Six of the Best: The hardest records to beat in F1

Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton may be notching up record-after-record, but there remains plenty of long-standing achievements to be bettered in F1...
Six of the Best: The hardest records to beat in F1

The recent dominance of Mercedes has allowed the team and its drivers to hoover up some of F1's most longstanding records of late - with Lewis Hamilton's surpassing of Jackie Stewart's forty-five year old record for most consecutive races led at the recent British Grand Prix the latest in a long line of Mercedes assaults on the record books.

Next up on the list for the Brackley outfit is Williams' mark of 24 consecutive pole positions, set in 1992-93 - with Mercedes just four shy of a new record tally at the time of writing. Lewis Hamilton is likewise just three races away from equalling Michael Schumacher's benchmark of 19 consecutive podium finishes, and the team have McLaren's epochal 1988 season in their sights as they look to back up their dominance of the contemporary field by writing new chapters in the sport's history books.

There are some lines in the sand though that even Mercedes may struggle to match, as evidenced by the six of the longstanding records highlighted below.

John Watson hauled himself from 22nd on the grid to win the US West GP around the demanding Long Beach circuit
WINNING FROM THE LOWEST GRID POSITION - John Watson, 1983 United States GP West

John Watson's astonishing victory from 22nd on the grid at the 1983 United States Grand Prix West is a record that would be physically impossible to beat in 2015 due to the size of the field, and an achievement that remains unsurpassed to this day.

Discounting the Indianapolis 500 on format grounds, the next best effort for winning from the nether regions of the field is Rubens Barrichello, who took victory at the 2000 German Grand Prix having started 18th. In winning at Long Beach, Watson broke a record he had set just a year previously in taking victory at the 1982 Detroit Grand Prix from 17th on the grid.

Qualifying four seconds off the pace of pole-sitter Patrick Tambay at Long Beach, Watson was joined near the back of the pack by teammate Niki Lauda, who lined up just behind him in 23rd - with both McLarens outqualified by such luminary marques as the Theodores and the Tolemans.

With their durable Michelin tyres coming into their own on race day, the McLarens ran 1.5 seconds ahead of their qualifying pace in race trim, and after Lauda jumped Watson at the start the Austrian led the pair as they carved their way up the field. With limited attrition in the first half of the race, the pair had to use their considerable overtaking prowess to charge up the order. As Lauda was at the head of the pair he had to clear the way, Watson was able to preserve his tyres while following his team-mate through the field.

By lap 28, the McLarens were running 3rd and 4th after two separate collisions in the midst of a four-way battle for the lead eliminated Tambay, Keke Rosberg and Jean-Pierre Jarier - leaving Jacques Laffite out front with Riccardo Patrese in hot pursuit. On lap 33, Watson made his move past Lauda, fighting past on Shoreline Drive, and quickly set about narrowing the 20-second gap to the leaders.

Laffite was struggling with severe wear to his worn Goodyears, and Patrese mounted a challenge for the lead but slid wide - allowing both McLarens to pass. By lap 44, Watson was in a position to pressurize Laffite, but the Williams' deteriorating tyres made it a straightforward fight. In just 70 minutes and 44 laps, Watson, without the benefit of a safety car, had made up 22 places.

Lauda, suffering a cramp in his right leg, saw his challenge fade over the final 30 laps, as Watson cruised to victory. The superb durability of the Michelins saw Watson extend his advantage to a scarcely believable 30 seconds by the chequered flag, and the Ulsterman lapped everyone up to third-place finisher Rene Arnoux in the Ferrari en route to a record-breaking victory.

LARGEST WINNING MARGIN - Stirling Moss, 1958 Portuguese GP

Mercedes may be well ahead in terms of pure pace at present, but in an era of fuel saving and car preservation it's rare to see the Silver Arrows crush the field with huge winning margins as dominant teams have done in the past.

The biggest margin of victory enjoyed by Mercedes since they came to the forefront of the sport in 2014 is 49 seconds, but that pales into comparison when stacked up against Stirling Moss' winning margin at the 1958 Portuguese Grand Prix - a staggering 5 minutes 12.75 seconds.

