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The secret life of Autobahn No.115

Steven Lynch May 21, 2010
The banking at AVUS without a crash barrier © Getty Images
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A recent article on here talked about ten old circuits. I had hoped to see the AVUS track in Berlin mentioned - can you tell us more about it? asked Frank Maynard from Croydon

The AVUS (it's an acronym for the rather less snappy "Automobil Verkehrs und Ubungs Strasse") circuit near Berlin was originally designed as a motor racing circuit and a testing track for cars. It was basically two long (about five miles) straights, joined by a hairpin turn at each end. It was started in 1907, but not finished until 1921. One of the hairpins was later replaced by a steeply banked curve, which became known as the "wall of death" as there was nothing resembling a retaining wall at the top to prevent out-of-control cars flying off into mid-air. This happened to, among others, the French driver Jean Behra, who was killed in a sports-car race during the 1959 meeting that also included the only championship German GP to be held at AVUS: Tony Brooks won it in a Ferrari. By that time the circuit had been reduced in length as some of the original track was now in Soviet-controlled East Germany. The banking was removed in 1967, but fewer and fewer races were held at the circuit, the last of any sort being in 1998. Part of the track has now been absorbed into the German Autobahn system (No. 115).

Which F1 race had the most number of lead changes? Also, has any driver ever done a grand slam (pole, race win, fastest lap and led every lap of the race)? asked Terence Pao from the United States

I'm not sure whether this sort of thing is always accurately recorded, but I have read that there were no fewer than 41 lead changes in the 1964 Italian Grand Prix at Monza. The man in front at the end had started in front, too: John Surtees, that year's world champion, started from pole position in a Ferrari. Moving to the second part of your question, the so-called "Grand Slam" is rare these days as it's difficult for a driver to lead throughout a race in which he's obliged to make at least one pit-stop. But the clean sweep of pole position, fastest lap and leading from start to chequered flag has happened on no fewer than 49 occasions in Grand Prix history - the great Jim Clark leads the way, having done it eight times, to five by Alberto Ascari and Michael Schumacher. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Schumacher was the last to manage it, in the Hungarian GP of 2004; he also did it earlier that year in Australia.

Keke Rosberg was world champion in 1982 © Sutton Images
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Keke Rosberg won the drivers' championship in 1982 even though his team didn't even finish in the top three of the constructors' championship. How many times has this happened? asked Safal Jain from India

This achievement is unique: in 1982 Keke Rosberg won the F1 drivers' title (despite winning only one race) but his team, Williams, was indeed only fourth in the constructors' championship, which was won by Ferrari. Oddly enough, the nearest approach to this seems to have come the following year: in 1983 Nelson Piquet won the title but his team, Brabham, was only third behind Ferrari and Renault. For obvious reasons it's pretty rare for a team not to do the double of drivers' and constructors' championship - the only times it has not happened since the constructors' title was instituted in 1958 were in 1958 itself (when Vanwall won but Mike Hawthorn took the drivers' crown in a Ferrari), 1973 (Jackie Stewart won in a Tyrrell, but Lotus took the constructors' title), 1976 (James Hunt in a McLaren; constructors' went to Ferrari), 1981 (Piquet in a Brabham; Williams), 1982 and 1983 as already mentioned, 1986 (Alain Prost in a McLaren; Williams), 1994 (Michael Schumacher in a Benetton; Williams), 1999 (Mika Hakkinen in a McLaren; Ferrari) and 2008 (Lewis Hamilton in a McLaren; Ferrari).

I'm a great fan of Mark Webber, who was born in the same town as me, and I was delighted when he finally won a race last year. Has anyone ever waited longer to win than Mark? asked Rachel Johnston from Queanbeyan, Australia

Mark Webber's long-awaited victory for Red Bull at the Nurburgring last year came in his 130th race, which was indeed a new record for persistence in F1. The previous mark was set by Rubens Barrichello, who didn't win until his 123rd race, coincidentally also in the German GP (although his win was at Hockenheim), in 2000. Jarno Trulli (119), Jenson Button (113) and Giancarlo Fisichella (110) also had to wait more than a century of races before standing on top of the podium.

Who is the youngest driver to lead a world championship Grand Prix? asked Jacob Brown from Cheltenham

The holder of this honour is also the youngest man to win one: Sebastian Vettel was less than three months past his 20th birthday when he briefly took the lead in the 2007 Japanese GP. The following year, at Monza, Vettel was only 21 years and 79 days old when he won the Italian GP. Vettel took both these records from Fernando Alonso, previously the youngest man to lead a race (the Malaysian GP in 2003) and win one (the Hungarian GP later in 2003, when he was 22).

I remember Michael Schumacher winning seven races in the last season before his original retirement, but without becoming world champion. Has anyone ever won more races than this without taking the title? asked Neil Ward from Sussex

You're right, Michael Schumacher did win seven GPs in 2006 without taking the drivers' championship, which went to Fernando Alonso, who also won seven races. No-one has ever won more races in a season without winning the title, but there have been three other instances of a driver winning seven but ending up empty-handed. The first two of those were by Alain Prost, who won seven in both 1984 and 1988, but lost out first to Niki Lauda (by half a point; Lauda won five GPs) and then to Ayrton Senna (who won eight races). It also happened to Kimi Raikkonen in 2005: he won seven GPs that year, but Fernando Alonso also won seven and had a more reliable car overall.

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If you want to ask Steven a question, use our feedback form. The most interesting questions will be answered here every other Friday. His long-running Ask Steven column on Cricinfo remains one of that site's most popular features Ask Steven features a number of experts, headed by Steven Lynch, who answer your questions across Formula One as well as a variety of other sports