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Why 2011 was a record year for Formula 1
Darren Heath
Posted By: James Allen  |  27 Dec 2011   |  10:45 am GMT  |  88 comments

While 2011 was by no means a classic year for F1 with such a dominant champion, it was an exceptional year in the sense that there were so many outright records set during the year.

The headline numbers of course revolve around Sebastian Vettel, but there are plenty of other eye catching figures from the year:

Most Grands Prix started: 322
Rubens Barrichello continued to extend the record held for many years by Riccardo Patrese. With safer cars and F1 seasons now extending to 19 or 20 races, this was always likely to be broken, but Barrichello’s marathon career is still remarkable.

Youngest double world champion, most poles in a season, most laps led, most podiums in a season, margin in championship table: Sebastian Vettel
Vettel shattered records this season, taking his second world title at the age of 24 years and 98 days. His 15th pole position of the season in Brazil established a new record, as did his tally of 739 laps led in the season. Both of these records had been held by Nigel Mansell from his dominant 1992 season, although that season featured three less races than 2011. Vettel’s 122 point winning margin over second place Jenson Button is also a new record.

Most overtaking moves in a Grand Prix: 126, Turkey
The arrival of both the DRS wing and the short life Pirelli tyres meant that at some races we had a glut of overtakes. With overgenerous DRS zones, Turkey headed the list ahead of the crazy wet race in Canada, which also set a new record as the longest ever Formula 1 GP – lasting over four hours from start to finish. It also featured the most safety cars in a race with six.

Button, who won that race, made 74 passes in 19 races, of which 26 happened in Canada.

Fewest drivers scoring a podium during the season: 7
Only 7 drivers finished on the podium in 2011, which tied the record low in one year, set in 1992, 2000 and 2002. That compares with 13 in 2009, and 14 in 2008 (the all-time record is 18 drivers, in 1982). But Renault’s Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld both scored only one podium finish each (in the first two races) and after that, the 48 podium positions since then were all taken by the same 5 drivers (Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Button and Alonso).

Most races in which a driver has led a lap: Michael Schumacher
The veteran German led three laps in Japan at the age of 42 and took his total of races in which he led to 142, which is a record.

Most cars making it to the finish of a Grand Prix
In Valencia all 24 starters made it to the chequered flag, which is a new record. It was the fourth time every car has finished a Grand Prix, but the largest field ever to do so.

What was your favourite piece of history, made in 2011?

(Sources: Sean Kelly, La Gazzetta dello Sport, Clip the Apex)

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  1. Stuart Harrison says:

    Are there any records for number of records broken in a single season? :)

    1. Dave Aston says:

      I’m listening to music played on a 12 inch vinyl disc. Is that a record?

      1. Sebee says:

        Some refer to it as LP. Have you expereinced the pleasure of watching a GP on a black and white CRT in your life? Or have you been spoiled by color CRT all your life? It likely means you prefer analogue manual shifting F1 cars, hate DRS, KERS, and digital displays on steering wheels. Right?

        But most importantly you’re quite happy for the old retro-guy Schumi setting at least one new achievement benchmark this year.

        Do you think Schumi will be around for 2 more seasons just to stick it to Rubens and take away his record?

      2. Dave Aston says:

        I’ve seen Grands Prix in black and white, our indulgent, small second TV in the early 80′s. Man, it was hard to stay up, but not because of the racing, moreso being in Australia and the races were on too late for a 10 year old.

        You’re right, I don’t like DRS or KERS! I don’t mind the displays on the wheel.

        I’m happy for my fellow 40-something Schumi to be there, but I do wish he was getting some podiums. If Mercedes are close to the front by the middle of next season, I think he’ll come back in 2013. I hope so!

      3. Sebee says:

        Well Mr. Aston, we have quite a bit in common.
        Except I must admit, I’ve never seen modern F1 in B&W.

        I think we will get our wish next year. I’m not crazy about the overpriced MB Schumacher gear, but I promised myself at least a cap if Schumi podiums in 2012. I have a feeling that when he gets that podium we’re in for one of the funniest driver interviews with him – ever.

      4. Dave Aston says:

        After Monza last year, I thought… it really could happen… I really want to see him fighting at the front. He was closer to Nico this year. My solace is that Watson beat Lauda in the points the first two years of Niki’s comeback. Regarding Michael Schumacher, nothing would surprise me.