The race is as well remembered for the margin of victory as it is for a typically selfless sporting gesture by Moss. Immediately following the race, second place finisher and championship leader Mike Hawthorn was disqualified for an illegal restart. Moss himself directly intervened by protesting Hawthorn's innocence to the stewards, and his fellow Briton saw his seven points (six for second place, one for fastest lap) reinstated. The intervention proved crucial, as come the final reckoning at the end of the season Hawthorn took the title by just a single point - from Moss.

The 7.4 km length of the Boavista street circuit meant that although Moss took a record victory in a sense of time, his win doesn't stand alone in the record books as the largest winning margin. By other assessment criteria, Jackie Stewart's victory at the 1969 Spanish GP and Damon Hill's triumph at the 1995 Australian GP usurp Moss, as in both cases the victors headed home their nearest rivals by over two whole laps.

Whichever yardstick one takes, nobody has come close to matching the winning margins of Moss, Stewart or Hill - and it's doubtful whether even at full throttle Mercedes would be able to trounce the field so resoundingly.

Renault's Alain Prost, one of 11 different race winners in a season that saw Keke Rosberg secure the title with just one victory to his name

Most records are empirical, with pole positions, winning streaks, team domination and championships the reward for consistent excellence across a season or seasons.

In 1982, the only constant was inconsistency, as a remarkably closely matched and chronically unreliable field dished out the spoils with almost Marxist equanimity on a race-by-race basis.

The total number of victors for the season was an incredible 11 drivers representing seven teams, with Alain Prost (Renault), Niki Lauda (McLaren), Didier Pironi (Ferrari), John Watson (McLaren), Riccardo Patrese (Brabham), Nelson Piquet (Brabham), Rene Arnoux (Renault), Patrick Tambay (Ferrari), Elio de Angelis (Lotus), Keke Rosberg (Williams) and Michele Alboreto (Tyrrell) all taking it in turns on the top step of the rostrum.

So close was the season that championship winner Rosberg took the title with only one race victory, and eight drivers finished within 20 points of the champion's haul of 44 points. Only one other driver, Mike Hawthorn in 1958, has taken the title with a sole victory to their name. The season also saw a record-equalling nine different winners in nine consecutive races, tying a mark set across the 1961 and 1962 seasons.

There have been comparably competitive seasons in recent memory, with 2012's eight different winners, seven of whom set a record for the most different race winners in consecutive races from the start of the season, proving a particular high barometer of competitiveness. Three other seasons, 2003, 1985 and 1983 also saw eight unique winners, but recent years have generally seen fewer and fewer different drivers share the spoils - making the likelihood of beating 1982's record seem a distant pipe dream.


In recent years, Formula One has become an ever-younger man's game, with the records for youngest starter, points-scorer, polesitter, winner and world champion among others all belonging to drivers on the current F1 grid - reflecting a drastic downward shift in the average age of the field.

By contrast, Formula One's formative years were primarily an extension of the pre-war gentleman racers era, and indeed many of the same cast members from the cross-country jaunts of the 30s lined up on the grid during the first few seasons of F1 racing. All ten of the oldest drivers to enter and start a race, and seven of the ten oldest race winners, can be drawn from the 1950s.
Indeed, of the 21 Formula One rookies who lined up for the first ever championship Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950, three had been born in the 19th century. Before considerations like fitness and weight were factored in to elite motor racing, Formula One was overwhelmingly a playground for elder statesmen - and none came older than Monegasque Louis Chiron.

Chiron was one of Formula One's Victorian relics, a driver whose career spanned thirty-five years from his first car races in France in the early 1920s to his twilight years in Grand Prix racing. Chiron entered 19 Grands Prix throughout the 1950s, with a third place in the 1950 Monaco GP, at the age of 50, representing his best finish.

Having originally retired in 1938 before the outbreak of World War Two, Chiron spent much of the 1950s refusing his final curtain call. In 1955, a few weeks shy of his 56th birthday, Chiron became the oldest driver to start a Grand Prix - finishing sixth and five laps down at the wheel of a Lancia.

Chiron returned for his home race the following year, but a blown engine put paid to his chances of competing. The 1958 Monaco GP saw Chiron's last hurrah as he became the oldest driver to enter a Grand Prix, failing to qualify at the frankly ludicrous age of 58 years and 288 days - or older than the combined ages of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. To put it into further context, long-retired drivers who could make a comeback today and still not match Chiron's record include Martin Brundle (56), Gerhard Berger (55), Thierry Boutsen (58) and Andrea de Cesaris (55).

