Top ten: Unbeatable Formula One records

Top Ten

Few records in Formula One are truly unbeatable.

Many people thought Ayrton Senna’s haul of 65 pole positions would stand the test of time, but Michael Schumacher beat it.

And though Schumacher’s tally of 91 wins may seem insurmountable, the same was once said of Alain Prost’s 51 victories.

As the saying goes, records are there to be broken. But there are some records which won’t be under threat any time soon. From geriatrics on the podium to sharing a single point between seven, here are ten F1 records that are in it for the long haul.

Narrowest pole position winning margin

1997 European Grand Prix: 0.000s between first, second and third

1997 European Grand Prix stasrt, JerezThe 1997 European Grand Prix at Jerez is chiefly remembered for Michael Schumacher’s unsuccessful attempt to eliminate title rival Jacques Villeneuve from the race.

But F1 anoraks like myself also recall the astonishing events of the previous day’s qualifying session. It saw the same two drivers plus Villeneuve’s team mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen stop the clocks at the same time to within a thousandth of a second.

First Villeneuve, then Schumacher and finally Frentzen lapped the 4.4km (2.7-mile) Jerez circuit in 1’21.072. Unless F1 follows IndyCar’s lead and starts measuring times to four decimal places, this record is stuck at 0.000s.

Earliest start to a season

1965 and 1968: January 1st

While modern-day F1 campaigns usually kick off in mid March, until the 1980s it was customary for the season to begin as early as January.

In 1965 and 1968, at the East London and Kyalami circuits respectively, the season opening South African Grand Prix was held on the very first day of the year. Yet in both seasons, the following world championship event was not held until over four months later!

Keep that next time you think the current four-week summer break is too long…

Longest race

2011 Canadian Grand Prix: four hours, four minutes and 39.537 seconds

Jenson Button, McLaren, Montreal, 2011The track was wet as the Canadian Grand Prix got underway at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2011. But on lap 19 a fresh downpour forced the race to be red-flagged for two hours.

Under F1 rules the clock kept tipping so that when the race finally resumed and ran its scheduled 70-lap distance the entire thing had taken over four hours.

This prompted the introduction of a new rule for 2012 requiting all races to be completed within four hours regardless of any stoppages. It’s a good thing the rule wasn’t in place a year earlier, or we’d have been robbed of the thrilling sight of Jenson Button hunting race leader Sebastian Vettel down and passing him on the final lap.

Most failures to pre-qualify

Gabriele Tarquini: 24

When F1 entry lists ballooned in the late eighties pre-qualifying sessions were held to weed out some of the slowest cars before the real action began.

Gabriele Tarquini suffered more than most at the hands of this cruel eliminator. Driving for such unfancied teams as Coloni, AGS and Fondmetal he failed to gain a place on the grid on 40 separate occasions. In 24 of those he suffered the indignity of failing even to qualify for qualifying!

Today it’s been 17 years since we last had a full grid of 26 cars at a Grand Prix. Given the current state of the world economy and the huge costs involved in running a Formula One team, the prospect of the grid being oversubscribed again seems a very distant one. This unwanted record is Tarquini’s to keep.

Most starters

1953 German Grand Prix: 34

In the early years of the world championship, pre-qualifying was not a consideration. Due to a lack of available F1 cars in 1952 and 1953 the world championship was run to Formula Two specifications which boosted grid sizes.

A whopping 34 drivers began the 1953 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, 14 of whom were local wildcards. Today’s grid is capped at 26.

At the other end of the spectrum, the infamous six-car United States Grand Prix of 2005 unsurprisingly takes the record for the smallest field. It is possible a race could see fewer starters than that, but let’s hope it doesn’t happen.

Oldest podium

1950 Swiss Grand Prix: 140 years, 93 days (average: 46 years, 274?Ǫǣ days)

The physical demands of modern F1 cars mean that it is highly unusual for drivers to still be racing in their forties. The oldest driver to start a race in recent years was 43: Schumacher in last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix.

In the first years of the world championship drivers were generally much older than they are today. In the inaugural world championship race, the 1950 British Grand Prix, just one of the entrants was younger than 30.

