• Ask Steven

Front row regulars

Steven Lynch July 1, 2011
Sebastian Vettel has been raising his finger at every race bar one after qualifying © Sutton Images

Sebastian Vettel has started every race so far this season from either pole position or second on the grid. A friend has claimed that the only man to achieve this over an entire F1 season was Damon Hill. Is this correct? asked William Michael

Damon Hill did achieve this in 1996, but his former Williams team-mate Alain Prost also managed it in 1993. Both of them took part in 16 races, and started from the front row of the grid each time. Hill also took pole in the last race of the previous season, making 17 in all. In 1997, after his move to Arrows, Damon became more acquainted with the back of the grid, and observed: "My father used to say you met a much nicer class of person back here, but I'm not so sure!" The record, though, is held by Ayrton Senna, who started from the front row in 24 successive GPs in 1988 and 1989. That included all 16 races of the 1989 season, when Senna missed out on pole on only three occasions.

When was the last time there were two 40-year-old drivers in a Grand Prix, as happened this year in Canada? asked Jean-Christophe Culot from Belgium

There were two 40-year-olds in Canada because of Pedro de la Rosa's brief comeback for Sauber in place of the injured Sergio Perez: he joined 42-year-old Michael Schumacher on the grid. The last time two 40-year-olds started a Grand Prix was back in 1980, when the Italian GP featured Mario Andretti and Vittorio Brambilla, who were both 40. There was a terribly near miss at Monza eight years later, though: Rene Arnoux had turned 40 earlier in 1988, but Jean-Louis Schlesser was one day away from his 40th birthday. Despite his age, Schlesser was an F1 rookie - this was his only Grand Prix, as a stand-in for the injured Nigel Mansell at Williams - and he was famously involved in a collision with Ayrton Senna two laps from the finish, which cost Senna almost certain victory.

Has anyone claimed pole position in their very first Grand Prix? asked Joe Mitchell

Four people have managed this impressive feat, one of them being Nino Farina, who recorded the fastest lap in practice for the first F1 championship Grand Prix of all, at Silverstone in 1950. The others were Mario Andretti, who claimed pole on his first F1 outing, at the 1968 United States GP at Watkins Glen, in a Lotus; Carlos Reutemann followed suit in a Brabham at his home GP, the Argentine, in 1972; and most recently Jacques Villeneuve took pole for Williams in his first GP, in Australia in 1996.

Patrick Depailler celebrates his first grand prix victory on the podium at Monaco © Sutton Images

In a recent column you said that Nick Heidfeld had stood on the podium 13 times without ever winning a Grand Prix. Is there anyone who has been on the podium more often before actually winning a race? asked Nicky Bell

There are four drivers who finished second or third in a Grand Prix on no fewer than 15 occasions before finally making it to the top step of the podium. First of these persistent performers was Patrick Depailler, who finally pulled off a Grand Prix victory at Monaco in 1978, in a Tyrrell. The others were Jean Alesi, whose one and only GP victory came in Canada in 1995; Mika Hakkinen, who had 15 podium finishes before winning the 1997 European GP at Jerez; and Eddie Irvine, who finally won the Australian GP in 1999.

Did Eddie Jordan ever drive in a Grand Prix? asked Jeremy Price

Irishman Eddie Jordan, who was born in 1948, was a racing driver in his youth, winning the Irish karting championship in 1971 and their Formula Atlantic title in 1978. The following year Jordan did some testing for McLaren, but nothing came of it. Shortly afterwards he founded his own racing team, moving into F1 in 1991. They eventually took part in 250 GPs, winning four, the first being a rain-sodden 1-2 for Damon Hill and Ralf Schumacher in Belgium in 1998. Heinz-Harald Frentzen won two more races the following year, while Jordan's final GP victory came in rather chaotic circumstances in Brazil in 2003, when Giancarlo Fisichella was eventually declared the winner. By then finance was becoming a problem, and Jordan sold the team to Midland, an outfit which was eventually itself sold to Force India. Eddie now talks a mean race for the BBC.

Is Pastor Maldonado the first F1 driver from Venezuela? asked Mark Chinnery

I could only think of one predecessor, the former motorbike world champion Johnny Cecotto, who took part in 23 GPs in 1983 and 1984 without much success - he picked up one point for sixth place in only his second race, the United States Grand Prix West at Long Beach in March 1983, in a Theodore. But there was in fact one previous Venezuelan driver: Ettore Chimeri piloted a Maserati in the Argentine GP in 1960, being forced to retire after 23 laps. Chimeri had hoped to continue in F1, but was killed in practice for a race in Cuba a fortnight later.

And there's an update on the question in the last column about drivers who took the lead for the first time on the last lap of a Grand Prix, from Miguel from Belgium

"There's another case when a driver took the lead for the first time on the last lap of a Grand Prix - Kimi Raikkonen's amazing win in the Japanese GP of 2005." Raikkonen, in a McLaren, had a poor start - he was 12th at the end of the first lap - but fought his way back and passed Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault with less than a lap to go to the finish.