Button vs the best (F1 in numbers)

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Most wins by an F1 driver in a season (click to enlarge)

There’s a lot of discussion among F1 fans at the moment about how Brawn – and Jenson Button in particular – are dominating the championship.

So how far ahead are Button and Brawn? Are we set for the kind of one-sided seasons we’ve seen in the past? Let’s see how they measure up against F1’s greats.

Most wins in a season

Driver (year)% races wontotal races won
Jenson Button (2009)*83.335/6
Alberto Ascari (1952)75.006/8
Michael Schumacher (2004)72.2213/18
Jim Clark (1963)70.007/10
Juan Manuel Fangio (1954)66.676/9
Michael Schumacher (2002)64.7111/17
Jim Clark (1965)60.006/10
Nigel Mansell (1992)56.259/16
Jackie Stewart (1971)54.556/11
Jackie Stewart (1969)54.556/11
Michael Schumacher (2001)52.949/17

*Season not complete

Michael Schumacher holds the record for most races won in a single season with 13 victories in 2004. Not only that, he’s also second on 11 (2002) and tied for third with nine (three times – 1995, 2000 and 2001), along with Nigel Mansell (1992).

But a better measure of domination is what percentage of the total number of races a driver won. By this measure Alberto Ascari is on top with six out of eight for a score of 75%. This is even more impressive when you consider he didn’t participate in the Indianapolis 500, one of the eight rounds that counted towards the championship that year.

Button needs to win eight of the 11 remaining races to beat Ascari’s record. That’s a gigantic challenge even in a car as formidable as the Brawn-Mercedes BGP001.

The difficulty of winning that many races doesn’t just come down to how much quicker his car is than the opposition and whether it is reliable. Championship pragmatism plays a role too. Late in the season, faced with the choice of bagging safe points to ease his way towards the championship, or risk everything for another win, wiser drivers will always take the former option – failing to do so cost Lewis Hamilton the title in 2007.

However if Button wins four more races this year – which at this stage looks more than likely – he will become only the third driver to have won nine races in a single season.

Most laps led in a season

Most laps led by an F1 driver in a season (click to enlarge)

This is perhaps a better measure of how much a particular car and driver is dominating a season.

So far Button has led just under two-thirds of the racing laps this season, including every lap at Melbourne and all bar one at Monaco.

The most dominant season by this measure was Jim Clark’s with Lotus in 1963, when he led over 71% of the racing laps. That included every lap of the Belgian, Netherlands, French, Mexican and South African Grands Prix.

I think it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see Button approach anything like this degree of superiority this year. We’ve already seen how Ferrari have closed the gap to Brawn in recent races, and Red Bull are likely to be strong in the next Grands Prix.

Driver (year)% laps leadtotal laps led
Jim Clark (1963)71.19504/708
Nigel Mansell (1992)66.99694/1036
Jenson Button (2009)*64.45223/346
Michael Schumacher (1994)61.76646/1046
Michael Schumacher (2004)60.87683/1122
Alberto Ascari (1953)56.79418/736
Mika Hakkinen (1998)56.75576/1015
Alberto Ascari (1952)53.79348/647
Ayrton Senna (1988)53.64553/1031
Jackie Stewart (1971)51.71347/671
Graham Hill (1962)51.44321/624

*Season not complete

More F1 in numbers

Author information

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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43 comments on “Button vs the best (F1 in numbers)”

  1. HounslowBusGarage
    29th May 2009, 12:30

    Interesting stuff, Keith.
    But the Laps Led analysis is a little skewed against drivers who competed in races where there were pit stops for fuel and tyres.
    We’ve always had periods in pit stop races where a succession of different drivers have led until it’s their turn for the pit stop, so the Laps Led %ages for drivers in those races can’t really be compared to the others.

    1. But that is a maximum of 5 laps per stop, on a two stop strategy its 10 laps a race (at most) which isnt that great a change.

    2. I think the pit stop thing is relevant, 10 laps every race in a 16 race season is 160 laps.

  2. Keith, how highly do you rate button, i mean rubens has said he can be as good if not better than schumacher at times. Or is it just the car??

