• Ask Steven

Winning by the narrowest of margins

Steven Lynch October 22, 2010
Niki Lauda won the 1984 championship by just half a point © Sutton Images

With this year's championship looking as if it could go down to the wire, has any driver ever won the F1 title by just one point? asked James Langley from Carlisle

Actually the drivers' championship has been decided by just one point on no fewer than eight occasions. The first was in 1958, when Mike Hawthorn pipped Stirling Moss to become Britain's first champion. It happened again in 1961, when Phil Hill just edged out his Ferrari team-mate Wolfgang von Trips, who had been killed towards the end of the season. In 1964 John Surtees pipped Graham Hill by a point, and 12 years later James Hunt did the same to Niki Lauda in the rain in Japan. Nelson Piquet beat Carlos Reutemann by just one point in 1981, and in 1994 Michael Schumacher did the same to Damon Hill, winning his first world title after a controversial collision with his rival in Australia. Kimi Raikkonen took the title in 2007 by one point from Lewis Hamilton, who thus just missed out on winning the title in his first season. Hamilton had been 17 points clear of Raikkonen with two races (then, a maximum of 20 points) to go. Fernando Alonso also finished a point behind Raikkonen. Hamilton turned the tables in memorable style the following year, winning the title in 2008 by just a point from Felipe Massa, in that thrilling last-gasp finish in Brazil. But ... you might be surprised to learn that there is an even more slender winning margin in the championship! In 1984 rain at Monaco stopped the race after only 31 laps, and only half points were awarded: Alain Prost, who finished first, thus received only 4.5 points instead of the then-usual nine. It proved crucial: although Prost won seven GPs that year, he finished with 71.5 points - half a point behind his McLaren team-mate Niki Lauda, who had won seven races.

Who has won a Grand Prix by the widest margin? I seem to remember Nigel Mansell (or maybe Damon Hill) winning the Australian GP by two clear laps a few years ago ... asked David Chislett from London

You're memory is not playing tricks: Damon Hill in a Williams won the 1995 Australian GP at Adelaide by more than two laps: Olivier Panis in a Ligier was the rather distant runner-up. That was only the second occasion that the winner had lapped the rest of the field twice: Jackie Stewart also did it at the 1969 Spanish GP at Barcelona, finishing ahead of Bruce McLaren's McLaren; Stewart's team-mate Jean-Pierre Beltoise, in another Matra, was three laps adrift in third place. The Montjuic circuit was a little longer than the Adelaide one, so you could argue that Stewart was further ahead. There's a case, though, for saying that the widest winning margin actually happened at the Portuguese GP in Oporto in 1958. Stirling Moss, in a Vanwall, finished that race a lap ahead of the entire field - bar Mike Hawthorn, who limped round his final lap in an ailing Ferrari and actually finished more than five minutes behind Moss.

I seem to remember a story about an F1 driver going to prison after attacking a taxi driver a few years ago. Am I making it up or did it actually happen? asked Lionel Cummings from Jersey

You're not making it up: the driver concerned was the Luxembourg-born Frenchman Bertrand Gachot, who served two months in a British prison in 1991 after being convicted of spraying CS gas at a taxi-driver after an argument. "I just couldn't believe what was happening," he said afterwards. "For me it was a clear case of self-defence and I think that people who know me know I would not aggress anybody." The judge did not agree, saying that Gachot had used excessive force on an unarmed man. This cut short a promising season with Jordan in which Gachot had claimed four championship points (his best placing was fifth in Canada). He had also co-driven the winner of the Le Mans 24-Hour race earlier that year. However, his replacement at the following Belgian Grand Prix was Michael Schumacher, who qualified in an impressive seventh position before burning his clutch out at the start. Gachot returned in 1992 with the not terribly competitive Larrousse team (he managed one point for sixth in Monaco), and drifted out of F1 after a couple more seasons with another back-of-the-grid team, Pacific.

Ferrari dominated the 1952 season © Sutton Images
Has a team ever won all the Grands Prix of a single season? asked Mike Bright from Salisbury

It happened twice in the early years of the drivers' championship, when there were far fewer races: Alfa-Romeos won all six races in the inaugural season of 1950, and Ferrari had a clean sweep of all seven in 1952 (this excludes the Indianapolis 500, which counted towards the championship in both those seasons). The best performance in recent years was by McLaren in 1988, when they won 15 of that season's 16 races. Ayrton Senna won eight and Alain Prost seven (Senna won the title with 90 points to Prost's 87). The only race to escapee McLaren's clutches was the Italian GP at Monza, where Gerhard Berger led home a popular Ferrari 1-2, ahead of Michele Alboreto, after Senna was punted out of the lead and into retirement when attempting to lap the Williams of Jean-Louis Schlesser with only two laps remaining.

I've just been watching, on the ESPN Classic channel, highlights of the 1973 British GP, when a huge crash eliminated half the field on the opening lap. Is that the worst start to any Grand Prix? asked Colin Crowe from Hertford

That 1973 crash at Silverstone was started when Jody Scheckter lost control just after coming round Woodcote to complete his first lap: nine cars failed to make the restart, including the entire three-car Surtees team, which was never quite the same again. Luckily there was only one injury: Andrea de Adamich broke his arm. In 1950 a multiple collision at Tabac put ten cars out on the first lap at Monaco - Juan-Manuel Fangio picked his way through the debris and went on to win his first GP - but the unhappy record for a first-lap pile-up is 13, at the first corner of the Belgian GP in 1998. The race was stopped, and all but four of the drivers managed to make the restart. It rained heavily during the race - one notable for a big coming-together between David Coulthard and Michael Schumacher - and the race was eventually won by Damon Hill, which gave Jordan its first GP victory (and to complete Jordan's day, Hill's team-mate Ralf Schumacher was second).

Which country has had the most Grand Prix circuits? My money's on France! asked Tony Vickery from Portsmouth

You're close, as France has had seven GP circuits so far, at Reims, Rouen, Clermont-Ferrand, Le Mans, Le Castellet (Paul Ricard), Dijon, and the current one at Magny-Cours. However, top of this particular table is the United States of America, which has staged Grands Prix on nine circuits so far - and the much-talked-about new track in Austin, Texas, will make it ten if all goes according to plan and the F1 circus touches down there in 2012. The previous GP circuits in America are Sebring (where the 1959 United States GP was held), Riverside (1960), Watkins Glen (1961-80), Long Beach (1976-83), Las Vegas (in the Caesars Palace car park - 1981-82), Detroit (1982-88), Dallas (1984), Phoenix (1989-91) and Indianapolis (2000-07).