Historical hypotheticals: Part V (Gilles Villeneuve & Michael Schumacher)

bellof_monaco

While most of the work I do on this blog is fairly serious analysis, this series has been an enjoyable, less serious side project. This is the final part of this five-part series, in which I apply the f1metrics model of driver and team performance to simulating historical hypothetical situations.

If you want to check out the previous articles in this series, they are linked here:

Part I (Senna, Pryce, Brise)

Part II (Kubica, Clark, Donohue, Revson)

Part III (Bellof and ex-champion comebacks)

Part IV (Alesi, Behra, Cevert)

Method

For each hypothetical scenario below, I simulated either the extension/comeback of a driver’s career or a change in teams during their career. Two types of outcomes are presented for the simulated scenarios:

(i) The adjusted driver performance rankings (in ppr) for each season, including the driver’s predicted hypothetical performance at that age and with that level of experience. This is a ranking (ranging 0-10) of absolute driver performances, taking teams out of the equation. In other words, it’s how the model predicts the drivers of that season would have performed in equal machinery. This is the same approach I use for my end of season driver rankings each year.

(ii) The predicted World Drivers’ Championship standings for each season. In cases where these tables are presented, I am including the effects of a driver’s hypothetical team on their points scored. In this simulation, I have either used the team’s average reliability that season to generate the number of mechanical DNFs (if it is a simulated comeback or career extension) or the target car’s reliability if it is a straight seat swap between two active drivers. To generate points tallies, I mapped the model’s scoring rate function to all other points scoring systems in F1 history so that I could convert accurately between ppr and points scored.


Gilles Villeneuve

gilles

I couldn’t possibly finish this series without examining the career and potential of Gilles Villeneuve. Many fans consider Gilles their all-time greatest driver. He was a spectacularly gifted driver and a sheer entertainer behind the wheel. When his career was prematurely ended by a fatal crash in 1982, he was driving the season’s best car and possibly on course for a first title, despite friction with his teammate Didier Pironi and a less than ideal start to the season, How likely is it that he would have won the 1982 title? And what more could he have achieved beyond that?

To attempt to answer these questions, we can use the f1metrics model to make predictions. First, let’s take a look at how Gilles’ driving performances are rated in each season by the model, and where it predicts he would likely have ranked going forward, taking age and experience into account.

gilles_prediction

Gilles Villeneuve’s actual (blue) and predicted (red) performances relative to other drivers on the grid in each season. The red shaded region represents bounds of uncertainty on the prediction, taking into account uncertainty in the driver’s performance estimate, as well as variability in age and experience effects.

The model places Gilles among the top few drivers on the grid at the time he was killed. It doesn’t see him as likely to be the absolute best performer in any year, but between 1979 and 1984, he’s never far off. As he was 32 when he was killed, it is predicted that Villeneuve could have maintained a stable plateau of performance for several years to come, which could have included performances similar to 1979-1981, given the bounds of uncertainty.

Imagining that Villeneuve survived in 1982, we can use the model to simulate how he would most likely have performed in subsequent seasons, had he continued racing for Ferrari.

gilles1982ferrari

Gilles Villeneuve at the wheel of the 1982 Ferrari 126 C2.

In 1982, Ferrari’s car was undoubtedly the class of the field. The team won the constructors’ championship despite losing both star drivers (Villeneuve to a fatal accident, Pironi to a career-ending injury), and as a result not even entering a car in 7 of the 32 available starts. With healthy drivers, Ferrari would clearly have taken the drivers’ title. Instead, Keke Rosberg squeaked to the title, winning only a single race along the way, in one of the most turbulent and bizarre seasons in F1 history.

At the time that he was seriously injured, Pironi was clearly leading the championship, having scored 39 points in 10 starts (his car was withdrawn at Zolder when Villeneuve was killed). John Watson was 2nd in the championship on 30 points, and Keke Rosberg was on only 23 points.

Long Beach 1982

Didier Pironi and Gilles Villeneuve as Ferrari teammates.

