7 January 2019

Fascinating F1 Facts: 40

Narain Karthikeyan was the first F1 driver from India, which was quite an achievement back in 2005 when he made his F1 debut with the Jordan team. Narain’s career was not hugely successful, but he went on to become the Williams F1 test driver in 2006 and 2007 and then made a comeback with the fairly hopeless HRT team in 2011 and 2012.

His best result was fourth in the United States GP in 2005, but one must remember that this was the race in which there were only six runners after everyone else withdrew at the end of the parade lap, the consequence of problems with Michelin tyres and the FIA's refusal to allow for a chicane to be added, thus creating a PR disaster for F1 which could have been avoided with wiser leadership.

Narain's best finish apart from that was 11th, which he achieved twice during his career.

However, he left Formula 1 with a record that is unlikely to be broken for a while, if ever. He is the one and only Formula 1 driver to have finished a Formula 1 race in 24th place.

Jim Rathmann was classified 24th at Indianapolis in 1950, but while that was in the World Championship at the time, it was not really a Formula 1 race and, in any case, two drivers ahead of him in the finishing order had retired, but were still classified.

There were many races in the early years of the sport where there were fields of 24 or more cars (the biggest field being the 1953 German GP when there were 34 starters, but only 16 finishers). Back then reliability was far worse and so fewer cars made it to the end of the races.

In the old days the circuits decided how many cars could run, but that changed in 1978 when it was decided that 24 was sufficient. That increased to 26 in 1982. There were times in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were up to 39 cars entered for races, which meant that with a limit in practice and qualifying of 30 cars, there had to be pre-qualifying sessions.

In the 1990s the numbers fell to 22 and remained at that level until 2002 when Arrows disappeared and the field dropped to 20 cars. until 2006 when it returned to 22, before dropping back to 20 in 2009. With new teams added in 2010 the entry rose to 24 again for a while and Karthikeyan's "achievement" occured in the European Grand Prix of 2011, when the entire field managed to complete the race around the streets of Valencia, without anyone retiring as a result of an accident or a mechanical problem.

It may not be very flattering to be the lowest ever finisher in a Grand Prix, but it is a record nonetheless. HRT disappeared at the end of the 2012 season, leaving a field of only 22 cars and so there was no way that the record could be broken and at the end of 2016 Manor also disappeared, leaving just 20 cars in the field in the course of the last two years - and no sign of anyone coming into F1 to increase the size of the field.

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