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

  1. sumedh said on 19th June 2013, 13:33

    Longest wait for the second-placed car

    This might get broken in the following scenaio:

    1) If there are torrential rains and someone has a car that is super awesome and almost laps the second placed car
    2) There are a lot of retirements due to torrential rains
    3) The second placed driver just needs to finish the 7km last lap of Spa to ensure that he gets the biggest points haul for his team
    4) This second placed driver is from Marussia and is about to run out of fuel and hence, is driving slowly.
    5) He goes off track multiple times, but never crashes and makes it back to the track every time.

  2. Lewis McMurray (@celicadion23) said on 19th June 2013, 13:44

    In the days of ever-increasing reliability it seems unlikely that anyone will beat Andrea de Cesaris’ record of 14 retirements in a single season, in both 1986 and 1987. If you want to make the record even harsher he actually had a total of 15 DNFs in each season, failing to qualify in Monaco in 1986 and retiring from the 1987 Australian Grand Prix after completing more than 90% of the race distance, so was classified 9th but technically didn’t finish.

  3. d3v0 (@d3v0) said on 19th June 2013, 13:45

    It’s been a long while since I have read an F1 article this long and smiled throughout the entire duration. Even threw in some jabs at the notorious pickle. Great article, Keith.

  4. FW19 said on 19th June 2013, 14:14

    What about Andrea de Cesari’s record of 161 retirements and/or DNC’s (which, curiously, is the same number of Grand Prix’s Ayrton Senna raced in his entire F1 career)? In the earlier years it was a bit easier to get a seat in a car, so now I believe any driver would be fired before he managed to achieve this feat (even thou Cesaris wasn’t as a bad a driver as people think).

  5. xjr15jaaag (@xjr15jaaag) said on 19th June 2013, 14:32

    World champion with the least wins; Rosberg and Hawthorn

  6. Correct me if I’m wrong but is Markus Winkelhock the only driver to have led every race he has entered?

  7. Kim Philby (@philby) said on 19th June 2013, 14:39

    How about Juan Pablo Montoya clocking 372.6 km/h (according to wikipedia) in free practice at Monza in 2005 or even Pizzonia’s verified 369.9 km/h in 2004 italian gp during the race? Or Barrichello’s fastest qualifying lap ever at 260.395 km/h

    Schumacher’s record of 247,515 km/h average for the 2003 italian gp?

    Monza again in 2002 and Montoya averages 262.242 km/h in a single lap in practice making it the fastest lap ever in a Formula 1 car…
    I focused on these speed records because with the direction in car/track design the sport has taken it is highly unlikely they will ever be broken. Now even if (fingers crossed) we have Monza unaltered for the years to come I am afraid that these records will remain most likely forever.

  8. Simtek (@anto) said on 19th June 2013, 14:43

    A few other unbeatable records I’ve encountered:

    – Fewest Overtaking moves: 0 (2003 Monaco and 2005 US GP)
    – Highest top speed: 372.6 km/h (Juan Pablo Montoya, 2005 Italian GP)
    – Oldest driver to enter a race: Louis Chiron (58 years, 288 days)
    – Fewest races before first win: 1 (Nino Farina, Johnnie Parsons and Giancarlo Baghetti)
    – Most front row starts in a season (percentage): Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Damon Hill in every race of 1989, 1993 and 1996 respectively.
    – Highest points percentage in a season: 100% in 1963 and 1965 for Jim Clark and 1952 for Alberto Ascari (note that this was at a time where only a certain X out of Y results counted).
    – World champion with fewest career points: Phil Hill (98)
    – Fewest points between 1st and 2nd in the championship: 0.5 between Niki Lauda and Alain Prost in 1984.
    – Fewest pole positions in a championship winning season: 0 (Denny Hulme in 1967 and Niki Lauda in 1984)
    – Fewest points scored: 0.5 (Lella Lombardi)

    • hobo (@hobo) said on 19th June 2013, 17:03

      @anto – Regarding your first stat, the Formula One Overtaking Database also lists 2009 Valencia as having had no on track overtakes.

