Analysing Formula 1 (Roger Smith)

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In over 40% of races last year the top three qualifiers were the top three finishers. That never happeed at all from 1961-1972.

Hands up who’s an F1 stats geek? Judging by the number of you who leave comments on my post-race statstics round-ups, pointing out all kinds of interesting trivia, most of you are!

But I think Roger Smith, author of “Analysing Formula 1” has us all trumped. In this 230-page book from Haynes he takes F1 apart from every statistical approach conceivable.

If that sounds a little dry, fear not. This is no weighty, dry Phd thesis – Smith turns up some fascinating facts and presens them in a colourful and entertaining way.

The obvious areas of research are covered in detail – which drivers were the most dominant in races, who were the best qualifiers and so on.

But he also looks at all other kinds of general trends in the sport such as the finishing rate of Grand Prix participants (which has climbed in recent years), the trend towards shorter races, and how tyre wards have shaped the sport (did you know F1 had six different tyre makes 50 years ago? I had no idea).

He turns up some statistics that fly in the face of conventional assumptions. For example, despite the perception that F1 races aren’t as exciting as they used to be, the average winning margin was lower from 2005-07 (nine seconds) than it ever has been (it was 62s in 1950-53). Ron Dennis touched on this argument in his recent speech at Bahrain.

Smith also tackles some of the sport’s topical political arguments. Under a chapter titled “safeguard our rich heritage” he names the five circuits used most regularly for Formula 1 – Silverstone, Monte-Carlo, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and the Nurburgring. “If a European circuit cull does become necessary it is hoped that the powers that be will have an eye on the rich heritage of Grand Prix racing,” Smith argues.

The style does get a little dreary at times – the bok is largely page after page of graphs with some photographs and the test reads more like extended footnotes than prose. After a while I found myself idly flipping thrugh the book instead of reading it, scanning the charts and drawing conclusions of my own.

That’s perhaps to be expected with a book groaning under the weight of so much detail. A lot of research has gone into this and if you’re an unashamed F1 stats fan, make space for this on your book shelf.

You can purchase this book from Amazon via the link above. By doing so a commission will be paid to, for which you will not incur any extra charge.

Roger Smith

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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20 comments on “Analysing Formula 1 (Roger Smith)”

  1. I always take solace from that fact – I remember that on the early 90’s it was very usual for the winner of the race to lap everyone else, even the second place. I remember I used to cheer for Gerhard Berger and I would just get happy that he got a 2nd place if he was not lapped by Senna… unfortunately, that was not very often.

  2. The book seems interesting, i’m currently watching races from the start of F1 to now and was surprised that, for the moment, the most boring were from post senna death (namely 1994 and 1995) and…1973’s nurburgring race being the dullest i’ve ever seen.

    In spa 1958 i was amused to here the commentator said that the last part of the race became "processional", a word so much used today.

    It really shows "spectacle" and "racing" are different things and that the overtaking is not guaranteed by the fact aerodynamic turbulences don’t prevent it.

    by the way," For example, despite the perception that F1 races aren’t as exciting as they used to be, the average winning margin was lower from 2005-07 (nine seconds) than it ever has been (it was 62s in 1950-53). Ron Dennis touched on this argument in his recent speech at Bahrain."

    This is down to the average speed. On a given track, the faster you go the lesser the time difference between competitors that don’t experience problems (that slow them down).

    I’m stuck into a problem now as i watch 94’s and 95’s races, the car can follow each other but virtually no overtaking and very few errors.

    The average speed was a bit down but i too think the cars were a bit too forgiving or at least not to sensible.

    It is not rare today that a driver miss a line and, with speed it instantly make him loose 2 or 3 tenths.

    I’ll have a look to this book.

  3. I agree that we need to keep the landmark circuits, Spa, Monte Carlo,  Monza and Silverstone. 
    I would skip the Nurburgring as although the current circuit is pretty good it is essentially a different entity from the Green Hell.

    Maybe winning margins are down since the style these days is to manage the victory, schumi – ruebens style, to just a few seconds.

    I agree FLIG, I can remember Senna and the like lapping the field all the time, the grid these days is much closer. The last person I can remember romping away from the field is Montoya at Hockenheim 2003 (I think).

  4. And don’t forget that, to make an engine last for two races, the leading drivers these days needs to slow down, and so the field comes closer…

  5. Robert McKay
    8th April 2008, 19:46

    The teams are performance-wise much closer these days than they were in the 60’s (in fact, even just look at the qualifying times from now and the 80’s/90’s – the days of being 8-9 seconds from pole are long gone, although of course they had the bigger grids to do it with).

    Of course the races were much longer back then, too, so there’s more time to build winning margins and more time for you to have problems, which again were much more frequent. Grands Prix used to be closer to a test of endurance. I’m not looking for 3-4 hour races, but some races are less than 90 minutes – a bit too short, I think (and Monza’s 70 minutes ridiculous, that’s a GP2 race length). I’d like them to either extend the total race distance or adopt the Champcar 1h45min minimum race time limit.
    Anyway, "average winning margin" can mean precious little in terms of excitement in a race. A section on "number of overtaking moves for the lead" or "number of overtaking moves in total throughout the race" throughout the years would be considerably interesting to see.

  6. Rob — at the current rate of progress Super Aguri could be 8 to 9 seconds from pole by the time we reach the last quarter of the season.

