marquez in MotoGP

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Marc Márquez was by no means an unknown quantity when he arrived in MotoGP for the first time in 2013, having already captured titles in the 125cc class and Moto2. But a podium finish on debut in Qatar confirmed he was a serious threat to the rest of the grid.

The Spaniard qualified sixth but after several frontrunners crashed out, he suddenly found himself in podium contention — racing in second, behind Jorge Lorenzo and ahead of Repsol Honda team-mate Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi with just five laps to go.

Rossi made quick work of Pedrosa, but the defence from Márquez was stout – the pair involved in a tussle all the way to the chequered flag. The Italian would ultimately finish ahead, but the young rookie would eventually have the last laugh, celebrating wildly on his first MotoGP rostrum before going on to take six race victories and the world championship.


Gilles Villeneuve

1977 British Grand Prix

Portrait of Gilles Villeneuve at Silverstone for the 1977 British Grand Prix

Villeneuve on his F1 debut at Silverstone in 1977

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1974 snowmobile world champion Gilles Villeneuve was virtually a complete unknown in the world of F1 when he made a surprise entry into the 1977 British Grand Prix – running alongside the McLaren M26s of James Hunt and Jochen Mass in an older M23.

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One general test session the week before the race was the only experience the young Canadian had had heading into his F1 debut, but still ended up causing a sensation during qualifying. Driving what may believed to be an obsolete car, Villeneuve finished ninth fastest – 0.8sec off Hunt’s pole time but almost two-tenths quicker than temporary team-mate Mass.

In the race he was even more impressive, running fourth and holding pace with the leaders before undergoing a prolonged pitstop that saw him re-emerge back on track two laps down. Villeneuve ultimately finished a distant eleventh but it was more than enough to determine his future stardom – impressing ‘Old Man’ Enzo which led to him joining Ferrari for the following season.


Mario Andretti

1968 United States Grand Prix

Considered perhaps the greatest motor sport debut of all, Mario Andretti‘s brilliant pole position for Lotus in 1968 acted as a precursor to a highly-decorated F1 career.

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The 28-year-old was already a star in IndyCar – winning the 1965 championship in his first full season – but had felt he was too inexperienced to make the jump to F1 at the time. Three years later, and after a famous conversation with Lotus boss Colin Chapman, the American secured a Lotus 49 seat for races at Monza and Watkins Glen.

The Italian round had come first, but a scheduling conflict forced Andretti to miss the race entirely, meaning his official F1 debut would come on home soil 30 days later – an ideal site to make a great first impression.

Championship contenders Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill and Chris Amon were the favourites to take pole position in qualifying, but in the dying moments Andretti stole the show, going fastest by just two-hundredths of a second. A fairytale ending wasn’t to be, as after battling Stewart’s March, Andretti’s Lotus lost its nose cone and then endured clutch issues until retiring for good.

Even so, Andretti was now a name known on both sides of the Atlantic and after returning to the series fully in 1976, an F1 world title soon followed in 1978.


Linus Lundqvist

2023 Music City Grand Prix

Linus Lundqvist Nashville IndyCar 2023

A spectacular debut weekend in Nashville has earned Linus Lundqvist another IndyCar drive


Much like F1, finding a seat at the table in IndyCar can be difficult, even when you are the reigning champion of its top feeder series – a situation Linus Lundqvist is all too familiar with. The Swede claimed the Indy NXT title conclusively in 2022, but a lack of funding meant he was forced to sit on the sidelines for 2023 while his better-budgeted junior, but less competitive, contemporaries like Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb moved up to IndyCar.

However, his big chance came at Nashville’s Music City Grand Prix in August – replacing the injured Simon Pagenaud at Meyer Shank Racing.

He took full advantage of his brief opportunity, first outqualifying legendary team-mate Helio Castroneves – a four-time Indy 500 winner – meaning he started 11th for Sunday’s race. He showed his pace here too, setting the fastest racing lap and running as high as third before crashing out with 10 laps to go.

The Swede’s performance was impressive enough to earn a second outing: he will be jumping back in the Meyer Shank Racing machine – set to compete in this weekend’s Gallagher Grand Prix on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course this weekend.


Shane van Gisbergen

2023 Grant Park 220

Nascar Shane van Gisbergen

Shane van Gisbergen wins on NASCAR debut in Chicago

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The city of Chicago hosted its inaugral NASCAR Cup street race in 2023 where Shane van Gisbergen was the victor, in his first ever race.

The New Zealander had primarily made his name driving the in Australia’s Supercars series – winning titles in 2016, 2021 and 2022 alongside 47 career victories – but turned his attention Stateside in 2023, racing through treacherous conditions in Trackhouse Racing’s “Project 91″.

Van Gisbergen qualified third but expertly guided his car through lightning strikes and heavy rain to take the lead on lap 71 of 75 – passing Justin Haley shortly after a late caution. Holding off the challenge from the field behind, the Kiwi took the chequered flag 1.2 seconds ahead of the trailing Haley and became the first driver in 60 years to win on their NASCAR debut.

His impressive performance was enough to convince Trackhouse Racing he was worthy of another drive, and will lineup alongside a star-studded field – containing the likes of Jenson Button and Kamui Kobayashi – at the at the Indianapolis road course on August 13.


Michael Schumacher

1991 Belgian Grand Prix

Michael Schumacher 1991 Jordan

Michael Schumacher was a heralded a natural on his F1 debut – qualifying seventh in Belgium

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The performance that preceded the legend: Michael Schumacher‘s incredible debut for Jordan at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix marked the beginning of an era of dominance that would arguably last over almost two decades. Having impressed as a Mercedes junior driver, the young German was given the nod to make his F1 debut at Spa – stepping in for Bertrand Gachot who had ended up in prison after an altercation with a taxi driver in London.

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Scepticism was high: the team was running on finite resources and Schumacher had very limited testing in an F1 car, but all worries were soon put to rest. During free practice he was instantly competitive, slotting effortlessly into the midfield but his most impressive feat was yet to come.

After a water pump issue on his own Jordan 191 during qualifying, Schumacher switched into experienced team-mate Andrea De Cesaris‘ car – the chassis having been deemed “not up to scratch” by the Italian. Yet when Schumacher jumped in, he went almost eight-tenths faster than De Cesaris had gone all weekend, placing him seventh on the grid on his debut.

Despite his clutch blowing up at Eau Rouge on the first lap, Schumacher still managed to show his potential stardom, nailing the start and bursting between Nelson Piquet and Jean Alesi who were on the row ahead. His race may have been over seconds later, but the message had been delivered. Flavio Briatore lured Schumacher to Benetton for the very next race – his first F1 victory coming upon his subsequent visit to Spa in 1992.