    2. Stuart Harrison says:

      Actually – shouldn’t there be another one (due to be broken next year): most champions in the field (tied with 2010 at five)?

  2. Dan Orsino says:

    Apart from Webber, the 48 podiums were all taken by champions.
    Could it be next year all podium places will be taken by champs? There will be 6 of them on the grid which will be a record in itself, I think.
    Fingers crossed, two champions will figure on the podium next year OTHER THAN the four mentioned by James!!

    1. Nathan says:

      I don’t remember petrov and heidfeld being champions they also featured on the podium in 2012

      1. Dan Orsino says:

        pl re-read with care

      2. Garry T says:

        I re read with care

        Apart from Webber, the 48 podiums were all taken by champions.

        I cant see how this can be read either way

        So Heidfield and Petrov are champions in your eyes

      3. KavB says:

        Erm… James said the 48 podiums following the first two races where the Renault scored podiums, were occupied by the top 5. So what Dan said was correct.

      4. Dan Orsino says:

        Thanks KavB
        but hang on: are these figures right James?
        I’m not good at sums, but
        19 races x 2 podium places = 38
        or if you prefer
        19 races x 3 podium places = 57

        where does 48 [after deducting 2] come from?

      5. Sebee says:

        James, you’ve been audited!

  3. apasapasapas says:

    How about number of WCC wins by a designer?
    Newey is now on 8 (’92, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’97, ’98, , ’10 and ’11)

    Which is more than Chapman and Bryne

    1. Nadeem says:

      Think he is on 130 wins or so as well

      1. apasapasapas says:

        Championships though. WCC is for the best ‘constructor’. Chapman had 7 I think, while this is Neweys 8th. Bryne had 7. (’95, ’99, ’00, ’01, ’02, ’03 and ’04).

        This puts Newey as the best designer in F1 history as he now has 1 more than Bryne and Chapman.

        Although over a longer period.

    2. Eje Gustafsson says:

      So if the sequence holds, Newey should also win 12, will not win 13, but will be back and win 14, 15 & 16 then should be 12 more years before another championship again but will he even be around in 17 years? Hardly.. Of course the world isn’t as logic and use that clear patterns but be funny if was the case..

  4. Terry Pearson says:

    Canadian GP – longest (I think) and classic drives too by a number of drivers

  5. Tan Coul says:

    Probably only equalling a record, but how many times has a driver come from last place to win a GP (Button, Canada)? Come to that, in terms of positions gained, how does it compare to the best?

    1. anonymous says:

      John Watson won the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1983, starting from 22nd on the grid. I’m not sure, but I think that’s still the world record.

  6. Amar says:

    My favourite moment was as a marshal- witnessing vettel driving a perfect GP in India..
    pole+win+lead in every lap+fastest lap

    Also ,the after podium celebrations were epic!!

    1. Trent says:

      It was great to see a race in India after many years of speculation and false starts.

      Do you think there will be a good crowd again next year?

      1. Amar says:

        Yes trent, 2012′s enthusiasm may not surpass the this year’s phenomenal atmosphere

        also they have got the seating capacity far more than other circuits(bahrain has 35k india 100k)..
        so, the circuit won’t be packed but there is a very huge section of diehard fans who will visit, come whatmay :-)

  7. Mohammed Al-Momen says:

    This just shows how bad Massa’s season was —>”But Renault’s Vitaly Petrov and Nick Heidfeld both scored only one podium finish each (in the first two races) and after that, the 48 podium positions since then were all taken by the same 5 drivers (Vettel, Webber, Hamilton, Button and Alonso).”

    1. ed24f1 says:

      Well Massa should’ve got the Sepang podium if it wasn’t for an atrocious first pitstop!

  8. azac21 says:

    Most number of collisions between the same drivers i.e Massa-Hamilton

  9. Mashy says:

    Did Paul di Resta set some sort of record with his number of laps completed this year? I’m sure he finished more laps than Vettel in 2011.

    1. lol says:

      His only record is the amount of time he mentioned in interviews he beat Vettel 80 years ago.

  10. goferet says:

    Oh blimey!

    I hadn’t realized so many records were broken in 2011, fascinating stuff.

    As for my most impressive record, it has to be Vettel for how many races has he finished, first or second – Yes, not even Schumi pulled that feat off though Schumi went the entire 2002 season on the podium.

    Of course this spells bad news for the likes of Sebi for when you hit such heights, there’s only one place to go —> Straight down and fast!

