On This Day In #F1: 20 September

Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler Carlo Carluccio

– 1987: Prost takes the record

Alain ProstBetween 1950 and 1957 there were on average 8 Grand prix a year.

Moving forward to the 60’s, between 1962 and 1967, the average races per annum increased to 10. From 1969 to 1973 once again the number of events held increased to an average of 12 per season. From 1980 to 1987 the events increased from 14 to 16 and remained that way until 1995 when they increased to 17.

The significance of these statistics?

When Fangio retired in 1958 his total of Grand Prix wins stood at 24. This was beaten by Jim Clark in 1967 when he raised the figure to 25. By the time of Stewart’s retirement in 1973 he had amassed a total of 27 wins! It would take a further 14 years before this total was passed once again.

The 1987 Portuguese Grand Prix witnessed a recovering Ferrari racing at the front on merit. It was a race in which reigning World Champion Alain Prost would win his third race of the season, finally passing Jackie Stewart’s total of 27 wins in a career. It was also a season that saw full might of Honda powering Williams to their second constructors title, even as public animosity between Mansell and Piquet grew.

On Saturday, Gerhard Berger qualified on pole position for the first time in his career. He was followed by Mansell, Prost, Piquet and Senna.

At the start of the race, Mansell out-dragged Berger into the first corner but behind them Alboreto collided with Piquet as they fought for position into the first corner. This forced Derek Warwick into spinning his car in avoidance triggering a collision between Nakajima and Brundle in the Zakspeed.

The remainder of the field either plunged into the wreckage or took avoiding action. The end result was that Campos (Minardi), Danner (Zakspeed), Arnoux (Ligier), Alliot (Larrouse) and Cheever (Arrows) were all involved.

The race was stopped but only after the cars had driven blind into the first corner at unabated speed at the start of the second lap, just avoiding track workers and the broken cars.

Once the track was cleared everybody, with the exception of Danner, lined up for the restart. As before Mansell passed Berger off the startline, Berger forced Piquet onto the grass and the subsequent loss of momentum allowed Senna to get into third position.

Berger, once again, passed Mansell at the completion of lap 1 and withstood Mansell pressuring him until the latter’s engine began to misfire causing him to stop on lap 14. Off the track he made his feelings known about Honda not supporting him and that his car was “five miles per hour slower than the others.

By now Piquet was running in second, having passed Senna on the 11th lap. Senna had to make a pit-stop due to electronic problems and would eventually finish 7th.

As ever in the classic Prost races, he had been invisible throughout but after the completion of mid-race tyre changes he had elevated himself into second position.

This was the status quo with him conserving the tyres and car and in the closing laps he began to circulate quicker and began putting pressure on the young Austrian.

Two laps from the end of the race Berger succumbed to the pressure and spun into the gravel at the side of the track. He did manage to recover and finish a disappointed second.

I wasn’t altogether surprised when he spun because we were both running very hard” Prost said.

I make no secret of my dislike of Prost. I always thought him to be manipulative, political and dishonest. Qualities it seems that are shared by a current Samurai. Whatever the bias of the producers of the Senna film, there was enough in the film to support my views. This included his revision of history, regarding not going to the stewards office in Suzuka 1989, yet the film shows him walking briskly in that direction with journalist Nigel Roebuck in sycophantic support.

He would go on to accumulate 51 victories, most won through intelligence as opposed to racing. He would pace himself during a race, be it for fuel consumption or for tyre preservation. He was not the type of driver I would call a “racer”. But is this a fair comment when you look at other successful drivers?

Fangio, Clark and Stewart raced in far more dangerous eras with questionable safety in circuit design and cars, yet had huge success respectively.

By the time we had reached the late 80’s, safety was taken for granted and reliability was getting better and better. It was only after Senna’s death that F1 once again embraced advancements in circuit design and stronger chassis for protecting the drivers.

As design and manufacturing has improved, and as more countries hunger to host races, the figures of yesteryear seem paltry in comparison.

Is the current record of 91 wins from a career spanning two decades in any way comparable to twenty odd wins in a 7 year period? When the number of events per year was half of what it is now?

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8 responses to “On This Day In #F1: 20 September

  1. I think to get a really good grip on ‘how winning’ a driver was is to look at the number of wins in comparison to the number of starts. Schumacher had 300 starts to collect these 91 wins. While Fangio won almost every second race he started IIRC, Schumacher won ‘only’ every third. When it comes to winning rate per start Senna and Vettel should be pretty high up, too, while Prost spent a few seasons in mediocre cars.

    In the end, you can’t really quantify it, as most champions have collected most of their wins in dominant cars, but some also have wins that shouldn’t have happened at all (Senna @Donnington 93, Schumacher @Barcelona, Spa, Monza 96, Vettel @Monza 08)

    • Clark, Ascari, and Stewart also have very good start to win ratio’s but as you said statistics don’t tell the full story. It’s far easier to win in a fully competitive car than a pile of junk, even back in the old days. Just look at Ronnie Petersens career or Fittipaldi’s after he left McLaren to get a good idea of that.

      Formula One has changed so much from a statistical point of view in the last 10 years that it makes many data-driven comparisons ineffectual. Drivers now compete in 3 times as many GP in a season, and are awarded so many more points… makes straight comparisons hard, but win ratios, pole ratios etc I think become much better statistics.

      Of course, playing devil’s advocate, who’s to say that a current generation F1 driver would ever step into a GP car of the 50’s and 60’s, given the high level of safety the sport has now 😉

      • Another point is that in the 50’s and 60’s there were also F1 races (some given a Grand Prix title) that were not part of the World Championship. Also the drivers took part in other races, sports cars, saloon cars, F2, etc. And in those races the top drivers also had good scoring records. A good example was the McLaren CanAm era which was known as the Bruce and Denny show.

  2. Hi Carlo – just a quick question:
    Why did they stop the race with black flags instead of red…?
    Now a much slower (and unanswerable) question…
    Why wasn’t the race stopped before the second lap…?
    Don’t lose any sleep over this… 😉

    • Hi BJF,
      I tried finding out when the red flag was originally used to stop races and couldn’t find any information.
      I assumed the marshall had got it wrong, but I’m currently writing an article about Villeneuve, and in his biography it states that a race was stopped under black flags.
      As far as I was aware, black flags were to dis-qualfiy a driver, as in Mansell in Portugal 1989 with his number beside the flag. This was also evidenced at Silverstone in 1994 for Schumachers disqualification.
      I can only imagine at some point between 1987 and 1989 they changed the actual use of the flags.
      As to the “slower” part of the question, I’m guessing drivers were men back then and didn’t need the over regulated hand holding that these boys require now,but again, all suppostion

      • It was certainly evidenced in 1994 – for several laps, I seem to recall…!
        WIKI states the RED has always existed and wasfirst used in the 1971 Canadian GP – but also in the 1950 Indianapolis 500. My reckoning is the marshal in that clip didn’t have a red flag to hand and in his enthusiasm used the black. Normally, as you say, the black is accompanied by a car’s number.

  3. An interesting article, thank you for it. I do appreciate your candor about your prejudices.

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