      However, Wikipedia says about the 2005 US GP “…and the only changes in positioning came when Albers and Karthikeyen exchanged passes.” I’m not sure if one is simply incorrect or if they are using different criteria [e.g. perhaps the F1OD site requires them to pass the start/finish to be classified as having made a pass, I don't know].

    • tmekt (@tmekt) said on 19th June 2013, 18:12

      - Fewest points between 1st and 2nd in the championship: 0.5 between Niki Lauda and Alain Prost in 1984.

      It could be zero though. So that’s not “unbeatable” (don’t know if this has ever happened)

    • Scalextric (@scalextric) said on 20th June 2013, 2:43

      Good list. Giuseppe Farina beat the fourth record mentioned here as he won the first Formula One World Championship race, Silverstone 1950. That record can not be broken. (There were Formula 1 races before the World Championship started as well).

  9. Kim Philby (@philby) said on 19th June 2013, 14:45

    And from serious records the one I firmly believe will never be broken is Schumacher’s 91 victories. Yes Seb is on a roll but winning so much for so long seems impossible for the future, granted that FIA is taking steps against such domination.

  10. coefficient (@coefficient) said on 19th June 2013, 15:03

    WCC and WDC strike rate of 100%. Brawn GP

  11. David not Coulthard (@) said on 19th June 2013, 15:18

    The most wheels attached to a GP-entering car: 6 (The P34)
    Engine with the most victories: The DFV (…right?)
    The highest number of external spinning parts on an F1 car: 1 (The BT46B)
    The best-remembered straight/corner that resulted form a modification of the vanilla configuration of a track: Eau Rouge
    The season with the most cigar smokers: I don’t know, but it won’t be beaten anytime soon.
    The country from which the highest number of title contenders who died in contention for the championship were born: Germany (Rindt, von Trips)
    Longest, shortest, and most often, and seldom, seen on the calendar ovals raced by F1 cars: Monza
    Highest number of podium scoring incarnations: Tyrrell

  12. montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 19th June 2013, 15:40

    Thanks a lot for this piece Greg. Had no clue about half of them

  13. tmax (@tmax) said on 19th June 2013, 15:49

    1997 European Grand Prix was the most thrilling qualifying I have ever watched. I mean it was right on the neck. I can never forget the race too.

    Schumi Villnueve and Frentzen clocking the same exact timing.
    Schumi and Vill were heading into this last race as Championship contenders.
    Well those were the good ol days for Williams…..
    That Williams by Newey was such a fast machine Schumi did his best to match it in Qualifying but in the race he was not able to hold jacq back resulting in the the famous crash.
    That was the last F1 race at the Jerez Circuit.
    That was the First Win for McLaren Mercedes Team.
    And it was in this race McLaren famously gave the team orders asking Coulthard to move aside for Mika Hakkinen. ( yeah everybody remembers barichello Moving aside for Michael But not this one….) .
    IT was Mika hakkinens First GP win too.
    Needless to say it was Villenueve first and Last WDC win.
    And of course it was the last time Williams won the Drivers and the constructors championship !!!!!!

    @KeithCollantine – Like the 100% Podium record of 2002, this can be equaled or bettered if 4 or more cars clock the pole position timings.

    @KeithCollantine One other record which never be broken is the 1998 British GP where Schumi won from the pit lane. Now there are more rules to take care of such tactical moves I guess.

  14. Deej92 (@deej92) said on 19th June 2013, 17:12

    The 1997 European Grand Prix qualifying session would have been quite something if it was just two drivers within one thousandth of a second of each other, but then Frentzen came along to make it three. What a fantastic record, as are all the others listed here.
    I wonder if Markus Winkelhock leading the 2007 European Grand Prix in his only race is a record, or has it been done by others? That would be a difficult record to break.

  15. tmekt (@tmekt) said on 19th June 2013, 18:23

    Highest percentage of (full) laps led: Bernd Mayländer (100%)

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