It is strange to relate that there is no official rule about what constitutes a Formula 1 career. In theory, if you have driven a Formula 1 car, you can call yourself an F1 driver. However, most people in the sport consider an F1 driver to be someone who qualified for, and raced in, an FIA Formula 1 World Championship Grande Épreuve. The longest career, it seems, was that of Rubens Barrichello, who competed in 326 Grands Prix between 1993 and 2011. The shortest F1 career, I believe, belongs to German engineer Ernst Loof, who qualified for only one race, the German GP in 1953, driving a Veritas. He retired with fuel pump failure just six feet ahead of his grid position. In the modern era, Marco Apicella’s career (in a Jordan) lasted as far as the first corner at Monza in 1993.
All very interesting, but the reason there are no rules is that no official body (ie: the FIA) has ever established them. This is a great shame because I am sure that there would be people willing to buy statistical publications about the sport, just as people buy Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack or they buy books about the records in baseball. It is commercial opportunity which is being wasted.
The best F1 statistical guide was the celebrated “Marlboro Book”, which was an unofficial guide to F1 statistics that was published each year, sponsored by the cigarette company, and edited by the Swiss journalist Jacques Deschenaux. His records include all those who ever attempted to qualify for a Grand Prix, so the likes of Bernie Ecclestone get into the listings, but he uses the “GP Contested” measure to weed out those who did not actually race. If you read Wikipedia, for example, you will see that they list the number of races entered and the number of starts, but even then Alain Prost’s starts (199 on Wikipedia) do not tally with Deschenaux’s 198.
Because there are no set rules, there are often disagreements and it is difficult to retro-fit a system because of all the weird things which have happened over time in F1, not least drivers crashing on recognition laps (the laps that are before the pre-grid and the parade lap), such as Romain Grosjean did recently in Brazil. In the days before the Safety Car there used to be a rule that if the race was stopped after less than two full laps, the race was restarted as a new event. This led to some bizarre statistics, such as Mike Thackwell, who started the 1980 Canadian GP in a third Tyrrell. The race was stopped by a first corner accident and Thackwell’s car was taken over by Jean-Pierre Jarier, the senior Tyrrell driver. So, did Thackwell really take part in the race?
Deschenaux says yes. Others say no.
It was a similar story with Jacques Laffite at the 1986 British GP, the race in which he was due to start his 177th Grand Prix, beating Graham Hill’s record of 176 starts. At the start poor Laffite was shoved into a wall and broke both his legs. The race was declared null and void and so poor Jacques never started the race in which he broke his legs… And never broke the record.
Deschenaux, by the way, lists Laffite as having only 174 starts.
All the rules go out of the window when one considers the German Hans Heyer, who has the unique distinction in F1 of having achieved a DNQ, DSQ and DNF all in the same event, having failed to qualify, he started the race illegally by simply driving down the pitlane and joining in. His car later broke down and was eventually disqualified – but he did race, even if officially he did not.
Jacques Deschenaux today runs a website called www.gpguide.com.