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The old man of Monte Carlo

Steven Lynch July 2, 2010

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Who was the oldest man to drive in a Grand Prix? asked Charlie Sorenson from Copenhagen

The oldest man to drive in a world championship Grand Prix was Louis Chiron, who was 55 when he piloted a Lancia to sixth place in the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix. Chiron, who was actually born in Monte Carlo, had won the Italian and Spanish GPs as long ago as 1928, in the days before the official world championship started. He also entered the Monaco GP in 1958, when he was 58, but was one of several drivers who failed to qualify - others included Maria Teresa de Filippis, the first woman to start a Grand Prix, and a tearaway young Englishman called Bernie Ecclestone. The oldest man to win a world championship Grand Prix was the Italian Luigi Fagioli, who was 53 when he finished first in the French GP in 1951. In fact he drove only the first 20 laps of that race at Reims, before handing his Alfa-Romeo over to Juan-Manuel Fangio, whose own car had developed a problem (such car-sharing was allowed at the time). Fangio drove the remaining 57 laps, but he and Fagioli shared the points. It was Fagioli's only drive of the year, and his last Grand Prix.

I was surprised to see that the old Nurburgring circuit was around 17 miles long. Was it the longest ever used for a Grand Prix? asked Bill Turner from Derby

The original Nurburgring was indeed more than 17 miles (28kms) in length, although Grand Prix races there were usually contested over the Nordschleife (Northern Loop), which is just over 14 miles long (nearly 23kms). The first world championship race there was in 1951, and was contested over 20 laps: Alberto Ascari won, although it took him nearly three and a half hours. Latterly races over the full circuit were restricted to 14 or 12 laps. The last GP to use most of the full circuit was in 1976, when the horrific accident to Niki Lauda - his car crashed and burst into flames, and he was lucky to survive - highlighted the problems of maintaining safety and proper marshalling over such a big circuit. In the 1980s a new much shorter track was built, using part of the old one near the start-finish line, and this has staged several world championship races since 1984, usually called the European GP (although two were called the German GP and two more the Luxembourg GP). Rather surprisingly, though, the Nurburgring was not the longest circuit ever used for a world championship Grand Prix: that honour goes to Pescara, in Italy, which staged its one and only GP in 1957 over a track that was 16 miles (25km) long. Stirling Moss won that 18-lap race in a fraction under three hours.

Is it true that Michael Schumacher's 15th place in last week's European Grand Prix was his worst-ever GP result? asked David Cooper from Kent

It is indeed: obviously excluding races in which he didn't last the distance, Michael Schumacher has finished outside the top ten only four times in his F1 career, and three of those have happened in the last four races - 12th at Monaco, 11th in Canada, and 15th at Valencia last week. The only other time was in China in 2004, when he was 12th. It's a far cry from the heady days of 2002, when he finished on the podium in all 17 of that year's races.

Lewis Hamilton won the GP2 championship in 2006 © Sutton Images
I enjoyed watching the GP2 race ahead of last week's European GP. How many GP2 champions have made it into F1? asked Simon Pitkin from Cardiff

The GP2 Series was set up in 2005, to replace the long-running feeder series, Formula 3000, which had been discontinued. The GP2 champions since then have been a distinguished bunch: the inaugural winner in 2005 was Nico Rosberg, with Heikki Kovalainen second, then Lewis Hamilton won the title in 2006, ahead of Nelson Piquet junior. In 2007 the title went to Timo Glock, ahead of Lucas di Grassi. The winner in 2008 was the Italian Giorgio Pantano, who had had a few F1 races for Jordan in 2004 before being replaced by Glock. Pantano (who pipped Bruno Senna and Lucas di Grassi for the title) has so far failed to secure an F1 drive, and currently races in Indycars. Last year's winner was Nico Hulkenberg, ahead of Vitaly Petrov and the persistent di Grassi. The front-runner so far this season is Pastor Maldonado, from Venezuela.

I believe that Renault's team this year contains the only Pole ever to drive in a Grand Prix, and also the only Russian. Are there any other countries which have produced a solitary F1 driver? asked Gerry Price from Liverpool

You're right, Renault's 2010 line-up is Robert Kubica, the only Polish F1 driver so far (and at Bahrain in 2008, the first Pole to take pole position!), and F1's first Russian, Vitaly Petrov. The other countries to have had just one driver in F1 would seem to be Chile (Eliseo Salazar, whose most notable moment was a punch-up with Nelson Piquet after a crash at the German GP in 1982, the middle of his three years in F1), the Czech Republic (Tomas Enge, three races for Prost in 2001), Hungary (Zsolt Baumgartner, 20 races 2003-04), Liechtenstein (the New York-born Rikki von Opel - the great-grandson of the founder of the Opel car company - 14 races 1973-74), and Malaysia (Alex Yoong,14 races for Minardi 2001-02).

Is Monaco the circuit that has staged the most Grands Prix? Has there been one there every year since the F1 championship started in 1950? asked Jamie Greig from Bristol

Monaco actually lies second on the list of circuits which have staged the most world championship Grands Prix. There was a race in Monte Carlo in 1950, the first year of the official world championship, but then there was a gap until 1955. There has been a Monaco GP every year since then, making a total of 57 races round the streets of the Principality. But the leader here is the Autodromo Nazionale at Monza, which has staged the Italian GP every year from 1950, with the exception of 1980 (when the race was held at Imola), which means that this year's race will be the 60th Grand Prix there.

And there's an addition to my previous column on here: in addition to Stirling Moss, the great French driver Alain Prost also finished as runner-up in the world championship on four occasions (in 1983, 1984, 1988 and 1990).