• Ask Steven

Red number five

Steven Lynch November 23, 2012
Nigel Mansell on the Adelaide grid in 1992 with the prominent red number five on his Williams © Sutton Images

Nigel Mansell famously raced with a red number five on the front of his car. Was this a superstition, and what caused it? asked Larry Edwards

I wasn't sure, and trawled through Nigel Mansell's books to find out - but it doesn't seem to be mentioned, so it wasn't superstition (at least not to begin with). And then I read something that suggested the reason he started to race "red five" was more prosaic: that the colour scheme on the 1985 Williams car made it difficult for spectators and officials to differentiate between car No. 5 (Mansell's) and the No. 6 of his team-mate Keke Rosberg. So Mansell's white number was changed to a red one, to make identification easier - and later that season Nigel won his first Grand Prix (the European, at Brands Hatch in October). He took the chequered flag at the next race, too, and I suspect it was about this time he got more attached to the idea of having the red five on the front of the car! When he started his successful stint in Indycar racing in America he chose that number too. Jonathan Williams, of the Williams F1 team, confirmed: "It was introduced early in the 1985 season following initial difficulties identifying between our two cars at speed. Nigel used red five through to the end of his first stint with Williams, and again through 1991 and 1992. When he joined us for four races in 1994, he drove with number two [world champion Alain Prost had No. 1], which was also in red just for Nigel."

Has anybody ever just won one Grand Prix, it being his home-country one? asked Carl Morgan

At the moment there are 24 drivers who have won just one Grand Prix - this includes three current drivers, but excludes nine Americans who won the Indianapolis 500 between 1950 and 1960, when it counted towards the F1 title. Of those, just two have recorded their one and only F1 victory in their home Grand Prix. The first was Ludovico Scarfiotti, who won the 1966 Italian GP in a Ferrari. It was only his fourth GP - he was rather better known as a sports-car driver, and won Le Mans in 1963 - and he remains the last Italian to win the Italian GP. The other home winner was Carlos Pace, from Sao Paolo, who won the 1975 Brazilian GP in a Brabham. The Interlagos circuit, which is in Sao Paolo, was later renamed after Pace, who was killed in a plane crash in 1977.

Sebastian Vettel seems to get a lot of pole positions. Where does he stand on the all-time list? asked Colin Taylor

Sebastian Vettel's pole position at the United States GP in Austin last week was the 36th time he has set the fastest practice lap: that puts him third overall, having passed Jim Clark and Alain Prost (both 33) earlier this season. But Vettel had a lot of successful practice sessions ahead if he wants to move up the table: Ayrton Senna took pole position 65 times, and Michael Schumacher 68. The race in Austin was Vettel's 100th GP, so it's a nice easy calculation that he has been on pole in 36% of his races. The only drivers with higher percentages are Juan Manuel Fangio (55.7%), Jim Clark (45.2), Alberto Ascari (42.4) and Ayrton Senna (40.1).

The odd-looking Eifelland-March 721 on track in 1972 © Sutton Images

I remember a bizarre-looking F1 car in the 1970s that looked a bit like a saucer. What was this? asked George Maybury

I suspect the car you're thinking about was the Eifelland, which made a brief appearance in the 1972 season, driven by the German Rolf Stommelen. Eifelland was better known as a maker of caravans - the name comes from the Eifel mountains, not far from the Nurburgring - and the original car (based on the March 721) did look quite unusual, with flowing surfaces and wings. It proved unreliable, and was prone to overheating ... and soon reappeared looking more like a normal March. Still, Stommelen's best finishes in eight outings that season were a pair of tenth places, at Monaco and Brands Hatch.

The only GP2 champion not racing in F1 now is Giorgio Pantano, who won in 2008. What happened to him? asked James Clarke

I suppose it's a question of being in the right place at the right time, and sadly the Italian Giorgio Pantano wasn't. He did drive for Jordan for most of 2004, but the team was underfunded, and the best he managed in 14 starts was a pair of 13th places. Pantano moved to GP2 when it started in 2005, and after consistently doing well he won the title in 2008 - but that hasn't yet led to another F1 chance and, since Pantano will be 34 before next season starts, I suppose it's a bit unlikely now, which is sad for someone with such obvious talent. He has done some single-seater racing in America, but without much success. For the record, the other GP2 champions have been Nico Rosberg (2005), Lewis Hamilton (2006), Timo Glock (2007), Nico Hulkenberg (2009), Pastor Maldonado (2010) and Romain Grosjean (2011). So watch out for the 2012 champion, the Italian Davide Valsecchi!

Which driver was nicknamed "Rat Droppings"? asked Norman Johnson

This unenviable nickname was sometimes applied to the persistent French driver Maurice Trintignant, who won twice in a long F1 career, both at Monaco, in 1955 and 1958. His long career - which included winning a big race in 1939, 11 years before the official world championship started - stretched to 1964: he took part in 84 GPs in all. But his nickname stretched back to the Second World War, during which Trintignant stored his racing Bugatti in a barn. After hostilities ended he rescued it, but dropped out of his first race back with a clogged fuel filter. It turned out that he had forgotten to clean the filter, which was clogged with rat droppings ... hence the unflattering nickname of "Le Petoulet", or "rat droppings" in English. The triple world champion Niki Lauda was sometimes known as "The Rat", or "Super Rat", because of his prominent teeth - but at least he escaped the second part of Trintignant's nickname.