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The F1 FAQ

by Mark Alan Jones, Australia

Have a question about Formula One statistics or history? Well you're not the only one, and it's about time someone came up with the answers to Formula One's most Frequently Asked Questions. Send us your questions, to - we may not know everything, but we will sure make the effort to find out

"It's widely known that Nigel Mansell had an easy ride (no pun intended) to his 1992 World Championship in the active suspension Williams FW14B, but I've heard from many that in fact, 'he deserved it' and things as such. I vaguely remember seeing and hearing about a tire blow-out of some sort in a Canada GP I believe, but what other things did Nigel endure in search of a Championship to propel people to say his 1992 domination was deserved? If there's more answers than you can put in, then just a vague description would be fine. Thanks, Sohan K."

Hardly fair to call Mansell's 1992 year an easy ride, or is it? Mansell was certainly trying and along the way set several records for domination in the 1992 championship, but by no means did he cruise to the title. Most wins in a season (Schumacher would equal that three years later), most pole positions in a season, most fastest laps in a season (again later equalled by Schumacher), most points in a season. Mansell wrapped the World Championship up in August at Hungary.

So what had Mansell 'endured'? In 1991 he'd been close but Senna had been better. The '91 Williams-Renault was a better car than the McLaren-Honda, but some early season unreliability put Mansell too far behind Senna (including the Canadian incident you mentioned when a last lap gearbox failure, which may have been induced by Mansell knocking the gear lever while waving to the crowd). In 1990 Mansell was Prost's number 2 at Ferrari. In 1989 Mansell was lead driver for Ferrari but the car wasn't good enough to challenge the McLaren-Hondas regularly.

1988 saw Mansell spend a part season in the hideously under-powered Williams-Judd. He spent several races out of the car ill, but still forced the car into two second places including an emotional home race at Silverstone. In 1987 Nelson Piquet (Williams-Honda) was leading the World Championship by 12 points with two races to go, but Mansell had been coming at his teammate with a wet sail having won the last two races.

Coming into the S section behind the paddock at Suzuka on the Friday of the Japanese Grand Prix, Mansell clipped a kerb and around the car went and into the barriers, the car leapt up and crashed back to earth. It had been high speed with two heavy impacts and Mansell was hurt, not seriously but enough that he was home in the UK by the time the race finished.

In 1986 it had been even closer. It was only the second Australian Grand Prix and the teams and Goodyear thought they had a handle on the toughness of the street circuit. Going into the final race Mansell (Williams-Honda) was on 70, Alain Prost (McLaren-Porsche) 64, & Nelson Piquet (Williams-Honda) 63. Mansell had outdriven his much higher credential teammate through the course of the year. The numbers were slightly complicated by Prost and Mansell having to drop points.

All Mansell had to do was finish third and it didn't matter what Prost or Piquet did. During the race it was Keke Rosberg (McLaren-Porsche) who ran away with the race. Mansell was fourth but with Rosberg winning it would be enough. Then Rosberg's tyre blew. Goodyear had said tyres would last the race. They hadn't. Prost had made a pitstop earlier for a puncture, but the two Williams drivers were in danger.

Williams were about to radio Mansell when coming down the back straight at full noise the left rear tyre delaminated spectacularly. Mansell lost control at over 300 kilometres per hour, somehow Mansell held the car straight as it slid down the rest of Brabham Straight cascading sparks from the dragging undertray. Mansell kept it off the walls and he was alive when he perhaps very nearly wasn't. One thing Mansell wasn't was World Champion. Williams immediately called Piquet in, and Prost was champion. It was the most dramatic season cliff-hanger in Formula One history.

"Hi! I attended the Canadian GP this past weekend. As you know, there were several "offs" on Sunday, and the safety car was fairly active. You also know that Alexander Wurz retired from the race almost immediately after the start. At the track, we were treated on the big screens to a number of camera shots that did not make it to broadcast, at least in the United States. One of those shots was an in-car picture from the safety car, shown several times during the race, depicting a driver wearing a helmet that I would swear looked like Wurz's. The eyes didn't necessarily look like Alexander's, but my curiosity is piqued. Can you possibly tell us anything about driver and helmet? Antonio M, Boston, USA"

The helmet was actually Wurz's. The regular pace car driver is Formula 3000 racer Olivier Gavin. He's been racing Formula 3 and Formula 3000 for several seasons and has been in the fringe of getting a Formula One seat for some years. If anything Gavin is starting to get to old to break into Formula One. Time is certainly passing for the young British driver. Gavin left his helmet behind with the rest of his Formula 3000 kit, so he borrowed a spare lid from Wurz, hence Wurz driving two cars in the same race but with different eyes.

"Mr. Jones, What exactly is a "Super License"? It doesn't seem clear from the regulations what are the requirements (and have they changed through the years?). I was also wondering who is/was the oldest Formula One driver to begin driving (at what age) and oldest driver who has retired, as well? I can't help but think that there are a few "older" drivers out there that might be able to show a thing or two. Bob B"

There are no set requirements for the granting of a super license, other than what the FIA's Q&A claim: "a Super Licence is awarded on the basis of the driver's past record in junior formulae and of his having a valid contract with a Formula One team which has entered the World Championship."