    As for Canada, well that will go down in history as an urban legend for where and when do you have a pilot come from last place to first & best of all, on the last lap – Insane.

    But despite all the records broken this year, one record still stands and that is the best three drivers on the current F1 grid (Alonso, Vettel & Hammy) have never stood on the podium together – Just goes to show 3 Kings can’t rule one Kingdom!

    On the other scale, some people have been breaking the wrong kinds of records… For instance;

    1. Williams having both their cars line up last and second last on the grid.

    2. Ferrari winning one race

    3. Mass not finishing higher than fifth

    4. Hammy & Massa coming together 6 times

    5. Lewis had the most penalties EVER – Six

    6. Only had 3 wet races all year

    1. Paul J says:

      Is that really true?? Alonso, Vettel & Hamilton have never shared a podium? That seems so impossible! And I was really hoping no-one would remind me of the shameful record that Williams broke this year…. :-(

    2. ed24f1 says:

      That Vettel/Alonso/Hamilton statistic is quite amazing, particularly when there have been so few podium getters in 2011 and considering how many races they’ve won in the past few years!

      I did check, and it does appear to be true.

    3. iceman says:

      I wonder if the total number of penalties handed out by the stewards was a record too. They certainly kept themselves busy.

  11. dizzy says:

    i think the fact so few drivers scored podiums was purely down to DRS.

    drs now allows cars to finish in there natural order of performance. as soon as you get someone drive a brilliant race & get the car beyond its natural performance (schumacher at montreal for example) they get robbed of that position by DRS.

    its also why i feel we havn’t had any real surprise results this year with a driver in a mid-field team pulling out a great drive to finish well above the cars performance.

    if we didn’t have drs this season I would bet we’d have seen more drivers on pole, better racing & more surprise results.

    1. Paul J says:

      I agree – DRS is really robbing the underdog teams of those hard fought podiums that we all love to see. I really hope 2012 is the last year for DRS. Sure, there was a lot of overtaking in 2011, but was it really a more exciting season because of it?

      1. anonymous says:

        I’d love to see waved blue flags banned and the “one defensive move”-rule removed again, so people would have to fight backmarkers again and people would have the possibility to defend their line as hard as can be. Back in the days of Prost and Senna, the art of overtaking backmarkers has often been the cause of epic dramas and epic gains, key to success and failure, sympathy and antipathy.

      2. Paul Kirk says:

        Yeah I agree, Paul J, it might have been more “exciting” for the average viewer, but was it so for us diehard fans? It seems they’ve gone a bit “over the top” with the overtaking gimmicks!

    2. Ivan says:

      Good point! Haven’t thought about DRS this way…

    3. Stephen Hughes says:

      I can’t really think of any races where someone could have held the top 5 drivers back to be honest.

      I think the main reason for so few drivers on the podium is the attempt to cut costs. Making engines and gearboxes last several races as well as freezing engine development means the main focus is on reliability rather than pure performance. We simply haven’t seen enough drivers from the top three teams drop out to give anyone else a chance. Next year could be similar, a lot depends whether Merc and Renault manage to close the gap, if not then unless Massa can pull his finger out we could see the record being reduced to five drivers… When the new engines come in we could see a shake-up though.

  12. Nathan says:

    My greatest moment has been witnessing vettel break all the records and in my opinion become the most dominate driver that I’ll get to see he is truly a worthy double champion and next year the records will continue to be broken by him (youngest triple world champion) regardless of his car he is the real deal I hope next year is more competitive but even if mclaren and Ferrari close the gap I think we will see much of the same

    1. Paul Kirk says:

      Don’t forget, Nathan, that it’s very easy to look good when you’re in the best car! (And the team is biased to your side of the garage as well!)

      1. Nathan says:

        Paul I agree that sv had the best race car and just how biased red bull were we don’t know and I hope next year is more competitive but I think seb will continue to dominate

      2. David A says:

        I agree woth Nathan, Vettel, since 2008, where he looked good in a midfield car, has looked the real deal.

  13. Chris says:

    So few drivers scoring a podium leads me to the conclusion that F1 cars are too reliable now. The engine development freeze probably has a lot to do with this, but it all seems a bit too easy to make a bulletproof car.

    If a team like HRT can produce a car that had only 6/38* retirements all year then you know something is wrong.

    *I’m not even sure all of these were mechanical either.

    1. David A says:

      “*I’m not even sure all of these were mechanical either.”

