The Formula One world champions’ club is an elite group. It has 32 members and hasn’t admitted a new one for six years.
But the first drivers who put their names on the world championship trophy competed in a sport which was very different to the one we know 66 years later. Nonetheless some fundamental points remain unchanged, and its those similarities which can help us appreciate how a Jim Clark might have compared to a Lewis Hamilton, or a Juan Manuel Fangio to an Alain Prost.
Becoming world champion is the ultimate achievement for an F1 driver. But what can their other achievements tell us about how they became one of the greats?
The following is an attempt to find out by borrowing an idea from the world of video games. Here’sLet’s find out how many achievements each world champion unlocked during their careers.
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This set of six statistics reveal which drivers most successfully stamped their authority on a season. Each illuminated icon shows a driver who achieved each one.
Back-to-back – Won consecutive races
Five-in-a-row – Won five consecutive races
Home winner – Won their home grand prix (if applicable)
Won half – Won half of the races in a season
Back to front – Won a race having started outside the top ten
Top ten all the way – Finished every race in a season inside the top ten
Unsurprisingly, almost every world champion managed to win consecutive races at some point in their careers. And most of them won their home races too – those who didn’t are largely those who never had home rounds to race at.
It’s notable how few managed to achieve the record of finishing every race in a season inside the top ten. Some came very close: Mike Hawthorn, Juan Manuel Fangio and Phil Hill all finished in the top ten in every race they started in at least one season but each missed one race.
For Hawthorn and Fangio it was the Indianapolis 500, which few F1 drivers contested but which awarded world championship points. And for Hill it was the final race of the season in the USA, where Ferrari did not compete following the death of their driver Wolfgang von Trips in the previous round at Monza.
Taking success to another level – these statistics show who reached special levels of dominance.
Won by a lap – Lapped the entire field in a race
Grand slam – Won a race from pole position, led every lap and set fastest lap
Five grand slams – Achieved five ‘grands slams’
Multiple champion – Won at least two world championships
Defended a title – Won back-to-back world championships
Led all year – Led the championship from the beginning to end
Winning a race by a full lap is almost unheard in the current high-degradation tyre era. The closest anyone has come to doing so recently was Lewis Hamilton in the 2008 British Grand Prix, where he lapped everyone bar Nick Heidfeld and Rubens Barrichello who both finished over a minute behind.
These oddball records reveal which champions followed paths to success which were not entirely conventional.
Title without pole – Won the world championship without starting a race from pole position
Title without fastest lap – Won the world championship without setting fastest lap in a race
Title without most wins – Won the world championship without winning the most races that year
Win-less team mate – Won the world championship while no other driver won a race for the same team
Champion team mate – Won the world championship with a team mate who was already a world champion
No teams’ title – Won the world championship without the team winning the constructors’ championship (if applicable)
|Title without pole
|Title without fastest lap
|Title without most wins
|Win-less team mate
|Beat champion team mate
|No teams’ title
|Juan Manuel Fangio
It’s hard to imagine a driver winning a championship without taking a pole position today – but it has happened. Indeed, Niki Lauda managed to win the 1984 title without ever starting a race from the front row.
Of course there are always different ways to interpret statistics. For example, if a driver won the championship while his team mate couldn’t even win a race does that tell us the champion worked wonder in a great car or that his team mate was not very good?
More than a one-off
Which champions went beyond a period of success with a single F1 team? Drivers who achieved these feats were hot properties – and not necessarily only in F1.
Title with two teams – Won world championships with two or more teams
Won Le Mans – Won the Le Mans 24 Hours
Won Indy 500 – Won the Indianapolis 500
In recent years it’s become far less common to see F1 drivers tackling other forms of motor racing. However there are signs this is beginning to change: Nico Hulkenberg raced in the Le Mans 24 Hours last year and several other F1 drivers have expressed an interest in doing the same.
A simple treatment of this data would be to look at who racked up the most of these achievements. And although this is somewhat crude it is a useful starting point.
Michael Schumacher racked up the most with 15, followed by Jim Clark on 12. Seven other drivers make it into double figures, one of which is racing today: Lewis Hamilton.
At the opposite end some drivers have as few as just one of these achievements. But of course we could always come up with more ideas for achievements which would give a different impression (please do suggest any in the comments). And some of these achievements may cause us to question how easily their success was achieved: if a driver can win five races in a row, does it not merely prove their car was unbeatable?
Statistics can’t tell us everything, and they tel us little about anything without context. What I found more revealing was the statistics which challenged the assumptions I often make about drivers. For instance, that ‘hard chargers’ like Lewis Hamilton and Ayrton Senna never won a race from outside the top ten, while the ‘less spectacular’ Alain Prost and Jenson Button have.
Other points which caught my attention were James Hunt being the only driver to win a race for McLaren in his championship season, and Graham Hill finishing every race in 1964 inside the top four. Not forgetting, of course, that Schumacher went one better in 2002.
Over to you
What – if anything – can these accomplishments tell us about F1 world champions? What other game-style ‘achievements’ do you think might be revealing?
And if you enjoyed this article keep an eye out for a full-size graphic version of the data above coming soon.
In addition to the author’s own notes the following sources were consulted in compiling the data above: Grand Prix Data Book (Hayhoe & Holland), Formula 1 All the Races 3rd ed. (Smith), Formula 1 The Knowledge (Hayhoe) and Forix. Data correct up to and including the 2016 German Grand Prix.
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