Given that Michael Schumacher is the only man this century to race into his forties, and even he still finally retired at a relatively sprightly 43, it seems safe to say that Chiron's is one record that will likely never be broken.

Lotus' Nigel Mansell leads the Monaco GP shortly before he crashes out. In 16 races, he finished just five

Another trend over the evolution of Formula One has been for ever-increasing reliability, with improving technology and less punishing circuits leading to more and more race finishes almost year-on-year in recent times.

The record for the highest percentage of total race finishes (classified finishers as a percentage of race starters) in a season peaked in 2013, when an astonishing 86.7% of race starters saw the chequered flag. That figure dipped to 79.1% in 2014 as the new regulations caused a slight increase in mechanical fallibility, but 2014 still saw the seventh highest percentage of race finishes in F1 history.

The figure has recovered slightly to 80.2% in 2015, and overall this decade is set to be comfortably the most 'finished' in F1 history, with 81.5% of race finishes to date. This compares to 70.8% in the 2000s, 53.8% in the 1990s, 54.2% in the 1970s, 54.9% in the 1960 and 51.2% in the 1950s.

The nadir of F1 reliability though was the 1980s, when a measly 47.8% of race starters saw the chequered flag. The worst culprit of all was 1984, when at the unreliable advent of the mainstream turbo era combined with demolition derby racing and notorious car-breaking circuits to deliver a meagre 40.9% of race finishes.

Fans of retirements were treated to an incredible eight races in which fewer than 40% of the field made it to the chequered flag in 1984, with such classic wars of attrition as the Detroit and Dallas Grands Prix witnessing five and eight finishes respectively on punishing circuits that broke man and machine in equal measure.

Improved driver standards, corporate responsibility, PR, the penalty system and vast paved run-off areas have reduced the potential for individual races of attrition (the last race in which fewer than 50% of the starters were classified as finishing was the 2008 Australian GP), but to replicate such a low finishing conversion across a season takes a special effort. The second lowest finishing percentage season was 1986 (44.4%), demonstrating that 1984 was seemingly an anomaly of an aberration in an era of turbo-charged attrition - with fallibility peaking at a level that we're unlikely to ever see again.


Giancarlo Baghetti is one of Formula One's most renowned statistical quirks, a man remembered solely for the distinction of winning his first Grand Prix on his World Championship debut at the 1961 French GP.

It's an honour shared with Nino Farina, who won the first ever World Championship Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1950, and Johnnie Parsons, who won the 1950 Indianapolis 500 in the first running of the event as a World Championship race - but Baghetti is the sole man to win first time out against a field that did not consist entirely of other debutant drivers.

The outstanding start to Baghetti's Grand Prix career was actually even more pronounced, with the 26 year-old Italian being picked by Ferrari to run as one of their promising junior drivers in non-championship races. Remarkably, Baghetti won on his first two outings in the V6 Ferrari, taking victories in the Syracuse and Napoli Grands Prix.

Given his stunning performances, Baghetti was entered as a fourth 'sharknose' works Ferrari 156 for the French Grand Prix. Qualifying only 12th, with his team-mates Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Trips and Richie Ginther lining up first, second and third respectively, the prospects of Baghetti continuing his winning streak on his World Championship debut looked slim.

However, in a highly attritional race at Reims, Baghetti was able to climb through the field and into contention - abetted in no small measure by his three teammates retiring with mechanical gremlins. The 52-lap race boiled down to a last corner showdown between the Ferrari and Dan Gurney's Porsche, with Baghetti coming out on top to claim a sensational debut victory by just 0.1 seconds.

It would prove to be by far and away the pinnacle of Baghetti's career, with the Italian scoring only five further points over an ultimately underwhelming six-year stint in Formula One.

There have been many sensational Grand Prix debuts down the years, including first-time out podium finishes for drivers including Jacques Villeneuve, Lewis Hamilton, and last year, Kevin Magnussen - but none have yet lived up to the inimitable precedent set by Giancarlo Baghetti.

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