Andrew Evans 6 years ago 0
Formula 1

Statistical Proof That Vettel Isn't The Best F1 Driver

Vettel's record-breaking fourth successive title in India made us wonder if he's statistically the best driver

Remind me later
Image source: Getty Images Image source: Getty Images
It was almost inevitable Vettel would become the youngest man to win four F1 titles in India and in the days leading up to the race, commentators everywhere have been comparing him to the greatest in F1's history. However directly comparing F1 drivers is difficult when they raced in different eras - F1's had six different points systems over the 63 seasons and many championships were decided on a certain number of race results being dropped. So we've done something never done before. We've rewritten history and scored every finish according to every points system ever used and ranked the drivers on a level playing field according to the number of points they scored per race start - so we can bring you a definitive list of the top 10 drivers ever and answer the question... is Vettel really the best?

10. Jackie Stewart (11.2pt/start)

Image source: Wikipedia Image source: Wikipedia
Sir Jackie is, quite rightly, a legend of the sport. Not only is he both three time World Champion (the only British man to do so), racing against seven other world champions and legends like Jochen Rindt, Graham Hill and the fabulous John Surtees, he was also the founder of the Stewart Grand Prix team - now better known as the all-conquering Red Bull Racing. From 99 starts, Sir Jackie managed the modern equivalent of 1,109pt - averaging better than 5th place across his entire career.

9. Ayrton Senna (11.55pt/start)

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The first name on many lips when it comes to naming the greatest F1 driver in history, Senna is amongst the most exciting and instinctive drivers to ever turn a wheel in anger. Joyfully flamboyant but also ruthless, Senna's three titles came in a short four year burst at the turn of the 1990s - the first in 1988, despite being outscored by Alain Prost, due to only the best 11 finishes being counted. Senna's spats with Prost are the stuff of F1 legend as the two drivers raced head to head for nearly a decade, 'sharing' seven of the 10 world championships in which they raced before Ayrton was tragically killed at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix - the last on-track death to occur in F1.

8. Lewis Hamilton (11.56pt/start)

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Lewis is an unexpected name on this list perhaps - and one place ahead of his great hero - but securing a drive with probably the fastest team on the grid alongside a double world champion in his first season has an effect. For comparison, his first-season teammate Fernando Alonso is only just outside the top ten by virtue of two seasons at Minardi... But credit where it's due, Lewis made the seat work, with a podium finish on each of his first nine races, missing out on a world championship in his first season by one of the most appalling steward decisions in F1 history. He secured his title in his second season at the last gasp and has never finished below fifth in the world championship. Love or hate his exuberant, heart-on-sleeve driving which has led to more than one early retirement (though his finish rate is better than all but one of his peers), Lewis is undeniably one of the best drivers of all time.

7. Jim Clark (11.65pt/start)

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A British name often unfamiliar to non-F1 geeks, Jim Clark is not only the greatest British driver to have ever raced - racking up an equivalent of 839 points in just 72 starts - but also the only man to score the most amount of points possible in an F1 season twice. With only the best six results counted from 1963 to 1965, Clark racked up six wins in each season. Sadly, like so many drivers in the 1960s, Clark didn't survive his racing career, being killed in a non-championship race at Hockenheim in a crash thought to have been caused by a slow puncture.

6. Alain Prost (12.41pt/start)

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Nicknamed "The Professor" for his clinical and calculating driving style, Prost was the first driver of the modern era of F1 to net four titles - but on modern scoring systems he'd have won seven titles by the time he retired on a high in 1993. Prost's real strength was his finish rate, bringing the car home in nearly three quarters of all races he started, in an era where frequently only a handful of drivers would even finish the race - his world champion peers Senna, Niki Lauda, Nelson Piquet and Nigel Mansell commonly only managed a one-in-two finish rate.

5. Nino Farina (12.65pt/start)

Giuseppe "Nino" Farina is one of the greatest names from F1 history. Aside from winning the first ever Formula One championship race - the 1950 British Grand Prix - he also won the first Formula One World Championship. Over the first six years of the sport only finished outside the top five once - when he only raced once in the 1954 season. However, F1 seasons back in the day consisted of very few races - just seven races on occasion - and Farina only made 33 starts, so his stats are perhaps artificially bolstered by a comparatively shorter career. However, like Prost, he did repeatedly bring the car home (80 per cent finish rate) in an era when drivers often didn't even make the end of the race alive.

