• Ask Steven

Within a thousandth of a second

Steven Lynch May 6, 2011
There was nothing to choose between Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher at the 1997 season finale © Sutton Images

I remember a Grand Prix when three drivers set the same fastest practice time, down to a hundredth of a second. When was this, and how was pole position allocated? asked Jim Bentham

It was actually down to a thousandth of a second! This extraordinary event happened at the European GP at Jerez in 1997, the last race of the season. Jacques Villeneuve (driving a Williams), Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Williams) all recorded identical practice times of 1:21.072 seconds. Villeneuve took pole position as he had been the first to set the time. This was the race which decided the 1997 drivers' championship: Schumacher started the weekend with 78 points to Villeneuve's 77, and during the race Schumacher famously pulled across on Villeneuve. But he ended up with egg on his face, out of the race, while Villeneuve's car sustained only slight damage: he was able to carry on, eventually finishing third and taking the title. The FIA punished Schumacher by removing him from second place in the standings, instead recognising Frentzen as the world championship runner-up.

Who or what, in Grand Prix terms, is "Tarzan"? asked Michael Browne via Facebook

I'm not sure if any GP drivers have ever nicknamed Tarzan - although it wouldn't surprise me if several were! - but the most famous Tarzan in F1 is a testing part of the Zandvoort track, the home of the Dutch Grand Prix every year from 1952 to 1985, apart from four blank seasons. Local legend has it that when the circuit was built after the Second World War a local resident, nicknamed Tarzan, would only give up his vegetable garden (which encroached on the planned track) if a part of the course was named after him. And Tarzanbocht (Tarzan Curve) is a 180-degree corner, slightly banked, at the end of the long start-finish straight at Zandvoort, a circuit close to the coast, where driving conditions often varied according to how much sand had been blown on to the racing line from the nearby sand dunes. The track's owners ran into financial problems in the late 1980s, and part of the circuit was sold for redevelopment, but a redesigned circuit still exists and has held races, although there is little sign of F1 returning to its spiritual home in the Netherlands.

How many of the drivers who raced against Lewis Hamilton in GP2 have made it into F1? asked Carl White

Lewis Hamilton won the GP2 title in 2006, driving for the French ART team. His rivals included Nelson Piquet junior (who was a close second in the championship), Timo Glock (fourth), Lucas di Grassi (17th) and Vitaly Petrov (who competed in the last eight races but failed to score a point). With Hamilton moving "upstairs" to F1 in 2007, Glock won the title that year, with di Grassi second, Bruno Senna eighth, Petrov 13th, Karun Chandhok 15th and Sebastian Buemi 21st.

Who was the last American driver to win a Grand Prix? asked George Patterson

This was a surprisingly long time ago now: Mario Andretti won the last of his 12 GPs in 1978, the year he won the world title in a Lotus. The last of his six wins that season came in the Dutch GP at Zandvoort. Only four other American drivers have ever won a Formula One Grand Prix (excluding the Indianapolis 500 in the years it counted towards the championship): Dan Gurney (four), Phil Hill (three), Peter Revson (two) and Richie Ginther (one). Gurney's four wins included the first ever recorded by Porsche, Brabham and Eagle cars.

Martin Brundle never lived up to his potential in Formula One © Getty Images
I enjoy Martin Brundle's TV commentaries - how many Grands Prix did he win? asked Sacha Taylor

Martin Brundle didn't actually ever manage to win a Grand Prix, despite a long and distinguished F1 career. He drove for several leading teams, but was unlucky in his timing - he drove for Tyrrell and Brabham towards the end of their time as competitive outfits, and secured a McLaren drive when they had a rare off season. Brundle started 158 GPs - only Andrea Cesaris (208) and Nick Heidfeld (175 so far) have started more without winning one - and stood on the podium nine times, five of them in 1992 when he partnered the young Michael Schumacher in the emerging Benetton team. That year Brundle was sixth in the championship, and was second in the Italian GP. He was also second in the 1994 Monaco GP, in a McLaren. Brundle did win the Le Mans 24-Hour race in 1990, two years after claiming the world sports-car championship.

Is there anyone who has won just two Grands Prix, but it was the same country's one twice? asked Tom Murray

There are two people who fit into this specific category. The Argentine Jose-Froilan Gonzalez - the "Pampas Bull" - won the British GP in 1951, and again in 1954, both times in a Ferrari. He did not win any other races, although he did finish on the podium on 13 further occasions. And the redoubtable Frenchman Maurice Trintignant won two GPs, both of them at Monaco - in 1955, in a Ferrari, and in a Cooper-Climax in 1958. The American Bill Vukovich also won the Indianapolis 500 twice during the years it counted towards the F1 world championship.