• Ask Steven

Pole stars

Steven Lynch December 3, 2010
Juan Manuel Fangio started from pole position a remarkable 56.86% on the time in Formula One © Getty Images

I was amazed to discover that Ayrton Senna took pole position in 65 of his 161 GPs, a rate of more than 40%. Has anyone taken more poles - or, more unlikely I think, bettered Senna's percentage? asked Dave Thomas from Essex

As you might have guessed, Michael Schumacher has actually clocked up more pole positions than Ayrton Senna's 65 - Schumacher currently has 68 from 267 races, a percentage of 25.46. And there are also three famous drivers with better percentages than Senna: Juan Manuel Fangio took pole position in 29 of his 51 races (56.86%), Jim Clark qualified fastest in 33 of his 72 GPs (45.83%), and Alberto Ascari in 14 of his 32 (43.75%).

Has anyone ever taken pole position in their first Grand Prix? asked Terry Price from Surrey

I was slightly surprised to discover that four men have done this in a world championship F1 Grand Prix. The first was in the first race that counted towards the title, the British GP of 1950, when Nino Farina - soon to be crowned the first drivers' champion - took pole at Silverstone. Since then three famous drivers have headed the grid for their first race: Mario Andretti did so in a Lotus at the United States GP at Watkins Glen in 1968; Carlos Reutemann started his F1 career in similar style in a Brabham at the 1972 Argentine GP on his home track in Buenos Aires; and Jacques Villeneuve kicked off his Williams career with pole position in the Australian GP at Melbourne in 1996.

Who raced in the most GPs before winning one, and who has raced in the most without ever winning one? asked Jane Clarke from Hereford

Five men have taken part in more than 100 Grands Prix before finally winning one - and four of them are current drivers. Jenson Button didn't take the chequered flag until his 113th race, the 2006 Hungarian GP, while Jarno Trulli's win in the 2004 Monaco GP in 2004 (his only victory so far) came in his 119th race. Rubens Barrichello finally tasted victory at the 123rd attempt, at the German GP in 2000, but the leader in this category is none other than Mark Webber, who did not finish first until his 130th race, the 2009 German GP. The other centurion is Giancarlo Fisichella, who won his 110th race (in Brazil in 2003). As for the second part of your question, the Italian driver Andrea de Cesaris took part in 208 GPs between 1980 and 1994 without winning any. Nick Heidfeld is currently second on this list, with no wins yet from 172 starts.

In 1997, the year after he won the drivers' championship, Damon Hill scored only seven points and finished 12th in the table. Is that the worst performance by someone "defending" their title? asked Brian Marchbanks

Of drivers who participated in the season following their title victory (some retired, and unfortunately some were killed), the worst performance "the season after" was by Alberto Ascari, who managed only 1.14 points in 1954 - he failed to finish all four races he entered - after sweeping to the title the previous year. His mistake was to leave the all-conquering Ferrari team and try his luck in an uncompetitive Maserati. Also worthy of mention here is Jody Scheckter: after winning the title in a Ferrari in 1979, Scheckter managed only two points the following season as Ferrari struggled to come to terms with new regulations (the 1980 champion Alan Jones memorably disparaged the Ferraris as "mobile chicanes" around this time) and finished a distant 19th in the title race. Juan Manuel Fangio preceded Damon Hill by scoring only seven points in 1958, the year after his fifth and final title, but he only took part in two races that year.

A year or two I spotted the female driver Natacha Gachnang in a Formula Two race. Might we see her in F1? asked Colin Porter from Yorkshire

I suppose it's still possible, although the Swiss driver Natacha Gachnang arguably took a step backwards in 2010 after taking part in the FIA Formula Two championship (not GP2) the previous year - she scored two points. In 2010 she moved out of single-seaters into the GT1 world championship, and then suffered a broken leg in a crash at the first race, in Abu Dhabi. She was back in time for Le Mans, where she was part of the first all-female team in the 24-Hour race since 1991: they were forced to retire after 59 laps. But there's plenty of time for Natacha, who's still only 23; she also good connections to F1 - her cousin is the Toro Rosso driver Sebastian Buemi.

I had an impossible quiz question the other day: "What was Englebert's role in Grand Prix racing in the 1950s?" It can't have been singing the national anthems, can it?! asked Matt Deuchar from Glasgow

I think even Engelbert Humperdinck would have been too young to be singing at Grand Prix meetings in the 1950s! Actually the answer is more prosaic than that - Englebert was a tyre manufacturer, whose products adorned eight Grand Prix winners of the 1950s, all of them Ferraris. Their last win came when Peter Collins led home Mike Hawthorn in a similarly shod Ferrari at the British GP at Silverstone in 1958. The company was founded in Belgium in 1898, and later became part of Uniroyal. The "Englebert" brand name disappeared in the late 1970s.