Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2013

Top Ten: Track masters

Top TenPosted on | Author Greg Morland

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull, Suzuka, 2013Sebastian Vettel’s victory at Suzuka last weekend continued his sensational run in the Japanese Grand Prix. Vettel has now won on four of his five appearances at Suzuka, and is yet to finish off the podium or start from anywhere but the front row.

But Vettel is by no means the only driver to stamp his authority on a particular Grand Prix. Here are ten other drivers who have pulled something out of the bag at their favourite racetrack.

Michael Schumacher and Magny-Cours

Michael Schumacher could warrant a list of his own, so great was his supremacy of Formula 1 in his Ferrari heyday. Incredibly, he won five or more races at ten different circuits during his Grand Prix career.

He took an astonishing eight victories at Magny-Cours between 1994 and 2006. The most memorable of which was undoubtedly his 2002 triumph, snatched from Raikkonen in the final laps. That allowed Schumacher to secure his record-equalling fifth world championship victory – and win the title earlier than anyone ever has.

Kimi Raikkonen and New Spa

Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari, Spa-Francorchamps, 2007Given that-Spa Francorchamps is considered the ultimate driving challenge on the F1 calendar, it says a lot for Kimi Raikkonen’s talent that he has enjoyed such success in the Belgian Grand Prix.

Between 2004 and 2009 he took four victories in five races at Spa. Another victory looked possible in 2008 until he crashed out of a battle for the lead on the penultimate lap in slippery conditions.

Were it not for Raikkonen?óÔé¼Ôäós sabbatical in 2010 and 2011, and had the Belgian Grand Prix not been left off the calendar in 2003 and 2006, he might well have chalked up even more victories in the Ardennes.

Jim Clark and Old Spa

Long before Raikkonen was even born, another quiet man with an extraordinary talent was bossing a very different Spa. Jim Clark took four consecutive victories on the original 14 kilometre track, a terrifyingly quick and perilous blast through the Belgian countryside.

No one could touch Clark at Spa from 1962 to 1965. His 1963 victory was one of the greatest examples of his driving genius. On a typically rainy Spa day, Clark flew from eighth on the grid into a five-minute lead, lapping all but one of his competitors on his way to the chequered flag.

Yet he held no affection for the circuit, which had claimed the lives of fellow British racers Chris Bristow and Alan Stacey in a pair of appalling crashes at the 1960 race.

Jacky Ickx and the Nurburgring Nordschleife

Jacky Ickx’s astonishing grand prix debut at the Nordschleife in 1967 marked him out as a star of a the future. Driving an F2 car, Ickx set the third-fastest time in qualifying, beaten only by Denny Hulme and Jim Clark’s F1 cars.

Under the rules of the time he had to start at the back with the other F2 cars but in the race quickly made his way up to fifth before retiring.

He went on to take two wins at the track despite not always enjoying the best machinery, and took four poles in five years.

Lewis Hamilton and the Hungaroring

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2013Lewis Hamilton?óÔé¼Ôäós first victory for Mercedes at the Hungarian Grand Prix earlier this year was his fourth at the Hungaroring, making him the joint most successful driver at the Budapest circuit along with Schumacher.

In fact, in the seven races Hamilton has started in Hungary, only once was he not in contention for victory. A puncture meant he was unable to capitalise on Felipe Massa’s late retirement from the lead in 2008, while he was the architect of his downfall three years later, throwing away a likely win thanks to a run in with Paul di Resta and a poor tyre choice during a mid-race rain shower.

Hamilton also has an impressive record in Canada. He has won on three of his six visits to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – including his first ever Grand Prix victory – and started from pole on four occasions.

Alain Prost and Jacarepagua

There were few complaints when the Brazilian Grand Prix was moved from the dull Jacerapagua circuit in Rio de Janeiro back to Sao Paulo?óÔé¼Ôäós Interlagos in 1990, but Alain Prost can be forgiven for being disappointed with the switch.

The four-times had a superb record at Jacerapagua, winning half of the ten F1 races held on the circuit from 1982 to 1989. However the first of these was deeply controversial: Prost finished third on the road but was handed the win when Nelson Piquet and Keke Rosberg were disqualified for being underweight.

The Jacerapagua circuit has since been consigned to the history books, as it was recently demolished to make way for a training ground to be used by athletes during the 2016 Olympic Games.