In recent past prospective and current Formula One, drivers put in their applications and usually approval was a formality. Ayrton Senna was threatened several times with having his Super license removed. The last time I recall a driver not having his application approved was Japanese driver Akihiko Nakaya, which was strange considering that Nakaya had several race wins under his belt, mainly in closed wheel categories, still considerably more than some of his countrymen that got approved.

As for the oldest Formula One drivers? The oldest to attempt to start a Grand Prix was the great of the 30's and 40's Louis Chiron who was the oldest to both qualify and attempt to qualify for a Grand Prix. He started the 1955 Monaco Grand Prix at the age of 55 years and 292 days, and tried to qualify for the 1958 Monaco Grand Prix at the age of 58 years and 288 days. The oldest driver of recent times was Nigel Mansell, who raced his last race at the age of 41 years and 279 days, although if we look back a little further Jacques Laffite had reached 42 years and 234 days when he broke his legs in a crash at the 1986 British Grand Prix, effectively ending his career.

While many drivers in the 50's were in the 40's and 50's when they raced their first F1 Grand Prix, Arthur Legat was 53 when he raced his first Grand Prix, of recent times the latest starter has been Damon Hill. So late a starter was he that Williams publicity docked two years from his age, putting his birth year as 1962, until baby photo's started circulating of young Damon being held by Wolfgang von Trips, the great German who died in a horrific crash late in 1960.

Damon Hill was 31 years and 229 days old when he failed to qualify for the 1992 Spanish Grand Prix, it was 70 days later before he qualified for the British Grand Prix. Of the recently retired drivers Gerhard Berger is 39, Martin Brundle and Andrea de Cesaris 40, Thierry Boutsen is 41, Michele Alboreto is 42, Alain Prost is 44, Nigel Mansell and Riccardo Patrese are 45 and Nelson Piquet is 46. Of them only Alboreto, Brundle & Piquet still race although Boutsen only retired two weeks ago. If we want other drivers still racing, Alan Jones is still hunting down competitive races at the age of 52. Do you think any of them could show Schumacher and Hakkinen how it's done?

"Who is the most experienced driver on the grid this season? Allen B"

Jean Alesi. The recent French Grand Prix was his 158th for one win in Canada four yeas ago. He's stood on the podium 32 times, 2 pole positions, 4 fastest laps, led 19 races and scored 235 points, in a career the goes back to 1989 where at the French Grand Prix in a Tyrrell he finished 4th in his very first race. The only other drivers with more than 100 grand prix to their credit are Johnny Herbert (134), Michael Schumacher (124), Mika Hakkinen (119), Damon Hill (106) and Rubens Barrichello (104). Hill is older than Alesi but Hill's car career started later after a few seasons on bikes. Alesi has driven for Tyrrell, Ferrari, Benetton and Sauber.

"Is there in the Formula One cars, a way that the pilot can communicate to someone in the pits or vice versa? I know that the little antenna usually at the front of the car, is to transmit some measurements of the car (telemetry) to the computers. Is that right? I hope you can clarify my doubts. Thanks in advance. Jorge B."

In recent years the use of telemetry has been clamped down upon as part of the reduction of technology in Formula One. Nowadays telemetry is purely one-way, from car to pit only. The equipment in the pits can only be used to monitor the engine, and not send instructions back to the engine's management computers. The drivers however are in constant two way radio contact, indeed it was a popular practice at the track for racefans to take along scanners to listen in on their favourite driver. However after Ferrari produced tapes of Williams driver/pit conversation during the enquiry into Michael Schumacher's conduct after Jerez 1997 the teams started scrambling radio communications between drivers and their engineers.

"Dear Mark, While watching the Pace Car do its business at the French Grand Prix last night, I was wondering what would happen if it slid off the track into the sandtrap? Yours Sincerely, Dave H. Australia"

If in the event Olivier Gavin and the Mercedes slid off the track in adverse conditions, the first thing that would occur would be total unmitigated panic. I'm not one hundred per cent sure of this but the regulations may actually call for a set period of time for panicking. All panic however must cease before the field arrives back at the start/finish line where the field continue behind a spare pace car. Olivier Gavin would follow his own procedures, and after some brief moments of his own panic, would then swear loudly and attempt to unbog the car. If his car remained bogged he would then be required to alight from the vehicle and throw his helmet (his or borrowed from Alex Wurz again) at something, or even to cave in the rear windscreen, Luis Moya WRC Corolla style. The length of panicking and distance and direction of helmet throwing varies from Grand Prix to Grand Prix according to local regulations...

Editorial Remark:

  • Some of the questions we receive lately, have already been replied to in previous F1 FAQ columns. Therefore, before sending in a question, we suggest you have a look at the back issues, by searching the FAQ database. Not that we mind getting so much mail, just that we feel bad for those who feel they are left unanswered...

  • We receive quite a few questions from you all, and it is absolutely impossible for us to research and respond to each of you, be it here or privately. Please, don't feel discouraged if your question was not replied to; it might come up in the next column. And don't forget - you can always look for answers at the Atlas F1 Bulletin Board.

Mark Alan Jones© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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