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The last-gasp glory boys

Steven Lynch November 19, 2010
Like Sebastian Vettel, James Hunt had not led the championship at any moment until the season-ending Japanese Grand Prix in 1976 © Sutton Images

Sebastian Vettel never led the drivers' championship until the end of this year's final race. Has any other world champion managed this? asked Brian Dalton from Essex

Rather to my surprise I discovered that two other drivers - both Britons - had also grabbed last-gasp glory. In 1964 John Surtees never led the championship until the closing laps of the final race: after Jim Clark made the running in the early part of the season Graham Hill did well, and by the time the final GP of the season started in Mexico Hill had 39 points, Surtees 34 and Clark 30. Hill soon ran into mechanical problems, and Clark seemed set for the title when he built up a commanding lead (he had won more races than Hill or Surtees). But shortly before the end Clark had engine trouble, and he dropped out with a lap to go (he was eventually classified fifth). This put Surtees up to third, which would still have left him a point behind Hill - but as luck would have it the man in second place was his Ferrari team-mate Lorenzo Bandini, who slowed down and let Surtees past to become the first - and still only - driver to win world titles on four wheels as well as two. Something similar happened in 1976, when James Hunt never led the drivers' championship until the final race, when third place in the rain in Japan put him one point ahead of Niki Lauda. That was the year when Lauda had built up a commanding lead in the championship before his horrific crash at the Nurburgring. Just like Vettel this year, neither Surtees nor Hunt had ever headed the table before, either in their championship year or previously.

Would we have had a different world champion in 2010 if last year's points system had been used - ten points for a win instead of this year's inflated 25? asked Gail White from Shrewsbury

By my reckoning the eventual champion would have been the same - Sebastian Vettel would have collected 104 points under last year's points system (10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1) rather than the new one (25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1). Fernando Alonso would still have been second, with 101 points, but Lewis Hamilton (100) would have leapfrogged Mark Webber (97) into third place, with Jenson Button still fifth (87).

I read that Sebastian Vettel started his first Grand Prix at 19. Is he the youngest F1 driver ever? asked Jordan McKenzie from Exeter

Sebastian Vettel is actually the oldest of seven 19-year-olds who have started a world championship Grand Prix - he was only 16 days away from his 20th birthday when he drove in the United States GP at Indianapolis in 2007. Vettel was a replacement in the Sauber team for Robert Kubica, who was recovering from a massive accident at the previous race in Canada. He finished eighth, to become the youngest driver ever to claim a world championship point (he also picked up a penalty for speeding in the pit lane six seconds into his career as a Formula One driver!). However, Vettel also drove the Sauber in practice the previous year in Turkey, when he was only 19 years and 54 days old, and is thus the youngest to have driven an F1 car at a Grand Prix meeting. He stunned spectators by recording the fastest time in the second practice session on the Friday. The youngest man to start a world championship GP is the Spaniard Jaime Alguersuari, who was 19 years 125 days old when he made his debut for Toro Rosso at the 2009 Hungarian GP. He beat the long-standing record of the New Zealander Mike Thackwell, who was 57 days older when he drove in the Canadian GP in 1980. Fernando Alonso is fourth on this list - he was 19 years 218 days old when he drove a Minardi at the 2001 Australian GP.

Has an American driver ever won the American Grand Prix, and has a Canadian ever won in Canada? asked Jim Fillimore from Newcastle

The only American driver to win a world championship Grand Prix in the USA is Mario Andretti, who piloted his Lotus to victory in the United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach in 1977. As for Canada, Gilles Villeneuve won the Canadian GP at Montreal in 1978: the circuit was later renamed in his memory. It never proved a happy hunting ground for his son, though - Jacques Villeneuve never won there in ten attempts in F1.

Patrick Tambay on his way to winning the 1982 German Grand Prix © Sutton Images

Did Patrick Tambay ever drive the works Ferrari in a Grand Prix? asked Jim Wilson from London

Patrick Tambay did indeed have a season and a half as a regular Ferrari driver, during which time he recorded his two Grand Prix victories - he won the German GP at Hockenheim in 1982 (the one enlivened by a fight between Nelson Piquet and Eliseo Salazar, as mentioned in this column recently), and again at Imola in the following year's San Marino GP. Tambay had had an unremarkable F1 career until he was signed by Ferrari not long after the accident which cost Gilles Villeneuve his life during practice for the 1982 Belgian GP. Tambay raced for Ferrari for the remainder of that season and throughout 1983, when he finished fourth in the championship with 40 points, nine behind his team-mate Rene Arnoux. Tambay joined Renault in 1984.

How many F1 world champions have also won Le Mans? asked Darrell George from Birmingham

Only four F1 world champions have also emerged victorious in the famous Le Mans 24-Hour race. Pride of place should probably go to the American Phil Hill, who won it three times - in 1958, his F1 title year of 1961 and 1962 - driving a Ferrari with the Belgian Olivier Gendebien. Hill's unrelated namesake Graham (the F1 world champion of 1962 and 1968) was the last to do it, in 1972, when he shared the winning Matra with France's Henri Pescarolo. Jochen Rindt, who was to win the F1 title posthumously in 1970, won Le Mans in 1965, driving a Ferrari with the American Masten Gregory, while Mike Hawthorn - Britain's first F1 world champion in 1958 - won at Le Mans in a Jaguar in 1955, in a tragic race remembered chiefly for the terrible accident in which 80 spectators were killed when a car flew into the crowd. Formula One drivers have, hardly surprisingly, been well represented at Le Mans over the years, and five men who finished second in the F1 world championship have also won there: Michele Alboreto, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Jacky Ickx, Bruce McLaren and Didier Pironi.