Mika Hakkinen and the Circuit de Catalunya

The Circuit de Catalunya is an ‘aero’ circuit and with Adrian Newey’s McLarens at his disposal Mika Hakkinen took three wins on the trot – and narrowly missed out on a fourth.

Leading comfortably at the end of the 2001 race Hakkinen’s McLaren suffered a disastrous last-lap clutch failure.

With his victory in the 1997 European Grand Prix at Jerez also on his record, Hakkinen was more successful in Spain than any other country during his F1 career. Curiously, since he left the team McLaren have only won one of the subsequent 17 races held in Spain.

Nigel Mansell and Silverstone

Nigel Mansell, Williams, Silverstone, 1987Nigel Mansell famously claimed that the support of the British fans shaved seconds off his lap time around Silverstone.

Given his record on home ground we should not be too quick to doubt him. After a debut Grand Prix victory at Brand Hatch in 1985, Mansell went on to take four victories for Williams at Silverstone between 1986 and 1992.

The most memorable triumph was his 1987 victory, in which he reeled in team mate Piquet and, ignoring the warnings from his fuel gauge, dived past his team mate to win. He ran out of fuel after crossing the finishing line, and was mobbed by delirious fans.

Nelson Piquet and Monza

Surely the most overlooked driver to have won three world championships, Nelson Piquet was a top-drawer talent who won races and championships against the likes of Prost, Senna and Mansell.

Piquet revelled in power tracks and Monza was suited him to a tee. His record at the Italian Grand Prix was excellent: he won four races at Monza during the eighties while at Brabbham and Williams.

In 1987, en route to his third title, he scored an especially sweet victory, putting one over rival Brazilian star Senna, inheriting victory when the Lotus driver skidded off at the Parabolica late in the race.

Ayrton Senna and Monaco

Ayrton Senna, Toleman TG184, Monaco, 1984No circuit is more synonymous with the Ayrton Senna legend than Monaco. From his famous charge through the field in a Toleman in 1984 to holding off a race long challenge by Mansell in his dominant Williams in 1992, many of the great Senna memories were forged on the streets of the principality.

The Brazilian star topped the Monaco podium six times between 1987 and 1993, his success only interrupted when he crashed out of a 50-second lead in 1988. Senna put that unhappy memory to bed with a run of five consecutive wins on the street circuit, and we?óÔé¼Ôäóll never know how long that record might have stretched if it were not for his tragic death at Imola in 1994.

Of course before Senna came along Graham Hill was ‘Mr Monaco’. Five victories on the harbour-side circuit between 1963 and 1969 accounted for more than a third of his career total of 14 race wins.

Over to you

Which other drivers do you consider masters of a particular track – in F1 and other motor sports? Have your say in the comments.

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  • 106 comments on “Top Ten: Track masters”

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    1. Lewis Hamilton @ Montreal?
      Damon Hill @ Hungaroring?
      Felipe Massa @ Turkey?

      1. Damon Hill @ Hungaroring?
        Great shout! He was always incredible in Hungary.

      2. Hamilton at Montreal is mentioned @andrewt:

        Hamilton also has an impressive record in Canada. He has won on three of his six visits to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – including his first ever Grand Prix victory – and started from pole on four occasions.

        Agreed on the good shout with Hill!

        1. @andrewt @vettel1
          I am a die hard Lewis fan, but I don’t think he should be mentioned as a master of that track. Although, I agree that Lewis is very strong at that track. It’s an aggressive drivers track like Hungary.
          How about Michael Schumacher for Montreal instead? haha. 7 time winner there.

          1. @krichelle And Schumacher’s best post-comeback performance came at Montreal as well, in 2011.

            1. Don’t know about that for sure.. Spa in 2011 was pretty good as well.

          2. @krichelle it’s not one of the top ten, absolutely (which is why it only gets a secondary mention) but it’s still worth a mention I would say.

        2. So glad you guys mentioned Damon, he was always quick at the Hungaroring.

      3. Oli Littlejohn
        17th October 2013, 19:08

        Glock @ Singapore…?

    2. The one I will always remember is Senna at Monaco: some of his qualifying laps there were absolutely mesmerising, in particular the 1988 race where he out qualified Prost by that staggering margin of 1.4 seconds!

