I’ve already gone over how F1 statistics can sometimes be confusing and unnecessarily complicated in a previous editorial. This time, I want to go over a few more facts and stats that can be considered discrepancies or anomalies, ones you may not have heard of before. Because, for the first eleven years of Formula One’s history, the Indianapolis 500 was part of the F1 calendar as a points paying race.
Let’s start at the beginning, 1950, the first F1 World Driver’s Championship. Giuseppe Farina would win the championship, and an Alfa Romeo would take the victory in every race that season. Except the Indianapolis 500.
Because most of the Formula 1 calendar was based in Europe, not many during this decade travelled to the U.S to participate in the American round of the F1 Championship. This meant that American based drivers would earn points in a championship that was mostly based in the European continent. Allowing them to also hold some unique records and milestones. Kurtis Kraft was the only car to stain the Alfa Romeo dominance, whilst Johnnie Parsons would be the first American to win in F1. The 1950 Indianapolis 500 would also be the first race in F1 history to be shortened, as only 138 laps were completed when rain stopped proceedings.
In the past 20 years, many drivers have broken the record for being the youngest race winner in F1. Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and now Max Verstappen have all held this record at some point. However, from early in F1’s history, that record was held by 22-year-old Troy Ruttman, who won the 1952 Indianapolis 500. It would take 51 years for that record to be broken by Fernando Alonso in 2003.
Jim Clark holds an impressive statistic. He led 49.5% of the laps in F1 races that he competed in. This means that he was in the lead of the race for almost half of the laps he raced in. But someone from America tops that record, bringing it into untouchable territory. Bill Vukovich would compete in his first Indy 500 in 1951, lasting 29 laps until suffering an oil leak. In 1952, he led 150 of the 200 laps before suffering a steering failure. In 1953, during the hottest race on record at the time, Vukovich would lead 195 laps to win his first Indy 500. He would win again the following year leading 90 laps. In 1955, Vukovich would lead 50 laps before being fatally killed on lap 56. An innocent bystander with no way of avoiding the crash. Overall, he would lead 485 of the 676 laps he raced, 71.7% demolishing Jim Clark’s record. Because he only raced in the Indianapolis 500, this meant he would have won 40% of the F1 races he competed in and led 80% of those races. Unthinkable numbers that people often disregard.
Another interesting fact, although I can’t quite identify if it is 100% true, but because the 1953 Indianapolis 500 was so hot, and with the driver’s feet inches from the large and very hot combusting engines, many teams had relief drivers. The race had become one of endurance like Le Mans, with up to 5 drivers sharing the duties across one car. Which I would assume would be the most drivers to share one car in a single F1 championship race.
Back to 1952 though. I’ve already mentioned that it was difficult for teams and drivers to compete in the European races and the Indy 500. Ferrari were the first team to do both. Alberto Ascari would miss out on the Swiss Grand Prix, as he was at Indianapolis practicing and qualifying for the Indy 500, whilst his Ferrari teammates Piero Taruffi and Guiseppe Farina would race in Switzerland for the first race of the season. This means that it took three seasons for a team to compete in a full season, and that team was Ferrari. Ascari would race the Ferrari 375 with its V12 engine. Because the Indy 500 was sanctioned under USAC rules and not the FIA, the new regulations imposed on teams that year didn’t affect the Indy 500. This meant that Enzo Ferrari could send the faster Ferrari 375 with its V12 engine to Indianapolis, whilst the new Ferrari 500 with an inline four would race in the European rounds. He would qualify nineteenth and would climb through the field quite quickly. Unfortunately, he would retire due to the conventional wire wheels not being strong enough to sustain the bumpy brick surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As Ascari would win every race after that season, this would make him the first F1 champion to also race at Indianapolis. No one would compete in every race of the F1 championship until 1961, when the Indy 500 was no longer on the calendar. Juan Manual Fangio, five-time F1 champion attempted this feat in 1958 but failed to qualify for the 500.
Across the eleven years that the Indy 500 was part of the Formula One Season, the Offenhauser engine would power the winner of every Indy 500 from 1950-1960. The engine would also be entered in 11 other F1 races in its history, however, would have a best finish of 10th in those races. However, its success at the Brickyard would mean that Offenhauser has a 50%-win rate during its time in Formula 1. I’m not sure any other engine manufacturer can come close to that.
Interestingly, once the Indy 500 was off the Formula 1 calendar, there was suddenly more interest from Europe. Colin Chapman with Graham Hill and Jim Clark would start the British Invasion, and turn the racing on its head, bringing the rear-engine revolution with it. More drivers from the European circuit and abroad would come to compete in the 500, including drivers like Jack Brabham, Jochen Rindt, Clay Regazzoni and teams like McLaren. Now, there are more overseas drivers competing in the Indianapolis 500 each year than American drivers. F1 drivers would also make the full switch to American Open Wheel racing, such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Eddie Cheever, Takuma Sato and more recently, Marcus Ericsson, Max Chilton, and Alexander Rossi to name a few.