Slow starters

April 22, 2009

There has been much discussion in the press, on the broadcast media and online about the dismal start to the Grand Prix season being endured by Ferrari.  This reaction is understandable given their almost monotonous level of success over the past decade, where they have won all but two Constructors’ Championship titles.  However, Ferrari are no real strangers to adversity, as you might expect from any team of a 59-year pedigree.  Previous fallow periods include the early 1990s – when the team went for nearly 4 full seasons without a race win – the early 1980s and the early 1970s, which culminated in a season of such lacklustreness in 1973 that the team often ran just one car for Jacky Ickx and didn’t even bother entering four of the the last six events.

The common uniting thread in all this, however, is that competitiveness has always returned.  In 1974, under new management with a new car and new drivers, Ferrari began a 6-year spell which yielded 3 drivers’ and 4 constructors’ championship titles.  The early 1980s saw a pair of dismal years immediately followed by two title-winning efforts for the team.  And the 1990s slump led to the construction of the Todt-Brawn-Byrne-Martinelli-Schumacher superteam who swept all before it in unprecedented style.

Ferrari’s problems this year seem to be related to grip, which a new aerodynamic package will be looking to address.  More of a concern must be their lack of reliability.  Previously bulletproof, Ferrari will be mindful of the old motor racing truism that it is easier to make a reliable car fast than it is to make a fast car reliable.  I think it’s fair inconceivable that the team will be in the doldrums for the whole of the 2009 season.  Felipe Massa particularly has demonstrated good speed in the races, only to be let down by his machinery, and their technical team is second to none.  The fact, however, remains that the team go into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix knowing that a failure to score any points for the fourth successive race at the start of a season will be a new low tidemark.

In the spirit of Toto Roche’s Flag, I have decided to take a look through the history books (literally, in this case), to look at Ferrari’s other bad starts to a Grand Prix season.

1993 After 3 events: 1 point (@ 0.167 points-per-start)

Ferrari were really in a hole in the early 1990s.  Their drivers – Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger – managed just a finish apiece in the first 3 races of 1993, with Berger taking the only point at the season opener at Kyalami.  In the July of this year, Jean Todt was brought in as team manager after a success in a similar role at Peugeot motorsport. 

What happened next: Fortunes picked up slightly as the season wore on, but the team only managed a final total of 28 points, good enough for 4th place.  The high point were three podium finishes – two for Alesi and one for Berger – with a best of 2nd in Italy.

1992 After 3 events: 5 points (0.833)

At the end of a disappointing 1991 season, where the team failed to win a race a season after fighting for the drivers’ championship, lead driver Alain Prost was made the scapegoat and sacked for unflattering comments about his car’s handling in the press.  Lacking any real experience or direction, Jean Alesi and Ivan Capelli struggled on as best they could with an unreliable and slow car.  Their haul of points all came at the third round in Brazil as the cars finished 4th and 5th, after retirements for both drivers in the first two races. 

What happened next: The team again finished 4th, with just 21 points to their name.  Alesi managed two podium finishes again – including one in the fourth race.  Capelli, however, struggled badly and was dropped for the last two races, replaced by the none-more-successful Nicola Larini.

1986 After 3 rounds: 3 points (0.500)

Again, Ferrari made a meal of things a year after a season where their lead driver challenged for the world crown.  In this instance, their points came from Stefan Johansson’s 4th place at the season’s 3rd round in Imola.  The problems were again twofold, with a slow and unreliable car. 

What happened next: Ferrari finished 4th with 33 points, Stefan Johansson’s four 3rd places and Michele Alboreto’s second in Austria the highlights.  Behind the scenes, major changes were afoot.  For 1987, Ferrari signed McLaren designer John Barnard, whose Guildford Technical Office built a car which won the final two races of the 1987 season in the hands of Gerhard Berger.

1981 After 3 rounds: 0 points

1980 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Ferrari began the 1980s in a terrible state.  Their 1980 season was a disaster, with defending World Champion Jody Scheckter scoring only 2 points all year and failing to qualify for the Canadian Grand Prix.  In his teammate Gilles Villeneuve, Ferrari had the generation’s outstanding driver, but even he was unable to wring anything out of the dire 312T5, a best of two fifths and two sixths.  He faired a little better in 1981, now alongside Didier Pironi in place of the retired Scheckter.  The season started even more woefully, though.  In 1980, the team at least managed a 16th place finish in the first 3 rounds.  In 1981 the first 6 starts yielded not a single finish. 

What happened next: Thanks in the most part to the brilliance of Villeneuve, Ferrari won two races in 1981, both of them masterpieces of the art.  Villeneuve won the Monaco Grand Prix in the worst handling car in the field when his exceptional teammate Pironi struggled to even qualify the car.  He followed this up with his famous Spanish Grand Prix win at Jarama, where he successfully used his car’s one major façet – it’s straighline speed – to defend against attack from a queue of four faster cars.  Ferrari went on to win the Constructors’ Cup in 1982 and 1983, but it was not without a cost.  Villeneuve died in a qualifying crash early in the 1982 season, whilst Pironi’s season was ended prematurely – with the Frenchman leading the championship – after a terrifying leg-breaking shunt in practice for the German Grand Prix.  1980’s tally was 8 points and 10th place, with an improvement to 34 and 5th in 1981.

1970 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Ferrari were all out of sorts at the beginning of the 1970s, as the new Cosworth DFV engine was adopted by the majority of their rivals, leaving Ferrari’s V12 hopelessly heavy and antiquated.  Behind also in chassis development, the team cut their losses and only entered a single car for Jacky Ickx in the early rounds, but it failed to finish a single one. 

What happened next: Ferrari’s fortunes picked up hugely from mid-season, the team eventually finishing second with 52 points.  Drivers Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni racked up 4 wins, 5 pole positions and 8 fastest laps.  Their form was not sustained, however, as the introduction of Tyrrell’s first self-made car took all the honours for 1971.  By 1973 the team were in turmoil, leading to wholesale management changes and the appointment of Niki Lauda as lead driver.