    3. Sebastian Vettel at Monza. His first win there was in a Toro Rosso.

      1. Only has 2 wins. So no.

        1. Gilles De Wilde
          17th October 2013, 9:34

          *3 wins: 2008,2011,2013

        2. @jakehardyf1 – I know it’s been pointed out, but just to make sure you see it, SV clearly has three wins at Monza.

      2. Two in a Red Bull, which isn’t generally massively competitive on high speed tracks.

        1. Marciare_o_Marcire
          17th October 2013, 17:47

          Well, in 2011 the Red Bull had a farting diffuser which allowed it to romp through Ascari much faster than anyone else and get on the throttle much earlier than anyone else. Then, in 2013, the Red Bull had… a farting diffuser which allowed it to romp through Ascari much faster than anyone else and get on the throttle much earlier than anyone else.
          Short gear ratios also helped on both occasions.
          Therefore, contrary to popular belief, the Red Bull was extremely competitive on high-speed tracks in 2011 and 2013. So Vettel’s victories in Monza are not down to him as a driver, so he’s not a Monza “track-master”. The farting diffuser is a Monza track master.

          1. @marciare-o-marcire

            Vettel’s victories in Monza are not down to him as a driver, so he’s not a Monza "track-master”. The farting diffuser is a Monza track master.

            Your attempts to be taken seriously really take a serious blow when you use terms like “farting diffuser”.

            Vettel has three Monza wins, a spectacular one in the wet in a Toro Rosso (where he created history, taking team Faenza’s only ever win, podium, pole and front row start, as well as the youngest ever racewinner, podium scorer and polesitter), another great one in 2011 (when every team was running exhaust blown diffusers, Mclaren were at least on par with Red Bull, and Vettel pulled a stunning pass on Alonso for the lead), and a third in 2013, nursing a gearbox issue.

            While Vettel does have better tracks, like Suzuka, Sepang, Buddh, Marina Bay or Yeongam, it is not unreasonable for him to be described as a Monza track master.

            1. Marciare_o_Marcire
              18th October 2013, 8:45

              I’m more aware of the technical details of the exhaust blown diffuser than most people on this blog, so it’s not like I’m calling it a farting diffuser because I don’t know how it works and it sounds like farts. I call it that way in a derogatory manner because I don’t like it, because it contributed, for example, to people attributing Vettel’s wins in Monza and many other tracks to his skill, instead of the skill of the designers at Red Bull.
              And Vettel’s “stunning” move on Alonso wasn’t stunning at all when you consider how much more the Red Bull was farting compared to the Ferrari, and how much faster it exited the first chicane. I was at the Monza GP in 2011 and it was almost unbearable to listen to the Red Bulls farting their way around the track. The only stunning part was Alonso’s ability to lead for the first few laps in an inferior car.

            2. Oh please. You claim to know how the off-throttle EBD works, yet you are blissfully unaware that it’s main benefits come on aero dependant circuits, of which Monza certainly isn’t. It works by sealing the diffuser, preventing tyre squirt from impeding on the airflow underneath the car and creating a barrier so the airflow doesn’t “leak” from the underside of the car.

              What that means is it is most effective when travelling at speed, with the off-throttle part helping mainly in braking phases. In Monza, there are only two corners where the effect is most effective: Parabolica and Ascari, to a lesser extent the Lesmo’s. So the potential benefit is much less than at an aero-dependant track, such as Catalunya (where Red Bull held the biggest advantage in qualifying).

              The 2011 Red Bull however did in fairness have great traction, which is obviously a help at Monza. But by no means is it a track which suits Red Bull’s strengths.

            3. @marciare-o-marcire – I see nothing in your comments that suggests you know more than most about “EBD”s than most people on this blog.

              In fact, all I see is someone eager to give other drivers (in this case, Alonso) credit for where he pits a car, while trying to attribute someone else’s (Vettel’s) results to the car. Monza, as Max pointed out is one of the tracks where those diffusers are least effective. And Vettel’s pass on Alonso was voted as one of the best in 2011, so your attempt to downplay it just collapses, like the rest of your comment. Facts are, Vettel has a pretty good record around Monza, and only a small handful of drivers have won there more than 3 times.

    4. Also Senna @ Spa with 5 victories, 4 in a row

    5. maybe not an obvious one, but:

      Fernando Alonso @ Sepang?
      first pole there, first podium there, wins with three different constructors, etc

      1. Sebastian Vettel @ Sepang : 4 victories with 2 different teams

    6. JayfreeseKnight
      16th October 2013, 19:45

      Sebastian Vettel and …?