    1. A very good point, Richard.
      Perhaps it would be clearer to show how dominant the relevant teams involved were on the listed years & not just the individual drivers?
      That`s a problem when you get further back, though. In Fangio`s day they had teammates chucked out of their cars so the No.1 could finish a race. Thinks *And they moan about team orders now!* ;)

    2. It’s just the car. He’s made the most of it though

    3. I would say he is good but not great. Most if not all great drivers in F1 have had the ability to drive a slow car fast which so far he has lacked. Another skill common in great drivers is the ability to consistently drive a car at it’s limit which helps with a number of things including maximizing a poor cars potential.

      1. I’m not being Pro-Button or anything, but I just think that his “slow” car over the past couple seasons was ridiculously slow, calling a shopping cart was an uderstatment.

        I’m in the belief that he’s always managed to extract the best from his machinery, its just that this is the first time, he’s actually got a car with real race pace.

        If you’re arguing Jenson’s ability..same can be said about Lewis huh? The only driver in the current field with the capability of pushing a car to punch above its weight in Alonso, every one else is there and there abouts.

        1. Very good point about Alonso. Much as I personally dislike him, he can make the car go faster than it has a right to at times.

          I personally think the closest modern comparison to how Button’s doing at the moment is Hakkinen in 1998 – he’d always been a good, fast driver, but never quite had the machinery. With the ‘Silver Arrow’ McLaren suddenly the car was on the money, but he didn’t waste the opportunity. Button’s been waiting for this car, and he’s not going to let it pass him by now.

  3. Could you tell the percentage of laps led by MSC in 2002. Is it less than 50% ?

    1. It’s 51,2% (558/1090)

  4. schumi the greatest
    29th May 2009, 13:00

    Yeah id like to know how highly you rate him too keith! be intrseting for an article perhaps on just how good button is.

    i read an article by isit stepehn hughes from the bbc??

    he said that this years brawn is just the perfecr car for button’s driving style because he can put it just where he wants it at any time and a load of other intresting stuff.

    THis is obviously 1 of the reasons hes so far ahead of rubens at the moment, last year when they were both in trucks it was close, suggesting rubens can get more out of a poor car than jenson

    1. Maybe not “out of a poor car” or just the 08 car, although bad, suited rubens more.

    2. schumi the greatest,

      It was Mark Hughes

    3. The thing about 2008 is that although Rubens scored more points, primarily down to that fantastic strategy call (and his pace in that stint) that netted him second place, Jenson race for race actually came out ahead on more occasions. It was just that most of the time they were both out of the points.

  5. HounslowBusGarage
    29th May 2009, 13:05

    Well actually Richard, I think it is a lot. Your figure of 10 laps of a 60 lap race is 16.6% of the race.
    If you look at Schumacher’s mega-season of 2004 for example and then add on say, 12% for the loss of laps led through pit stops, his overall Laps Lead %age in the analysis above leaps from 60.87% to 72.87% – and becomes the highest of all.

    1. That taking it to extremes you arent going to get that at every race.

      But i agree with you in the sense that strategy determines who leads, not dominance.

  6. schumi the greatest
    29th May 2009, 13:24

    Cheers dougie, had a brain fade….

    1. No worries, I know the feeling all too often myself…

  7. how in earth do you find all that data??

    1. pretty sure autosport have a data service with every stat possible for a few $ a month. not expensive.

  8. @ iceshiel
    Just google stuff, mate! :-)

  9. Win % is a better measure than wins, I agree. However, the number of races (denominator) matters. The sample size of 8 races for Ascari in ’52 is less than half that of 18 for Schumacher in ’04. Considering that big difference, I would call them even on that particular statistic.

    Obviously a full analysis is going to take every measure available into account.

  10. it’s not the info i applaud, it’s the fact that Keith goes about analyzing it in simple terms.

    very nice analysis. although i do think it’s a bit too early to compare Jensen to the best. would make more sense toward the end of the season

    However my big dent on analysis in F1 comes to comparing modern day drivers and their championships to early ones such as Fangio and Ascari. those guys raced different races, with different cars and very short seasons with respect to today. it’s all relative i know, but i think F1 should be split into Era’s that most relate to each other, and classifications and comparison’s should go accordingly.

  11. What about the tracks used that season, i mean traditionally ferrari do better at istanbul, barcelona etc, and as in a old article about the lack of diversity of tracks better the chance of dominating at more than more track.

  12. It’s a bit odd to me that you make this analysis as the season is not finished yet …. make an analysis for the first 6 races for everybody if you want to be objective otherwise …. you just sound like a big Jenson’s fan.