The record for the oldest ever podium was set at that year’s Swiss Grand Prix. Giuseppe Farina, Luigi Fagioli and Louis Rosier – had a combined age of over 140!

‘But it could happen again’, I hear you all cry. Granted, this is not strictly an “unbeatable” record. But I sooner expect to see Narain Karthikeyan win a Grand Prix driving a lawnmower.

Most podium finishes in a season

Michael Schumacher, 2002: 100% (17 out of 17)

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari F2002, Monza, 2002Thanks to the performance and reliability of his Ferrari F2002 (and, earlier in the season, the F2001), Schumacher not only finished every race of the 2002 season, he never never lower than third. And he only finished there once!

The record may be improved upon by a driver finishing a longer season entirely on the podium, but that 100% hit rate is never going to be beaten.

Best podium strike rate in a career

Dorino Serafini: 100% (1 out of 1)

The same applies to the obscure example of Dorino Serafini who finished his only world championship race, the 1950 Italian Grand Prix, on the podium.

Serafini only drove half of the race – he handed his car to Alberto Ascari midway through as the rules permitted at the time.

There have also been several examples of drivers who finished on the podium in the Indianapolis 500 when it counted towards the world championship from 1950 to 1960, but these races were not run to F1 rules.

Smallest points haul

Stirling Moss, Alberto Ascari and Jean Behra: 0.14

During the first ten world championship seasons in the 1950s, drivers were awarded a single point for setting the fastest lap of the race. Unfortunately, timing systems in this era were somewhat rudimentary, and lap times were sometimes measured to the nearest second.

The 1954 British Grand Prix at Silverstone saw seven drivers shared a fastest lap of one minute and 50 seconds. The single point was split between them, each scoring one-seventh of a point. Four of them also scored points for their finishing positions, but for three drivers 0.14 points was all they came away with.

Longest wait for the second-placed car

1963 Belgian Grand Prix: four minutes and 54 seconds

Most modern Grand Prix are close contests. With tight restrictions on car design ensuring the field remains relatively evenly matched, and races regularly punctuated by Safety Car periods, winning margins are seldom much more than a few seconds.

But in years gone by, more regulatory freedom meant cars often varied hugely in performance. Coupled with the high rate of attrition, it meant that many races concluded with huge gaps between each driver.

Jim Clark’s sensational victory by four minutes and 54 seconds in the 1963 Belgian Grand Prix will surely never be surpassed. He burst through from eighth on the grid to take the lead and was never headed around the fearsome 14.1km Spa circuit.

Conditions during the race were so dreadful Clark’s team boss Colin Chapman urged officials to abandon the proceedings at one point. Meanwhile Clark annihilated his rivals. He lapped the field at one point, though second-placed Bruce McLaren unlapped himself.

That meant when Clark took the line to finish it took almost five minutes for McLaren to appear in second place. Today’s tracks simply aren’t long enough for such a feat to be possible. Spa remains the longest track on the calendar, but is half the length it used to be and is lapped in well under 110 seconds in race conditions.

Over to you

Have you spotted any more unbeatable F1 records or statistical quirks? Share them in the comments.

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124 comments on Top ten: Unbeatable Formula One records

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  1. Dane. (@dane-1) said on 19th June 2013, 9:48

    The 2 that come to my mind would be Jack Brabham & John Surtees. Brabham for winning in his own constructed car & Surtees for being champion in cars & bikes

    • Drop Valencia! said on 19th June 2013, 10:51

      yes both are unbeliveable, but I think they could be matched over 100 years, MS could have done it had he purchased Honda with some pocket change, and most Moto GP guys that stand out, like Rossi/Doohan get a fez test, it’s just a matter of time till another does OK.

      • Mallesh Magdum (@malleshmagdum) said on 19th June 2013, 17:25

        “pocket change”…..LOL! Well, Brawn did buy it for just £1.

      • If someone does do it again it is much more likely that like Surtees they will win first in bikes, and then crossover to cars. And even that is very unlikely in this day and age.

        • DD42 said on 19th June 2013, 19:15

          Indeed riding is so much more difficult then driving, it takes more guts and requires more physical exertion. Most people can drive, fewer can ride.

          If you can race a bike on the ragged edge chances are you could be great in F1. Whereas we all saw what happened when Schumi tried sportsbikes.