      1. @jeff1s statistically, India is his best track. He has lead every racing lap there, pole both times and a Grand Chelem in 2011: he was only denied fastest lap in 2012. Although it’s not been run enough times to say it’s his best track I would say, so stick with Suzuka ;)

      2. Apart from his great record at Suzuka, Vettel has led all but 12 laps at Yeongam. In 2010 he had led for 40 laps when his car’s engine failed. He won the next 3 races with ease.

        So, Vettel is a master of Suzuka and Yeongam. If he wins at Buddh this year, that can be added to the list.

        1. I was going to say that, but he has also lost out on a couple of poles @loup-garou ;)

      3. Sebastian Vettel and Hermann Tilke

        1. Gilles De Wilde
          17th October 2013, 9:36

          +1, the German conspiracy :-D

          1. Germann Tilke

    7. Vettel has now won on four of his five appearances at Suzuka, and is yet to finish off the podium or start from anywhere but pole position.

      He qualified 9th in 2008 and 2nd last weekend.

      1. Also finished 6th in the race in 2008.

      2. 2008 wasn’t in one of his last 5 appearances…

        1. It doesn’t say last 5 though.

          1. @cyclonetog apart from the fact it was at Fuji in 2008, his 5 appearances were 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

      3. Was it not Fuji then?

        1. Yes, well spotted.
          I’ll run and hide!

      4. The 2008 Japanese Grand Prix didn’t take place at Suzuka, so the article is correct on that!
        However, it says he’s started from Pole every time, which isn’t correct, he was second this year :p

    8. and is yet to finish off the podium or start from anywhere but pole position.

      I’m guessing this should say the front row?

      1. See my comment above, Though I think the text should read:-
        “four of his five appearances for RedBull at Suzuka”

        1. ALL Vettel’s appearances at Suzuka have been with a Red Bull. The 2008 race was at Fuji.

    9. Schumacher at Canada can be put here. He won 7 times there.

    10. Sebastian Vettel @ the whole continent of Asia.

      1. @davef1, almost…and he has some good options for the future
        Suzuka [4 times]
        Malaysia, Monza, Singapore, Korea [3 times each]
        Abu Dhabi, Valencia, Spa, India, Bahrain [2 times each]

        Total different tracks Vettel have won [19]

        1. is there an event left he hasn’t won other than the USGP at Indy or Austin? 1st race and points at Indy in 2007 with BMW which is a significant enough achievement, then Hamilton won last year.

          1. @lancer033 Hungary would be the most obvious one. Hockenheim, I might add.

          2. Austin, Hungary, Indianapolis and Magny-Cours

    11. Going for dominant drivers with dominant cars is somethimes to easy. It’s when others preform better than usual, with a lesser cars you can truly see a “trackmaster”
      DC was always very good at Canada, could have won it 3 times, but never did due to bad luck.
      Webber is also very good at Monaco, 2 wins and a few not so rewarding rides, but non the less great great races over there aswell.
      Massa at Brazil, 2 wins and gave one away to help Kimi.

      1. Vettel at Monza!

        1. And Valencia (caught a lot of people’s attention in 2008)/Singapore (never outside top 5) for that matter.

          1. @david-a I think Alonso’s been really good at Singapore too

            1. @vettel1 eh, he only won in “2008” and 2010.

            2. @celeste 2008 is clouded, absolutely. But he scored his only podium of the year in 2009 there, ahead of Vettel, a decent enough performance in 2011 (although nothing spectacular) and two good podiums in 2012 and 2013 when there were better cars that could have taken them.

              It’s fair to say he’s pretty handy around Singapore ;)

            3. @vettel1 As for 2009, Vettel missed a surefire podium finish due to a drive through penalty for speeding in the pitlane, which was a rather unfair one. He was fighting for the lead before that.

              Post-race analysis of Vettel’s car by Red Bull Racing showed that his car had never actually exceeded doing 100 km/h limit in the pits. However, because Vettel had taken a slightly shorter route when he cut across the entry to the pits, the official measurements calculated that his car had travelled in excess of the speed limit between the entry and the exit.

              That said, I agree that Alonso has been good at Singapore circuit.