1969 After 3 rounds: 0 points

Similarly to their 1970 season, Ferrari’s main problem in 1969 was the new DFV engine.  Their sole entrant, Chris Amon, failed to finish in any of the first 3 races.  What happened next: Ferrari scored just 7 points in1969, finishing equal bottom of the standings.  The highlight of their year was Amon’s 3rd place in the Dutch Grand Prix.

1964 After 3 rounds: 6 points

A slow start to the season, their sole points score coming from John Surtees’ 2nd place in round two. 

What happened next: After a slow first 4 rounds, Ferrari burst into life in the final 6 races of the season.  Finishing with at least one car on the podium of each of them, John Surtees 5 such finishes were enough to give him the drivers’ crown after the final race decider in Mexico.  Teammate Lorenzo Bandini also won a Grand Prix, at Austria, to go alongside Surtees’ two victories.  With a further 3 third places from Bandini, Ferrari also won their first Constructors’ Cup since 1961.


Since Red Bull Racing’s bold strut into the winners’ circle last Sunday morning, I have seen literally nobody ask the question: how many teams have now won a World Championship Grand Prix race?  Luckily, I’m always on hand to answer any such non-questions.  The answer is 30.

This is not completely straightforward, however.  The thirty ‘teams’ in question are in fact manufacturers or constructors.  It must be remembered of course that numbers 6 and 8 in the list – Cooper and Lotus – had their first Grand Prix successes courtesy of Rob Walker Racing’s privateer team, whilst 14 (Matra) scored all of their success thanks to Ken Tyrrell’s team’s stewardship at the track.  Tyrrell also won the first victory for March (number 15) in the year before he went solo and became number 16.  More recently, of course, it’s arguable that Toro Rosso’s maiden victory in Italy last autumn was in fact a success for Red Bull Racing, whose chassis the Italian team use.

Also complicating matters are issues such as family trees – the Red Bull Team bought the assets of Jaguar, who did the same to Stewart Grand Prix, race winners in their own right.  Brawn GP, too, have a complex past, with former race winning efforts from Honda and Tyrrell in their direct lineage.  Meanwhile, Lancia do not make the list, although their superb D50 car won several races after the outfit was forced to sell their stock to Ferrari, Juan Manuel Fangio winning the 1956 championship in a car badged as a Lancia-Ferrari.

With all this in mind, though, I have tried to present a balanced and considered list of the squads and cars that have won a Grand Prix in their own right.  Here it is, along with the race in which they first took the flag and the driver at the wheel.

1. Alfa Romeo (1950 British Grand Prix, Guiseppe Farina)
2. Ferrari (1951 British Grand Prix, José Frolian Gonzalez)
3. Maserati (1953 Italian Grand Prix, Juan Manuel Fangio)
4. Mercedes-Benz (1954 French Grand Prix, Juan Manuel Fangio)
5. Vanwall (1957 British Grand Prix, Tony Brooks/Stirling Moss)
6. Cooper (1958 Argentinian Grand Prix, Stirling Moss)
7. BRM (1959 Dutch Grand Prix, Jo Bonnier)
8. Lotus (1960 Monaco Grand Prix, Stirling Moss)
9. Porsche (1962 French Grand Prix, Dan Gurney)
10. Brabham (1964 French Grand Prix, Dan Gurney)
11. Honda (1965 Mexican Grand Prix, Richie Ginther)
12. Eagle (1967 Belgian Grand Prix, Dan Gurney)
13. McLaren (1968 Belgian Grand Prix, Bruce McLaren)
14. Matra (1968 Dutch Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart)
15. March (1970 Spanish Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart)
16. Tyrrell (1971 Spanish Grand Prix, Jackie Stewart)
17. Hesketh (1975 Dutch Grand Prix, James Hunt)
18. Penske (1976 Austrian Grand Prix, John Watson)
19. Wolf (1977 Argentinian Grand Prix, Jody Scheckter)
20. Ligier (1977 Swedish Grand Prix, Jacques Laffite)
21. Shadow (1977 Austrian Grand Prix, Alan Jones)
22. Renault (1979 French Grand Prix, Jean-Pierre Jabouille)
23. Williams (1979 British Grand Prix, Clay Regazzoni)
24. Benetton (1986 Mexican Grand Prix, Gerhard Berger)
25. Jordan (1998 Belgian Grand Prix, Damon Hill)
26. Stewart (1999 European Grand Prix, Johnny Herbert)
27. BMW Sauber (2008 Canadian Grand Prix, Robert Kubica)
28. Scuderia Toro Rosso (2008 Italian Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel)
29. Brawn (2009 Australian Grand Prix, Jenson Button)
30. Red Bull Racing (2009 Chinese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel)

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.

With a bit of luck I’ll manage to crack out a more considered review of today’s semi-aquatic happenings in Sepang for you tomorrow.  Until then, you’ll have to make do with the moment you’ve all been dreading: the (albeit probably sporadic) return of list of the week.

This week: the twenty current Formula 1 drivers listed in order of when they last actually won a competitive motor race, from most to least recent.

1. Jenson Button 5th April 2009 (Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang)
2. Felipe Massa 2nd November 2008 (Formula 1 Brazilian Grand Prix, Interlagos)
3. Lewis Hamilton 19th October 2008 (Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai)
4. Fernando Alonso 12th October 2008 (Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix, Fuji Speedway)
5. Sebastian Vettel 14th September 2008 (Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix, Monza)
6. Heikki Kovalainen 3rd August 2008 (Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix, Hungaroring)
7. Sebastien Buemi 3rd August 2008 (GP2 Series Hungaroring sprint race)
8. Robert Kubica 8th June 2008 (Formula 1 Canadian Grand Prix, Montréal)
9. Kimi Räikkönen 27th April 2008 (Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix, Montmélo)
10. Sebastién Bourdais 11th November 2007 (Champ Car World Series Grand Prix of Mexico City, Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez)
11. Timo Glock 30th September 2007 (GP2 Series Valencia sprint race, Circuit Ricardo Tormo)
12. Adrian Sutil 27th August 2006 (All-Japan Formula 3 Fuji Speedway race 2)
13. Nelson Piquet Jr 26th August 2006 (GP2 Series Istanbul feature race)
14. Kazuki Nakajima 30th April 2006 (Formula 3 Euroseries Lausitzring race 2)
15. Giancarlo Fisichella 19th March 2006 (Formula 1 Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang)
16. Nico Rosberg 30th September 2005 (GP2 Series Bahrain sprint race, Sakhir)
17. Rubens Barrichello 26th September 2004 (Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai)
18. Jarno Trulli 23rd May 2004 (Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix)
19. Mark Webber 30th June 2001 (International Formula 3000 Magny-Cours)
20. Nick Heidfeld 24th July 1999 (International Formula 3000 Spielberg (A1-Ring))

