• Ask Steven

Late to the party

Steven Lynch June 17, 2011
Jack Brabham collapsed after pushing his car over the line having run out of fuel on the final lap © Getty Images

Jenson Button won the Canadian GP after taking the lead for the first time on the final lap. Has this ever happened before? asked Christopher Benson

Jenson Button's remarkable last-to-first victory in Montreal was, rather surprisingly, the 11th occasion that a driver has taken the lead for the first time on the last lap of a Grand Prix and hung on to win it. The first time was in 1959, when Bruce McLaren - the founder of the team Button now drives for - inherited the lead in the United States GP when his Cooper team-mate Jack Brabham ran out of petrol on the final lap at Sebring. Brabham coasted to a halt about 400 yards from the finishing line, but got out of the car and pushed it home to finish fourth (it was uphill, and therefore hard work: he collapsed exhausted after reaching the line). McLaren was 22, and remained the youngest Grand Prix winner until Fernando Alonso in 2003 (Sebastian Vettel claimed the record in 2008). The others to have pulled off last-lap victories are Jim Clark (1964 Italian GP; he was actually fourth at the start of an eventful last lap), John Surtees (1967 Italian GP), Bruce McLaren again (1968 Belgian GP, this time after Jackie Stewart hit mechanical trouble), Jochen Rindt (1970 Monaco GP; Brabham the victim again, after overcooking the Gasworks hairpin), Mario Andretti (1977 French GP), Ronnie Peterson (1978 South African GP), Nelson Piquet (1991 Canadian GP, after a mistake from racelong leader Nigel Mansell), Jacques Villeneuve (1997 Hungarian GP, when he passed the ailing Arrows of Damon Hill), and Mika Hakkinen (1997 European GP).

Of the current crop of drivers, who has taken part in the most races without winning one? asked Nick Lee

The clear leader here is Nick Heidfeld: the Canadian GP was the 179th he had started, and he is yet to win one. He has though, finished second on eight occasions, including four times in 2008 (and also in successive races in 2005). The only man ever to have more is Andrea de Cesaris, who started 208 GPs between 1980 and 1994 without winning one. After Heidfeld come the British pair of Martin Brundle (158) and Derek Warwick (147).

What is the record for the most different race leaders in one Grand Prix? asked Kirsty Evans

The record is eight, in the Italian GP at Monza in 1971 (only the leader at the end of each lap is generally recorded; so it's just possible that this or other races might have had more). At various times the lead was held by Clay Regazzoni, in a Ferrari, Ronnie Peterson (March), Jackie Stewart and Francois Cevert (both driving Tyrrells), Mike Hailwood (Surtees), Chris Amon (Matra), and Jo Siffert and Peter Gethin in BRMs. In one of the closest races of them all, Gethin hung on to win the only GP of his career, by just one-hundredth of a second from Peterson: only 0.18 seconds separated first place from fourth (Hailwood). This race remained the fastest Grand Prix of all for many years - Gethin's average speed was 150.75mph - until the Italian GP of 2003.

Christian Fittipaldi launches off the back of his team-mate Pierluigi Martini © Sutton Images

Allan McNish escaped unharmed from a colossal crash at this year's Le Mans. What's the biggest crash an F1 driver has walked away from? asked Kelly Masters

There's a long list. I suppose the most memorable recent incident was Mark Webber's flying back-flip in the European GP at Valencia last year. It was somehow even more spine-chilling when you saw the footage from the onboard camera, suddenly showing clear blue sky. I remember Riccardo Patrese doing something similar after colliding with Gerhard Berger in Portugal in 1992, while the following year at Monza Christian Fittipaldi tried to overtake his Minardi team-mate Pierluigi Martini on the finishing straight, clipped his back wheel, did a backflip and landed - minus a wheel or two - facing forwards, enabling him to clunk over the line in eighth place. And in 1996 Martin Brundle, now the BBC's motor-racing commentator, had an almighty crash at the start of the Australian GP. After somersaulting down the road he leapt out of the wreckage and ran back to the pits to use the spare car. Many of these incidents can be found online on YouTube: we should, though, remember the many accidents (especially from the early F1 years) when the drivers weren't so lucky.

Did Emerson Fittipaldi win any more races after switching to the Brazilian Fittipaldi car after his two world championships? asked Gerald Burt

Emerson Fittipaldi won the F1 drivers' championship in 1972 (in a Lotus) and 1974 (McLaren). In 1976 he switched to a Copersucar Fittipaldi, in a team run by his brother Wilson (who had also previously raced in F1). It wasn't a great success. By the end of 1975 Emerson had won 14 of his 70 GPs: in 74 further starts in a Fittipaldi car his best result was a popular second place in his home Grand Prix in Brazil in 1978. He retired from F1 at the end of 1980, but that wasn't the end of the Fittipaldi story: after three years he returned to single-seater racing in the United States with great success, winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1989 and 1993. In the first of those years he also won the CART (Indycar) championship series.

My grandfather, who's from Truro, says there was a Grand Prix in Cornwall in the 1950s. But it's not in the records - has he got the wrong end of the stick? asked Neil Coult

Well, it certainly wasn't a world championship race - but I was surprised to discover that there were three non-championship races run to F1 rules in Cornwall in the 1950s. They were held at an old airfield in the north of the county called Davidstow (the local town is more famous now, in my house at least, for its cheddar cheese!). There were two F1 races in 1954, and one in 1955, after which the circuit fell into disuse. The middle race, in August 1954, was won by John Coombs (a Guildford garage owner who later became a successful motor-racing entrant, for Graham Hill among others) driving a Lotus - this was the first of many F1 victories for Colin Chapman's cars.