Best Formula 1 driver ever? Maths may have found a solution

Is it the car or the driver? This is the question that has vexed F1 pundits for decades. A new study by a University of Sheffield scientist may have the answer though.

The statistical study by Dr Andrew Bell used “random coefficent models” to rank the best F1 drivers of all time based on talent rather than the team.

The number-crunching found that five-time world champion Juan Manuel Fangio was the greatest F1 driver of the lot, followed by four-time world champion Alain Prost and double champion Fernando Alonso.

This contrasts with the record books, which places seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher as the greatest driver (based on race wins and world championships).

In fact, Schumacher dropped to ninth place in Bell’s rankings. However, Bell noted that if the German didn’t make a comeback with Mercedes, he would’ve been ranked in third place.

Other prominent drivers in the top ten include Jim Clark (fourth), Ayrton Senna (fifth), Jackie Stewart (sixth), Nelson Piquet (seventh), Emerson Fittipaldi (eighth) and Sebastian Vettel (tenth).

Current world champion Lewis Hamilton just missed the top ten, coming in at number 11.

So how much do teams matter?

The study also used statistical analysis to gauge the influence of teams on driver success.

“Teams matter about six times more than drivers when it comes to success in F1,” read the conclusion, according to the University of Sheffield.

The study also found that the effect of the team increases over time but seems to be smaller on street circuits, “where the driver’s skill plays a greater role”.

“Our statistical model allows us to find a ranking and assess the relative importance of team and driver effects, and there are some surprising results. For example the relatively unknown Christian Fittipaldi is in the top 20, whilst three-time champion Niki Lauda doesn’t even make the top 100. Had these drivers raced for different teams, their legacies might have been rather different,” Bell was quoted as saying.

Header image via Michael Schumacher official website.



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