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Why 2011 was a record year for Formula 1
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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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?


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’

Tornillo Amarillo

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


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


Most podiums without a win?

(all while driving for cars that aren’t winners…)



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???


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


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


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


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


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


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).


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)


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


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 just had everything.

Record year for moaning about BBC/Sky as well 🙂


“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.


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.


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.


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..


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…. 🙁


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!


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?? 🙂


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 =)


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


Schumacher of course!


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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!


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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

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


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


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!)



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


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


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.


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.


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


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?


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!



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.


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


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


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.


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…. 🙁


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.


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

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