Villeneuve’s season, by contrast, had gotten off to a very poor start, with two DNFs, a disqualification, and a 2nd place when teammate Didier Pironi ignored team orders to overtake him for the win. He had scored only 6 points in those 4 starts when he had his fatal crash.

Applying the model, we can simulate the 1982 season with Gilles Villeneuve and Didier Pironi starting every race they missed, using the results they had already scored. In this case, Villeneuve is predicted to make up the deficit to Pironi across the season and narrowly win the drivers’ title. Keke Rosberg is a distant 3rd in the title race.

gilles_1982

To simplify the hypothetical beyond 1982, I assumed that Pironi is no longer racing (although I note that Villeneuve would be predicted to outperform him as teammates in future seasons in any case). I simulated Villeneuve replacing Rene Arnoux (1983-1984) and Stefan Johansson (1985).

In 1983, Ferrari fielded Rene Arnoux and Patrick Tambay, finishing 3rd and 4th in the drivers’ championship, and winning the constructors’ title. The model rates the Ferrari the best car in 1983. Had Gilles continued racing for Ferrari, he would therefore have been in an excellent position to defend his hypothetical 1982 championship. Simulating the season, the model predicts Villeneuve as a likely 1983 title winner.

gilles_1983In 1984, McLaren had an unbeatable combination: the clear best car and the best overall driver pairing. Both Lauda and Prost doubled the points scored by Elio de Angelis, who finished 3rd in the championship. Racing for Ferrari, Villeneuve is predicted to perform better than either Alboreto or Arnoux managed with the car, but is still a clear 3rd in the championship.gilles_1984In 1985, Michele Alboreto mounted a serious title challenge in the first half of the season, which fell away with five mechanical failures in the last five races. The model predicts that Villeneuve could have extracted a bit more from the Ferrari than Alboreto, but still not quite enough to overcome the fundamental reliability issues to take the title from Prost.gilles_1985Beyond 1985, it would be difficult for Villeneuve to challenge the new elite, including Senna and Prost, especially if he remained at Ferrari, who were not seriously competitive again until 1990. In this alternate history, Villeneuve ends up with two championship titles (1982, 1983) and two near misses (1979, 1985). Ramifications of this timeline would include Keke Rosberg scoring no drivers’ titles, and Nelson Piquet scoring two drivers’ titles.


Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher’s career is absolutely rife with potential alternative paths. I decided to look at three serious scenarios here, as well as one semi-serious scenario.

What if Schumacher had not retired in 2006?

schumi_2006_retirement

Michael Schumacher announces his retirement at the 2006 Italian Grand Prix.

This is probably the most often discussed hypothetical relating to Michael Schumacher. There are rumors that Schumacher was pushed into retirement before he was ready by Luca Montezemolo. While there were perhaps some early signs of age-related decline appearing in Schumacher’s driving, they were only noticeable relative to his near flawless performances earlier. In 2006, he was doubtless still one of the top drivers on the grid.

One theory about Schumacher’s retirement goes that Ferrari signed Kimi Raikkonen against Schumacher’s wishes and gave Schumacher the choice to continue racing alongside him, which Schumacher declined, allowing his protege Felipe Massa to retain a Ferrari seat. Had Schumacher continued at Ferrari into 2007-2008, he would have been 38-39 years old, but racing in a championship-contending team.

schumacher_2007_2008

Michael Schumacher’s season performances and his estimated performance level had he competed in 2007 and 2008.

By the model’s estimation, Schumacher was still among the best-performing drivers on the grid, and would have remained so into 2007-2008, even as he began to experience age-related decline. If we simulate the 2007 championship with Schumacher in Felipe Massa’s place, the model sees Schumacher clearly leading the title race.

schumi_2007

Continuing this hypothetical into 2008, when Massa narrowly lost the title to Hamilton, the model sees Schumacher as a slight championship favorite. The resulting Schumacher vs. Hamilton would have undoubtedly been epic.

schumi_2008

In this hypothetical history, Schumacher would likely have taken his championship total from seven to nine, nearly doubling Fangio’s five titles!

