• Ask Steven

Rubens the record breaker

Steven Lynch July 30, 2010
Rubens Barrichello at his first grand prix in 1993 © Sutton Images

I believe Rubens Barrichello is approaching his 300th Grand Prix. When will that be, and is it a record? asked Tom Lorimer from Bristol

Rubens Barrichello is indeed closing in on his 300th GP. Last weekend's Hungarian GP was the 296th he had started, and all being well he will reach the landmark at the Japanese GP at Suzuka in October. But due to some statisticians counting non-starts and failures to qualify I understand he may well celebrate his 300th at the next race at Spa Francorchamps. And yes, Barrichello has driven in more GPs than anyone else: Michael Schumacher is second with 261, having passed Riccardo Patrese (256) earlier this season. The only other current driver with more than 200 starts is Jarno Trulli (227).

Who once won a Grand Prix despite being fourth at the start of the last lap? asked Robert Lavender from Mitcham

This lucky person was Jim Clark, who won the Belgian GP at Spa in 1964 despite lying fourth when the last lap started. Dan Gurney was leading with one eight-mile circuit to go, but ran out of fuel; Graham Hill inherited the lead, but his fuel pump broke. That left Bruce McLaren in front, but then he ran out of fuel almost in sight of the line, and Clark swept by to win in his Lotus. But Clark hadn't seen the other cars drop out - and although he was shown the chequered flag at the end the confused organisers had already waved it at several other cars too. But the drama still wasn't over: Clark himself ran out of fuel halfway round his slowing-down lap. He stopped near Gurney, and went to commiserate with him ... at which point they heard a loudspeaker announcement saying that Clark was the winner.

When did they stop awarding a world championship point for the fastest lap? asked Harry Whitcombe from Ipswich

For the first ten seasons of the world championship - 1950 to 1959 - points were awarded for the first five places at a Grand Prix (8-6-4-3-2), with an additional point going to the driver who set the fastest lap. That was changed in 1960, with the fastest-lap point instead going to the driver who finished sixth. There are so many points at stake these days, with the winner getting 25, that it might be fun to reinstate the bonus for the fastest lap, and give the down-field drivers something else to aim for towards the end of the race ...

Ayrton Senna took 65 pole positions but does not hold the record © Sutton Images
I was watching the Top Gear tribute to Ayrton Senna, which said he had an amazing number of pole positions. Does Ayrton have the top percentage in this category? asked Charles Castle from Hampshire

Ayrton Senna took pole position in 65 of his 162 Grands Prix, which gives him the tremendous percentage of 40.12%. The only driver with more pole positions overall is Michael Schumacher, with 68, but that is from 260 GPs, giving him an average of 26.2%. But there are two drivers with a better percentage than Senna: Jim Clark recorded the fastest practice time in 33 of his 73 races (45.20%), but even that was bettered by Juan Manuel Fangio, who took pole in 29 of his 52 GPs - a remarkable percentage of 55.76%. Senna does hold the record for the most consecutive pole positions - eight, spanning the end of the 1988 season and the start of 1989.

How many drivers have finished second in the F1 world championship without ever winning it? asked Fiona Hicks from Reading

This is a surprisingly long list of 18 drivers, headed by Stirling Moss, who finished second four times (1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958) without ever quite winning the title. The first to do it was the Argentinian Jose Froilan Gonzalez - "The Pampas Bull" - in 1954, and after Moss's years the following non-champions have finished as the runner-up: Tony Brooks (1959), Bruce McLaren (1960), Wolfgang von Trips (who was killed while leading the championship in 1961), Jacky Ickx (1969 and 1970), Ronnie Peterson (1971 and 1978), Gilles Villeneuve (1979), Carlos Reutemann (1981), Didier Pironi (1982), Michele Alboreto (1985), Riccardo Patrese (1992), Heinz-Harald Frentzen (1997; he finished third, but was promoted to second when Michael Schumacher's points were discounted after an infringement), Eddie Irvine (1999), David Coulthard (2001) and Rubens Barrichello (2002 and 2004), plus two drivers who might yet get off the list: Felipe Massa (2008) and Sebastian Vettel (2009).

Another Mercedes win doesn't look very likely at the moment - so which was the last Grand Prix they ever won? asked Anthony Chenery from Watford

Before this year Mercedes had only taken part in the F1 world championship as a constructor in two seasons, 1954 and 1955: their grand prix heyday was before the official championship started in 1950 (their "Silver Arrows" were dominant in the 1930s). Juan Manuel Fangio won the world title in a Mercedes in both 1954 and 1955 (he joined from Maserati midway through '54). However, during 1955 a Mercedes was involved in a notorious accident at Le Mans, in which more than 80 spectators died, and the company withdrew from racing at the end of that season. Many cars, notably McLarens, have done well using Mercedes engines since then, though.