The drivers who excel on their ‘special tracks’

2012 F1 season

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, Montreal, 2007The final part which gets fitted to an F1 car is its driver.

But it’s a human element and, however professional today’s drivers may be, they are susceptible to preferences like the rest of us.

Although they may prefer not to admit it, a driver’s style at the wheel and how they like a car to be set up can lead them to produce slightly better performances at certain tracks.

Can we identify which ‘special tracks’ suit drivers best by looking at their previous performances? Here’s a few thoughts, starting with the next race on the calendar.

Lewis Hamilton: Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

4 appearances, 3 poles, 2 wins

Lewis Hamilton has always gone well at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, scene of his first F1 win five years ago.

Montreal’s combination of heavy braking zones, high speeds and imposing walls tends to bring out the best in him. He coolly led amid carnage in 2007, and won exciting battle with Fernando Alonso in 2010.

Hamilton being Hamilton, there have been a few ‘facepalm’ moments as well. In 2008 he piled into the back of Kimi Raikkonen’s car at the pit lane exit. Last year he had tangles with Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher and finally his own team mate before calling it a day after just a handful of laps in the rain.

But even on those two less-than-stellar showings he was one of the quickest drivers on the track up to the point of his retirement.

Schumacher’s record here should not be overlooked, with seven victories at the track.

Sebastian Vettel: Suzuka

3 appearances, 3 poles, 2 wins, 3 podiums

Vettel’s affinity for Suzuka is reflected in his near-total domination of the three F1 races he’s started there: three pole positions, two wins and a third place.

And he might have pushed Jenson Button harder for the win last year had he not also been busy wrapping up his second world championship title.

Vettel described the Suzuka course as “amazing” earlier this year, and singled out Japan as one of his favourite stops on the F1 schedule.

Fernando Alonso: Singapore

4 appearances, 1 pole, 2 wins, 3 podiums

Yes, his 2008 win was anything but kosher. But remember how well he was going in a generally uncompetitive Renault that weekend before being sidelined with a technical problem during his qualifying.

On his subsequent visits to Singapore, Alonso has demonstrated a special talent for the peculiar demands of the long, slow track. The hopeless R29 made its single visit to the podium courtesy of Alonso in 2009, and he snatched pole position and victory from under Vettel’s nose the year after.

Another driver who revels in the unusual challenge of Singapore is Timo Glock. Fourth in 2008, he equalled his best career result with second in 2009.

The year after that he dragged his Virgin to the improbable heights of 11th, holding off Adrian Sutil, Nico Hulkenberg and other better-equipped rivals for a remarkable nine laps.

Felipe Massa: Interlagos

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Interagos, 20068 appearances, 3 pole positions, 2 wins, 3 podiums

Massa must regret the loss of the Istanbul Park circuit from the F1 calendar, where he scored his first win in 2006, beginning a streak of three consecutive wins from pole position at the track.

But his home record is something to be envied as well. Indeed, he would have had an identical record of consecutive wins from pole had he not been required to let team mate Raikkonen win in 2007 to clinch the world championship.

In 2004 Massa served notice of his potential by qualifying an excellent fourth for Sauber. Although there’s not been much to shout about since his return from injury in 2010, he did equal his best result of the season there last year with fifth.

Nico Rosberg: Shanghai

7 appearances, 1 pole, 1 win, 2 podiums

Something seems to have clicked for Rosberg at Shanghai: since his move to Mercedes, he’s led the last three races there. Rosberg was on the podium in 2010, finishing behind the two McLarens having led 16 laps.

He was on course for a podium finish or better last year before he had to back off and save fuel. This year he finally got the job done with an emphatic maiden victory at the Shanghai circuit.

It might be too early to call him a ‘Shanghai specialist’ on the basis of that, but he’s definitely one to keep an eye on here in the future.

Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher: Spa-Francorchamps

Michael Schumacher, Spa-Francorchamps, Benetton, 1992Raikkonen: 7 appearances, 4 wins
Schumacher: 15 appearances, 6 wins, 9 podiums

Two drivers on the grid today can make good claims on the title ‘King of Spa’.

While Schumacher was en route to his sixth and final win at the circuit to date in 2002, Raikkonen was making a name for himself for different reasons. In qualifying he blasted through a cloud of smoke left by Olivier Panis’s BAR on the Kemmel straight without even a hint of a lift.

Two years later the pair battled for victory, Raikkonen coming out on top as Schumacher settled for a second place that guaranteed his seventh world championship title.

Raikkonen won on his next two visits to Spa and led much of the way in 2008 before crashing out while under attack from Hamilton as rain fell late in the race. His last F1 victory to date came at the track in 2009.

Schumacher’s F1 debut came at this track 21 years ago and he stunned the pit lane with a lap good enough for eighth on the grid, which became seventh after Riccardo Patrese was penalised.