      2. @bobskink your comment on drivers in lesser cars is a good one. However backing that up with a list which includes Coulthard, Webber and Massa really doesn’t work – you’ve picked three drivers who were unable to excel despite top machinery.

      3. Well said. There is no denying e.g. Schumacher’s talent, but I guess a lot of his GP wins were also due to his car’s overall dominance, rather than a personal knack for a particular track. So it is only fair to highlight some of the drivers further down the grid who have proven their “knack for track” in lesser machinery.
        One example that springs to mind is Jean Alesi, who was no slouch in Monaco or Monza. (Admittedly, I was a huge fan of his, so this could be a case of rose-tinted glasses.)

        1. “knack for a track” (typing while still thinking … a dangerous combination)

    12. JamieFranklinF1
      16th October 2013, 20:27

      I’d go with Jenson Button at Melbourne, I think only Schumacher has more victories there. 3 wins there in the last five years and a few poles and front row starts there.

      1. Was gonna say this one @JamieFranklinF1 !

    13. Aren’t we forgetting Mr Monaco himself.. Graham Hill?

      1. @cduk_mugello

        Of course before Senna came along Graham Hill was ‘Mr Monaco’. Five victories on the harbour-side circuit between 1963 and 1969 accounted for more than a third of his career total of 14 race wins.

        1. @david-a I actually have no idea how I missed that!

    14. Fisichella did pretty well at Montreal back in the day. 1998 and 1999 he finished 2nd and 2000 he finished 3rd by perfectly timing the switch to wets. All of this was done in the Benetton Playlife, which was a pretty average car. He came 5th in his crummy 2002 Jordan and 4th in his Sauber in 2004. But when he raced there with Renault in 2005-07, he was nowhere! I think he came 4th in one of those years, but no higher.

      1. I also used to remember Fisi doing well at Spa too. Second position in 1997, in contention for the win before hitting a backmarker in 1998 (carbon copy of Schumacher’s crash), his and Benetton’s only podium of 2001, 5th in the Sauber in 2004, and of course, pole and 2nd for Force India in 2009.

    15. Top Ten??? Very surprised the one driver who has the biggest numbers was left out???

      M. Schumacher
      8 – San Marino
      7 – Canada
      7 – Japan

      1. Apologies, it’s actually
        8 – France
        7 – Canada
        7 – San Marino
        6 – Japan

    16. clearly the street circuit master senna, 6 wins at monaco, and also the detroit circuit was his own backyard :P

    17. safeeuropeanhome
      16th October 2013, 21:03

      Timo Glock was pretty amazing around Singapore.

    18. I was always fascinated by Schumacher dominance at Indianapolis. He won in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005 (we dont know what would happen if all drivers were competing, but still…) and 2006. So it is 5 wins out of 7 GPs held. He only finished second in 2002 (should have been 1st) and in 2001 (if I remember correctly Mikas last F1 win).

    19. People may have such short-term memory here, but I remember a similar article being written by Keith during last year, it’s even bookmarked on my desktop:

      I would argue Alonso at Singapore: even though he was gifted the 2008 win, his second was more impressive and on merit in terms of pace and strategy, it was also where he got his sole podium in 2009 in a sub-par Renault and has a persistent habit of getting himself on the podium since, with the exception of 2011.

    20. Massa in Turkey, unbeatable in those three golden years of his career. Button at Melbourne, he’s always quick around Suzuka also.

      I know Di Resta crashed at Singapore this year, but there’s no doubt he’s quick around it, 6th in 2011, 4th in 2012 and would have finished 6th again if not for the crash! Hulkenberg has a knack for Korea, consistently fast every time he’s been there.

      1. @jmc200 Hulkenberg runs well in Brazil too.

        1. @kingshark
          Indeed. I can’t be the only one who’s noticed just how consistently fast Hulkenberg is around Interlagos, especially in changing conditions. I thought his pole in 2010 was a fluke, but when Nico was once again easily the fastest in the changing conditions at Interlagos last year, with a different car, different tyres, and different regulations; one can figure out that the 2010 pole wasn’t a fluke.

          1. Why did I link myself? I meant @david-a, obviously.

            1. @kingshark just giving yourself the false sense of popularity: “someone mentioned me!”? :P

        2. Interestingly it seems like both Hulkenberg and Massa like anti-clock wise circuits.
          Massa Turkey, Brazil, he isn’t bad in Korea.
          Hulkenberg Korean, Brazil

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