• Ask Steven

Winning starts

Steven Lynch March 15, 2013
Juan Manuel Fangio won at the opening round of all his successful title years © Getty Images

Just ahead of the Australian GP, how much of an omen is it to win the first race of the season? Does the winner usually win the title in the end? asked Paul Clarke

The answer is it is as close as it could be to a 50/50 shot - there have now been 63 official world championships since 1950, and the title has been won by the man who won the first race on 32 occasions, and 31 times by someone who didn't start with a win. In the early years when there weren't many races each year it was obviously an advantage to win the first one: Juan Manuel Fangio started each of his five title-winning years by taking the first race (one of them a shared drive), and overall in the 1950s only Piero Taruffi (1952) and Stirling Moss (1958) won the first race but didn't go on to win the title. The boot was on the other foot in the 1970s: only Mario Andretti (1978) won the championship after taking the chequered flag in the season opener. In 1979 Jacques Laffite won the first two races of the year, but ended up fourth in the standings. And in 1982, the eventual champion Keke Rosberg didn't win until the 14th race of the season!

I've got fingers firmly crossed for Jenson Button in Melbourne - and I know he's won three of the last four races there. Has anyone won more often Down Under? asked Jennifer Holmes

The only man to win the Australian GP more often than Jenson Button - who has won in 2009, 2010 and 2012 - is the almost-inevitable Michael Schumacher: he won in Melbourne four times (2000-02 and 2004). Five others have won the Australian GP twice since it became a world championship event in 1985: Alain Prost (1986, 88), Gerhard Berger (1987, 92), Ayrton Senna (1991, 93), Damon Hill (1995, 96) and David Coulthard (1997, 2003). Prost also won the race before it was part of the championship, in 1982. Hill's two wins were, unusually, in successive races: the last race of the 1995 season at Adelaide, and the first one of 1996, after the race moved to Albert Park in Melbourne.

I noticed there were no Italian drivers on the F1 grid last season. When did that last happen? asked Martin Thompson

Caterham's late decision to replace Jarno Trulli last year did indeed mean there were no Italian drivers on the grid in 2012, a situation that will continue in 2013 unless there are any changes to the current line-ups. It is a sad situation for a country that provided the first and third F1 world champions, Nino Farina (1950) and Alberto Ascari (1952-53). The last time before 2012 that there was no Italian on the grid was the German GP in August 1973 - Arturo Merzario, who raced for Ferrari in the last four races of that season (and some earlier ones) missed that race. Two other Italians - Andrea de Adamich and Nanni Galli - also drove in some GPs that year, but there were three in all with no Italian presence.

All of Eddie Irvine's wins came in 1999 © Sutton Images

Eddie Irvine won four GPs, all of them in 1999. Has anyone won more than that in one season but never won again? asked George Robinson

The colourful Ulsterman Eddie Irvine won four GPs in 1999, the year he finished second in the championship, just behind Mika Hakkinen. Irvine was carrying Ferrari's hopes that year after Michael Schumacher broke his leg in a mid-season crash at Silverstone. No-one beats Irvine's record of four career wins all in the same year: the next-best is two, by Wolfgang von Trips in 1961 and Peter Revson in 1973. Jochen Rindt won six GPs in all, one towards the end of 1969 and five in his title-winning year of 1970.

We were just asked in a quiz the name of the man who scored no points at all the year his team-mate was world champion. What's the answer? asked Chris Wigmore

I hung on to this one for a couple of weeks, to try to make sure I'm not ruining anyone's quiz! This peculiar situation arose in 1972, when Emerson Fittipaldi became the youngest world champion at the time, aged 25. Driving a Lotus, Fittipaldi finished with 61 points - but the Australian Dave Walker, his team-mate for ten of that year's 12 races, failed to trouble the scorers. Walker's best finish was ninth in the Spanish GP, one of the five races Fittipaldi won that year, although Walker was unlucky as he ran out of fuel while in contention for that elusive point (only awarded to the top six finishers at the time). He did miss two GPs towards the end of the season, but his replacement Reine Wisell didn't score any points either. Not surprisingly, Walker was not retained for 1973: he blamed his poor season on the team concentrating on Fittipaldi, while Lotus felt Walker was less fit than he might have been. "We had to lift him out of the car after the race," said one of his mechanics. "He never got himself fighting fit, he was overweight - he didn't help himself at all."

Kimi Raikkonen only had 23 race drives before his first Grand Prix. Is this a record? asked Julian Lewis

I'm not sure how to check this one - my feeling is that it must be a record in recent years but that someone in the 1950s might have sneaked onto a Grand Prix grid with fewer races under his belt. Kimi Raikkonen's rise was indeed remarkable: it seems to be true that he had had only 23 starts in a racing car before his GP debut for Sauber in 2001. There were worries at the time that someone so inexperienced could be given a F1 Super Licence - but Raikkonen had won 13 of those races, in Formula Renault, and most of the critics shut up after he scored a point for sixth place in his first GP, in Australia. It should be stressed that Raikkonen did have a lot of experience in kart racing, starting in Finland when he was just ten.