Grand Prix Statistics

A little while ago I wrote an article about “The Golden Book” pointing out that in the career of a racing driver the most important thing to do was to win proper motor races, for that would ensure that your name was engraved in the true history of motor racing. If you pick your event and make sure you go to races that have negligible opposition it is not difficult in amass an imposing list of victories, imposing that is until someone looks at them closely. To attempt the big races and to win them is far more impressive, even though you may achieve only a quarter of the number of victories. The main point of racing is to win, so first places are really the only ones that count; a string of seconds and thirds are good grounding, but should only be a prelude to the ultimate aim which is to finish first.

Just before Jim Clark’s tragic death there was a lot of “hoo-haa” in the “powder-puff press” about him having won 25 World Championship Grand Prix events, and having surpassed Fangio’s total by one. I do not know who first published this fact or where the statistics came from, but the way the casual press bandied it about, without any concrete facts and figures to back it up, made me rather suspicious of the statement. Unfortunately there just was not time to wade through my archives and verify the story, or to check and cross-check all the race results, so I preferred to ignore the statement. Recently I had some correspondence with a reader, Mr. John Wray, of County Durham, who has been keeping records of Grand Prix racing for his own amusement. He was kind enough to send me some interesting statistical lists, which I am pleased to be able to print. They show that Clark had already passed Fangio’s total before he achieved his 25th victory. We are only concerned with World Championship events and with first place and Fangio had two victories in which he shared a car with another driver. One was the 1951 French G.P. when he shared a 159 Alfa Romeo with Fagioli, and the other was the 1956 Argentine G.P. when he shared a Lancia-Ferrari with Luigi Mosso. In those days it was permitted for a driver to change cars during a race and they shared the winning points, so Fangio scored two halves. By the time he retired in 1958 his total of Championship victories was 23, not 24, as someone supposed. His winning span was from 1950 to 1958, during which time there were 66 Championship races held, and he won 23 of them. It should be noted that during part of that period Indianapolis was inscribed in the official list of races in the hope of bringing American and European racing closer together, but it was an abortive attempt. For the purpose of this survey the American race has been ignored. Clark’s span of Grand Prix racing lasted from 1960 to the beginning of 1968, during which time there were 77 Championship events, and he won 25 of them.

A close study of the accompanying tables is well worth while, for not only does it show how far ahead of everyone else Fangio and Clark were, but it shows that the current field of Grand Prix drivers still have a long way to go to equal their efforts. A study of the Championship results year by year shows clearly when the World Champion was a deserving one and when he was not. The fact that Moss is still third overall in the totals and yet does not feature in the list of Champions is sufficient to show the absurdity that can arise. On the matter of race victories there is no argument, for, as I said earlier, the whole point of a race is to win it. Another interesting point that these tables bring out is that a lot of today’s Grand Prix drivers who are heralded by the Popular Press as potential World Champions have yet to win a single Championship race, let alone 25 as Clark did. There have been drivers who have chided me for not giving them any publicity, or if they haven’t done it personally, their manager or agent has done so. My reply has always been: “Win some proper motor races and you’ll get all the publicity you want.” Needless to say most of them are not even on the bottom of the list with one victory!

The final table shows the victories achieved by each manufacturer, irrespective of engine make, and is so self-explanatory that it barely calls for comment, except to point out that Ferrari cars have been competing since the inception of the Championship in 1950. B.R.M. have also competed since those days, though not as consistently as Ferrari, missing the two years 1952 and 1953 when Grand Prix races were run to a 2-litre unsupercharged Formula.

It is interesting that Mercedes-Benz are still held up as the pinnacle of Grand Prix cars by many, yet they only have nine victories; however, these were achieved between mid-1954 and the end of 1955, a mere 18 months, and they did achieve the distinction of starting four cars in a race and finishing 1-2-3-4.

While statistics can be used to prove anything you want, by including or leaving out factors that would sway the decision, I feel that this analysis of drivers’ victories is interesting. It does not prove, in any way, who was better than who, nor does it prove who were great drivers. For me there are many other aspects of a race to convince me of a driver’s worth, and as Fangio, Clark and Moss proved many times, a genius can demonstrate his driving ability for all to see and still not win a race. As the starting point towards the analysis of what makes a great racing driver, the number of times he wins Grand Prix races is useful.—D. S. J.