What if Schumacher had continued racing into the hybrid era?

schumi_w03

Schumacher’s comeback for Mercedes across 2010-2012 did not add to his 91 career wins. It could be viewed as unfortunately timed, considering Mercedes went on to become one of the most dominant teams ever just two years later. Part of Schumacher’s performance issue in 2010 was the lack of recent experience, especially in a climate with very limited testing compared to what he had become accustomed to during his F1 career. As he gained familiarity with the formula (especially the tyres), he appeared to close the gap to Nico Rosberg, with the two being closely matched in 2012. What if Schumacher had simply continued racing at Mercedes into the hybrid era in 2014 and beyond?

First, we have to discuss the issue of teammates. Schumacher leaving Mercedes in 2013 was a major catalyst for the team signing Lewis Hamilton. It is therefore plausible that Mercedes would have retained the Schumacher-Rosberg line-up into the hybrid era. On the other hand, Hamilton’s relationship with McLaren was clearly showing signs of strain, and might have been pushed beyond its limit by McLaren’s hopelessly uncompetitve MP4-28 in 2013. A move to Mercedes would certainly remain on the cards. I have therefore assumed in this scenario that Mercedes would field the dream team of Lewis Hamilton and Michael Schumacher into the 2014 hybrid era.

Second, we have to discuss the issue of age. Going into the 2014 season, Schumacher would have been 45 years old. Loss of performance at this age is significant and simply unavoidable. By the model’s estimation, Schumacher at this age would be no match for Hamilton in his prime, and would also be very likely to lose the championship if paired with Nico Rosberg.

schumi_2014

Ultimately, there is no unwinding the hands of time, even for a driver who was as extraordinary as Michael Schumacher was at his peak.

What if Schumacher had raced at McLaren?

https://i0.wp.com/31.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lxybwrut8z1r27q6ho1_500.jpg

David Coulthard borrowed a Michael Schumacher helmet at Monaco allowing us to imagine how such a driver-team pairing might have looked.

For a long time in the 1990s, Ron Dennis was eager to secure the services of Schumacher. Ultimately, Schumacher moved to Ferrari in 1996, along with many of the best technical talents from Benetton. But what if, instead, he had been lured to McLaren and spent the main segment of his career there rather than at Ferrari? This would potentially have set up a formidable combination of Michael Schumacher’s driving talents with Adrian Newey’s design talents. Newey moved to McLaren in 1997 after he fell out with Williams over lack of input into team decisions such as the hiring of Jacques Villeneuve and subsequent firing of Damon Hill. He stayed with McLaren until 2005.

schumacher_dennis

Michael Schumacher and Ron Dennis shaking hands.

Ferrari were in a massive rebuilding phase in the mid-1990s, led by Jean Todt. It is safe to assume that if they did not acquire Michael Schumacher, they would have gone after other top drivers, such as Damon Hill or Mika Hakkinen. In this hypothetical, I will assume that Hakkinen and Schumacher traded places, with Hakkinen moving to Ferrari in 1996 and Schumacher moving to McLaren.

In 1996, Schumacher famously dragged a disastrously ill-handling Ferrari chassis into an impressive 3rd in the championship. Irvine described the F310 as almost undriveable, scoring only 11 points. Overall, the model rates McLaren’s MP4/11 a slightly more competitive car than the Ferrari F310, in large part due to reliability — Ferrari had 13 mechanical failures in 32 starts, compared to 6 mechanical failures for McLaren. In a McLaren seat, the model thinks Schumacher may have been able to challenge Villeneuve for 2nd in the championship, but still could not have realistically beaten Hill. Hakkinen is predicted to score 18 points for Ferrari, dropping to 6th in the championship.