      Yeah, one of them was Liuzzi’s moment of madness in Monza.

    2. ferggsa says:

      I agree on too much reliability. It is a great technical achievement to have all 24 cars finish, but in the “old” days, it helped midfielders to gain places due to blown engines and tires from those pushing too hard
      Drivers had to “nurse” the cars also, not have someone from the pit jiggle the telemetry settings

      1. apasapasapas says:

        Yet many complained this year when they realised Hamilton had to nurse his tyres

      2. Craig in SG says:

        You are mistaken. A guy on the pit wall cannot “jiggle” any telemetry settings to change anything on the car. The only communication allowed from pit to car is voice. The team may monitor the telemetry that the car is sending them and advise the driver that he has to “nurse” the car, but the only changes that can be made are by the driver from the cockpit.

    3. apasapasapas says:

      6/36 I think you mean.

      There were 19 races, but HRT didn’t qualify for Australia, giving them only 18 races where they could retire. 18×2=36.

      1. Chris says:

        You’re quite right.

        As David pointed out it should have been 5/36, as one of those retirements I had listed was due to Liuzzi’s first corner catastrophe at Monza.

        My point stands. If a team with a budget of circa £3.50 a year can make it to the end of the vast majoriy of GPs then the rule set is making it all a bit too easy.

      2. apasapasapas says:

        I think they may have had ironically the most tested car.

        Not because they went any of the preseason tests this year or last, nor because of outside race weekend tests BUT because the car they took to Bahrain in 2010 was pretty much the car they took to Brazil in 2011

    4. AD says:

      Excellent point. It’s more interesting to look at why records are being broken rather than which records are broken. The focus on reliability has squeezed out the 2nd tier teams.

      Having 19 GPs has also meant more records are broken – I think the number of poles, wins, laps led etc. should be expressed as a percentage of the maximum possible.

      Having the youngest ever double world champion is probably influenced by the car contributing more to the overall performance now than in past seasons.

      1. James Allen says:

        In 1992 Mansell broke records which stood until this year.. he was 39 at the time

  14. Don says:

    It has to be Canada. I was there and I seen Button go through the field like a knife through soft butter. In my eyes that was the drive best drive I have ever seen. I think he had the most pit stops and he went from near top to the back of the field only to make it back to the top and grab top stop. We will never see a drive like that again.

    1. Marc says:

      Yes, Button did great at Canada. Interestingly, he punted Hamilton off the track as Hamilton was preparing to overtake him…which was the start of Hamilton’s spiral.

      So then on to another potential record: Hamilton squandering the most points ever in a season!

      1. StephenAcworth says:

        Mmm, I think Hamilton actually drove into Jenson, rather than the way you described it!

  15. Sam says:

    Hi James
    Love your blog – keep up the good work.

    “Vettel’s 122 point winning margin over second place Jenson Button is also a new record.”
    Could you tell me if this is true in terms of a percentage points winning margin? With the points so different now than before it is not really representative if regarded in absolute points margin.
    E.g. with 25 points for a win these days rather than 10 (or even 9) point in past eras, the percentage would be more relevant. Thanks

    1. iceman says:

      Schumacher’s championship in 2002 would be far better from that point of view, 144 points to Barrichello’s 77. But of course that was one of the years when there were 10 points for a win and only 6 for second place – a proportionally larger gap than at present.

      As you suggest, records based on numbers of points are pretty meaningless, but even percentage comparisons are not really like for like.

  16. Nil says:

    Which driver has inherited the most number of wins with the leading driver’s car running into problems?

    1. Garry T says:

      You will find it was Hamilton even though we know what you are implying

  17. Rich C says:

    New record – number of races 3-Car Monte complained about *something: 19

  18. James D says:

    How about first driver to have a career span 20 years?

    1. James D says:

      Schumacher of course!

  19. Trent says:

    My least favourite record is the number of different helmet designs worn in a season (Vettel).

    This discarding of tradition I hate with a passion – someone make him stop please!

    1. R3D says:

      I don’t think he’s going to stop doing the variety helmet. Hell, I wouldn’t if I were him. Every helmet is an instant collectible in my opinion =)

    2. SMM says:

      I pretty sure that i herd on BBC Five live that he retires each helmet when he wins with it..

      Trying to start his own tradition?? :)

  20. Don Farrell says:

    2012 is going to be another record-breaking season… the year TV audiences in the UK & Ireland drops by 50% because Sky Sports will now be showing half the races…. :(

  21. SMM says:

    Great stats James.
    But could you please tell us the total of over takes for the year, then how many of them actually occurred on track under race conditions and how many of them were during pit stops??