4. Michael Schumacher (12.67pt/start)

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It's probably a surprise Michael Schumacher isn't higher up the list than merely fourth, but the fact is that if he'd quit while he was ahead he'd be second - his second career at Mercedes in 2011-2012 was not only unremarkable but actively harmed his stats as he dawdled round never once troubling the podium. But as for his first career, there's nothing left to say about Schumacher that hasn't already been said. The numbers alone shout his quality - 91 wins in 307 starts, 3,890 points (adjusted to 2010 levels), seven world titles with two teams and a ruthless streak that may have even made Senna blanche, twice taking out rivals for the title in the final race of the season. Moving from a team he'd already helped develop into the contender it still is today in order to help Ferrari to its first constructors title in 16 years (their longest ever winless streak) showed his peerless determination too.

3. Sebastian Vettel (13.38pt/start)

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Put a clearly capable driver in a car designed by Adrian Newey and he'll win race after race and title after title. Love or loathe Vettel's finger and Crazy Frog, he's got one job to do and he's doing it well. His results are often brushed aside as Newey-assisted, but then Mansell, Hill, Villeneuve and Hakkinen wouldn't have a single title without Newey's cars. Questions are put over his ability to pass traffic, but he sticks it where he needs to 90 per cent of Saturdays and keeps it there on Sunday. If there were to be a single driver who combined Prost's clinical efficiency with Senna's ruthlessness and Schumacher's determination, it'd be Sebastian Vettel. Adjusted to 2010 levels, Vettel is the tenth highest points scorer in history and he's only been driving seven years...

2. Alberto Ascari (13.22pt/start) Ascari ranks slightly lower than Vettel for 2010 points per start, but we've placed him higher because by all other measures he's statistically better. And this is because Alberto Ascari was a bad ass. Back when Ascari was racing, the Indianapolis 500 was a championship event, but it wasn't contested by a single European driver or team - except Alberto Ascari. Okay, so he retired from his one attempt, but he still defied the odds to try. He also went 13 months undefeated in a championship race, netting nine straight wins from nine entries between the June 1952 Belgian Grand Prix and the July 1953 French Grand Prix. He once crashed out of the Monaco Grand Prix so hard he ended up in the harbour - and it was while his lucky helmet was being repaired from this crash that he was killed in a non-championship event at the corner at Monza that now bears his name. Like Jim Clark, Ascari managed a perfect season - 36 points from the four counted events with an eight-point win and an extra point for fastest lap in each race too - but while Jim Clark's opponents were merely amongst the best, Alberto Ascari's opponent, from whom he took two world championships, was the very best...

1. Juan Manuel Fangio (15.84pt/start)

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A modest 808pts, adjusted to 2010 scoring, is just more than half what Vettel has scored so far and less than a quarter of Schumacher's total, but while they had 16-20 races a season to build up massive points tallies, Fangio made nearly every race count. In his seven full seasons, Fangio won five titles and came second twice. He finished 80 per cent of the championship races he started during seasons where three drivers a year were killed (more in non-championship events) and took home 63 per cent of all possible points available across his entire career - a feat not even Schumacher managed in his first career. He's the only driver in history whose average finish position is on the podium and, to put his career averages in perspective, Vettel would need to score 400 points a season for the next four years to get even close.

And the worst?

Picture 26 There are so many drivers that never finished a race (like ex-Stig Perry McCarthy and Fifth Gear anchor Tiff Needell) - and some that never even started one - that finding a truly terrible driver from statistics alone is a thankless task. So we've gone for the driver who's completed the most races in their career without scoring a single point even in the modern points system. Step forward, Charles Pic. It's perhaps a little unfair on Charles. He's only driven two seasons and both of those have been with teams who couldn't score on a street corner - Marussia in 2012 and Caterham in 2013. He's done a pretty good job too, finishing 78 per cent of his races and he's one of the two men to net the best-ever finish of 12th for any of the "new teams" - so let's hope he can find himself a better seat for 2014.