schumi_1996bIn 1997, Schumacher once again was fighting a dominant Williams team in an inferior car. This season, the model rates the Ferrari and McLaren as very closely matched, meaning Schumacher’s results are almost identical after a car swap.

schumi_1997In 1998, the first season that Newey had full input into car design, McLaren produced the dominant MP4/13, which Hakkinen took to the title in spite of some brilliant drives from Schumacher. With the best driver in the best car, the model sees the 1998 season as a walkover first title for Schumacher at McLaren.

schumi_1998The 1999 season was marred by Schumacher’s broken leg after a brake failure in the British Grand Prix, causing him to miss six races. It is difficult to know what to do with this case in a hypothetical history. Do we assume Schumacher still missed races at McLaren? Do we assume the brake failure happened to Hakkinen and caused him to miss races instead? Or do we assume it was a freak accident that would not repeat and give both drivers a full season? We are essentially free to invent whatever history we want here, so I have not run a hypothetical reconstruction of 1999.

Schumacher’s first Ferrari title came in 2000, when he narrowly beat Hakkinen to the title. The model considers McLaren to have had a competitive edge that season, meaning that when roles are reversed, Schumacher wins the title for McLaren with relative ease. Hakkinen’s performance that year is rated similar to Barrichello’s, meaning a close fight between the two Ferrari drivers.

schumi_2000

 

By 2001, Ferrari had clearly the better performing car relative to McLaren. However, it was historically not Hakkinen’s strongest season either. With Schumacher in the McLaren, the model predicts that he would be the favorite to clinch the 2001 title.

schumi_2001

At the end of 2001, Mika Hakkinen retired from F1, ceding his McLaren seat to the promising Kimi Raikkonen. In this timeline, Hakkinen would retire without having won the 1998 drivers’ title. Supposing that Raikkonen inherited Hakkinen’s seat at Ferrari for 2002, as he did at McLaren, he would be placed in the incredibly dominant F2002. Even Schumacher at the height of his powers could not have competed with this car. He is predicted to be only 3rd in the championship for McLaren in 2002, as Raikkonen takes his first title.

schumi_2002

The 2003 season was a classic and controversial three-way fight between Ferrari, McLaren, and Williams. McLaren started the season very strong, while Ferrari uncharacteristically struggled until they introduced the new F2003-GA at San Marino. Ferrari then went on a winning streak until they began to seriously struggle with tyre wear as a heat wave struck Europe, which affected Bridgestone’s performance more than Michelin’s.

Williams-BMW had the most powerful engine, but suffered from excessive understeer until Michelin introduced a wider front tyre at Monaco. Williams were a clear front-runner from here until the final races, when this improvement was nullified by a protest claiming that Michelin’s tyres gained tread width as they became worn, forcing Michelin to introduce a new narrower tread tyre. Montoya’s championship challenge collapsed partly through this tyre change, but also through early and late season errors, and partly through an inability to beat teammate Ralf Schumacher sufficiently often. Ferrari’s strength in the final races allowed Michael Schumacher to narrowly clinch the title.

The model rates the three teams as closely matched in 2003, estimating that with equal drivers their ordering should have been Williams-McLaren-Ferrari. A seat swap between Schumacher and Raikkonen (all other factors playing out as they did) is therefore predicted to give Schumacher a clearer path to the 2003 title.

schumi_2003In 2004, the McLaren was unreliable and uncompetitive until the MP4-19B chassis upgrade in the second half of the season. Raikkonen historically managed only 45 points in the car. The model thinks Schumacher could only have done slightly better with it, while Raikkonen would romp to the title in the unbeatable F2004, in similar fashion to what Schumacher actually did that year.

schumi_2004

 

In 2005, there were major changes to the tyre regulations, requiring tyres to last the entire duration of the race. This change was clearly intended to curb Ferrari’s dominance by hurting Bridgestone, and in that respect it was successful. The championship was made into a two-horse race between Michelin-runners McLaren and Renault. McLaren had developed the incredibly quick MP4-20 for the 2005 season. On pace, it was unstoppable in the hands of Raikkonen, but it suffered poor reliability. Alonso ultimately prevailed for Renault in the title fight. Schumacher finished a distant 3rd in the championship for Ferrari.

