Analysis: Verstappen dominates chart of fastest race laps

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After the opening 12 rounds of the 2023 FIA Formula One World Championship, double world champion and championship runaway leader Max Verstappen dominates the chart of fastest race laps. F1Technical’s Balázs Szabó reflects on the first half of the 2023 F1 season.

The Formula One Championship was born in 1950 when the drivers assembled at the British Grand Prix on 13 May. Back then, the point system was very different with only the first five drivers earning points at the end of the race. The winner received eight points with the second-placed driver collecting six units, then the third-, fourth- and fifth-placed racer earning four, three and two points recpectively.

A point was awarded for the driver who set the fastest lap between 1950 and 1959. Interestingly, there was no additional condition to earn the additional point, drivers did not even need to finish the race to collect the extra point.

There were several examples for that curious occurrence to happen from this ten-year period. Retiring from the season-closing Italian Grand Prix in 1950, Juan Manuel Fangio set the fastest lap of the race and went on to add an addition point to his tally of 27 points which was enough for the five-time champion Argentine racing driver to finish the season second behind Giuseppe Farina.

As timekeeping technologies were far from highly developed, there were times when more drivers set the fastest lap. In fact, as the technology was not precise enough, officials were unable to determine the drivers who set the absolute fastest lap. As a result, the additional point was shared between drivers.

At the 1954 British Grand Prix, no less than seven drivers set a lap time of 1 min 50 secs including Juan Manuel Fangio, Jose Froilan Gonzalez, Mike Hawthorn, Stirling Moss, Onofre Marimon, Alberto Ascari and Jean Behra. It meant that all drivers received 1/7 of a point.

There was a long period when fastest laps were not awarded. But in 2019, the point for scoring the fastest lap was re-introduced, as long as that driver finished in the top ten.

Verstappen in dominant form
In the first 12 races of the current season, five different drivers have managed to set the fastest lap and score a point with that. Max Verstappen delivered the fastest race lap on six venues – Jeddah, Miami, Barcelona, Red Bull Ring, Silverstone and Hungaroring. His team mate Sergio Perez recorded the quickest race lap on two occaions – in Melbourne, Montreal,

Lewis Hamilton has set the fastest race lap on two occaions so far this year. In Monaco, Hamilton finished only fourth, but he managed to secure the extra point for the fastest race lap with a time of 1m15.650s on fresh hard tires, going 0.123 seconds speedier than Charles Leclerc and 0.181 seconds ahead of Pierre Gasly, both of whom were on the medium tire compound.

Hamilton failed to finish on the podium in the ultimate race before the summer break, but a late pit stop meant that he set the fastest race lap in Spa. The addition point might help him later as the battle for third place in the Formula 1 Drivers’ World Championship is hotting up. The Briton is currently in fourth place in the Drivers’ Championship, a point adrift of third-placed Fernando Alonso.

George Russell is also among the drivers who have set the fastest race lap at least once so far in 2023. At the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver pitted for new tires with two laps to go with an eye to the bonus point. His fresh Softs duly delivered, allowing him to go almost a second faster than Max Verstappen on the ultimate lap in a time of 1:43.370 minutes.

The season opener in Bahrain saw Alfa Romeo’s Chinese driver Zhou Guanyu set the fastest race lap after the Shanghai-born clocked a time of 1m33.996s on fresh tyres on the last lap of the race, going a full second quicker than second-fastest Pierre Gasly.