LIVERPOOL: A British university study claims to have uncovered the answer to a question that preoccupies the minds of petrol heads – who is the greatest Formula One driver of all time?
After pouring over the stats the University of Sheffield’s Methods Institute has produced a drivers’ Top 100 chart with Juan Manuel Fangio on top of the all-time podium.
The study crucially removed the impact of a driver’s team, concentrating instead on their talent, rather than their success because they have a good car, explained the institute’s Andrew Bell.
Using this approach, Fangio was followed in the list by Alain Prost with Fernando Alonso, the two-time champion, in third.
While many F1 fans will endorse the five-time Argentinian world champion’s standing as the greatest the treatment dished out to some of the sport’s other legends will prove more controversial.
With the impact of his team removed from the equation seven-time champion Michael Schumacher only comes in ninth.
The driver many regard as the best of them all is dragged down by his post-retirement performances in 2010-2012 when he was generally outperformed by his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
If his pre-retirement career is considered on its own, he ranks in third position.
And what of Bell and his boffins’s assessment of former Austrian great Niki Lauda, missing altogether from the chart?
Bell comments: “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, while three-time champion Niki Lauda doesn’t even make the top 100,” he said.
“Had these drivers raced for different teams, their legacies might have been rather different,” Bell added.
Bell suggests the statistical model used for “Formula for success: Multilevel modelling of Formula One Driver and Constructor performance, 1950-2014”, could have uses far beyond the world of Formula One.
“A similar model could be used to answer a variety of questions in society – for example, how much do individuals, teams and companies affect worker productivity or how much classes, schools and neighborhoods affect educational attainment,” he said.
The study, published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports, found that “teams matter about six times more than drivers when it comes to success in F1.”
It also determined that “team effects have increased over time, but appear to be smaller on street circuits, where the driver’s skill plays a greater role.”
With last Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix concluded, the University’s conclusions, which puts Alonso and Sebastian Vettel above reigning champion Lewis Hamilton, are sure to add fuel rather than douse the all-time best drivers’ debate.
Bell said: “The question ‘who is the greatest F1 driver of all time’ is a difficult one to answer, because we don’t know the extent to which drivers do well because of their talent or because they are driving a good car.”
“The question has fascinated fans for years and I’m sure will continue to do so,” he added.