The legend of the home Grand Prix hoodoo
21 August, 2011
Aug.21 (Paul Murtagh) A Formula 1 driver’s home grand prix – when the grandstands and spectator areas are packed with expectant fans hoping to see their home grown hero fight way to an excellent result or a victory – is arguably one of the most coveted wins on a driver’s CV, yet it remains one of the hardest races to win.
Scenes such as Nigel Mansell winning at Silverstone or a Ferrari crossing the line first at Monza show just how much a home win can mean to a driver, team and fans alike. But in recent years, it has been the race where the home hero has struggled to find his form.
This season, not one driver out of 12 has stood on the podium of his home race. Even Sebastien Vettel, so dominant this season, struggled at his home race.
Only 58% of drivers this season have scored points at their home race, with the highest finishers being Vettel and Lewis Hamilton, who both finished in 4th position but a long way from scoring a podium.
Recent historical statistics
Statistically, the most successful driver at their home race is Alain Prost, who won the French Grand Prix six times in his career. Next in line is Michael Schumacher, who has won the German Grand Prix four times (and also the European Grand Prix five times when it was held at the Nurburgring), and Nigel Mansell, who has won the British Grand Prix four times, plus he also took victory at the European Grand Prix at Brands Hatch in 1985.
Since the 2006 season, there have been a total of 98 home races for 33 different drivers. And out of that total of 98, only 5 drivers have won their home grand prix. And there has only been a further 7 podium finishes in the same period. On the other end of the scale, there have been a total of 25 DNF’s, and more non-points finishes than points finishes. So just why do drivers tend to struggle at their home race?
Reasons or excuses
One possible reason could be the driver getting caught up in the hype of racing at home, and perhaps over-trying or over-pushing the car beyond its limits. One good example of this could be Mark Webber. Despite driving for teams such as Jaguar, Williams and Red Bull in his career, his best finish at his home race still remains 5th place in his maiden race in a Minardi in 2002 (although he has matched this twice in 2005 and 2011). He has always qualified well, even qualifying in the front row in 2010, yet never does well in the races. The 2010 race was a perfect example of this, with a poor tyre choice on a drying track and a late-race collision with Hamilton resulting in 9th place in the fastest car on the track.
Webber isn’t the only driver to get over-excited at home. One driver who often made mistakes at his home race was Damon Hill. Despite some excellent results at home, including a win in 1994, he usually made driving errors in front of his home crowd. In 1995, he took both himself and Michael Schumacher out of the race after an over-optimistic passing attempt. A year later, he spun out of the race while pushing the car too hard. And in 1998, he was the first retirement during a very wet race when he spun and stalled the car on lap 9.
Another driver who has never hit dizzy heights at his home race is Jenson Button. Despite twice being in a very fast car (BAR in 2004 and Brawn in 2009), his best finish at Silverstone has been 4th in 2004 with BAR, and he matched this result last year with McLaren. Like Webber, Jenson has usually qualified well at home, such as qualifying 3rd in 2005, but has yet to translate this into a good result.
One driver who has never had the rub of the green at home in Rubens Barrichello. So far, he has taken part in 18 races in Brazil, but a podium in 2004 is his best result to date. In fact, that 2004 result was only the second time he had finished his home race since his first race in 1993. He retired from the lead in 1999 with Stewart, and in 2000 and 2003 with Ferrari (all mechanical failures). Like Webber and Button, he often qualifies well at home, taking pole in 2003, 2004 and 2009, but has never managed to translate it to a good race result.
Success on home soil
If we look at the other end of the scale – those drivers who have been successful at home – it is poor reading. Only two of the drivers who have raced in F1 from the beginning of 2006 (Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher) have won more than once at their home grand prix. Schumacher actually has four wins at the German Grand Prix (not counting the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, which he has won a further five times) – his first win coming in 1995 and his last in 2006. Massa has won his home race twice – 2006 and agonisingly in 2008, when his victory wasn’t enough to secure the world championship.
The only other current drivers to have won their home grand prix are two world champions – Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. Both took their home win in their title year, and ironically their only other appearances on the podium at their home race happened in the same years and they scored the same position – 3rd in 2007, and second in 2010.
Will it change this year?
So which of the current crop can change the tide and win their home grand prix this season? If we are being honest, probably none. The only drivers who have yet to compete in their home race this season are Felipe Massa, Rubens Barrichello, Kamui Kobayashi, Jarno Trulli, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Narain Karthikeyan (who will return to the HRT for his home event) and Jerome D’Ambrosio. And apart from Massa, none of these drivers have cars capable of challenging for a strong result at home.
The home race hoodoo will continue for another season at least, and perhaps next year we will see a return to the days of the home hero triumphing at home – the days of Mansell, Senna, and Prost all consistently winning at home seem a lifetime ago!