If given Raikkonen’s seat at McLaren, the model predicts that Schumacher would, like Raikkonen, have finished 2nd in the championship that year.

schumi_2005The first chapter of Schumacher’s career concluded in 2006, as he retired at the end of the year. It was a close championship battle with Fernando Alonso at Renault, with Renault starting the season with a clear advantage until their mass-damper solution was banned. The McLaren was the clear third-best team. Had Schumacher swapped seats with Raikkonen, the model predicts that he could have challenged Raikkonen for 2nd in the championship despite the slightly inferior machinery, but he would not have been in the title fight with Alonso.

schumi_2006Beyond 2006, we could imagine Schumacher continuing at McLaren into 2007-2008, as we did in the above hypothetical, but he could equally well have retired at this point, as he did in reality.

In the graphic below, I have compared the titles that Schumacher actually won for Ferrari with the titles that he could hypothetically have won for McLaren, had he spent the same 1996-2006 period there.

schumi_mcl_titles

Michael Schumacher’s world titles for Ferrari vs. the world titles he would be predicted to score racing for McLaren under assumed seat swaps with Mika Hakkinen (1996-2001) and Kimi Raikkonen (2002-2006).

We can see from this hypothetical that a Schumacher-Newey alliance at McLaren would have had the potential to be nearly as successful as the Schumacher-Brawn-Byrne alliance was at Ferrari. In the hypothetical timeline, Schumacher would conclude 2006 with six drivers’ titles, while Raikkonen would already have two drivers’ titles.

What if Toyota had hired the other Schumacher?

Michael-and-Ralf-Schumacher

Brothers Michael and Ralf Schumacher.

The Toyota F1 team is the canonical example of money not necessarily buying success in F1. Due to a number of internal problems, they were one of the least effective manufacturer teams on a per-dollar basis in F1 history. As I showed in my previous economic analysis, Toyota spent over $3 billion in 8 years, with no wins to show for it.

One of the team’s most perplexing decisions was to hire Ralf Schumacher on a very high salary (reportedly around $19 million). It is often joked that the Toyota executives had accidentally signed the wrong Schumacher. What if Toyota had actually signed Michael Schumacher instead?

At the team’s best, in 2005, Toyota finished 4th in the constructors’ championship, with their drivers Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli finishing 6th and 7th in the drivers’ championship, respectively. They scored 5 podiums and 0 wins. What could Michael Schumacher at his peak have realistically achieved with that car?

schumi_toyota

By the model’s estimation, the 2005 Toyota actually had a fair bit of promise with a top driver at the wheel. Notably, both Toyota drivers outscored the second Ferrari driver, Rubens Barrichello. The model rates the 2005 Toyota a better car than the 2005 Ferrari and predicts that Michael Schumacher would have scored more points in a Toyota seat than he did in his Ferrari seat that year, altough it would have required him adapting to Michelin rubber. To put it another way, the model thinks that Ralf’s 45 points scored for Toyota was closer to Michael’s 62 points scored for Ferrari than one would predict if the brothers were in equal machinery. Given the Ferrari seat in 2005, Ralf is predicted to score 23 points.

Where Toyota could have gone from there is unclear. In reality, they fell back to 6th in the constructors’ championship in 2006. But, with an all-time great driver to help galvanize the team, and 3rd place in the driver’s championship to show they seriously meant business, the entire team’s trajectory (at least up to the global financial crisis) could feasibly have been different.


Honorable mentions and notable omissions

bianchi

Before concluding this series, I want to note that there there are a number of hypothetical cases I would have loved to include but didn’t for one reason or another. Most recently, I would have liked to include Jules Bianchi. He had a phenomenal junior driver career and I suspect he was destined for great things in Formula 1. Unfortunately, because he and Max Chilton only raced against each other as teammates in Formula 1, they form a disconnected pair, so the model cannot be used to estimate their performances against other drivers.