He scored his first win at the track 12 months later and one of his very best victories in 1995, scything through the field to win from 16th. Had he not been disqualified from victory due to a technical infringement in 1994, he would be a seven-times winner here too.

Circuit preference

There are many other examples of driving liking or disliking particular tracks. Jarno Trulli was a Monaco specialist and scored his only win there.

So too was Ayrton Senna, and he enjoyed even greater success at the track. But Nelson Piquet famously disliked the track and never won there.

The slow, twisty Detroit track was famously hated by Alain Prost.

Which other tracks on the calendar do you think particularly suit today’s drivers? Have your say in the comments.

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169 comments on The drivers who excel on their ‘special tracks’

  1. ed24f1 (@ed24f1) said on 4th June 2012, 11:22

    You could also add Alonso (3 wins, 3 podiums) or Massa (2 wins, 3 podiums) at Bahrain.

  2. LSCHUM said on 4th June 2012, 11:28

    Surely Schumacher should have some notice for Malaysia as well? Has been quicker then Rosberg there the past few years and in his first career managed to outqualify the entire field by a second after comming back from his injury.

    • snowman (@snowman) said on 4th June 2012, 14:13

      Think the problem is you could put Schumacher as a master of virtually every track on the calendar from his original career but then Keith’s article would start to look a bit ridiculous!

      Quotes from Schumacher’s debut race at Spa.

      • LSCHUM said on 4th June 2012, 23:38

        I don’t know.. There are at least a few tracks where Schumacher was never really good at. Shanghai is one example, he won once thanks to tyrewoes at Renault but never did anything impressive otherwise.

        Anyhow his malaysian record continues in his second career as he seems to outperform Rosberg there. There haven’t been a lot of tracks we see that.

  3. Max Jacobson (@vettel1) said on 4th June 2012, 11:31

    Not that it is a very high accolade to have bestowed upon a driver, but Vettel at Abu Dhabi. He won in 2009, 2010 he won his world championship there from pole position and in 2011 he looked set to win again before his puncture.

    • Jake (@jleigh) said on 4th June 2012, 11:40

      Hamilton has also been impressive at Abu Dhabi. Pole by a huge margin in 09 and was looking good until he started having problems, very close to pole in an inferior 2010 mclaren, and the win last year

      • raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 4th June 2012, 11:43

        I’d argue the McLaren was quicker in the 2010 Abu Dhabi event, judging by their onboards. But then again that’s no guarantee either. Both are very impressive in Abu Dhabi. Each lost a win prematurely through no fault of their own.

        Is it too early to say Vettel and India? :P (Tongue in cheek)

  4. Jake (@jleigh) said on 4th June 2012, 11:38

    It will be interesting to see how Vettel does this year at Suzuka, where his car may not be the dominant force it has been.

    • AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 4th June 2012, 15:23

      @jleigh I reckon it will still suit them. They still employ a high dependancy on downforce. I guess some other team might as well though!

      • Jake (@jleigh) said on 4th June 2012, 15:57

        Indeed, but I think Barcelona will be a good guide because of the high speed layout. Hamiltons mclaren should prove to be a contender so hopefully we can have a good tussle between the two of them to see which is better around Suzuka.

    • Mads (@mads) said on 4th June 2012, 15:49

      @jleigh
      The McLaren’s were clearly ahead in terms of pace in Suzuka last year. The RB’s simply couldn’t hold a candle to the turn-in on those silver cars.
      Yet he still did perform reasonably well, by snatching pole position.

      • Jake (@jleigh) said on 4th June 2012, 15:54

        Of course Hamilton didn’t get in a quick lap and would surely have taken pole. He was also quick there in 09 and put an extraordinary quali performance in 10 after not really having any practice running.

        • David-A (@david-a) said on 4th June 2012, 15:58

          @jleigh – And it was his inattention that meant he didn’t get that flying lap in (and it’s not guaranteed it would have been perfect), and his error that meant he didn’t get much practice running in 2010.

          • Jake (@jleigh) said on 4th June 2012, 16:32

            Of course you are right, and that’s what makes Hamilton Hamilton. But that doesn’t change that he’s been very quick there, just as his idiocy in Canada doesn’t change that he is immense there.

          • Nick (@nick101) said on 4th June 2012, 21:31

            Right, so Button deserves to be left off this list for Melbourne because he was out qualified in 2 of the 4 years regardless of winning 3 of the last 4 years, but Hamilton is the bomb in Suzuka and would have DEFINITELY gotten pole if he hadn’t forgotten the clock, even though his team were on the radio giving him the hurry up! Right, and I guess he DEFINITELY would have beaten Button in Canada last year if he finished too!