    I have a feeling that more were during Pit Stops and not racing on the track.. I hope im wrong..

  22. Steve Rogers says:

    Got to be the Canadian GP. I’ll always remember Coulthard & Brundle reduced to trying to identify bird species during the “rainy season” in the middle. And Jenson being one of the ultimate plucky Brits of all time.

  23. Relativity says:

    James, thanks for your informative blog and all the insightful updates this year. Much appreciated.

    Glad to hear that Schumacher is still making records.

    Now, for my standout observations from the 2011 season -

    5 world champions starting every race this year. Soon to be 6 champions in 2012, thanks to Kimi Raikkonen signing up with Lotus Renault. It will be interesting to see Kimi’s progress in 2012 compared to what Schumacher has (or hasn’t) been able to achieve.

    Mark Webber’s complete lack of answers to Vettel’s domination at Red Bull. Webber almost won the championship in 2010 so I was expecting more from him.

    Hamilton being beaten by Button. Being beaten by a teammate for the first time in his F1 career. It will be interesting to see how Hamilton deals with this setback in 2012. Button really asserted himself in Canada when Hamilton tried to pass him in the rain (and failed).

    The slide of Lotus Renault this season after putting their drivers on the podium in the first two races. Hope they can do better in 2012 for Kimi’s sake.

    Williams decline to the has-been grade this year. It must be a systemic failure for this to happen. They haven’t produced a championship winner (even a race winner) in many years but to see a team like Williams propping up the grid was not a good sight. I hope all the changes they are making have a positive effect in 2012.

  24. K says:

    “Youngest double world champion, most poles in a season, most laps led, most podiums in a season, margin in championship table: Sebastian Vettel”

    This youngest whatever thingy record just keeps lowering the bar, in 10 years time we’ll probably see a fetus breaking this record.

  25. Paul Mc says:

    My god Mansell’s 1992 season was pretty epic wasnt it? Overall i thought 2010 was a better and more open championship towards the end but i have to say Canada this year was my one of my favourite ever F1 races..it just had everything.

    Record year for moaning about BBC/Sky as well :)

  26. David Chubb says:

    Interesting point James. LEwis Hamilton is the only driver to have won a Grand Prix in every year he has raced in Formula One. Even Juan Manuel Fangio didn’t win in every year

    1. ferggsa says:

      Because Lewis has never driven for a sub par team
      No disrespect for him, but it is easier to win in a “bad” McLaren than in a “good” Mercedes or lower car (ask Schumacher)

      1. David Chubb says:

        Ah but Fangio didn’t race for a below par team. I’ll admit that’s a considerable factor but to win in every season is to be of note. webber almost proved you can have the best car and not win. McLaren did it in 2006 as well

    2. fduct says:

      There are some others like Vettel who have won in every full season they competed in.

      1. David Chubb says:

        In the same way Juan Manuel Fangio hasn’t won in any full season he raced in so thus that becomes void

      2. David A says:

        What do you mean? Fangio did win in every full season he raced (he only did part of 1958). fduct is saying that Vettel’s won in every full season he has raced (since he only did part of 2007).

      3. David Chubb says:

        No because he never competed in the Indianapolis 500 a part of the season

  27. Richard D says:

    I suspect the number of 2011 drivers without a seat for 2012 is a new record!

  28. Pete S. says:

    A little off topic, but apparently Jean Todt was quoted as saying that Vettel could win more than Schumacher’s 7 titles.
    Considering today’s formula 1, do you really think this is possible???

  29. Josh says:

    Most podiums without a win?
    (all while driving for cars that aren’t winners…)


  30. Baghetti says:

    How about 2011 as the season with the biggest number of pitstops ever?

  31. Tornillo Amarillo says:

    Canada 2011, most rainy race (4 hours of rain in a race of 2 hours…).

  32. David T says:

    Anyone in SkyF1HD’s lineup of pundits likely to break EJ’s record of
    ‘longest sicophantic monologue during interview without actually asking a question, before remembering what the question was going to be and, after all the preamble it turns out to be a really rubbish question anyway’

  33. Angelina says:

    Sebastian Vettel also broke Senna’s youngest grand chelem record in india. In the same race, highest laps led.
    Is it a record to break 2 records on same day?


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