Going back to the 1950s, I was interested to explore the career of Stuart Lewis-Evans, who died aged 28 after an accident caused by mechanical failure. He was considered a very promising driver of the future. His qualifying records of 6-6 against Tony Brooks and 3-9 against the more experienced Stirling Moss indicate his impressive pace. But with only 6 counting races in his career (i.e., races without a non-driver DNF), it would be impossible to achieve any reliable predictions. The same problem applies to Ricardo Rodriguez, who has only 3 counting races. He debuted in Formula 1 at age 19 and likely had an excellent career ahead of him, were he not sadly killed aged 20.

There are of course many other drivers who had phenomenal results in junior single-seaters or other categories but never got a drive in F1. Those would be fascinating cases to explore, but at present I don’t have a reliable method for linking performances between series. That may be an interesting future project.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. I certainly learned a lot in putting it together!

27 comments

  1. Fun!

    How come uncertainty is so large? I take it the scenario is less likely the closer we are to the edges of the red area?

    Caught a typo: Alboerto. Or maybe Alboreto’s brazilian cousin.

    For 2005 you state: “If given Raikkonen’s seat at McLaren”, yet Raikkonen still has his seat in the image.

    “One of the team’s most perplexing decisions was to hire Ralf Schumacher on a very high salary” – Renault has left the chat

    1. Thanks for the rapid feedback, I’ll make some corrections!

      Correct interpretation regarding the ranges displayed. The edges are very unlikely.

  2. You made a mistake in 2005. Raikkonen’s slogan for the team should be of Ferrari with Montoya’s slogan of Mclaren.

  3. Excellent work! I really enjoyed this series.

    Heads up that the actual 1996 top 5 was:
    HIL 97
    VIL 78
    MSC 59
    ALE 47
    HAK 31

    Unless I’m missing something, there’s a typo/mistake with the top 3 drivers’ totals.

    1. Good catch! I’ll fix it up now.

  4. Excellent and fascinating analysis, once more.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Great what-if analysis as usual!

    Interestingly, the model suggests that in 2004 and 2005 Räikkönen performed at Schumacher’s level, whereas he was weaker in his much-praised 2003 season, as well as his sub-par 2006 season. This suggests that Räikkönen could have pushed Schumacher very hard, had they been team-mates at Ferrari. However, as we now know, Räikkönen’s 2007 and 2008 seasons weren’t particularly strong, so it seems very plausible indeed that Schumacher would have won the title in 2007 and 2008. Suppose Schumacher would have stayed with Ferrari for the 2009 and 2010 season, how would he have performed? Without his 3-year absence and a better car he might have had a small chance to challenge for the title in 2010, given that Alonso had a far from perfect season.

    I always thought that the 1996 McLaren was about as good as the 1996 Ferrari, whereas the 1997 McLaren was better than the 1997 Ferrari. Interestingly, it’s the other way round due to reliability. By the way, Schumacher scored 59 points in 1996, not 75.

    1. Thank you for the feedback and correction.

      The 2003 result is a little surprising to me, as Raikkonen appeared to have a very strong season. There are a few factors that go into this result, which I’ve summarized below.

      1) The model doesn’t take blame into account if a driver has a crash. This means that Raikkonen’s crash in Germany (which I would consider near to blameless) is treated the same as Schumacher’s crash in Brazil (which was clearly his fault). This also means that Barrichello’s crash in Germany (again, blameless) is counted against him, serving to help Schumacher’s season rating.

      2) The model considers Coulthard a far weaker benchmark than Barrichello. Beating Barrichello is considered similarly difficult to beating Hakkinen in equal machinery. Although Schumacher was beaten in a few races by Barrichello in 2003, the model still considers that a more impressive feat than the margin by which Raikkonen beat Coulthard.

