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Over forty but still fast

Steven Lynch February 3, 2012
43-year-old Michael Schumacher will be aiming for win No. 92 this season © Getty Images
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Michael Schumacher recently turned 43. Who was the last 40-year-old to win a Grand Prix? asked Jim Burton

The bad news for Michael Schumacher (and 2012's other 40-year-old, Pedro de la Rosa) is that, since Jack Brabham won the South African GP in 1970 aged 43, the only 40-year-old to win a world championship race is Nigel Mansell, whose last success came in the season-ending Australian GP of 1994, when he was 41. That was the famous (or infamous) race in which Schumacher and Damon Hill - Mansell's Williams team-mate - were involved in a collision which eliminated both drivers and ensured that Schumacher would win that year's title. The oldest man ever to win a world championship Grand Prix was the Italian Luigi Fagioli, who was 53 when he shared the winning car at the 1951 French GP. Nino Farina (in 1953) and Juan Manuel Fangio (1957) were both 46 when they won their final races.

Michael Schumacher last won a Grand Prix in 2006. If he wins again in 2012, will he break the record for the longest gap between victories? asked Luke Williams

There's slightly better news here for Michael Schumacher than the answer to the previous question! His last GP victory - in China, one of his seven victories for Ferrari in 2006 - did indeed come nearly six years ago. But the biggest gap between victories is about six and a half years: Riccardo Patrese didn't take the chequered flag between the South African race of October 1983 (his second win for Brabham) and the San Marino GP at Imola in May 1990, the first of his four victories in a Williams.

I noticed that Damon Hill was runner-up in the world championship two years running before eventually winning it. I wondered if anyone had ever been runner-up twice in a row but never won the title? asked Michael Clayton

Damon Hill did indeed finish second in the world championship - behind Michael Schumacher both times - in both 1994 and 1995, before finally taking the title in 1996. The most famous name on the list of world championship runners-up who never won the title is Stirling Moss, who finished second in 1955, 1956, 1957 and 1958, but never did win the F1 crown. The others to have finished second two years running or more are Damon Hill's father Graham (1963-64-65), Jacky Ickx (1969-70), Alain Prost (1983-84) and Nigel Mansell (1986-87). Of those, only Graham Hill had previously won the world championship, although Prost and Mansell later did so. Ickx never did win the title. Michael Schumacher finished second in both 1997 and 1998, but was officially excluded from the championship in the first of those years as punishment for causing an avoidable accident in the final race. Apart from Moss and Ickx, the following drivers also finished as world championship runners-up without ever winning it: Jose Froilan Gonzalez (1954), Tony Brooks (1959), Wolfgang von Trips (1961), Ronnie Peterson (1971 and 1978), Clay Regazzoni (1974), Gilles Villeneuve (1979), Carlos Reutemann (1981), Didier Pironi (1982), Michele Alboreto (1985), Riccardo Patrese (1992), Heinz-Harald Frentzen (1997, after Schumacher was excluded), Eddie Irvine (1999), David Coulthard (2001), Rubens Barrichello (2002 and 2004), and Felipe Massa (2008).

Gerhard Berger's best championship finish was in 1988 and 1994 © Sutton Images
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Gerhard Berger finished in the top six of the world championship nine times, without ever winning it. Can anyone match this record of near-misses? asked Ian Hillary

Gerhard Berger's record for consistency in this particular regard seems to be unmatched. He finished in the top six every year from 1987 to 1997, except 1989 (when he was seventh) and 1993 (eighth). He was seventh the year before this run, in 1986, so actually finished in the top ten for 12 years running, something only Michael Schumacher can match (and even then you have to disregard his official disqualification from the championship in 1997). The nearest challenger to Berger among non-champions is, I think, Stirling Moss, who finished second or third in the world championship seven years running (1955-61). Rubens Barrichello's career also includes seven top-six finishes in the championship. David Coulthard finished in the top six in six seasons - every year from 1995 to 2002 except 1996, when he was seventh (he was also seventh in 2003).

I read that Giancarlo Fisichella's first GP win was "controversial". What was controversial about it? asked Adam Southby

The race in question was the Brazilian GP of 2003, which started behind the safety car in torrential rain. There were a number of incidents in the race, mainly to do with the terrible conditions, and it came to a premature end not long after Mark Webber crashed near the end of his 54th lap. The safety car came out, but not in time to prevent Fernando Alonso, completing his 55th lap, from hitting some of the debris. The race (due to run 71 laps) was red-flagged, and confusion arose because, although Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren was in front at the end of the 53rd lap, Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan had passed him to take the lead on the 54th. The regulations at the time seemed to indicate that Raikkonen was the winner, and he was duly feted on the podium - but Jordan protested, and eventually got the result overturned. Fisichella managed two other wins - in Australia in 2005 and Malaysia in 2006 - in less confusing circumstances!

Now (I think) all the driver line-ups have been announced, who will be the youngest driver in 2012? asked Mark Denison

As things stand (HRT still hasn't confirmed its second driver), the youngest man on the grid at the start of 2012 will be the new Toro Rosso driver Jean-Eric Vergne, who is 22 at the end of April. He is a couple of months younger than another French newcomer, Marussia's Charles Pic, who turns 22 on February 15. Vergne, the British Formula Three champion in 2010, is about a month younger than Toro Rosso's former driver Jaime Alguersuari, who left the team at the end of 2011 after two and a half seasons.

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

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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