De la Rosa – King of Consistency

Formula One is a prototype series. The teams all build their own cars, and constantly develop them throughout the season. As a result, some teams end up with cars that are better than others. Unfortunately, that can make a good driver look bad, and vice versa – the car is crucial to the success of the driver, and there is only so much a good driver can do with a bad car.

What all of this means is that judging driver quality simply by looking at the points table does not work. Judging team-mates on points can be a good measure of relative performance, but beyond that points do not tell the full story. For illustration, points are not useful in comparing Lewis Hamilton to Timo Glock, simply because the McLaren is quick and the Marussia is not.

Points can also be distorted by non-finishes. As an example, Michael Schumacher has finished only seven races so far in 2012 and his average finishing position is seventh, which also happens to be the seventh best average finishing position of any driver this season. Yet he is lying 11th in the points table due to a large number of non-finishes.

So there needs to be another way to assess a driver’s season. One such way is to look at a measure of consistency. Consistency is a crucial quality in a racing driver – it’s no use winning one week and then coming last for the rest of the season. The obvious measure of consistency is the standard deviation of finishing positions. Ranking the drivers in such a way on their results up to the Italian Grand Prix (and of course excluding the DNFs) gives the following table:

Rank Driver Team Std Dev
1 Pedro de la Rosa HRT 1.6364
2 Vitaly Petrov Caterham 2.0028
3 Charles Pic Marussia 2.2828
4 Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 2.3789
5 Michael Schumacher Mercedes 2.4103
6 Paul di Resta Force India 2.5391
7 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 2.5702
8 Timo Glock Marussia 2.6181
9 Narain Karthikeyan HRT 2.6424
10 Heikki Kovalainen Caterham 2.6443
11 Jean-Eric Vergne Toro Rosso 2.8316
12 Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 3.5155
13 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 4.1925
14 Kamui Kobayashi Sauber 4.2374
15 Sergio Perez Sauber 4.2701
16 Felipe Massa Ferrari 4.4073
17 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 4.4789
18 Pastor Maldonado Williams 4.8865
19 Bruno Senna Williams 4.9810
20 Mark Webber Red Bull 4.9897
21 Lewis Hamilton McLaren 5.2984
22 Romain Grosjean Lotus 5.5076
23 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 5.7228
24 Jenson Button McLaren 6.3168

Looking at the results, the surprise winner is Pedro de la Rosa. But perhaps that is not so surprising. De la Rosa has had a very successful career as a test driver, which places enormous emphasis on consistency – the less erratic the driver, the more the engineers can rely on the data collected without having to consider the driver as a variable.

It is interesting to note that championship leader Fernando Alonso ranks only seventh, and title-challenger Lewis Hamilton languishes down in 21st. By contrast, Michael Schumacher is first of the drivers in competitive cars, suggesting that the seven-time champion is having a better season than the points table reveals.

The analysis does, of course, have limited meaning. It measures only consistency, not whether a driver is consistently quick or consistently slow. An erratic driver can still win the championship as long as there are a few very good results mixed into the chaos, but a consistently slow driver will not be competitive.


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