A fairly impressive bunch of results.  Eighteen drivers have troubled the trophy engravers within the past five years, nine of whom have done so in the last 12 months and twelve having won fully-fledged World Championship Grands Prix.  The lowliest win is probably that of Adrian Sutil in an All-Japan F3 race, which nevertheless contributed to a championship-winning season in a well-respected Formula 3 series.  Most notable for me is Nick Heidfeld, just a few months short of a full winless decade.  At which time this blog will start to call him exclusively by girls’ names.

More Malaysian preamble

April 1, 2009

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the first Malaysian Grand Prix.  It increasingly looks like a marker post for the future of Formula 1, the first stage in the expansion of the sport into the East.  More importantly, though, it has usually provided some good, interesting racing, which is all that really matters.  As is my wont, I’ve decided to crunch some hard stats about the Malaysian Grand Prix.


Date: 21.3.2004.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1m33.047.  Fastest race lap: Juan Pablo Montoya 1m34.223  Race winner: Michael Schumacher, from Juan Pablo Montoya and Jenson Button (BAR Honda).

Notes: The second round of a World Championship completely dominated by Michael Schumacher and Ferrari.  The German won the first 5 races of the year and thirteen in total to win his 7th World Championship.  As you might expect from such a season, the race win here was very much a foregone conclusion, although there was some extra spice for British fans as Jenson Button scored his first ever podium finish in a Grand Prix.


Date: 20.3.2005.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Fernando Alonso (Renault) 3m07.672 (2 lap aggregate).  Fastest race lap: Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes) 1m35.483  Race winner: Fernando Alonso, from Jarno Trulli (Toyota) and Nick Heidfeld (Williams BMW).

Notes: All change, with Michael Schumacher a distant 13th on the grid after practice problems in a largely uncompetitive Ferrari.  The 2005 rules, with no mid-race tyre stops allowed, also played havoc on the field as cars demolished their rear tyres in the heat, making for some exciting and unpredictable on-track dices.  One such battle saw a waning Giancarlo Fisichella passed by Nick Heidfeld for the final podium spot, only to tangle his Renault into a scrap heap with Heidfeld’s teammate Mark Webber at the next corner.  At the front, Alonso was serene.  Behind him, Toyota scored their first podium finish.


Date: 19.3.2006.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Giancarlo Fisichella (Renault) 1m33.840.  Fastest race lap: Fernando Alonso (Renault) 1m33.803 Race winner: Giancarlo Fisichella, from Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button (Honda).

Notes: With Ferrari again slow to start the season, Renault again dominated the Malaysian Grand Prix, this time with Fisichella in control of the race, for once having the measure of Fernando Alonso, who qualified only 7th but came through quickly.  Jenson Button scored the reformed Honda team an early podium finish, but was never realistically on terms.


Date: 8.4.2007.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1m35.043  Fastest race lap:Lewis Hamilton (McLaren Mercedes) 1m36.701 Race winner: Fernando Alonso (McLaren Mercedes), from Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari).

Notes: An engrossing McLaren versus Ferrari showdown.  The red cars had the best of the practice, lining up 1st and 3rd.  However, on the run down to the first corner, the McLarens got amongst them.  As Alonso scampered off to his first win for McLaren – the team’s first, too, since Japan 2005 – Lewis Hamilton, in his second Grand Prix, served notice that he was going to cause the major players all kinds of trouble.  His determined and ultimately successful dice with the Ferrari pair, coupled to a fastest lap, made certain Formula 1 had a new star driver.


Date: 23.3.2008.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1m35.748  Fastest race lap:Nick Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) 1m35.366 Race winner: Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari), from Robert Kubica (BMW Sauber) and Heikki Kovalainen (McLaren Mercedes).

Notes: The bad blood between McLaren and Ferrari was still flowing under the surface from the fractious 2007 season.  Last year, the McLaren duo of Hamilton and Kovalainen were penalised for blocking other cars during qualifying, losing five grid places each.  Making hay, the Ferrari team had a largely untroubled run to race victory, although a one-two finish was lost after Felipe Massa lost control and spun into retirement at the fast double right-hander round the back of the circuit.


As I said yesterday, it’s hard to see any real changes in the order of the cars from Melbourne.  However, the field are so closely matched that subtle areas where one car is better than another or one driver is a particular Sepang enthusiast could realistically pay dividends.  KERS will no doubt be important on race day, with the two long straights joined together by the tight final corner.  Expect, too, the extravagant front wings to be flying into the first corner on the first lap.  Seeing as it’s not rained properly since 2001 during the race, that’s long overdue.  It’s perhaps made more likely by the start time, moved back to the early evening to better suit European TV schedules, as it was last weekend in Australia.  It’s also a traditional time for a decent-sized tropical evening downpour.  I think we could be in for another exciting Grand Prix race.

Malaysian preamble

March 31, 2009

More of the same is to be expected from this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang.  With only a week between the first and second races and the teams thousands of miles away from their European bases, it’s hard to see any of them making any fundamental progress up or down the grid.  Expect to see a strong performance from Brawn, then, but I have a feeling that it may prove to be Toyota, rather than Red Bull or BMW, who provide their sternest opposition for the laurels on race day.  Expect, too, to see a race which is at the very least as entertaining as last weekend’s, the Sepang track being custom-designed for modern F1 cars.  This could prove to be doubly so if the notoriously unpredictable and wild weather adds some rain into the mix.  Watch for Lewis Hamilton doing a rain dance in the pit lane.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the first Malaysian Grand Prix.  It increasingly looks like a marker post for the future of Formula 1, the first stage in the expansion of the sport into the East.  More importantly, though, it has usually provided some good, interesting racing, which is all that really matters.  As is my wont, I’ve decided to crunch some hard stats about the Malaysian Grand Prix.