  7. Yes but that’s true that the top ten is usually within 2 seconds.

    The qualifying format now may be a bit dull but the qualifying effort i like it quite much because it really goes down to tenths and that make the driving requirements very hard.

    Anyway a race is a race, the show is the show, and that’s different don’t you think? We need a compromise maybe. i think that, outside the aerodynamics turbulence of now, what would kill the show is a too big margin between contructors so the actual situation is very good, but engineering wise, two of the big factors are frozen (tyres and engines) which is sad…in the 80’s, racing was cool because, among others, cars had very different specs, turbos blasted in straight line while atmos were cornering better, but that freedom of engineering may also mean one team as it all right and nobody touches it…so in the end i think what you can do it to "force" situations were show is likely but it always is a bit of luck…

    Definitely that’s a milion miles away from the simple "bring back mechanical grip"!

  8. theRoswellite
    8th April 2008, 21:13

    Keith, thanks for the book recommendation, just ordered same.

    I was trying to remember some of the elements of earlier years that seemed different than today.  One "characteristic" that was present, for me at least, was the feeling that the relative skills of the driver, as they were on that day, were going to have a dominant role in determining the outcome of the race.  This was obviously less true in given years when a particular car was going to win…if it didn’t break; or in years when a particular driver simply had everyone else’s number.  But, importantly, one felt it was really down to the drivers to sort out the finishing order.

    Now days, I would say, it feels like it is often down to the engineers and technical people to get the car "working" in a winning way.  If they don’t, or can’t, then the outcome is a bit predictable.  I know, intellectually, that the drivers are still essential to the outcome…..but, it feels like they are, for the most part, going to perform in a fairly predictable way and it will be almost impossible for them to overcome any performance limitations inherit in that day’s set up. 

    This is not meant as a criticism, just a personal comment.

  9. Thanks Keith, I’ll check this out.

  10. What about adding a race format to the calender.
    Once a year there is a race over 1000km for double points.

    Each car would need two drivers.
    The teams would have to decide whether to throw both their drivers into the one car and have two testers in the other or whether they want to share the load.
    It would be a real test of endurance and looking after the car and driving consistently.

    Suzuka 1000 anyone?

  11. Mark, are you an Aussie by any chance?

  12. theRoswellite
    9th April 2008, 1:58

    Nice idea Mark!

    Make the points double or triple, and extend the points down to say 16th place at least.

    Run it on a track suitable for an extended event, which is to say "fan friendly" for an endurance/extended format.

    Allow teams to enter a third car, thus keeping the numbers up…if attrition is a problem.  It would certainly be interesting to see non-F1 drivers competing… the championship.

    And while we are at it…………………let’s really push the envelope with the following:
    1. Qualifying points:  1st=3 pts, 2nd=2 pts, 3rd=1 pt.
    2. Fast Lap= 2 pts.
    3. And to really rip the envelope up……………give all proceeds to some international agency like a UN food bank.  ALL PROCEEDS…..everybody works for free.  (TV, teams, drivers)
    ……………sorry, just dreaming.

  13. Well Pink, Suzuka and Spa are the Mount Panorama of the Grand Prix world!

    Who am i kidding, It would be at Barcelona or Magny Cours

  14. Mark, wouldn’t it be great to see an F1 enduro at Bathurst?

    Never happen though – can’t see those flat bottomed F1 cars coming through Skyline !
    Maybe an enduro could work though on the old Nurburgring? Just a thought.

  15. Yeah I jogged around Panorama last year, as always, TV sucks out the elevation changes. It is brutal. F1 cars could drive around, but certainly not race.

    It also reminds me of the Suzuka 6 hours races that Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner used to participate in.

    Getting back to Statistics in F1, I can’t decide whether they make things easier to understand or if they reinforce that everything is random and totally unanalysable!

    Re: Victory Margins. I just watched the 1994 Brazilian GP. Schumi wins by 1 lap from Hill with Alesi 3rd a further lap down. Most of the race coverage was cars fanging about by themselves. Things certainly are tighter these days!

  16. Robert Mckay
    9th April 2008, 11:11

    Out of interest, where are people watching all these old races? Private video collection, hunting round Youtube for bits of the race, or some other means I don’t know of? ‘Cos I’d like the opportunity to see some of these older races, less tight or not :-D

  17. I didn’t find any official dvd with races. i’d like to have the complete coverage but of course that’s hard to find so i’m downloading some races mainly from national airing.

    There’s definitely something more violent today, especially the driving. Driving errors cost a lot now as i think the large portion of aerodynamic grip make that you loose a lot when freestream conditions are changed.

    I watched 1989 silverstone and there was something like that (many spins) but it lacked the non classic overtakings you can see now while the cars were quick in response.

    Maybe the 1,8m cars of now are better suited for that?

    Next year the car will switch back to 2 meters wide…

    I hope we will still continue to see non classical overtaking moves, as i find the classics outbraking and slipstream overtaking moves very fun in fact.

  18. If anyone does buy a copy of it do leave a comment saying what you thought of it.

  19. I have bought season 1994 from a fellow I used to buy from on Ebay. They won’t let him sell the races anymore but he has most full races since 1993.

  20. Can anybody can explain me, on which position will Kimi be in Grapic 10.7 (p. 220) – analysing great drivers vs. great cars
    Thanks very much!

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