British Grand Prix sprint qualifying: Who to watch out for on the opening lap

Kyle Archer July 15, 2021
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Silverstone will play host to the first sprint qualifying session in Formula One history at this weekend’s British Grand Prix. But which drivers have retired from the most races on the first lap?

Formula One intends to trial sprint qualifying events at three Grand Prix in 2021, starting with the British round. It will see drivers contest a short 17-lap sprint race on the Saturday, with qualifying moved to Friday to determine the grid.

The result of the sprint race will then set the starting order for Sunday’s Grand Prix, with the intention of shaking up the order. But that will not be a comfort for those who have a worse record than others on the opening lap.

Kimi Raikkonen, for one, holds the record for the most opening lap retirements among the active F1 grid. He has failed to finish 11 Grand Prix across his career due to first lap incidents, which is the fourth-most of all-time.

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Experience doesn’t pay in the record books for Raikkonen

Raikkonen has retired on the opening lap of a Grand Prix 11 times across his F1 career. His record is the most among the drivers on the 2021 grid, but the Finn has contested 341 events, which is also the most anyone has amassed in the sport’s history.

Raikkonen was involved in a huge first lap collision at the 2017 Singapore Grand Prix with his former Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. Raikkonen got a wonderful launch off the wet grid, but Vettel swerved across into Verstappen.

The German’s move pincered Verstappen between the two Ferrari’s, with the Dutch driver’s wheels touching Raikkonen’s and pitching the Finn into a spin. Raikkonen then collided with Vettel’s sidepod, causing damage that would ultimately see all three retire from the race.

Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP via Getty Images

Fernando Alonso, who has contested 324 events, and Vettel, who has contested 274 Grands Prix, have both retired on the opening lap seven times in their F1 careers. It is the second-most among the current grid, and the joint 15th-most of all-time.

Former Minardi, Jordan, Renault and Toyota racer Jarno Trulli has retired on the first lap of the most Grands Prix of all-time. The Italian suffered 14 Did Not Finishes on the initial tours of circuits during his 14-year career in the sport, contesting 256 events.

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Home comforts for Hamilton at the British GP

After Raikkonen, Alonso and Vettel, reigning F1 Drivers World Champion Lewis Hamilton has suffered the next-most opening lap DNFs among the active grid. The Mercedes racer, who has won a record seven British Grand Prix, has retired four times on the first lap in his career.

Hamilton has never failed to finish at his home event, however, and has stood on the podium in all but four of his 15 visits to Silverstone. The seven-time World Champion’s worst result in Northamptonshire also came in 2009, with a P16 result.

Hamilton has also taken the chequered flag at each of the nine rounds contested in 2021, including seven podium finishes. His worst result of the season so far came in Azerbaijan with P15 after locking up following a late restart.

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The four F1 drivers with an unpleasant hat-trick

Four of the current F1 grid in Sergio Perez, Pierre Gasly, Lance Stroll and Charles Leclerc have the unwanted record of a hat-trick of first lap retirements in their careers. They are among a total of 31 drivers to have suffered opening lap DNFs in Formula One’s 71-year history.

Ferrari pilot Leclerc suffered his last opening lap retirement at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. The Monegasque collided with Red Bull’s Verstappen and then-Racing Point’s Perez at Turn 4 after leaving his braking late, damaging his front-right suspension.

Other names to have retired on the opening lap three times include former World Champions James Hunt and Jacques Villeneuve. Three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Allan McNish also shared the honour during his 16-race F1 career in 2002.

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Latifi and Mazepin begin unwanted records in 2021

Williams and Haas drivers Nicolas Latifi and Nikita Mazepin have retired on the opening lap of Grands Prix in 2021. Mazepin suffered his first DNF on an opening lap during his F1 debut at the Bahrain GP, after spinning out of Turn 3 and finding the wall.

Mazepin was later involved in a first lap incident with Latifi at the Emilia Romagna GP at Mugello. After re-joining the circuit following an earlier off, Latifi squeezed the Russian driver to the edge of the damp track.

Mazepin then touched the rear-right corner of Latifi’s car, pitching the Williams into the barrier. The incident was the Canadian’s first and only opening lap retirement in his F1 career after 26 Grands Prix.

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Photo by Clive Mason – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

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Kyle is a Multimedia Journalism graduate from Bournemouth University, who has covered Premier League, EFL and European football for a number of years for online publications.