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The Grand Chelem

During the Singapore GP, a somewhat unusual event occurred. It is called the Grand Chelem, also known as a Grand Slam or The Perfect Weekend. This isn't a frequently used term, the often used phrase hat-trick (pole, win, fastest lap), is what is usually referred to as in context of a perfect weekend, but rarely mentioned is the Grand Chelem. Therefore I took it upon myself to do a bit of research to find out what a Grand Chelem is, and under what circumstances it can be achieved; I wanted to uncover the historical statistics and possible recent influences upon its frequency. Finally I wanted to see how Ferrari's Fernando Alonso was able to be written into the history books by adding a Grand Chelem to his helmet under the floodlit sky of the Singapore night race.

A Quick Explanation and A Little Bit of History

There are four elements to enable a driver to achieve a Grand Chelem. First he must secure pole position. Then, he must win the race, a common occurrence in F1. The driver must also score the fastest lap of the race, this is known as a hat-trick which occasionally happens. However, there is one final element to the Grand Chelem. The driver must at no point in the race lose the lead, this includes being in the pits. He must enter the pit-lane in the lead and exit the pit-lane in the lead without anyone passing him on track or in the pit-lane. If the two leading drivers pit on the same lap and the driver in second place has pit-box further down the pit-lane, this does not count as an overtake as it is the exit that matters and the driver has no say over the order of the pit-box order.

A Grand Chelem can be achieved in three ways. The first being in a car which is far quicker than any other car on the grid, thus being able to build up large enough lead to negate the car behind who is unable to pass due to the gap between the two cars, hence the lead driver comes back out in front. Another option would be if there were no pit-stops. As this is not applicable to modern F1, there is only one other chance, great driving, a good strategy and a little bit of luck.

Armed with this knowledge, it is hardly surprising that only 21 drivers have managed to achieve a Grand Chelem. Equally staggering is the fact, it has only happened on 50 occasions in the entire 60 year history of the sport.

The ability to score a Grand Chelem over time has been sporadic. During certain eras it was more difficult to accomplish than others. This could be due to how the F1 has changed over the years with regards to regulations and how the cars have evolved. The introduction of refuelling appears to have played a major role in curbing it. I took the time out to check some interesting statistics over the decades.

Prior to refuelling these are the following occasions when a Grand Chelem took place.

In the 1950s there were 9 shared by 4 drivers, Ascari (5), Fangio (2), Hawthorn (1) and Moss (1).

In the 1960s there were 11 shared by 3 drivers, Clark (the most successful ever with 8), Brabham (2) and Stewart (1).

In the 1970s there were 9 shared by 7 drivers, Stewart (3) Siffert (1), Ickx (1), Regazzoni (1), Lauda (1), Laffite (1) and Villeneuve (1).

In the 1980s there were 6 shared by 3, drivers, Piquet (3), Senna (2) and Berger (1).

In the 1990s prior to refuelling (1994) there were 6 shared by 2 drivers, Mansell (4) and Senna (2).

During the refuelling era, the occurrence of a Grand Chelem was less prevalent. In the sixteen years from 1994-2009 (inclusive), only three drivers were able to maximise the potential dominance of the car which was split between four teams. Mclaren, Ferrari, Benneton and Williams. Michael Schumacher accumulated five in total, two with Benetton in 1994 and with with Ferrari he managed one in 2002 and two in 2004. Mika Hakkinen scored two in 1998 with Mclaren. All three of these cars were dominant throughout the year. The one exception is in 1995, when Damon Hill joined the club in his Williams.

How it Was Done

The question is, how did Ferrari and Fernando Alonso manage to attain the elusive Grand Chelem. The Ferrari of Alonso was not the quickest car of the weekend. In fact, The Red Bull looked the much faster of the two at this high downforce circuit. Certainly this was very much in evidence with the young German, Sebastian Vettel behind the wheel, yet not quite as obvious in the hands of current Championship leader, Mark Webber. This may be due to a number of things. Yet, it remains to be said, this was considered to be a track where the Red Bull should dominate. It was anticipated in all likelihood that the Ferrari would be a close second.

As previously mentioned, the first objective to achieving the Grand Chelem is pole position. In qualifying it appears that Alonso (combined with and excellent lap of his own), by in large obtained pole position due to a mistake by Vettel in the final session of qualifying on the Saturday evening. This was only the third time a Red Bull had failed to qualify on pole (the others being Lewis Hamilton in Canada and Alonso himself at Monza).

The next objective is to win the race. He did this with an impressive, (and almost) error free, defensive drive. His start off the line was poor, so to make up for this he had to show a lot of aggression by blocking Vettel. That was it, Vettel clung to his gearbox throughout the entire race but unable to make any inroads on the unforgiving circuit where is extremely difficult to overtake (as many drivers found). Objective number two achieved.

He managed to get the fastest lap because both cars were eating up fuel. They had been trading fastest laps for the entire race. Due to the wake of the car, Vettel had to keep holding back as it would have a negative affect on his engine which could cause it to overheat. However, whenever a gap was extended, he drew himself back up to Alonso, awaiting for any mistake that Alonso would make (which never happened). This suggests the Red Bull in the hands of Sebastian Vettel was the faster car of the two.

Finally, down to the most difficult part with regards to the Grand Chelem in F1, which is not losing the lead. Both Red Bull and Ferrari were waiting for Mclaren to make the first move. This was nothing to do with wanting a Grand Chelem on Alonso's part, but to ensure they did not get stuck behind the Mclarens after the stops. Lewis Hamilton (who was running third at the time) pitted on lap 29, thus prompting both the Ferrari and Red Bull pit crew into action. Alonso came in and exited in front of Vettel. Button who had previously been running third (fourth prior to Hamilton's stop) was the man who had to cross the line before Alonso and Vettel came out, however he also pitted. It wouldn't have mattered anyway, the gap had been big enough for them both to emerge with almost ten seconds in hand before that would have been likely to happen.

To conclude, it came about by a combination of mistakes made by others, amazing driving and a fantastic Ferrari strategy which enabled Fernando Alonso to join that elite list of now twenty one drivers to achieve the Grand Chelem. All of this was achieved by the second fastest car on the grid.

Amanda Gaffney

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