• Ask Steven

From Kovalainen to kidnapping

Steven Lynch August 30, 2012
Heikki Kovalainen is a race winner but is currently driving for Caterham © Sutton Images

I'm an admirer of Heikki Kovalainen. Do you think he should get a chance in a more competitive car? asked Craig Morrison

Heikki Kovalainen does seem to have been doing well in the Caterham, usually being the most competitive of the drivers from the three "new" teams who inhabit the back of the grid. I suspect he does deserve a drive in a more competitive car - but the same could no doubt be said for one or two others and, sad to say, it's usually money (or at least the promise of sponsorship cash) which has the final say. Kovalainen has, of course, won a Grand Prix - in Hungary in 2008, when he was Lewis Hamilton's team-mate at McLaren. He had a consistent year, finishing seventh in the championship with 53 points, but had a tougher time in 2009 (12th overall) before being released and joining the team now called Caterham for 2010. Kovalainen was 13th in the 2012 Monaco GP, the best result so far this year by one of the three backmarker teams (his team-mate Vitaly Petrov equalled that at the European GP in Valencia). Marussia's best position so far this season is a brace of 14ths by Timo Glock, in Australia and Monaco, while Narain Karthikeyan finished 15th for HRT in Monaco.

What controls are in place to ensure the teams do actually close for the summer break and don't work away from the team HQ? asked Peter Arnold from Australia

All the teams have subscribed to the idea that there should be a general mid-season lockdown to allow the mechanics, engineers and other employees to have a proper two-week break. I'm not sure there are any physical checks, but all the teams are in agreement that a two-week shutdown should be in place. So there shouldn't be anything happening in any of the team's design offices during that time, although some outfits have taken the opportunity to upgrade their factories or, in the case of Caterham, move premises. I do know that as well as closing down the racing side McLaren shut their road-car operation, which they didn't need to do.

Who has started from the front row of the grid most often? asked Nick Thompson

There's no prizes for guessing that the answer here is Michael Schumacher, who has been on the front row in 116 of his 299 GPs to date - that includes a record 68 pole positions. Second (but only just) is Ayrton Senna, who started from the front row in more than half his 162 GPs - 87 times, with 65 poles. Senna just pips Alain Prost, who had 86 front-row starts (33 poles). Nigel Mansell is quite a long way behind with 56, then comes a distinguished tie, on 48, between Juan-Manuel Fangio and Jim Clark. Fangio only took part in 52 GPs, so started a remarkable 92% of them from the front row - although it should be pointed out that back in the 1950s and '60s the front row usually consisted of three cars, and sometimes four. Sebastian Vettel has currently started from the front row on 45 occasions, and Lewis Hamilton 43.

Carlos Pace won his only grand prix in 1975 © Sutton Images

Who was Jose Carlos Pace, after whom the Interlagos track is named? asked Brian Cutmore

Carlos Pace was a Brazilian racing driver whose only Grand Prix victory came, appropriately enough, at Interlagos. Driving a Brabham, he beat his fellow Brazilian, Emerson Fittipaldi, home by just under six seconds in 1975. Pace, who had made his GP debut in a Williams in 1972, finished sixth in the world championship in 1975, his best position. Still with Brabham, he made a good start to the 1977 season, finishing second in Argentina - but, after two more races in which he failed to score any points, in March Pace was sadly killed in a light aircraft accident near his home in Sao Paolo.

Who was the first F1 world champion to die of natural causes? asked Stephen Kelly

Sadly, several F1 world champions perished in accidents - usually in cars, but Graham Hill was killed in a plane crash. The first one to die of natural causes was Denny Hulme, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 1992 - but even he was driving in a race at the time. Hulme's attack occurred during the famous annual 1000km race at Bathurst, in Australia: pictures showed his car coasting to a halt along one of the straights, bumping gently up against the barriers. When marshals reached the car Hulme was already dead. He was 56, and had won the world F1 championship in a Brabham in 1967.

Is it true that the great Fangio was once kidnapped before a Grand Prix? asked Colin Mitchell

Bizarrely, it is true, and it happened at the Cuban GP - a non-championship race - in 1958. There was tension in the country at the time between the established government and the rebel forces, led by Fidel Castro, which were soon to prevail. Supporters of Castro abducted Fangio, the reigning world champion, from his hotel the night before the race. Fangio was well treated, and was later released unharmed, saying: "Well, this is one more adventure. If what the rebels did was in a good cause, then I, as an Argentine, accept it." The government ordered the race to go ahead as planned, but it ended in tragedy after seven laps when a car spun off into the crowd, killing seven people. By 1959 Castro's forces had taken over, but there was one final Cuban GP, in 1960 (still a non-championship race), which was won by Stirling Moss. Fangio's kidnapping was covered in more detail in an ESPN F1 feature a couple of years ago.

And there's an update to one of the questions in the last column, from Jon in Switzerland

"In addition to Oscar Galvez and Eric Thompson, the South African driver Neville Lederle also started only one world championship Grand Prix - the 1962 South African GP - and finished in the points in sixth place. He did subsequently try to qualify for a second race (in South Africa three years later) but failed to do so."