          Another John Surtees? Only time will tell

          • MaroonJack (@maroonjack) said on 20th June 2013, 8:22

            Most people can drive, fewer can ride.

            Even fewer can ride an F1 car. I see guys on superbikes every day on my way to and from work. I don’t see many people in fast single seaters. So by your logic driving a single seater is even more difficult.

            I like watching MotoGP and I love events like Isle Of Man TT, but I think that riding a bike is easier than driving an F1 car. I think that motorcycle road racing is purer and it definitely takes more guts, but that’s simply because it has less regulations and is more dangerous, but not because it is more difficult.

            Other than Surtees, can you recall any successful transition from motorbikes to F1? Or any single seater category for that matter? If cars are less difficult, then it should be fairly common.

          • My point was more about riding and driving at an elite level, not your average man on the street who likes bikes and then goes and buys a 1098 or something similar. Someone who would be capable of winning world championships on both forms of machinery, and I’m sorry but cars are less difficult than bikes at an elite level.

            I can never foresee a situation where someone who has driven cars all their life can switch over to bikes and then beat the top calibre guys in Moto GP and win a world championship. The guys who switch over from world superbikes have immense trouble trying to get near the top GP guys who have ridden through 125cc/250cc, let alone someone who has spent most of his early racing career on a different form of machinery.

            That does not mean by any means F1 cars are easy to drive and does not mean that any elite level motorcycle rider could switch over to cars and be successful. No one is saying it should be a common occurrence, someone like Surtees was clearly an exceptional talent, to crossover as he did was pretty unbelievable. But there are and will continue to be exactly zero examples where people cross over from cars to bikes and then be competitive at elite level.

            In answer to your question Mike Hailwood had a pretty good go at F1, got a couple of podiums although given his status as one of the greatest motorcycle riders of all time any car career was going to be disappointing in comparison. There aren’t many I agree, and no way should it be common but if someone is to repeat Surtees then I stand by the fact they will win first in bikes, and then crossover to cars.

          • Toby. (@toby) said on 20th June 2013, 15:33

            @MaroonJack “Other than Surtees, can you recall any successful transition from motorbikes to F1?” – Rudolf Caracciola and Tazio Nuvolari are drivers that come to mind. Both brilliant on bikes and even better in cars. But, of course, that was almost 100 years ago.

        • pSynrg (@psynrg) said on 20th June 2013, 14:55

          Top level cars/bikes are not harder/easier. They are different disciplines and comparisons are irrelevant.

          It’s like saying swimming is easier than running. To a swimmer? Yes. To a runner? No.

          Pointless comparison.

          • Iestyn Davies (@fastiesty) said on 20th June 2013, 17:37

            The point is that at the top levels, the skills used are the same – trail braking. The later you can brake, and still get the car to the apex with an optimal exit, will determine how fast you are, along with your line. Lewis Hamilton alludes to this when he said in the run up to the Canadian GP that he always tries to brake latest.

            Valentino Rossi was first a champion in karts, before moving to bikes for cost reasons, and hence was the best candidate we have seen to also match this accolade (Mike Hailwood was also competitive in F1 after switching directly). His Ferrari tests suggest he would have been competitive, given the chance to have pre-2009 testing rules. But, Ferrari chose Kimi Raikkonen instead…

  2. BradandCoffee said on 19th June 2013, 10:10

    What about Brawn GP’s championship success rate?

    • Cristian (@theseeker) said on 19th June 2013, 10:29

      I think that could pretty much happen in the years to come.

      • Which team could score a 100% success rate in the years to come? They would either have to win and quit like Brawn GP or they would have to keep winning year after year.. I think it is very unlikely..

        • electrolite (@electrolite) said on 19th June 2013, 10:45

          If Red Bull changed their name completely to Infiniti or even Arden for a whole year only and won the championship, then it’d happen, but it won’t :P

        • Cristian (@theseeker) said on 20th June 2013, 10:26

          Well, in 2014 the rules will change radically, as in 2009, and a new team could come, win the title and then go. It happened recently, I don’t see why it couldn’t happen again…it’s not so difficult, after all. Brawn did it with Honda, taking advantage of new regulations and then he sold the team to Mercedes. Think about it, it could and might happen again.

