Top Ten: Track masters

Top Ten

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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102 comments on Top Ten: Track masters

  1. Alex Brown said on 17th October 2013, 8:33

    Schumacher (again) took seven wins at Imola from ’94 to ’06. His brother won in ’01, so eight Imola victories to the Schumacher family.

    I also want to say Eddie Irvine at Suzuka, famously un-lapping himself against Senna, but no wins and a glance through the stats undoes that theory…

  2. Julien said on 17th October 2013, 9:33

    Well for the drivers in the midfied I can remember 2 good examples.

    Mika Salo @ Monaco.
    1996 5th (had to be 4th if Irvine didn’t spin right in front of him)
    1997 5th in the dreadfull Tyrell
    1998 4th in an Arrows
    2000 5th in a Sauber

    Jos Verstappen @ Canada
    1996 qualified 13th in a Footwork, more than two seconds faster than team mate Riccardo Rosset
    1997 best qualifing of the year 14th in the underpowered Tyrell, drove most of the race in 6th place, and he retired when he drove in 7th place
    2000 drove an exellent race in the rain to finish 5th in an Arrows
    2001 was driving in 6th place when his brakes failed just 3 laps from the finish
    2003 qualified 15th in a Minardi! Finished just outside of the points in 9th

  3. Kimi and countries where getting drunk is illegal. :)

  4. montreal95 said on 17th October 2013, 10:43

    First of all, Greg great list, as usual!

    Now 3 minor points I’d lile to point out that aren’t precisely correct:

    1) As was mentioned by others, Vettel didn’t start all his races at Suzuka from pole, but from the front row

    2) It is wrong that “few complained about losing Jacarepagua”. It might have been considered dull by some but rated very highly by others(the only common complaint about it was about the lack of undulation). In fact it was the return to Interlagos that was more complained against, as it was considered that the previous great version of it has been butchered and “mickey-moused”

    3) At Monaco 1992 Senna didn’t keep Mansell behind in a “race-long” duel. In fact Mansell was comfortably in the lead until he suffered a puncture, few laps from the end

    For track specialist I would like to nominate Gerhard Berger at Hockenheim

    Berger at Hockenheim: on his first visit to Hockenheim in 1986 qualified a sensational 4th in the Benetton in front of both the Williams Hondas and scored the fastest lap. in 1988 was best of the rest behind the dominant Mclarens, starting and finishing 3rd and outqualifying Alboreto by a full second. Was on course for a podium again in 1989 only to suffer a spectacular tire explosion. Was the closest to team-mate Senna qualy pace all year in the 1990 race losing by a mere 0.23 seconds on a 7km track. Finished another 3rd in the race despite having gearbox trouble. In the 1991 qualy he was just 0.12 behind Senna, and finished 4th despite losing 30 seconds in a bad pitstop. Although the 1993 race yielded only 6th place, this was one of only 3 occasions during 1993 when Berger out-qualified teammate Alesi. in 1994 Berger won the race from pole with a dominant performance. In 1995 he finished 3rd despite dropping to 14th after a 10 second stop-and-go for jumping the start. In 1996 only a late race engine failure robbed him of a win in a Benetton that wasn’t on the same level as the dominant Williams. Yet in his hands, at Hockenheim it was suddenly dominant. in the 1997 Benetton which was only competitive on low-downforce tracks he was unbeatable, scoring his 10th and last F1 win shortly prior to announcing his retirement at the end of the season, and after missing 3 races due to back surgery. Finally, in the 77 races and 5 seasons Berger was team-mate to Jean Alesi he was outqualified by the score of 45-32. Of the 32 qualis he won 5 were at Hockenheim, so 5 out of 5 and it’s the only track where he out-qualified Alesi every single time they were team-mates

  5. Marco Freire said on 17th October 2013, 16:23

    Fangio and Reims, Stewart and the Nurburgring- Stewart won there one more time than Ickx did in F1. Fangio and Buenos Aires, Prost and Silverstone, Lauda and Brands Hatch, Prost and Paul Ricard, and in pre war, Carraciola and the Nurburgring.

    • Erik Kennedy said on 21st October 2013, 22:37

      Lauda’s record at Brands Hatch: four wins, a second, a fifth, and a ninth.

      Lauda’s record at Silverstone: a second, a sixth, an eighth, a twelfth, and two retirements.

  6. AdrianS said on 17th October 2013, 17:15

    I think the real master of all tracks is Adrian Newey.

  7. Matt_D said on 18th October 2013, 14:52

    You mention Vettel’s dominance at Suzuka but fail to mention Korea. The only laps of an F1 race ever contested at Yeongam that Vettel has not led were those occuring after his engine let go in 2010.

  8. Tinakori Road said on 18th October 2013, 16:47

    I would offer up Graham McRae as track master of Levin Motor Racing Circuit and Wigram Airfield Circuit both in New Zealand and also Sandown Park, Australia, winning those three races in 1971, 1972, and 1973 on his way to winning the Tasman Championship in all three of those years. Graham also won at Sandown Park in the 1978 Australian Grand Prix (before it was part of the FIA Formula One World Championship) on his way to winning the Australian Drivers’ Championship that year. In 1972 he was commuting back and forth between the European F5000, which he nearly won, and the US F5000 Championship, which he did win. He was also won the Indianapolis Rookie of the year award in 1973.

  9. ivancapelli said on 19th October 2013, 14:56

    Alonso – hockenheim, sepang…

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