      3) Raikkonen’s championship challenge in 2003 was largely dependent on the unusual points system, which gave 2nd place 80% as many points as a win — a higher percentage than at any other stage in F1 history. As a result of this system, Raikkonen lost the championship to Schumacher just 93-91, despite Schumacher winning 6 races while Raikkonen won just 1. Under the 10-6-4-3-2-1 system, Schumacher would have won the title relatively easily 77-67. The same goes under the 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-3-2-1 system, under which Schumacher would have won 236-213. The model applies a standard scoring system across all years of the F1 championship, as this is necessary to integrate data across eras. The system it uses is closer to the commonly used scoring systems and less like the 2003 system.

      Regarding Schumacher and 2010, the model predicts that even if he had raced across 2007-2009, he would be outperformed by Alonso in 2010 due to age-related decline, so probably would not be in the title hunt.

      1. How does the model address the peculiarity of this scoring system? For example if A and B keep finishing 1-2 (10 to 7 pts), just counting the results up would mean A is now stronger in relation to B than he would’ve been if they kept finishing 2-3 (7 to 6 pts).

      2. There is a nonlinear function that links scoring to performance, meaning that performance differences are not proportional to points scoring rate differences.

    2. One more thing · · Reply

      One more thought: I think RAI didn’t perform at his best in any of his Ferrari years. I suppose there was something in the Ferrari environment that didn’t suit him as well as the British teams. I mean if you look at his career excluding the Ferrari years, it’s a completely different story to the Ferrari years. Sauber: fast from the get-go. McLaren: one of the very best drivers suffering from unreliability. Lotus: a highly impressive comeback, return to the elite. Alfa Romeo: still very strong despite the age. The career excluding Ferrari depicts RAI as one of the best comparable to the multiple champions; however his Ferrari years make him look like just better than average. The truth lies somewhere in between.

      What I want to say is that had there been a duel between RAI and MSC in Ferrari, in addition to Schumacher most likely being the better driver at his peak, I assume RAI wouldn’t have performed at his best. It seems for me that for whatever reason, RAI has performed better in all other teams he’s driven for than in Ferrari. This is just a feeling I’ve got – it’s of course impossible to find out objectively.

      1. Your observations can be equally well explained by the quality of his teammates. Only at Ferrari did he face any elite drivers. His performances at other teams are likely overrated as a result. Beating Grosjean or Giovinazzi in their first full seasons is hardly impressive, for example, and certainly no evidence of a “return to the elite”. Montoya and Coulthard were also not particularly challenging teammates compared to Vettel and Alonso.

      2. One more thing · ·

        That is a fair point.

        About the return to the elite: If I may, I’d like to quote your 2014 driver rankings:
        “Last year, Raikkonen was widely considered a member of the sport’s elite four, alongside Alonso, Hamilton, and Vettel.”
        As far as I can remember, many were expecting ALO v RAI to be a close battle. It turned out it wasn’t (although it’s fair to say RAI’s difficulties in adapting to anything outside his comfort zone made him look worse than he is).

        RAI has seemed to have a very narrow comfort zone or operating window, which also makes me think it wasn’t just the teammates at Ferrari. See the 2013 season before and after the change of tyres. But as I said, this is just a hunch that is impossible to test empirically.

      3. At the time, I agree that he was viewed as a member of the elite. With the benefit of hindsight (knowing more about Raikkonen and also Grosjean), I think he wasn’t quite there.

      4. Dimitris Zacharopoulos · ·

        @f1metrics Given that Raikkonen wasn’t an elite driver in 2013, can we make a hypothesis that the E21 could have won the championship with a different driver behind the wheel?

      5. One more thing · ·

        @f1metrics
        That is true. My point was what would his career look like if the Ferrari years didn’t exist.

        The way I see RAI is that at his best he was among the very best but he needed a car exactly the way he wanted to and couldn’t adapt very well unlike the likes of ALO who excelled in pretty much any car he got. Ferrari didn’t have a car RAI preferred or for some reason the team didn’t suit him well, which is a reason why he underperformed there. (I emphasize that even if having a tailor-made car, he couldn’t have beaten the likes of ALO or VET under normal circumstances.) For me it seems those Ferrari years made him look worse than he is and he seemed to perform worse there. Not only comparing to teammates but comparing his performances per se.