  13. Great work but I honestly think you cannot compare a partial season with full seasons.

    Whith this criteria, the best ones are always the winners in Australia. They have 100% of races won.

    Something similar with the eldest ones (Ascari, Fangio, Clark, Steward) they compete in seasons of 6 – 10 races against the rest that make their percentage in seasons of 17 races, the probability of DNFs, or tracks that doesn’t fit the car is much greater.

  14. %laps led is clearly no marker of dominance. ’94, ’98 and ’62 championships all went to the last race and ’88 to the penultimate with prost actually scoring more points over the season (though senna won on his best 11 scores). never has the championship been about outright dominance in races. it would be interesting to see all the championship winners who led fewer laps than other competitors (rosberg, surtees and hawthorn come to mind immediately)

  15. I think you also have to take into account ‘team orders’ wins which certainly would distort Schumacher’s statistics.

    1. Schumacher isn’t the only driver mentioned to have benefited from team orders.

    2. And to be fair, most of his team mates where never “great” drivers, Nelson Piquet was the best team mate he had and that was only for a few races before he retired.

      It was rare for team orders to be needed.

      An interesting article can be found at:

      The same is true for most of the best drivers because teams rarely pair up two top drivers as it normally causes more problems than having an established number one driver.

  16. A graph that shows that Button is the greatest F1 driver ever?!!!

    I wouldn’t get too carried away.

    Stirling Moss might argue that out of the drivers mentioned only Clark, Fangio and Hill could come close to matching Ascari since they had to deal with the possibility of death at every corner and Sir Stirling might be right. He might also argue that the sport since his time has been emasculated although I’d argue that the bigger man would not accept seeing some of his friends and competitors die every other week.

  17. Sorry to say this but this is a set of graphs and figures that are trying to compare apples with oranges.
    It might have made sense if it compared the same number of races or percentage of season.
    But even then the different rules and regulations that applied in the different years make it almost impossible to make these comparisons. As the rules stand at the moment to win a race you just need the best strategy, or luck with safety cars, to be ahead after the final pit stops, before that laps in front basically means nothing. And Jensen can still win this season, on points or ‘most wins’ without winning another race, or leading another lap, in which case it would be 5/17 or 29.41% race wins i.e. not even on the chart.

    1. It might have made sense if it compared the same number of races or percentage of season.

      there is an asterisk noting the incomplete 2009 season.

      But even then the different rules and regulations that applied in the different years make it almost impossible to make these comparisons.

      win percentage – how is this disputable?
      laps led percentage – some gray area, but still not brain surgery.

      As the rules stand at the moment to win a race you just need the best strategy, or luck with safety cars, to be ahead after the final pit stops, before that laps in front basically means nothing.

      i think it takes quite a bit in addition to those things to win. as for laps in front, ask a driver where he wants to be running.

  18. Surprised Prost 1993 is not on the most laps led stats…just shows you how well Senna did that year in an inferior car. Don’t see that today!

    1. Surprised Prost 1993 is not on the most laps led stats…just shows you how well Senna did that year in an inferior car. Don’t see that today!

      There was nothing inferior about Sennas McLaren/Ford if it can win 5 races and score 9 podiums. The Benetton/Ford also of Schumacher/Patrese scored 1 win and 11 podiums… and don’t forget Damon Hill was also in the Williams winning.

      That’s at least 5 drivers (including Prost) capable of easily running at the front.

  19. I’m all for records being broken, so good luck Jenson…

  20. I think what could be really interesting here is statistically how does Ross Brawn’s involvement stack up on statistics? – maybe its not the car or the driver, but putting those things together beautifully and creating a car that works with the drivers and not against their racing styles. Its a team sport and not down to one card.

  21. As good as Ascari was, i think looking at Schumacher in 2004 is the best comparison to what button has to achieve this year:

    Michael Schumacher (2004) 72.22 13/18

  22. Keith. Lately I see more and more spam on the site like the comment above. Is it worth considering a developing a registration process (which is something I’ve never really been keen on but if needs must then so be it) where people sign in to comment and have to enter the random caption before being able to comment…

    1. I’ve removed the comment. I’m not keen on introducing a registration system which would discourage new users from participating.

      1. Thanks. I don’t like registrations either but alas it seems you are now the spammers new target…

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