      • Optimaximal (@optimaximal) said on 19th June 2013, 10:38

        As @greg-morland mentioned, the economy precludes new start-ups happening (and being competitive) and I also don’t think there’s much chance of a works manufacturer pulling out, funding a new car AND selling a team on in one fell swoop.

        Brawn GP was a perfect storm.

      • BradandCoffee said on 19th June 2013, 11:12

        But it’s the same scenario as the full season of podiums for MSC – it could happen again, but there is no chance of beating100%.

    • Diego (@ironcito) said on 19th June 2013, 11:27

      There are also other derived “records” from the Brawn season, such as a driver winning 100% of a team’s championships, two drivers taking part in 100% of a team’s races, a team running 100% of its races with the same team principal, sponsors, chassis, drivers, etc.

      • Nick (@npf1) said on 19th June 2013, 13:20

        There have been cases of one driver winning 100% of a team’s championships, but not in their only year like Button/Brawn. Fangio for Maserati and Mercedes (split them with those 2 in 1954, Mercedes alone in 1955, Maserati alone in 1957), Graham Hill for BRM in 1962, Jackie Stewart for Matra in 1969 and Tyrrell in 1971 and 1973, Michael Schumacher for Benetton in 1994 and 1995, Fernando Alonso for Renault in 2005 and 2006.

        And to be honest, I think there’s probably been a handful of backmarkers who’ve run 100% of their (few) races with the same drivers, staff or sponsors. And Brawn had some temporary sponsors at certain GPs, like Canon at Singapore and Itaipava at the Brazilian GP.

      • matt90 (@matt90) said on 19th June 2013, 13:25

        two drivers taking part in 100% of a team’s races

        Midland achieved that record before Brawn did, and I doubt they were the first either.

  3. Cristian (@theseeker) said on 19th June 2013, 10:22

    “…Narain Karthikeyan win a Grand Prix driving a lawnmower.” My first thought was: Is HRT back? :))

  4. Chris (@mccosmic) said on 19th June 2013, 10:23

    Keke Rosberg’s pole lap at Silverstone in 1985 of 1’05.591. In those days Silverstone was a mere 4.7km, now its up at 5.9. The average speed recorded was 258.9km/h. Whilst it is of course theoretically possible to design a moving vehicle that could eclipse this record on the current circuit, I believe it would take an alien version of Adrian Newey to design such a car. And even then it would have to satisfy the FIA regulations & tests. For me, the record of the fastest man in an F1 car around Silverstones is Mr K Rosbergs to keep.

    • Kim Philby (@philby) said on 19th June 2013, 10:47

      @Chris No it isn’t Rosberg’s to keep, Barrichello beat it in Monza 2004 with 260.395 km/h for a lap of 1′.21″.046 for the 5.8 km track.

      • Kim Philby (@philby) said on 19th June 2013, 10:57

        Oh, unless you mean specifically about Silverstone in which case I will disagree again because claiming to be “the fastest man around Silverstone” is quite abstract and irrelevant since the ’80s is a completely different track, that just so happens to exist in the same exact spot. Tracks now and then receive small alterations allowing us to consider it as the same track Silverstone though and Fuji aren’t the case.

        • Chris (@mccosmic) said on 19th June 2013, 12:46

          Yes I did mean just Silverstone and whilst I accept your points about the fact that the layout is very different now to what it was in the 80’s, however, if I was asked the question who recorded the fastest ever lap around Silverstone in an F1 car? Then my answer would be Rosberg. Regardless of the fact that the layout changes have made it impossible so far for the record to be beaten. For this unbeatable F1 record, I have used the same criteria which I have interpreted from the main article above. I stand by the quote picked out by luc.

          • Kim Philby (@philby) said on 19th June 2013, 14:26

            @chris So if you still think that this is an unbeatable record then how about Mario Andretti being the fastest man ever around FUJI speedway? His pole position time of 1′.12″.23 set in 1977 in his Lotus is over 6 seconds faster than Hamilton’s 2008 pole lap of 1′.18″.404 both in the dry so it appears this is the same case as Rosberg’s Silverstone time or for that matter Nurburgring GP when the track was lengthened and “slowered” by the addition of Mercedes arena in 2002, even though in this case I didn’t look for times pre and post the revamp.