Date: 17.10.1999.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1m39.688.  Fastest race lap: Michael Schumacher 1m40.267.  Race winner: Eddie Irvine (Ferrari), from Michael Schumacher and Mika Häkkinen (McLaren Mercedes)

Notes: This was Michael Schumacher’s return from the broken leg which sidelined him for much of the second half of the 1999 season.  He dominated the race meeting – the penultimate event of that year’s World Championship – holding up Mika Häkkinen’s McLaren and then allowing his teammate through to win, putting him in the driving seat in the title standings.  Ferrari were disqualified after the race for a technical infringement on their barge boards, temporarily handing Häkkinen the world crown until the decision was reversed on appeal.


Date: 22.10.2000.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1m37.397.  Fastest race lap: Mika Häkkinen (McLaren Mercedes) 1m38.542.  Race winner: Michael Schumacher, from David Coulthard (McLaren Mercedes) and Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari)

Notes: The final round of the 2000 World Championship, with the title decided already in Michael Schumacher’s favour.  A promising battle between him and Mika Häkkinen, his title rival, evapourated early after the Finn was penalised for jumping the start.  Schumacher cruised to victory at a track where he was always a class apart, although he was chased hard in the latter stages by David Coulthard.


Date: 18.3.2001.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny, becoming very wet due to a rainstorm, then drying.  Pole position: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1m35.220.  Fastest race lap: Mika Häkkinen (McLaren Mercedes) 1m40.962.  Race winner: Michael Schumacher, from Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) and David Coulthard (McLaren Mercedes).

Notes: The first Malaysian Grand Prix in its traditional early-season date, this was the 2nd round of the 2001 championship.  The race was action packed.  An early race monsoon made conditions impossible, so impossible that 6 of the first 10 laps were behind the safety car and both Ferraris spun off the track.  The pace of the Ferrari F2001, though, was simply too much for the rest of the field to contain.


Date: 17.3.2002.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) 1m35.266.  Fastest race lap: Juan Pablo Montoya (Williams BMW) 1m38.049  Race winner: Ralf Schumacher (Williams BMW), from Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael Schumacher.

Notes: An aberration in a season of crushing domination by Ferrari, the second round of the 2002 World Championship at the time gave us the ultimately false hope that Williams might be able to stop Schumacher from breezng to a 5th title.  As it was, Ferrari still dominated the early stages of the race, through Rubens Barrichello, until his car let him down mid-way.  Michael Schumacher, delayed by a penalty for colliding with Montoya turn 1 on the opening lap, could do no better than 3rd behind the Williams pair.  However, he went on to win the next four Grands Prix, and had the title wrapped up by July.


Date: 23.3.2003.  Weather: Hot, dry and sunny.  Pole position: Fernando Alonso (Renault) 1m37.044.  Fastest race lap: Michael Schumacher 1m36.412.  Race winner: Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren Mercedes), from Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) and Fernando Alonso.

Notes: After Schumacher, M.’s crushing domination of the 2002 season, a raft of measures were made to even the playing field.  And they worked, as you can see from this result.  Michael Schumacher, normally a class apart at Sepang, could do no better than 6th after another first corner tangle, this time with Renault’s Jarno Trulli.  Alonso – at the time the youngest ever F1 polesitter – became the youngest ever leader of a Grand Prix (both records since have been eclipsed by Sebastian Vettel) before Kimi Räikkönen assumed a comfortable lead.  A race of firsts, it was Fernando Alonso’s first ever pole position and first podium finish in a Grand Prix, whilst Kimi Räikkönen scored his first Grand Prix win.

Join us again later this week when I cover 2004-2008’s events, in florid prose.

Which country is the most successful in the 58-year history of the Formula 1 World Championship? The following list is a breakdown of race winners by their nationality. I’ve not worked out percentages, as the picture would be overly-complicated by the rules in the 1950s, which allowed shared drives.


The first era of the great manufacturer teams – Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Mercedes-Benz – was also the happiest hunting ground for Italian drivers. Three of the first four Championship titles were won by racers from Italy, with Alberto Ascari’s 1953 triumph still the most recent drivers’ champion from his country. Despite this, they can only muster 3rd place, thanks to the brilliance of Juan Manuel Fangio and the emerging talent from Great Britain.

ARGENTINA 26 (by 2 drivers: Juan Manuel Fangio, José Frolián Gonzalez)
GREAT BRITAIN 24 (by 4 drivers: Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Tony Brooks)
ITALY 21 (by 5 drivers: Guiseppe Farina, Luigi Fagioli, Alberto Ascari, Piero Tauruffi, Luigi Musso)
AUSTRALIA 2 (both by Jack Brabham)
FRANCE 2 (both by Maurice Trintignant)
NEW ZEALAND 1 (by Bruce McLaren)
SWEDEN 1 (by Joakim Bonnier)


The manufacturer era was killed off by the revolutionary thinking of British constructor teams such as Cooper, Vanwall, Lotus and BRM. As such, the 1960s were completely dominated by British teams and drivers, with only the only other titles going to America (Phil Hill, 1961) and Britain’s great Antipodean rivals Australia (Jack Brabham, 1960, 1966) and New Zealand (Denny Hulme, 1967). In the mid-sixties, British dominance was such that English and Scottish drivers won eighteen consecutive races between 1962 and 1964, including all ten events in 1963. They were almost as dominant in 1965, only Richie Ginther’s victory in the last round preventing another clean sweep. Meanwhile, Jochen Rindt’s solitary win for Austria in 1969 heralded the beginnings of something big for the country in the 1970s.

