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F1 vs Group B

Steven Lynch December 2, 2011
Henri Toivonen celebrates victory on top of his Lancia © Getty Images

There is a story that Henri Toivonen drove a Lancia rally car around the Estoril circuit in 1986 in a time that would have put him sixth on the grid for that year's Portuguese Grand Prix. Is this true? asked Matti Orava from Finland

I think this one comes under the heading of "urban myth". The Finnish rally driver Henri Toivonen was undoubtedly exceedingly quick in the Lancia Delta he was driving back then - sadly, he and his co-driver were killed in an accident in one later in 1986, leading to a ban on the high-performance Group B "supercars" the following season. However, it seems impossible that a rally car, however fast, would be able to match the speeds of an F1 car at a purpose-built circuit like Estoril. I did find one report on the internet that seems to disprove the theory: apparently Cesare Fiorio, the Lancia team's manager at the time, was asked about the story on a TV programme not long ago. He said: "Honestly, that's the first time I hear about that thing, and considering I did manage that team and that driver I assume I should know if it happened."

Jarno Trulli has had an awful lot of races since winning his one and only GP back in 2004. Is it a record number? asked Terry Dowling

Jarno Trulli, currently with Lotus (soon to be renamed Caterham), won his only grand prix at Monaco in 2004. Since then he's started 137 more races without winning one. I thought you were probably right and that that would be the record - but actually Michele Alboreto had 147 races after winning his fifth and last race, the German GP at the Nurburgring in 1985. The other drivers who took part in more than 100 races after their last grand prix victory are Jacques Villeneuve (134), Olivier Panis (119), Jean Alesi (110) and David Coulthard (105).

Who was the first British woman to race in the Indianapolis 500? asked Daniel Bourne

This happened earlier this year when 27-year-old Pippa Mann, from London, qualified her Conquest Racing car on the back row of the 33-car grid for the Indianapolis 500 in May. She moved up to finish 20th in the big race itself. Pippa was one of four female drivers in the race, alongside Danica Patrick of the United States (who finished 10th), Brazil's Ana Beatriz (21st) and Simona de Silvestro from Switzerland, who was forced to retire on the 44th lap. Last year Pippa Mann was the first woman to claim pole position for a race at Indianapolis, when she set the fastest practice lap for the Indy Lights Freedom 100 race. The first woman ever to race in the Indy 500 was Janet Guthrie, in 1977. Since then the only other women to take part in it - apart from this year's quartet - were Lyn St James, Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno. The best result by a female driver has been Danica Patrick's third place in 2009.

Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher both have high victory rates but neither can match Juan Manuel Fangio © Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel has now won 21 of his 81 GPs, or just over 25%. How many drivers have a better percentage than this? asked Chris Connell

The only current driver with a better percentage than Vettel's 25.93% is Michael Schumacher, with 91 wins from 288 starts, or a 31.60% success rate. Overall the best win percentage (given a minimum of ten races) is Juan Manuel Fangio's astonishing 46.15% (24 wins from 52 races), ahead of Alberto Ascari (13/33 = 39.39%) and Jim Clark (25/73 = 34.25%. In between Schumacher and Vettel at the moment lies Jackie Stewart (27/100 = 27.00%), then come Ayrton Senna (41/162 = 25.31%) and Alain Prost (51/202 = 25.25%).

In 2008 Nick Heidfeld uniquely went through the entire season without failing to finish - did anyone manage that in 2011? asked Ted Marson

That performance by Nick Heidfeld for Sauber in 2008 remains unique, as no-one quite managed a retirement-free season in 2011. The nearest was just one failure to finish - something both the Red Bulls of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber managed, as did Fernando Alonso in the Ferrari and Paul di Resta, whose only retirement in his first F1 season with Force India came in the fourth race in Turkey (he also stopped before the end in Canada, but was classified as a finisher as he'd completed more than 90% of the race distance). Vettel finished the first 17 races before spinning off at the second corner in Abu Dhabi.

Who was the last survivor of the first world championship Grand Prix in 1950? asked Colin McKenzie

This was the charismatic Swiss driver Count Emmanuel "Toulo" de Graffenreid, who drove in that inaugural world championship Grand Prix - the British GP at Silverstone on May 13, 1950. He was 36 then, but survived into his 93rd year before passing away early in 2007. In 1950 Toulo qualified well up the grid in a Maserati - in eighth place, behind the eventual inaugural world champion Giuseppe "Nino" Farina on pole in an Alfa-Romeo - but was forced to retire just after halfway in the 70-lap race with an engine problem. De Graffenreid had won the previous year's race, the British GP at Silverstone in 1949, before the world championship was officially constituted. His best placing in a world championship F1 race was fourth in the 1953 Belgian GP at Spa.