          • Jake (@jleigh) said on 4th June 2012, 22:00

            @nick101 I take it you are referring to my earlier comment. The point I was making was that I understand why Keith left button at Melbourne off the list. I wasn’t taking anything away from buttons achievements, I was simply saying that it’s not a track at which his driving style makes him go particularly faster than at others. Here I never said Hamilton would defiantly get pole, but it was very likely given the pace he showed earlier in the session, just as his pace in Canada suggested he probably would have finished ahead of button if they had both finished. But the didn’t because Hamilton messed up, just like he did in Suzuka, but that doesn’t change that they are two tracks he has been relatively quick at compared to other tracks, which is what the article was discussing.

          • David-A (@david-a) said on 4th June 2012, 22:00

            @nick101

            Jake did acknowledge that it wasn’t guaranteed LH would have had pole at Suzuka, and also didn’t say he should be considered a Suzuka specialist. @jleigh ‘s point was just that he has been quick there, maybe a bit moreso than the end results have showed.

            And let’s be fair, Hamilton has had 2 wins and 3 poles at Montreal, despite a couple of errors, so he’s definitely somewhat of a specialist there. I agree that Button should be a Melbourne specialist with his 3 wins there, and ’06 and ’09 poles.

          • Nick (@nick101) said on 4th June 2012, 22:12

            @Jake

            I take your point, but I disagree with something else you just said. In no way shape or form would Hamilton have beaten Button in Canada last year – NO WAY. Button was in a class of 1 at Canada last year – 2 seconds a lap quicker than everyone else. Saying that Hamilton or anyone else would have beaten that performance is just plain rude! That was one of the greatest wins in F1 history – so say all of the experts and former f1 greats.

            And if you want to talk about tracks that suit particular drivers styles, then I would say ANY wet to drying track on the calendar is BUTTON’s domain. Given the conditions in Canada last year and Button’s superior pace – Hamilton didn’t stand a chance.

            Yes, I’m a Button fan. But it drives me up the wall when, regardless of how fast or spectacularly Button wins, people always give it ‘Hamilton WOULD have beaten him, but…(insert any number of excuses here)!

          • Jake (@jleigh) said on 4th June 2012, 22:22

            @nick101 of course you are right about button on a damp track, although Hamilton has also showed similar pace in similar conditions; Australia 10, china 10, silverstone 11 and Monaco 08 to name just a few. When I say Hamilton would likely have beaten button in Canada, I am basing that on the fact that he was quicker than button in the early stages by a considerable amount. Buttons drive was brilliant, there is no doubting it, but I honestly believe that, based on his earlier pace and his previous form in those conditions, Hamilton could have matched him in the only other car that was set up for a wet race. But then I suppose with you being a button fan and me being a Hamilton fan this is one of those unknowns that we will disagree avout till the cows come home!

  5. Slr (@slr) said on 4th June 2012, 11:42

    Juan Pablo Montoya was always good around Interlagos. It was there were he first really caught everyone’s attention in 2001, before Verstappen ran into the back of him. After that he got pole there in 2002, and then won there in 2004 and 2005 (his last win in F1).

    Michael Schumacher was very good around Indianapolis with five wins there, and it would have been six if he wasn’t being silly in 2002.

    Webber doesn’t seem to be a fan of a few circuits, I’ve heard him say before that he finds driving around Monza, Valencia and Yas Marina boring. I somehow think that there are a few more tracks he finds boring.

  6. Cyberaxiom (@dave-m) said on 4th June 2012, 11:44

    Damon Hill always seemed to go well at the Hungaroring.

  7. raymondu999 (@raymondu999) said on 4th June 2012, 11:45

    Vettel is a fan, and does well at, Valencia. Two wins in the last two years – first guy to get two wins there. Ditto for Hamilton in China.

  8. F1zzzzzz said on 4th June 2012, 11:59

    Massa – King of Istanbul, Turkey !

  9. verstappen (@verstappen) said on 4th June 2012, 12:01

    Alonso in Spain always seems to have a bit extra.
    Just like Sato and Kobayashi at Suzuka.
    For some, there really is that homerace advantage.

  10. Scuderiaexxon said on 4th June 2012, 12:05

    Vettel at Abu Dhabi: 3 Appearances, 2 wins (maybe 3 if his wheel had not exploded in 2011), 2 or 3 pole positions

  11. Larry Perkins said on 4th June 2012, 12:06

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned Maldonaldo and his Catalan domination.

  12. Mythos said on 4th June 2012, 12:24

    Schumacher and Monza?

  13. xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 4th June 2012, 12:27

    Didn’t Schumacher make 17 appearances at Spa?

  14. David-A (@david-a) said on 4th June 2012, 12:28

    Schumacher at Magny-Cours is another, 8 wins in 15 races.

  15. paulgilb (@paulgilb) said on 4th June 2012, 12:37

    Regarding Schumacher at Spa, he was also looking set for a comfortable win in 1998 before crashing into DC whilst lapping him.

    Another driver that is worthy of a mention is Fisichella in Canada.

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