• Ask Steven

The championship of champions

Steven Lynch December 16, 2011
Kimi Raikkonen won the title with Ferrari in 2007 © Sutton Images

The return of Kimi Raikkonen means there will be six world champions on the starting grid in 2012. Is this a record? And when did Raikkonen last win a race? asked Simon Coleman

The short answer is yes, it will - the previous record was in 2011, with five (Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Schumacher and Vettel). Kimi Raikkonen has won 18 GPs so far, nine each for McLaren and Ferrari. That included five wins in 2007, the year he pinched the world championship from under the noses of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso by winning the last two races (Raikkonen finished with 110 points, ahead of Hamilton and Alonso who both had 109). Raikkonen's last victory to date came in a Ferrari at the Belgian GP of 2009. His welcome return after two years devoted to rallying means that a quarter of the starters in each 2012 race should be world champions!

Sebastian Vettel usually gives his cars girls' names - I remember "Kate's Dirty Sister"! What was his 2011 car called? asked Neil McDonald

Sebastian Vettel announced just before the Australian GP in March that his new 2011 car would be called "Kinky Kylie", after Kylie Minogue. Vettel explained, tongue in cheek, that the new Red Bull RB7 had a great rear end, rather like the Australian singer: "It has a tight butt, is supple and is good to look at. Hopefully, it will be quick as well." It was: Kylie brought him 11 GP victories in 2011, and his second world title.

I was watching a review of an F1 season from the 1970s on ESPN Classic, and was struck by the number of mechanical failures. These days it's very rare for more than one of the big names to break down, so when was the last really surprise winner of a Grand Prix? asked Terry Lawton

You're right, vastly increased reliability these days does mean that surprise results are few and far between. If you exclude Brawn's great year in 2009, when Jenson Button caught his rivals cold and won six of the first seven GPs in the new car, the last GP not won by Red Bull, McLaren or Ferrari was back in 2008, when a promising youngster called Sebastian Vettel won at Monza in a Toro Rosso. That wasn't really down to other retirements, though - Vettel had taken pole position in a wet practice session and, in equally damp conditions in the race, led from the start. It remains Toro Rosso's only GP victory - but Mr Vettel has won a few more since.

Alan van der Merwe during a shakedown in his BAR that was specifically modified for the record attempt © Sutton Images
Alan van der Merwe set a speed record in an F1 car going in a straight line. Does this make him the fastest man in an F1 car? Or have people now gone faster? asked Luke Harrison

The South African driver Alan van der Merwe does indeed still hold the absolute speed record an F1 car, having averaged 397.36kph (246.908mph) over two attempts at the flying straight mile at Bonneville Salt Flats during 2006. He was driving a BAR Honda, which conformed to all F1 regulations at the time. Van der Merwe, who was the British Formula 3 champion in 2003, later raced in the short-lived A1 Grand Prix series, and since 2009 has been the driver of the F1 medical car at grand prix meetings.

Paul di Resta won the German Touring Car Championship in 2010. Is he the only Briton to win it? asked Dave Campbell

The Scottish driver Paul di Resta did indeed win the German Touring Car Championship (the DTM, or "Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters") in 2010, shortly before signing for what became a successful debut F1 season for Force India. The only other British driver to win the DTM title (it started in 1984, and assumed its current format in 2000) is Garry Paffett, who won in 2005. He has also been runner-up three times, including behind his Mercedes team-mate di Resta last year. Paffett has for some time been one of McLaren's test drivers.

Who has won the most GPs in a season without becoming world champion? asked Michael Rose

Three drivers have recorded seven wins in an F1 season without winning the title. The unfortunate Alain Prost actually did it twice: he won seven times in 1984, but lost out by half a point to his McLaren team-mate, Niki Lauda, who "only" won five times but also had four second places to Prost's one. Prost's wins that year included the Monaco GP, for which only half points were awarded as less than 75% of the scheduled race distance was completed after heavy rain: had Prost received full points for that win (Lauda retired during the race) he would have been world champion. Prost also won seven races in 1988, but lost out again, this time to Ayrton Senna - another team-mate - who won eight. Prost actually collected more points that season - 105 to Senna's 94 - but the drivers could only count their 11 best results, which gave Senna a 90-87 lead in the end. In 2005 Kimi Raikkonen won seven races but lost out to Fernando Alonso, who also had seven wins but better minor placings. And Alonso did it again the following year: Michael Schumacher won seven races in 2006, but Alonso - who also won seven - pipped him by virtue of having seven runners-up spots as well.