• Ask Steven

'The voice of Formula One'

Steven Lynch May 11, 2012
Murray Walker never raced professionally but is highly regarded among Formula One drivers © Sutton Images

Was Murray Walker, "the voice of Formula One", ever a grand prix driver himself? asked Mark Hillman

The long-serving commentator Murray Walker was never a grand prix driver, no - but in his youth he did dabble in racing motor-cycles (his father was a noted biker). But Murray admitted in his autobiography that, "despite my father's genes, I was no more than a fairly competent club-standard rider". He made up for that by becoming synonymous with televised motor sport in the 1960s and afterwards. Even now, at 88, he still pops up from time to time on the F1 circuit - and his legendary gaffes will long outlive him!

I noticed that the first Spanish GPs were held at a circuit called Pedralbes. Where was this? And has any Spaniard ever won his home grand prix? asked Jack Sutton

Pedralbes, which hosted the Spanish GPs of 1951 and 1954, was a street circuit in the western suburbs of Barcelona. Mike Hawthorn, who won that 1954 race, wrote: "It is composed of broad avenues and wide streets, and there are some very fast stretches, but it is also bumpy in parts. It measures 3.9 miles to the lap." It is one of five circuits to have staged a world championship Spanish GP, the others being Jarama (near Madrid), Montjuic Park (Barcelona), Jerez, and the current one at Catalunya (north of Barcelona), which has held the race since 1991. There have also been four European GPs since 2008 at Valenica (Jerez also hosted the European GP twice). The only Spanish driver to win at home is the man you might expect: Fernando Alonso won the Spanish GP in a Renault in 2006, a result that stretched his lead in the championship, which he ended up winning for the second year running.

Is it true that Jenson Button did not win a GP until his 100th race? asked Tim Bright

It's actually even worse than that - Jenson Button's first GP victory didn't come until his 114th race, in Hungary in 2006. He's certainly made up for it since, though, and currently has 13 wins under his belt. Button is one of six drivers who waited more than 100 races for their first win: Giancarlo Fisichella (who took the chequered flag for the first time in his 111th Grand Prix), Nico Rosberg (112), Jarno Trulli (120), Rubens Barrichello (124) and Mark Webber (131). No-one has broken their duck in their 100th race (Mika Hakkinen is closest, with 97), but the first victory for the 1970 world champion Jochen Rindt came in his 50th race, the 1969 United States GP at Watkins Glen.

Damon Hill very nearly gave Arrows its first win but was relegated to second in the closing laps © Sutton Images

Which constructor has entered the most races without ever winning? I'll win my bet if it's Minardi ... asked Brett Cooper

I'm sorry to lose you your bet, but the least successful constructor in terms of F1 wins is actually Arrows, whose cars entered 368 races between 1978 and 2002 (including some when the car was called a Footwork) without ever winning one. They did collect five second places, the most memorable being Damon Hill's in Hungary in 1997, when a slight mechanical fault towards the end just cost him an upset victory. You're right that Minardis were usually to be found towards the back of the grid: they entered 345 races between 1985 and 2005, but their best placings were three fourth-place finishes, by Pierluigi Martini (two in 1991) and Christian Fittipaldi (1993). Minardi did, however, give early F1 chances to several notable drivers, including Fernando Alonso (who had his debut season with them in 2001, when he was only 19) and Mark Webber.

I remember Damon Hill once running in a car bearing the number 0. Is there any number that has never been used in a grand prix? asked Christopher Lawes

Damon Hill (in 1993-94) and Jody Scheckter (in 1973) have both driven cars with the number 0 in Grands Prix. In Hill's case it started because he had replaced Nigel Mansell, the 1992 world champion, at Williams, and it was felt inappropriate that he should race car No. 1 (Mansell did not take part in the championship that season). As far as I can see every number between 0 and 99 has been used in Grand Prix racing - except No. 96, for some reason. No. 100 has never been seen either. The "unlucky" No. 13 was used for a while, although it isn't now. I believe the highest number ever used in a world championship Grand Prix was 208, by the Italian lady driver Lella Lombardi during her debut at the British GP at Brands Hatch in 1974 - her Brabham was sponsored by Radio Luxembourg, whose medium-wave frequency was 208.

You wrote recently about Jean-Pierre Beltoise, who won just one grand prix (BRM's last victory). How many people have taken the chequered flag only once? asked Carl Bridgeman

Jean-Pierre Beltoise, whose only win came in a wet race at Monaco in 1972, is one of 32 drivers who have won a solitary F1 world championship race. That number includes nine American drivers who won the Indianapolis 500 once when it counted towards the world title (1950-60). It also includes a few people who may yet get themselves off the list by winning a second time - the likeliest of these is probably Nico Rosberg, who claimed his maiden victory in China recently. Other current drivers with just one grand prix win to their name are Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica. The list also contains Giancarlo Baghetti, who won his first Grand Prix (in France in 1961), but never finished on the podium again.