GREAT BRITAIN 61 (by 6 drivers: Stirling Moss, Innes Ireland, Graham Hill, Jim Clark, John Surtees, Jackie Stewart)
AUSTRALIA 11 (by Jack Brabham)
NEW ZEALAND 8 (by 2 drivers: Bruce McLaren, Denny Hulme)
UNITED STATES 8 (by 3 drivers: Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Richie Ginther)
BELGIUM 3 (by Jacky Ickx)
ITALY 3 (by 3 drivers: Giancarlo Baghetti, Lorenzo Bandini, Ludovico Scarfiotti)
GERMANY 2 (by Wolfgang von Trips)
AUSTRIA 1 (by Jochen Rindt)
MEXICO 1 (by Pedro Rodriguez)
SWITZERLAND 1 (by Jo Siffert)


A much more balanced picture in the 1970s, with British drivers heading up the list again only due to a series of what-might-have-beens. What if Jochen Rindt had not died before he knew he was the 1970 World Champion, driving the revolutionary Lotus 72? What if François Cevert had lived to assume Jackie Stewart’s mantle as the Tyrrell team leader? What if Jacky Ickx’s cars hadn’t gradually declined in competitiveness? Nevertheless, Austria and Brazil arrive on the scene in a big way, although for one it would be as good as it got. France, too, are starting to be very much in evidence, a result of the huge glut of talented French drivers who came through the European Formula 2 championship in that decade, plus big investments in talent by Elf and Renault. Italy, however, had a dismal 10 years, Vittorio “The Monza Gorilla” Brambilla’s shock win in the rain-shortened 1975 Austrian Grand Prix their sole success.

GREAT BRITAIN 25 (by 4 drivers: Jackie Stewart, Peter Gethin, James Hunt, John Watson)
AUSTRIA 22 (by 2 drivers: Jochen Rindt, Niki Lauda)
BRAZIL 15 (by 2 drivers: Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace)
UNITED STATES 14 (by 2 drivers: Mario Andretti, Peter Revson)
SWEDEN 11 (by 2 drivers: Ronnie Peterson, Gunnar Nilsson)
SOUTH AFRICA 10 (by Jody Scheckter)
ARGENTINA 9 (by Carlos Reutemann)
FRANCE 8 (by 5 drivers: François Cevert, Jean-Pierre Beltoise, Jacques Laffite, Patrick Depailler, Jean-Pierre Jabouille)

AUSTRALIA 6 (by 2 drivers: Jack Brabham, Alan Jones)
SWITZERLAND 6 (by 2 drivers: Jo Siffert, Clay Regazzoni)
BELGIUM 5 (by Jacky Ickx)
CANADA 4 (by Gilles Villeneuve)
NEW ZEALAND 3 (by Denny Hulme)
GERMANY 1 (by Jochen Mass)
ITALY 1 (by Vittorio Brambilla)
MEXICO 1 (by Pedro Rodriguez)


The turbo era boiled down to a battle between France and Brazil. France win mainly due to the exploits of Alain Prost, who won 21 races before finally securing his and his country’s first world crown. Prost’s 3 titles were eclipsed, however, by the Brazilian effort. Nelson Piquet secured 3 world titles in 1981, 1983 and 1987, whilst Ayrton Senna’s emergence in the 1984 season was the decade’s big story. Britain, meanwhile, went through an uncharacteristically lean spell. For the first time since the Championship began, no British driver won a World Title during the decade, and in 1980, 1984 and 1988 British drivers failed to win any races at all. Towards the bottom of the table, one can also spot the emergence of Finland, finally starting to reach their all-conquering motorsport tentacles into the single seat arena.

FRANCE 53 (by 6 drivers: René Arnoux, Didier Pironi, Jean-Pierre Jabouille, Jacques Lafitte, Alain Prost, Patrick Tambay)
BRAZIL 41 (by 2 drivers: Nelson Piquet, Ayrton Senna)
GREAT BRITAIN 19 (by 2 drivers: John Watson, Nigel Mansell)
AUSTRIA 13 (by 2 drivers: Niki Lauda, Gerhard Berger)
ITALY 10 (by 4 drivers: Riccardo Patrese, Elio de Angelis, Michele Alboreto, Alessandro Nannini)
AUSTRALIA 7 (by Alan Jones)
FINLAND 5 (by Keke Rosberg)
ARGENTINA 3 (by Carlos Reutemann)
BELGIUM 2 (by Thierry Boutsen)
CANADA 2 (by Gilles Villeneuve)


Britain were back on top in the 1990s, a consequence of weight of numbers as well as Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill’s world titles. Germany, though, appear out of virtually nowhere. A country which had only scored three successes up to this point was suddenly awakened by Michael Schumacher’s exploits. The floodgates open, German drivers would come to dominate Grand Prix entry fields towards the end of this decade and the next. Brazil’s total, whilst respectable, would surely have been higher had it not been for Ayrton Senna’s death at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix.

GREAT BRITAIN 51 (by 5 drivers: Nigel Mansell, Damon Hill, Johnny Herbert, David Coulthard, Eddie Irvine)
GERMANY 38 (by2 drivers: Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen)
BRAZIL 24 (by 2 drivers: Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet)
FINLAND 14 (by Mika Häkkinen)
FRANCE 14 (by 3 drivers: Alain Prost, Jean Alesi, Olivier Panis)
CANADA 11 (by Jacques Villeneuve)
AUSTRIA 5 (by Gerhard Berger)
ITALY 4 (by Riccardo Patrese)
BELGIUM 1 (by Thierry Boutsen)


The story of Formula 1 in the noughties is accurately summed up by the numbers here: Michael Schumacher blasting to win after win and a series of young challengers trying to usurp him. The most successful people at doing this have come from Finland and Spain. Brazil’s position is artificially inflated by Schumacher’s final seven seasons in the sport being accompanied by a Brazilian teammate to pick up his crumbs after the title was in the bag. The current decade is also notable for another British lean-spell, although Lewis Hamilton has started to undo a lot of the damage, and the appearance of a number of new countries on the list. Spain is the one which stands out thanks to Fernando Alonso’s two world titles, but Colombia and Poland also register for the first time.

