Wednesday, December 03, 2014

points usually, but not definitely, make prizes

It's not all your high-falutin' gender politics, post-modernism, literary criticism and improvised contemporary dance round here; I've done a few sport-related posts as well over the years. Never Formula 1, though, or indeed motor racing in any form, as far as I can remember. So, let's have at it.

Now I'm not one for misty-eyed nostalgic maundering about how everything was better when I was a wee nipper; clearly it's an unalloyed Good Thing that drivers, track marshals and occasionally spectators are no longer being flayed, sliced up, decapitated, doused in corrosive flammable long-chain hydrocarbons and incinerated on a regular basis. So while I'm tempted to wax all nostalgic about the glory glory days of Prost, Senna and Mansell, I won't. I mean, they were the top guys during my formative watching years, but I wouldn't want to say that they were objectively better drivers than, say, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton. In any case I was never really a regular watcher of Formula 1; the fact that I probably did watch more races then than I do now is probably as much as anything a reflection of a more general reduction in leisure time.

A quick diversion for a crackpot theory: most of my early sporting memories date from the period 1980-1981. The only obvious exception I can think of is rugby union, where I have a reasonably clear memory of watching the Grand Slam finale of 1978 (when I would have been eight). As for other sports:
Anyway, the belated point of this post is this: I found myself watching the late stages of the recent final race of the 2014 Formula 1 season, a race that the absurd (and hastily abandoned) rule changes had contrived to have the drivers arrive at with the championship still in the balance. In the end Nico Rosberg finished well down the field and Lewis Hamilton won the race to secure his second championship title, but it would not have required a completely outlandish set of circumstances for Rosberg to have snuck in and won the title. If that had happened then Rosberg would have beaten Hamilton to the title despite (let's say for the sake of argument that he'd won in Abu Dhabi) having won 6 individual Grands Prix to Hamilton's 10 (in reality it was 5-11 in the end). Now of course this is possible by design, the places below 1st being awarded decreasing points to put a premium on consistency during the season as well as race wins, but it did make me wonder how many times in F1 history it's happened that a driver won the championship despite at least one other driver having won more individual Grands Prix during the season.

The short answer to that question is that it's a lot less common lately than it used to be. Ironically the last driver to do it was Lewis Hamilton, who won the title in 2008 despite Felipe Massa winning 6 races to Hamilton's 5. That broke a nineteen-year sequence where it hadn't happened at all, and in turn that 1989 season marked the end of a run of eight occurrences in thirteen seasons, that in turn being preceded by only three occurrences in the previous twenty-seven seasons. Here's the full list:

YearChampionRace winsCompetitor(s)Race wins
2008Lewis Hamilton5Felipe Massa6
1989Alain Prost4Ayrton Senna6
1987Nelson Piquet3Nigel Mansell6
1986Alain Prost4Nigel Mansell5
1984Niki Lauda5Alain Prost7
1983Nelson Piquet3Alain Prost4
1982Keke Rosberg1Alain Prost
Didier Pironi
René Arnoux
Niki Lauda
John Watson
1979Jody Scheckter3Alan Jones4
1977Niki Lauda3Mario Andretti4
1967Denny Hulme2Jim Clark4
1964John Surtees2Jim Clark3
1958Mike Hawthorn1Stirling Moss
Tony Brooks

A few statistical highlights:
  • Massa, Pironi, Arnoux, Watson, Moss and Brooks never won a world championship;
  • Prost, Lauda and Piquet achieved the feat of winning the championship despite not winning the most races twice;
  • Prost is unique in appearing in the third column (i.e. winning the most races without winning the championship) three times, once jointly;
  • Prost also holds the record for the most races won without winning the championship: 7 in 1984; note that one of these races (the Monaco Grand Prix) only carried half the usual points;
  • The biggest deficit (in terms of race wins) between championship winner and rival is three: Piquet v Mansell in 1987 and Hawthorn v Moss in 1958;
  • Hawthorn in 1958 and Rosberg in 1982 achieved the unparallelled feat of winning the championship on the back of a single race win;
  • The weird situation in 1982 just adds weight to my theory that 1982 was a weird sporting anomaly caused by sunspots or the Illuminati or something;
  • A related factoid from here that's too good not to include: Hulme in 1967 and Lauda in 1984 are the only two world champions not to start a single race during the season from pole position; Lauda never even started a race from the front row of the grid. 
I don't really know why the 1980s in particular were such a golden age for this stuff. The scoring rules were different (in some of those years anyway) in that you could discard some of your worst results, although on the face of it that ought to have favoured even more the guy with the most race wins being champion. There were also far more retirements then than there are now, and, hard as I try to resist saying it, the 1980s were also a fiercely exciting and competitive decade with lots of drivers capable of winning multiple races in a season.


The black rabbit said...

Niki who?

electrichalibut said...


The black rabbit said...

I actually do get all misty-eyed thinking back to the "good old days" of F1 to be honest.
Unlike you it seems, although you do at least admit the 80s races were less easy to predict the results for.
I watched F1 avidly during the (my) Ligier years. For 20 years or so from the mid to late 70s to the mid 90s.
By the time the Prost team (as Ligier was called at the time) had been placed into the receivers hands (a sad year), F1 had gone to pot I think.
Telemetry. Pootahs. And rules which meant that sure... it was harder to die in a race... but also meant overtaking was made almost impossible at many circuits... meant it lost most of its attraction for me and many others.
It wasn't sport anymore... it was MANNNY!

Hey ho.