• Ask Steven

The oldest F1 driver in the world

Steven Lynch March 24, 2011

Cricket makes a bit of a fuss about its oldest surviving players. But who is the oldest surviving driver from an F1 championship race? asked Terry Bromige from Cheltenham

As far as I can tell the oldest man still alive who participated in an F1 world championship Grand Prix is the German Paul Pietsch, who - God willing - will celebrate his 100th birthday on June 20. He took part in the Italian GP in the inaugural world championship season of 1950, and the German races of 1951 and 1952, without finishing - but he had taken part in the German GP as long before as 1932 (in pre-world championship days), and often drove one of the famous Auto Union "Silver Arrows" in the 1930s . After Pietsch, France has a couple of great survivors. Robert La Caze, who was 94 on February 26, drove in the one and only Moroccan GP, in 1958, finishing 14th; one place behind him was the Morocco-born Frenchman Andre Guelfi, who will be 92 on May 6. Another Frenchman, Robert Manzon, will be 94 on April 12: he collected 16 points from 28 GP starts in the 1950s, finishing third in Belgium in 1952 and France in 1954. I think Britain's oldest survivor is currently Eric Thompson, who will be 92 in November: he finished fifth in the British GP in 1952. For the record, cricket's oldest Test player also stands to crack the hundred barrier later this year: fast bowler Norman Gordon of South Africa was born on August 6, 1911.

I don't want to depress Nick Heidfeld, who your site tells me has started 173 GPs without yet winning one, but has anyone ever won his first race later in his career in terms of starts? asked Sam Mount

Nick Heidfeld will indeed go to the top of this particular list if he finally wins a race. Four men took part in more than 100 GPs before finally winning, one, oddly all of them current drivers: Jenson Button won the 113th race he started, Jarno Trulli his 119th, Rubens Barrichello his 123rd, while the current chart-topper Mark Webber didn't win until his 130th race, the 2009 German GP. The only driver to start more GPs than Heidfeld without ever winning one remains the Italian Andrea de Cesaris, with 208.

When was the last time there was a South African Grand Prix? And did a South African ever win it? asked Tertius Koen

The last time the F1 championship included a South African GP was as long ago as 1993, when Alain Prost won in a Williams. Nigel Mansell, also in a Williams, took the chequered flag the year before: that 1992 race was the first South African GP since 1985 (when Mansell also won). Prior to that the race had been a regular on the F1 calendar, held every year from 1962, with a couple of exceptions. From 1967 onwards the race was held at the Kyalami circuit in Transvaal (now Gauteng): before that it had been in East London. The only local driver to win the South African GP was Jody Scheckter, in a Tyrrell in 1975, but there was a hard-luck story in 1967 when John Love (who was actually from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe) found himself leading the race in an old Cooper-Climax. But poor Love was forced to pit for more fuel in the closing stages, and lost first place to the newer Cooper-Maserati of Pedro Rodriguez.

The Brabham BT46B ran just once at the 1978 Swedish Grand Prix © Sutton Images
What is the story behind the Brabham "fan car"? asked James Molloy

This was not, as the name might imply, a car that the fans could drive, but a radical new design that appeared during the 1978 season. At the time the F1 championship was being dominated by Lotus - Mario Andretti eventually won that year's drivers' title for them - with a car that made good use of what was known as "ground effects", in which air was removed from underneath the car (you can see the ground-brushing "skirts" which helped this in photos of the time): the end result was almost to suck the car down into the track for greater road-holding. The Brabham BT46B, which made its debut in the Swedish GP at Anderstorp, took this to extremes: there was a large circular fan at the back of the car, ostensibly for better cooling - but it also efficiently sucked the air out from under the car and increased the "ground effects" too. Complaints from other teams - and from drivers who said the fan had blown stones and other debris at them during the race - meant the fan car was banned after this one race. Since Niki Lauda won in Sweden in the car, it was left with a 100% success record.

I've been given an impossible quiz question, and wondered if you could help: "What's the connection between Adrian Sutil and Kenneth More?" asked Michael Burton

First of all I don't want to ruin someone else's quiz, so I've waited a few weeks before answering this one. It also took a bit of time to work out the connection, but I think the answer is that both drove Spyker cars: Kenneth More in the classic British romantic comedy Genevieve (it's not the car of the title, which was a Darracq driven by John Gregson, but his rival More piloted a 1903 Spyker), and Adrian Sutil in the 2007 F1 season - he claimed the team's one and only point for eighth place in Japan late in the year. The Spyker F1 outfit had emerged from the former Midland Racing team (which itself was previously known as Jordan), and after a big cash injection from Vijay Mallya, among others, the team name was changed to Force India late in 2007. Sutil is still there.

Is Alex Zanardi, the old Lotus and Williams driver, the only F1 driver whose name begins with a Z? asked Pat Lloyd

Rather surprisingly, perhaps, there have been four other F1 Zs. The first was the Italian Renzo Zorzi, who took part in seven races between 1975 and 1977, gaining a point for sixth place in the Brazilian GP in 1977 in a Shadow. Emilio Zapico never actually started a race: he attempted to qualify for his home Spanish GP in 1976 in a Williams, but failed to make the grid. The Argentinean Ricardo Zunino took part in ten GPs between 1979 and 1981, without winning a point, while Brazil's Ricardo Zonta had 36 races between 1999 and 2005. He collected three points, from a trio of sixth places in a BAR in 2000. Zanardi himself started 44 GPs, but only won one point, for sixth place in Brazil in a Lotus in 1993. He had much more success in Indycars, but lost both legs in a horrific accident in Germany in 2001. Since then he has returned to competitive driving, and even piloted a BMW F1 car in a test in 2006.