GERMANY 64 (by 3 drivers: Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel)
FINLAND 24 (by 3 drivers: Mika Häkkinen, Kimi Räikkönen, Heikki Kovalainen)
SPAIN 21 (by Fernando Alonso)
BRAZIL 20 (by 2 drivers: Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa)
GREAT BRITAIN 17 (by 3 drivers: David Coulthard, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton)
COLOMBIA 7 (by Juan Pablo Montoya)
ITALY 4 (by 2 drivers: Giancarlo Fisichella, Jarno Trulli)
POLAND 1 (by Robert Kubica)


GREAT BRITAIN 197 (19 drivers; 10.37 wins-per-driver)
GERMANY 105 (6 drivers; 17.50 )
BRAZIL 100 (6 drivers; 16.67)
FRANCE 77 (12 drivers; 6.42 )
FINLAND 43 (4 drivers; 10.75)
ITALY 43 (15 drivers; 2.87)
AUSTRIA 41 (3 drivers; 13.67)
ARGENTINA 38 (3 drivers; 12.67)
AUSTRALIA 26 (2 drivers; 13.00)
UNITED STATES 22 (5 drivers; 4.40)
SPAIN 21 (1 driver; 21.00)
CANADA 17 (2 drivers; 8.50)
SWEDEN 12 (3 drivers; 4.00)
NEW ZEALAND 12 (2 drivers; 6.00)
BELGIUM 11 (2 drivers; 5.50)
SOUTH AFRICA 10 (1 driver; 10.00)
COLOMBIA 7 (1 driver; 7.00)
SWITZERLAND 7 (2 drivers; 3.50)
MEXICO 2 (1 driver; 2.00)
POLAND 1 (1 driver; 1.00)

The 2008 World Championship was the first time in nearly twenty years that the driver who won the most races during the season did not also win the World Title. This was a common occurrence in the early part of the 1980s, but that was a very different age. Formula 1 noughties-style is a monolithic media animal, constantly striving to reach new markets. As such, Bernie Ecclestone is championing a major change to the way World Championships are decided from 2009. Taking its cue from the Olympics, the top three drivers will be awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals on the podium instead of trophies and points. Come the end of the year, the driver with the most gold medals will be the World Champion.

I have taken this system and applied it to every season in the World Championship’s history to see what effects it has. In each case, the champion is the one who had accumulated the most gold medals. In the event of a tie, the decider will be number of silver, then number of bronze medals. In the event of it still being a tie, best ‘other’ finish decides the winner. Champions listed in bold type are changes from the historical record.

1950 Guiseppe Farina (I) Alfa Romeo
1951 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Alfa Romeo
1952 Alberto Ascari (I) Ferrari
1953 Alberto Ascari (I) Ferrari
1954 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Maserati/Mercedes-Benz
1955 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Mercedes-Benz
1956 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Lancia-Ferrari
1957 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Maserati
1958 Stirling Moss (GB) Vanwall
1959 Jack Brabham (AUS) Cooper Climax
1960 Jack Brabham (AUS) Cooper Climax
1961 Phil Hill (USA) Ferrari
1962 Graham Hill (GB) BRM
1963 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1964 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1965 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1966 Jack Brabham (AUS) Brabham Repco
1967 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus BRM/Lotus Climax/Lotus Ford
1968 Graham Hill (GB) Lotus Ford
1969 Jackie Stewart (GB) Matra Ford
1970 Jochen Rindt (A) Lotus Ford
1971 Jackie Stewart (GB) Tyrrell Ford
1972 Emerson Fittipaldi (BR) Lotus Ford
1973 Jackie Steward (GB) Tyrrell Ford
1974 Emerson Fittipaldi (BR) McLaren Ford
1975 Niki Lauda (A) Ferrari
1976 James Hunt (GB) McLaren Ford
1977 Mario Andretti (USA) Lotus Ford
1978 Mario Andretti (USA) Lotus Ford
1979 Alan Jones (AUS) Williams Ford
1980 Alan Jones (AUS) Williams Ford
1981 Alain Prost (F) Renault
1982 Didier Pironi (F) Ferrari
1983 Alain Prost (F) Renault
1984 Alain Prost (F) McLaren TAG-Porsche

1985 Alain Prost (F) McLaren TAG-Porsche
1986 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Honda
1987 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Honda

1988 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1989 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1990 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1991 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren MP4/6 Honda
1992 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Renault
1993 Alain Prost (F) Williams Renault
1994 Michael Schumacher (D) Benetton Ford
1995 Michael Schumacher (D) Benetton Renault
1996 Damon Hill (GB) Williams Renault
1997 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Williams Renault
1998 Mika Häkkinen (SF) McLaren Mercedes
1999 Mika Häkkinen (SF) McLaren Mercedes
2000 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2001 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2002 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2003 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2004 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2005 Fernando Alonso (E) Renault
2006 Fernando Alonso (E) Renault
2007 Kimi Räikkönen (SF) Ferrari
2008 Felipe Massa (BR) Ferrari

Under this system, Alain Prost would have been a 5-time World Champion to equal Juan-Manuel Fangio, whilst Nigel Mansell would have won 3. Both Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna win four, Senna taking consecutive titles in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Meanwhile, one-time winners Mario Andretti and Alan Jones both double up in the late 1970s. But the real winners are Stirling Moss, Didier Pironi and Felipe Massa, each man scoring a world crown which in actuality eluded them (or has so far eluded them). This in turn would mean no titles for Mike Hawthorn (1958), John Surtees (1964), Denny Hulme (1967 – also removing New Zealand’s sole world title), Jody Scheckter (1979), Keke Rosberg (1982) or the reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Most severe of the all, however, would be Nelson Piquet, the 3-time World Champion losing all of his titles (1981, 1983 and 1987). Ironically enough, the first two of these were secured driving for the Brabham team owned by… Bernie Ecclestone. Another of Ecclestone’s former drivers, Niki Lauda, fares little better. Under the Gold-Silver-Bronze framework, Lauda – an all-time great of the sport – retains just one of his three world titles.

