Best F1 drivers of the last 2 decades

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Formula 1 represents the pinnacle of motorsports. Engineers from all over the world dream of working in teams like Ferrari, Mercedes or McLaren, to name only a few.

However, young racing drivers also dream with competing in Formula 1, and any aspiring F1 driver out there who is serious about their career will be currently learning and analysing lots of sources of information on topics such as race car setup, human performance as well as psychology – and let’s not forget about intense physical training.

For those who not only want to make it to Formula 1, but also want to become the best in the field and be remembered as one of the great ones of the sport (yes, Lewis Hamiltons in the making, so to speak), should understand what are the dynamics of the championship.

For all the ultra-competitive youngsters out there, and for anyone else interested in the topic, we have prepared the following video showing the evolution of the greatest and most successful drivers in Formula 1 for the last 2 decades, starting from 1999 and until 2019.

Before you watch it in full, however, let us go through a number of important considerations that explain the dynamics of what the video shows:

– Points available per season

Formula 1, as a sport, has evolved continuously and will continue to do so. As such, the scoring system and, more specifically, the number of points awarded to each race finish position, has changed along the years.

For example, in 1999 the driver that would finish a race in the top spot would be awarded 10 points, whereas in 2019 the figure would be 25 for the same position.

To illustrate said changes, we have prepared the table below showing the points awarded to each race finish position for each year analysed.

Additionally, the number of Grands Prix celebrated every season has increased significantly, in line with the ambitions of managers of the sport to grow revenue.

For instance, in 1999 there were 16 Grands Prix, while for 2020, that number grew up to 21.

The combination of the two factors explained above – points available and number of races per season, play a huge part in the ability of F1 drivers to capture as many points as possible.

The table below shows how the number of points available per season has changed over the years, taking into consideration the first three spots – i.e. a driver who finishes 1st, 2nd or 3rd in every single race. Note that for the case of 2019, we assume that the driver finishing always 1st also takes the point awarded with the fastest lap.

Let’s put these numbers in a graph…

Interesting, right? There are a number of things that we can say seeing the graph above.

The first one and most obvious is that the number of points available increased considerably after 2009/2010 winter season. This leaves with two very distinct scenarios that can be identified as pre-2010 and post-2010 regulation change.

In the pre-2010 scenario, the trend line on points available for the hypothetical driver that wins every single race every season is pretty much flat. This is driven by the fact that in 1999 there were 16 Grands Prix, and 17 in 2009 – albeit in between these years, the race count per seasons increased to up to 19 races.

In contrast, in the post-2010 scenario, the number of points available for the top driver increased by a whopping 179%. The regulation change implemented in 2010 set a whole new world when it comes to championship point distribution.

At the time of writing this blog article, the scoring system implemented in 2010 remains unchanged, except for an additional point awarded to the driver setting the fastest lap of a race.

This scoring system, combined with the ever-growing race calendar, generates an enormous amount of championship points available – more than ever before in the history of the sport.

– A note on team domination

One would expect that having so many points available up for grasp would actually spice up competition.

The reality, however, is far from it.

The post-2010 scenario has greatly been dominated by two teams: Red Bull Racing and Mercedes. RBR won all championships between 2010 and 2013, whereas Mercedes have been winning back to back championships since the new power unit regulation was implemented in 2014.

Certain dynamics come into play in the topic of team domination. I will not go into details, but in short, it can be affirmed that abundance of resources (economic and human talent) combined with an ability to innovate quickly are assets that make a difference and allowed the aforementioned teams to succeed in the way they did, granting them the opportunity to capture the majority of points available.

And this factor has made Sebastian Vettel and, more recently, Lewis Hamilton the clear winners of the race to top spots of most successful racing drivers in Formula 1.

– Future outlook

The figures presented in this blog post show that Formula 1 is due a reshuffle, a change – and there is no doubt such change is coming with the introduction of the new regulations, initially planned for 2021 and now postponed to 2022 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Ignoring the health situation for a moment, the question that we all want an answer for is: will the new regulations – technical and sporting, allow for team domination in the form that we have experienced in the last 10 years, or will we have another change of scenario?

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