Sebastian Vettel equalled Nigel Mansell’s record of 14 pole positions in a single season in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
But while Mansell exerted a crushing superiority over his rivals at the wheel of his Williams, Vettel’s advantage has been far smaller.
And, as this data shows, Vettel’s rivals have got closer throughout the season.
14 pole positions in one season
This graph shows how far ahead of second place each driver was (in second) for each of their 14 pole positions:
Clearly Mansell’s advantage over his rival’s was usually larger than Vettel’s. On average he was 0.9s faster than second place. Vettel’s advantage was a much smaller 0.3s.
Mansell’s margin of superiority ballooned to daunting proportions at times. At Silverstone he was nearly two seconds quicker than his team mate and 2.7s faster than the next quickest car, the McLaren of Ayrton Senna.
At Spa Mansell took pole by the greatest margin of the season – 2.198s. Vettel’s largest advantage in real terms was much smaller – 0.778s, less than Mansell’s average margin as a pole sitter.
That high-water mark for Vettel came in the first race of the season at Melbourne. Since then his superiority in qualifying has been gradually eroded. Some of his most recent pole positions have been achieved by very slim margins – 0.141s in Abu Dhabi and 0.009s in Japan.
In Korea Red Bull were beaten to pole position for the first time the year and, as was the case for Mansell, it was a McLaren that spoiled the streak – this time one driven by Lewis Hamilton.
The cars: FW14B vs RB7
Both drivers had Renault-powered, Adrian Newey-designed cars at their disposal. As you’d expect for creations of the wizard of downforce, both cars excelled in medium-to-high speed corners.
The fearless Mansell was a supreme exponent of the FW14B’s capabilities, tackling F1’s fastest corners at speeds team mate Riccardo Patrese often couldn’t match. It wasn’t unusual to see the pair separated by a full second in qualifying – with Patrese still second on the grid with a comfortable gap to their pursuers.
Created with almost two decades’ more experience, Newey’s RB7 is a refined package which conjures maximum downforce out of F1’s increasingly stringent regulations, thanks in part to the effective design of its exhaust-blown diffuser.
But it has not enjoyed anything like the margin of superiority the FW14B had in 1992. The Williams was on average 1.1s faster than the next best car in qualifying in 1992 – the Red Bull’s average advantage has been 0.3s.
This gap shows the difference (in seconds) between the fastest RB7 and FW14B in qualifying and the quickest other car:
|Red Bull-Renault RB7||0.778||0.104||0.715||0.525||0.98||0.441||0.185||0.405||0.117||0.055||0.163||0.432||0.45||0.423||0.009||-0.222||0.296||0.141|
Many of the tracks that were on the calendar in 1992 have been dropped and replaced by other venues. Of those held at the same tracks, the circuits themselves have been altered, making it hard to do a like-for-like performance comparison between these two F1 supercars.
Suzuka offers perhaps the best basis for comparison – the chicane and 130R were altered in 2003, producing a slightly shorter lap, but it is otherwise much the same as it was in 1992.
That year Mansell lapped Suzuka in 1’37.360. When Vettel took pole position 19 years later, he was 6.894s faster, lapping the track in 1’30.466.
In Brazil next week Vettel will have the chance to set a new record. Though he’s the first one to admit he’s had the luxury of more races in which to beat it:
“Everyone – not us – talks about it, you are aware of it. [Mansell] obviously took two races less to achieve the same but still, it’s something very special. It’s a great feeling, for sure.”
Mansell and Vettel’s results side-by-side
Here are the drivers’ qualifying results from the two seasons, plus the gap between them and the next-fastest qualifier or, where they weren’t on pole position, the pole sitter.
|Circuit de Catalunya||1||1’20.190||-1.253|
|Circuit de Catalunya||2||1’21.181||+0.200|
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Images © Williams/LAT, Red Bull/Getty images