You don’t have to be Piquet, Lauda or Lewis Hamilton to argue that the Gold-Silver-Bronze system also has its shortcomings. From a contemporary point of view, it is widely accepted that Lewis Hamilton deserved his world crown on the balance of his stellar entry into Formula 1. Indeed, it is difficult to argue a case for any of the drivers who lose out being a particularly fair reflection on the sport’s history. And that is what the scoring system should be all about. Under the Gold-Silver-Bronze system, it is clear that there are some major oversights. Not only would Nelson Piquet lose his place in the record books –ridiculous considering that Piquet was one of the sport’s superstar drivers for an entire decade and won 23 Grand Prix races – but Alain Prost’s fierce battle with Ayrton Senna throughout the late-1980s would see the Frenchman emerge completely under-represented. Under the proposed system, Prost would have won one more title than he actually did, but he wouldn’t have deserved any of them nearly as much as the ones he grappled his way to in 1986 and 1989, against the most ferocious competition. And whilst it would be a hard man to say that Didier Pironi or Stirling Moss would not deserve their crowns, on balance there are now more drivers who have undeservedly missed out than there were before. This is not a particularly acceptable state of affairs.

This is all moot, of course. It is disingenuous to retroactively apply a new set of rules and then claim they would not work in the future. Had each of these seasons been raced under the Gold-Silver-Bronze paradigm, they would have ended differently than the above list – different choices made, different strategies employed, different motivations and calculations. If 2009 is to see this radical overhaul, it will be the first real test of the framework. Whether or not it will produce a true enough reflection of the season, and whether or not it will actually intensify and improve the racing, we can only wait and see. But in a choice between taking the risk or sticking to the old system – itself so fraught with potential problems that I earnestly believe that, in time, a driver could win the title without winning a single Grand Prix during the season – shaking things up is by far the more desirable option.

However, Formula 1 is rather different to an Olympic event. The 100 metres sprint final has only 3 medalists, but the five other finalists who leave empty handed aren’t designed and built from scratch, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, the Formula 1 World Championship is not a one-off race, but a series of events. It would, I believe, be unfair for the final table to see a driver who lucked into a third place finish just once finish ahead of a rival who had finished in fourth position seventeen times out of seventeen. The solution to this problem that I came up with is a supplementary points system – 3 points for 4th place, 2 for 5th and one for 6th, plus another 1 for pole position and one for fastest race lap. Points could then be exchanged for medals – a bronze for every 5, say, and a silver for every 10. Points would, however, never trump medals, and in the case of a tie, medals won for podium finishes would always prevail over bought medals. This is a neat and elegant solution to the problem of just three awards at the end of a multi-million pound twenty car race. And as such, expect it to be completely ignored.

For more Formula 1-inspired autism, remember to check the List of the week tab regularly.

Yesterday I impuned the reputations of 12 of the best 22 racing drivers in the world. Today I will do so with the remaining ten.

10th: TIMO GLOCK (Toyota) 25 points; 10th position

Glock’s first full season in Formula 1 was, broadly speaking, a success. Although he was outqualified 4-14 by his teammate Jarno Trulli, on race day things were a lot closer. Indeed, despite his season being hamstrung by two huge accidents in Australia and in Germany, in the second half of the season, Glock tended to be the first of his team’s finishers. Glock heartily deserves another season, which Toyota have duly granted.

9th: HEIKKI KOVALAINEN (McLaren Mercedes) 53 points; 7th position – one win, one pole, 2 fastest laps

A strange first season at McLaren for Kovalainen. Outpaced, as was expected, by Lewis Hamilton, his problem was rather the variability of the gap. At the business end of the season, the impact of this was particularly felt, as McLaren couldn’t rely on Heikki to be competitive enough to help Hamilton’s championship bid. To be fair to Kovalainen, he did have the lion’s share of the mechanical trouble in the team, which cost him some big points, plus in 2008 Heikki won his first race – albeit fortuitously – as well as taking his first pole position and one more fastest lap than Lewis Hamilton. It’s useful to have these monkeys off his back, because next season McLaren will be far less forgiving of another year like this one.

8th: NICK HEIDFELD (BMW Sauber) 60 points; 6th position – 2 fastest laps

Heidfeld – who somehow has still not won a Grand Prix despite his undeniable quality – had a difficult season. After having put successive teammates, including Kimi Räikkönen, Mark Webber, Jacques Villeneuve and Robert Kubica in their place, this year Heidfeld was comprehensively shaded by Kubica. His main problem was his inability to get the tyres working properly in qualifying, which saw him line up behind the Pole on 13 occasions. Heidfeld is still a great racer, though, as his final points tally suggests. However, Kubica had the measure of him on Sunday afternoons too, and Heidfeld’s position in the team next year looked to be under threat during the summer. Heidfeld will, however, be at BMW again next season. If the car is good enough, he should finally win a race. But if he loses out to Kubica as heavily again, even that might not be enough.

7th: JARNO TRULLI (Toyota) 31 points; 9th position

Trulli produced a reliable and consistent season in a car which only really became competitive from the summer months on.  Despite this, he made 14 appearances in the Q3 top ten shootout, typical of his excellence over one lap.  More impressive, though, was his improved race performances.  Too often Trulli has been seen fading backwards with a long queue of cars behind him.  This year he looked more assertive.  His teammate Timo Glock (>10) finished a little too close behind him for the Italian to get complacent, though.  The basic fact of the matter is that if Toyota can give Trulli a good enough car to run at the front, he will deliver the results.  But to ask anything more will be the precursor to a year of disappointment.

6th: KIMI RÄIKKÖNEN (Ferrari) 75 points; 3rd position – 2 wins, 2 poles, 10 fastest laps

Räikkönen’s year must have had Ferrari’s management pulling their hair out by the roots.  His raw speed is still there – as is evidenced by the way he equalled his own record for number of fastest laps in a season – and he also won two Grands Prix, in Malaysia and Spain.  However, Spain was only the 4th race of the season.  Suffering from similar problems in qualifying to Nick Heidfeld (>9), his second and final pole of 2008 came in race 8.  For the majority of the year he looked decidedly like a number two driver.  The fact that his salary compared to Felipe Massa’s would suggest otherwise, it’s unlikely Ferrari will tolerate anything other than a serious championship tilt in 2009.  Especially with Alonso and Kubica climbing over each other to get a Ferrari drive for 2010.

