List of the week: pole position

April 20, 2009

There’ll be a more considered look at the Chinese Grand Prix here later on, but Sebastian Vettel’s excellent win yesterday means he still has a 100% record of converting pole position into race victory.  On the whole, anybody who has taken pole for a World Championship Grand Prix has usually gone on to win one, whether from the front of the grid or not.  In the 59-year history of the championship, there are just nine drivers who saw off all their rivals in qualifying but never managed to do the same in the race.

Chris Amon (NZ) 5 pole positions (1968 Spain, Belgium, Netherlands; 1971 Italy; 1972 France)

The brilliant Amon, clearly the best Formula 1 driver to never win a World Championship round, was afflicted by the most diabolical luck when there were championship points on offer.  Despite his frequent successes in non-Championship Formula 1 races and in a multitude of other formulae – including the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1966 – Amon had to be satisfied with a best of three second place finishes.  Fortunately, a sportsman and a gentleman to the last, he was.

Teo Fabi (I) 3 pole positions (1985 Germany; 1986 Austria, Italy)

It’s difficult to know quite what to make of Teo Fabi’s career in Formula 1, encompassing 71 Grands Prix in the mid-1980s.  Driving exclusively for some fairly competitive upper-midfield teams, he would only occasionally put his head above the parapet and make his presence felt.  His best finish – two third-places – is probably a fair reflection of events.  His three pole positions, meanwhile, came out of left field.  He planted a Toleman Hart at the front of the grid for the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring in 1985, a season dominated by Alain Prost’s McLaren and Michele Alboreto’s Ferrari.  In 1986, he used the rebranded Benetton’s enormously powerful turbocharged BMW engine to take pole at the season’s two fastest tracks, leading in the first race before his motor failed.  Mechanical problems also saw him have to start the latter from the pit lane.

Jean-Pierre Jarier (F) 3 pole positions (1975 Argentina, Brazil; 1978 Canada)

An enigma.  Occasionally fast beyond belief, Jarier was too often afflicted with less-than-competitive machinery and mechanical gremlins.  He created a sensation in 1975, qualifying on pole for the first two Grands Prix of the season in an unfancied Shadow Ford.  However, a mechanical fault saw him unable to take the start in the Argentine race, whilst in Brazil he led until the car again let him down.  Finally given a chance in top line equipment at the championship-winning Lotus team in 1978 following the death of Ronnie Peterson in Italy, Jarier repeated the trick, dominating the Canadian Grand Prix until his car failed.  His best finish was third place, achieved three times in a career of crazily fluctuating fortunes and a lot of smoke.

Stuart Lewis-Evans (GB) 2 pole postions (1957 Italy; 1958 Netherlands)

Lewis-Evans, a driver managed by Bernie Ecclestone, is now largely forgotten, superceded by a welter of successful British racing drivers.  This is a shame, as Lewis-Evans demonstrated in his 14 Grands Prix a great deal of skill and promise – enough, indeed, to suggest that his name could have easily joined that of Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill or John Surtees in the pantheon of English World Champions of the era.  Driving for Vanwall in 1958, Lewis-Evans achieved two podium finishes in third place – helping his team to the inaugural Constructor’s Cup – which would represent his best results.  His engine siezed up in the season-closing Moroccan Grand Prix, causing him to crash heavily.  He died from the burns he sustained six days later.

Eugenio Castellotti (I) one pole position (1955 Belgium)

The archetype flamboyant young Italian racing driver, Castellotti’s bravado endeared him to a generation of impressionable motor racing fans.  He had the talent to back up his bluster, though, finishing second in his second World Championship Grand Prix and taking pole for his third.  A further second place finish followed in France the following season.  He was killed when he was thrown clear of the Ferrari sports car he was testing at Monza early in 1957, aged just 26.

Andrea de Cesaris (I) one pole position (1982 Long Beach)

A countercultural legend of Formula 1 motor racing, de Cesaris achieved the majority of his notoriety thanks to his relentless crashing.  However, it must also be remembered that he was occasionally very, very quick.  Only bad luck prevented him from potentially winning in Belgium in 1983 and 1991, whilst he planted his Alfa Romeo on the front of the grid in California’s premier motor sport even at the beginning of the 1982 season.  In the race, however, he got held up by Raul Boesel’s lapped car whilst dicing for the lead with Niki Lauda’s McLaren.  Deciding to shake his gearchanging fist at the recalcitrant Boesel, Lauda easily slipped by on the straight.  His best result – 2 second places in the 1983 season – was not enough to save him from the ignimony of establishing the record for most Grand Prix starts without a race win: 208.

Nick Heidfeld (D) one pole position (2005 Europe)

Arriving in Formula 1 in 2000, a multiple champion in lower formulae and with backing from McLaren and Mercedes, much was expected of Heidfeld.  A dismal first season at the uncompetitive Prost team, though, saw much of the heat dissipate.  Settling into drives with Sauber, Jordan and Williams, Heidfeld has proven himself solid, quick and dependable without ever really showing the spark which might entice a top-line team to take a punt on running him.  Now back at Sauber in their new guise as BMW, Heidfeld has found himself in the most competitive machinery of his career and really must deliver quickly, as Andrea de Cesaris’ rather undesirable record is looming ever closer.  Heidfeld is already the proud owner of his own little piece of statistical history: his eight second places are the most runner-up spots ever achieved by a non-winning driver.

Mike Parkes (GB) one pole position (1966 Italy)

A talented engineer as well as a gifted driver, Parkes spent the majority of his short (7 Grands Prix) career at Ferrari.  However, his gifts as a spannerman were more richly prized than his driving by Enzo Ferrari and, in a time of unspeakable risk and danger, he was frequently passed over in favour of other drivers.  Nevertheless, he suffered a terrifying crash in the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix, from which he was fortunate to escape with just two broken legs, which ended his top line motor sport career.  He died in a road accident ten years later.

Tom Pryce (GB) one pole position (1975 Britain)

Pryce is often rightly cited as the one that got away.  A driver of enormous talent, his best of two third place finishes is more a reflection of his meagre equipment – Pryce spent his entire career save for one race with the midfield Shadow team – than his skill.  Still, despite the shortcomings of his cars, he was still able to exhibit enough of his huge natural ability to suggest he had the makings of a future Grand Prix great.  Sadly, it was not to be, as Pryce was killed in a brutal, freak accident at the 1977 South African Grand Prix, hitting a fire marshall who carelessly ran across Kyalami’s undulating pit straight in order to help Pryce’s stranded teammate Renzo Zorzi.

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