          • Chris (@mccosmic) said on 19th June 2013, 21:32

            Granted, based on the same criteria it is absolutely a candidate. However 6 seconds is a much smaller margin than the 24 seconds between Rosbergs 85 pole time & Webbers 11 pole time at Silverstone. So not so improbable that in 20 years time should F1 ever return to Fuji, that Andrettis time could be challenged.

      • luc said on 19th June 2013, 10:58

        ”the record of the fastest man in an F1 car around Silverstones is Mr K Rosbergs to keep.”

  5. Ben (@scuderia29) said on 19th June 2013, 11:01

    17 podiums out of 17…incredible

  6. craig-o (@craig-o) said on 19th June 2013, 11:09

    I highly doubt anyone will break the record for oldest driver to start a race at 55 years and 292 days (Louis Chiron)… I also very highly doubt anyone will score more than 100% of possible points in a season also (Ascari and Clark), and somebody winning from further back than 22nd on the grid? Can’t happen at the moment!

    I also reckon Phil Hill’s unusual record of being the world champion with the fewest career points (98) is pretty safe too, unless Bernie messes around with the points system again…

  7. joeyzf1 (@) said on 19th June 2013, 11:41

    These are really interesting records. I had no idea about 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, or 10.

  8. Racer (@racer) said on 19th June 2013, 11:52

    Excluding the trivial case of Silverstone 1950: Jacques Villeneuve’s record of getting his 1st pole in his 1st race, and Giancarlo Baghetti’s record of getting his 1st win in his 1st race aren’t going to beaten…

  9. Tomsk (@tomsk) said on 19th June 2013, 12:09

    Did “AGD” fail to pre-qualify at the Dan Marino Grand Prix? Small typo in the Tarquini bit.

  10. Shimks (@shimks) said on 19th June 2013, 12:10

    Absolutely brilliant article, Greg!!

  11. mclaren (@mclaren) said on 19th June 2013, 12:28

    Hamilton’s Debut season

  12. Kazihno (@kazinho) said on 19th June 2013, 12:32

    The biggest winning margin of the modern era (eg. shorter tracks) is also another that is unlikely to be repeated for a long time:

    Damon Hill winning in Adelaide in 1995. Olivier Panis finished second, 2 laps down.

    At around 80 seconds for a lap, that is almost 3 minutes ahead at the flag.

    • Nick (@npf1) said on 19th June 2013, 13:25

      The difference being: Panis did not need to drive those 3 minutes in order to finish the race. But it does seem unlikely to see anything like that soon, unless we have a race in which one of the top team drivers remains, the rest retires and we’re left with 4 midfield cars on a wrong setup and the Marussia/Caterham drivers.

      Regarding Panis, I also think it’s unlikely we’ll see something like the 1996 Monaco GP again, with modern retirement numbers and the FIA’s tendency to red flag races more than in the 90s.

  13. frogster said on 19th June 2013, 12:39

    Keke Rosberg winning the WDC in 1982 with just the single race win is unlikely to be beaten.

  14. What about Schumacher’s win while serving a Stop & Go Penalty at Silverstone in ’98?

  15. paulgilb (@paulgilb) said on 19th June 2013, 13:32

    I believe the 1958 Portuguese GP had a bigger margin between 1st and 2nd – Hawthorn was the only unlapped driver (behind Moss), but I think he spun/went off track during his last lap, was stalled for some time, before crossing the line over 5 minutes after Moss (which he had to do in order to be classified and thus score points in those days). Hawthorn beat Moss to the title by a single point that year.

    Some others:

    Highest numbered car to enter a race: 208 (by Lella Lombardi)

    Lowest non-zero career points total: 0.5 (also by Lella Lombardi) – this can be equalled

    Highest percentage of GPs led: 100% (by Markus Winkelhock) – this can be equalled

    Lowest season points total for a driver who won at least 1 race that season: 4 (Fagioli in 1951)

    Fewest total pitstops in one race: 0 (Netherlands 1961)

    Worst F1 team ever: Andrea Moda

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