5th ROBERT KUBICA (BMW Sauber) 75 points; 4th position – one win, one pole

A fine season for Kubica.  He outclassed Heidfeld throughout having been resolutely beaten by the German in 2007 and also won his first pole position and Grand Prix race.  Kubica also had fourteen points finishes out of the 18 rounds, a feat only equalled by Lewis Hamilton.  When I planned this, Kubica came higher in the order, but I feel that his last few races saw him slip behind the main contenders for the title – of which he was one until a disappointing Chinese Grand Prix, the penultimate round.  Much of this is down to his BMW’s team to stop all development of the F1.08 car after Kubica’s win in Canada, to focus on the 2009 challenger with a view to a championship challenge.  Time will tell if this was a wise tactical decision on their part.  If it works out for them, expect Kubica to be at the head of the field again next year.

4th: FELIPE MASSA (Ferrari) 97 points; 2nd position – 6 wins, 6 poles, 3 fastest laps

3rd: LEWIS HAMILTON (McLaren Mercedes) 98 points; World Champion – 5 wins, 7 poles, one fastest lap

Inseperable to the very end.  Hamilton just shades it – as he did in the points, a vindication of the scoring system, perhaps? – by virtue of his extra consistency and the fact that he always came out on top in wheel to wheel combat with his rival.  Massa won more races than anyone in 2008, and would have won more but for mechanical problems and mistakes by his pit crew.  However, although Hamilton enjoyed greater reliability than the Brazilian, Massa didn’t have to contend with the same number of penalties or amount of paddock politics.  Hamilton will probably always feel hard done-by about the Belgian Grand Prix win that never was, but it was the French race which was perhaps the harshest on him this year.  Already docked 10 places for his pit lane mishap in Canada, he was then given a hugely dubious drive-through penalty for cutting the chicane when the other alternative would have been to hit Sebastien Bourdais’ Toro Rosso.  Meanwhile, Massa serenely cruised to a win over his out of sorts teammate.  This is to detract nothing from Massa’s season.  Several times this year he was simply unstoppable, and he has now proved he has enough to be a worthy World Champion.  Hamilton just edged him where it really mattered.

2nd: FERNANDO ALONSO (Renault) 61 points; 5th position – 2 wins

Initially it looked like Nelsinho Piquet was totally out of his depth as an F1 driver.  This, it turned out, was an unfair assessment.  The Renault car was really much, much less competitive than we thought in the first half of the season.  Alonso, far from being a bit off colour after his McLaren adventure, was in fact working miracles with it.  He is, perhaps, the most complete driver package in the field at the moment, although Lewis Hamilton – as he demonstrated when he was his teammate – runs him pretty close.  Alonso’s win in Singapore may have been a little lucky but it was thoroughly deserved nonetheless, and his victory two weeks later in Japan was magnificent.  From mid-season to the end, Alonso outscored all of his rivals.  I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again now – if Renault (or whoever) can give him a car which is anything near competitive, he will challenge for the world title in 2009.

1st: SEBASTIAN VETTEL (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 35 points; 8th position – one win, one pole

Vettel is the youngest man in the field – only turning 21 last July – and his inexperience looked to be showing in the early part of the season.  His first four races saw him retire 4 times after early-race accidents and he followed this up with a 17th place finish in Turkey.  However, when Toro Rosso introduced their STR3 car in Monaco, Vettel was completely transformed.  In the remaining 13 rounds, he scored points in 9 and also made the Q3 top ten shootout on 9 occasions (including the last seven events consecutively).  Due to his efforts, STR beat their parent team Red Bull – for whom Vettel will race next year – comfortably in the Constructors’ Cup.  And all of this is before we even get to his spellbinding victory in the damp Italian Grand Prix, where he led off from pole and simply dominated the whole race.  Vettel already holds the records for youngest points scorer, pole position taker and race winner in Grand Prix racing.  If he wins the World Championship in the next two years, he will take Lewis Hamilton’s new record for that, too.  Let’s not bet against that quite yet.  Because if the pundits are right about 2008 seeing the beginning of the Hamilton era, I suspect Vettel is the man he’ll have to beat.

We’re all winners

October 22, 2008

The 29 Formula 1 World Champions, listed in order of the number of Grand Prix wins they had to their name at the time of their first title.  (Lewis Hamilton currently has 9, Felipe Massa 10).

1: Keke Rosberg (SF) (1982)

2: Jack Brabham (AUS) (1959-1960, 1966)

3: Guiseppe Farina (I) (1950); Mike Hawthorn (GB) (1958); Phil Hill (USA) (1961); John Surtees (GB) (1964)

4: Graham Hill (GB) (1962, 1968); Denny Hulme (NZ) (1967)

6: Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) (1951, 1954-1957); Alberto Ascari (I) (1952-1953); Jochen Rindt (A) (1970); Emerson Fittipaldi (BR) (1972, 1974); Niki Lauda (A) (1975, 1977, 1984); Nelson Piquet (BR) (1981, 1983, 1987)

7: James Hunt (GB) (1976); Fernando Alonso (E) (2005-2006)

8: Jim Clark (GB) (1963, 1965)

9: Alan Jones (AUS) (1980); Mika Häkkinen (SF) (1998-1999)

10: Jody Scheckter (ZA) (1979); Michael Schumacher (D) (1994-1995, 2000-2004)

11: Jackie Stewart (GB) (1969, 1971, 1973); Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) (1997)

12: Mario Andretti (USA) (1978)

14: Ayrton Senna (BR) (1988, 1990-1991)

15: Kimi Räikkönen (SF) (2007)

21: Alain Prost (F) (1985-1986, 1989, 1993); Damon Hill (GB) (1996)

29: Nigel Mansell (GB) (1992)