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A Prince, the Swiss and Kate's dirty sister

Steven Lynch April 16, 2010

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Felipe Massa is leading the championship after three rounds despite not winning a race © Sutton Images

We've had three Grands Prix so far this year - and three different winners. And what's more a fourth driver (Felipe Massa) is leading the championship. Surely this can't have happened before? asked Jim Marsden from Aberdeen

The first three races of the season being won by different drivers is fairly common - it's happened 23 times now (plus four more years in the early 1950s when one of the races was the Indianapolis 500), and in 1983 the first five GPs were won by different people. The last time three different drivers won the first three races was in 2008, when Lewis Hamilton won in Australia, Kimi Raikkonen in Malaysia, and Massa in Bahrain. However, I was reasonably sure that the second part of your question could never have happened before ... until I checked up on 1974. That year the first four races were won by different drivers - Denny Hulme, Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Reutemann and Niki Lauda - and yet the points leader after three and four rounds was another driver altogether, Clay Regazzoni. It almost happened in 2007 as well - Kimi Raikkonen won in Australia, Fernando Alonso in Malaysia and Felipe Massa in Bahrain - but after three GPs the championship was a three-way tie between Alonso, Raikkonen and a promising newcomer who had finished third, second and second in the races concerned, Hamilton.

Last year Sebastian Vettel named his cars "Kate" and "Kate's Dirty Sister". Has he named his car for this year? asked Leif Erikson from Australia

Sebastian Vettel did indeed do very well last year, especially after crashing "Kate" at Melbourne and replacing her with "Kate's Dirty Sister", in which he won four races. This year he has a new car, the Red Bull Renault RB6, and the name he has chosen this time is "Luscious Liz". He said at the start of the season: "There's no real explanation behind it, we all sort of like the name. I hope she won't need a sister - I hope to tell you after a couple of races." And, after a couple of near-misses in Bahrain and Australia, Luscious Liz did Vettel proud in Malaysia.

Prince Bira driving an ERA in 1930 © Getty Images

I have seen a few mentions of a Siamese prince who drove in several F1 races. Can you tell us more about him? asked James McFarland from Essex

This was the romantic figure of Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh of Siam - his grandfather was King Mongkut, who was immortalised in the play and film The King and I - who was known in his racing days as "B. Bira". He caught the racing bug while being educated in England, at Eton and Oxford, and his best results came before the F1 world championship was formalised: in 1936 he won four races in an ERA - called "Romulus" and painted in what became the Thai racing colours of pale blue and yellow - and also that year finished third at Brooklands in a Maserati. Bira did take part in 19 world championship GPs between 1950 and 1954, his best results being two fourth places, at the Swiss GP in 1950 and the French one in 1954. He did win a couple of non-championship F1 races around this time. Born in 1914, he retired suddenly in 1955, and lived on till 1985.

Why was Fernando Alonso classified as 13th (ahead of a few others) in the Malaysian GP even though he had stopped running? Surely he should be classified behind the cars that actually finished? asked "Curious F1 Fanatic" from India

This does happen sometimes, and it is because the race is effectively over once the winner (and the people on the same lap as him) crosses the line - people who have been lapped do not continue to complete the full race distance. The unlucky Fernando Alonso had completed 54 of the Malaysian GP's 56 laps before his engine gave out, so anyone who completed more laps than that finished ahead of him, but some - Lucas di Grassi and Karun Chandhok (53 laps), Bruno Senna (52) and Jarno Trulli (51) - completed less race distance so officially finished behind him. A driver has to complete more than 90% of the race distance to be classified, which is why Heiki Kovalainen, who completed only 46 laps (about 82%) wasn't classified as a finisher in the official results.

You recently mentioned a Grand Prix in Switzerland in 1954. I was under the impression the outlawing of motor racing there dated back further. Could you please tell me more on the history of the Swiss Grand Prix races and where they were held? asked Miguel from Switzerland

The Swiss Grand Prix was originally raced at the Bremgarten circuit, not far from Berne. The first race was in 1934, and it continued annually (apart from the war years, 1940-46), becoming part of the world championship when that was set up in 1950. Bremgarten staged five world championship Grands Prix, which were won by Nino Farina (1950), Juan Manuel Fangio (1951 and 1954), Piero Taruffi (1952) and Alberto Ascari (1953). But motor racing in Switzerland was banned in the aftermath of the awful crash at Le Mans in France in 1955, when a car flew into the crowd and 85 people were killed (the ban has only recently been lifted, although there seems no immediate prospect of motor racing resuming there). A non-championship race styled the Swiss Grand Prix was raced at nearby Dijon in France in 1975 (Clay Regazzoni won it), and in 1982 Dijon staged a round of the world championship, again called the Swiss GP, which was won by Keke Rosberg in a Williams. The Dijon-Prenois circuit also staged the French GP on five occasions between 1974 and 1984.

With all the fuss over mirrors, why doesn't the FIA scrap them altogether and require two rear-mounted cameras on the rear of the air intake cowling and have two monitor screens inside the cockpit? This would provide vastly improved rearward view and better aerodynamics while eliminating the current issues of vibration and ridiculously small/bad images, asked John McFadden from Australia

Well, that's an ingenious solution, although I'm not sure the drivers would be very keen on having to refocus on two little TV screens somewhere on the dashboard while hurtling into a corner at over 100mph! I'm not sure if anyone has ever tried onboard cameras in this way. The idea reminds me slightly of the time Johnny Herbert appeared on a children's TV show - Blue Peter, I think - and solemnly informed the presenter that the cassette player was fitted somewhere under the tiny windscreen. She spent some time looking for it before realising she'd been tricked.