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. Mike the bike Schumacher (@mike-the-bike-schumacher) said on 19th June 2013, 18:28

    Most modern Grand Prix are close contests. With tight restrictions on car design ensuring the field remains relatively evenly matched

    This made me think, people often talk about how the cars make a bigger difference than the drivers, but when you think about how rules nowadays making cars more evenly matched, are we now at a stage where drivers make a bigger difference than before?

  2. slowhand (@slowhand) said on 19th June 2013, 18:28

    No one will ever again build world championship wining cars in woodshed as did Ken Tyrrell

  3. Chris H (@wolfie9985) said on 19th June 2013, 19:04

    The longest track ever used in F1: Pescara, at 25km (2km longer than Nurburgring).

    Not only that, in the 1957 race, Jack Brabham only finished it because he stopped in a petrol station on the long straight to get more fuel!

  4. morleyfanatic (@morleyfanatic) said on 19th June 2013, 19:57

    Jack Brabham one GP’s over 3 decades (50’s, 60’s & 70’s) has any other driver done this?

    • Mike Dee (@mike-dee) said on 19th June 2013, 21:30

      @morleyfanatic
      Jack Brabham was indeed the only one. You need wins at least 11 years apart – otherwise you can’t span three decades. And that’s exactly the time period Brabham’s wins spanned.

      The only others that had wins spanning at least such a time frame were Schumacher (14 years), Prost (12 years), Lauda, Piquet, Berger (11 years).

      I guess Schumacher came very close – had he not had the penalty from the previous race at Monaco 2012, he would have been a good bet for the win. That would have meant a span of 20 years between wins.

      Of the current drivers, who have won in the 2000s and 2010s, Vettel has the best chance to do it as well as he will only be 32 years old in 2020. Hamilton will be 35, so has a good chance as well. Much less likely will be Alonso (38 years), Räikkönen (40 years), Button (40 years), and all but impossible will be Webber who will be 43 years old in 2020.

  5. Levert (@regor1) said on 19th June 2013, 21:18

    Least wheels to finish a race on….chris fittipaldi at Monza ’93? A feat not accomplished by der schumi…it was to much for him and whent on to blame DC

  6. Stats man said on 19th June 2013, 21:23

    Highest win percentage: Lee Wallard
    Started 2 races, won 1. Not likely to be equalled nor beaten

  7. Japhew Ryder (@japhew-ryder) said on 20th June 2013, 7:44

    About Jerez ’97 qualifyng. It’s actually well-known that result happened due to a temporary laptime keeping problem

  8. BasCB (@bascb) said on 20th June 2013, 7:55

    Another lovely top ten @greg-moreland! Keep them coming

  9. Gubstar said on 20th June 2013, 9:01

    I honestly cannot see Ayrton’s 6 wins at Monaco being beaten

  10. Alex Brown (@splittimes) said on 20th June 2013, 10:30

    Don’t know of any other stats to compare it with, but David Purley survived an accident of 179.8g at Silverstone in pre-qualifying. That sounds fairly unbeatable to me.

  11. The Abbinator (@abbinator) said on 20th June 2013, 20:20

    Career win percentage with at least one season’s experience:
    Fangio : 51 starts, 24 wins
    Clark : 72 starts, 21 wins
    Moss (all Formulae classes) : 529 starts, 212 wins

    The greatest…

  12. Minardi (@gitanes) said on 21st June 2013, 0:54

    Really great article.

    If I had to pick perhpas the most “impressive” record in F1 today, it would be Ferrari’s 53 consecutive podiums in 1999-2003. Really this could stand for another 50 years – but it also could be broken in 5 – who knows? But considering that the cars weren’t bullet-proof back then and there was plenty of competition from McLaren and Williams, this one sticks in my mind.

  13. birandkoray (@birandkoray) said on 21st June 2013, 6:37

    HIGHEST PERCENTAGE OF WINNING FOR A CAR: Brabham BT46(1 out of 1)
    In Fuji 2007, Hamilton and Kovalainen finished 1-2 as the rookies of the year that is unlikely to happen again in the future.

  14. Nick Young said on 21st June 2013, 13:15

    Loving the debate that this excellent post has created.

    For my money, here are four records that will never be beaten:

    Markus Winklehock starting from both last and first on the grid in the same race (also his only race).

    Less than a second separating the top five cars (Monza ’71).

    The Brabham BT46B ‘fan car’ winning 100% of the races it competed in.

    The Tyrrell P34 becoming the car with the most wheels (six) to win a Grand Prix.

    Also, I don’t think anyone is ever going to equal Graham Hill’s achievement of winning all three legs of the Triple Crown of Motorsport.

  15. Kristjan Birnir said on 24th October 2013, 11:46

    Juan Manuel Fangio has number of records that never will be matched
    Oldest Champion at 46
    Most World Championship with different constructor: 4 Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari, Mercedes
    Highest % of number wins of races entered. 47% goes up to 49% if season 1958, is removed as he didn’t complete that season.

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