        But I think I’ve made my point. This is just a matter of opinion as I can neither prove anything nor can I be disproven conclusively.

        Another topic. You’ve been teasing us about the all-time rankings. I spent some time thinking how I would rate the current drivers based on their current level (not peak). Here is my list of the top ten drivers currently in F1 based on their current abilities:

        Top tier: Hamilton & Verstappen
        Just below the top: Bottas, Leclerc, Ricciardo & Verstappen
        Solid but not elite: Hülkenberg, Pérez & Räikkönen
        Better than average: Sainz

        Drivers in groups are in alphabetical order.

  6. Great work as always. A bit sad to not see an article about Moss in a Ferrari from 1962 or Ascari not crashing fatally. Nevertheless, these are interesting cases, most of which I have considered myself and agree with. Looking forward to your end-of-the-year export and your updated all-time list, even though I am quite certain your list and me will no longer share the opinion of who is number one. I guess it will Fangio, which I find extremely fair.

  7. Dimitris Zacharopoulos · · Reply

    Another great read!

    The Schumacher-McLaren part made me think if there is any possibility to predict how a seat swap would influence a team’s future trajectory. How difficult would it be for the model to predict that McLaren, with Schumacher’s input, would be a better team than Ferrari from 2002 onwards (which seems logical)? Are there any plans to implement driver input in team performance when a hypothetical scenario arises?

  8. Q) What if Schumacher had raced at McLaren?
    A) No one would think Hakkinen was one of the greatest ever.

    Interesting to see that Schumacher’s career would possibly have been less successful in a Newey car.

    Thank you for the quick uploads, much appreciated!

    1. I don’t think the model takes Newey’s influence into account. His March cars apparently sucked, as did the successors, which propelled the team’s drivers sky high.

      1. I just meant that there is a perception that it was basically Schumacher (bat driver) vs Newey (best designer), but the model shows that it’s not really true. (It probably was true for the 90s,)

  9. Why didn’t you cover 2009 for Schumacher? I know its a pretty busy list of hypothetical as you have them here, but it would be interesting far up the driver’s table Schumacher drags the Ferrari based on how close Raikkonen was to the top 5 and how close the upper midfield was. Not to mention the rumor mills after Massa’s incident, which is a separate hypothetical in itself.

    It also could have been a neat demonstration on how the model deals with drivers coming back from hiatus by comparing historical 2010-12 Mercedes to Mercedes with Schumacher without hiatus.

  10. This is pure gold! As a mathematician myself, I just adore hypothetical models. Thanks!
    PS Waiting for the 2019 season-end report 😉

  11. johnny.tifosi · · Reply

    The Schumacher hypothetical was very interesting. 2007 and 2008 pretty much confirmed my gut feeling: given Raikkonen won and Massa almost won a title with Ferrari, Schumi would definitely be able to run away with both of them.

    May I suggest another hypothetical? What if Alonso never left Ferrari and drove for them until 2018? Actually, Alonso’s carrer is just a huge “what if?”. You could also do what if he never left Renault, McLaren, if he joined Red Bull etc.

    Keep up the good work!

  12. I loved this series! And I think there are potentially other options to explore.What if Honda had not switched to McLaren in 1988, and stayed with Williams? What if Mansell had stuck around to challenge Prost in 1993? And of course, what if Alonso had stayed at Mclaren in 2008, and been driving for Ferrari in 2017 and 2018 instead of Vettel?

  13. I really love this hypothetical stuff, especially the one regarding Schumi. It confirms the obvious: he would have won the title in 2007 and 2008. Just spotted one error, the F2003-GA made its debut at Spain, not San Marino.

  14. […] Historical hypotheticals: Part V […]

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