Friday, October 15, 2010

Formula 1 Championships By the Numbers... Literally

#5 is juuust right
So last weekend I was staying up into the wee hours of the morning to see Formula 1 pretend they were going to attempt qualifying during a freaking monsoon. Oddly enough that may not have been the weirdest thing I saw that night. In fact, that may have been when announcer Bob Varsha informed viewers of the possible scenarios in case qualifying had to be canceled. Plan B) Qualifying is moved to race day, sensible enough… but Plan C) If that 2nd attempt has to be canceled then the cars are lined up on the grid by their car number!

Not point standings, not practice times, not the most recent race’s result; a completely arbitrary identifier on a car. Rather than debate the merit of the system (or come up with other silly ideas, like driver height), I instead just looked at how the grid would have played out, and honestly it wouldn’t have been too terribly jumbled. So that leads me to wonder, is there a connection between good teams and lower car numbers.

Over the last 36 Formula One seasons here is how it breaks out:

#1 = 9 Championships
#2 = 3 Championships
#3 = 2 Championships
#5 = 8 Championships
#6 = 3 Championships
#8 = 2 Championships
#11 = 3 Championships
#12 = 2 Championships
#22 = 2 Championships
#27 = 2 Championships

The breakout between having a single digit and having two digits on your car is 27 to 9. Obviously #1 would be expected to be high because returning champions can obviously be expected to perform well. Secondarily interesting is how well #5 does, trailing #1 by only one championship and with Sebastien Vettel threatening to tie up the score for #5s this season.

But furthermore, if you are the kind of person who believes there is something more than coincidence going on here, well… then I guess of the current five drivers remaining alive, Alonso is the long shot with the #8, and Vettel and Button are your favorites with #s 1 and 5… and poor Nico Rosberg… he was doomed before he even turned a lap with championship-less #4.

But they are just arbitrary numbers on a car... right?


Pat W said...

Interesting. I agree with you about #1, the past champion is often in the hunt again the next year. I can't explain #5 though, or why so many of the others are 2s and 3s without any more 'spikes'.

You're probably aware of the way numbers are assigned but it is worth saying, they are given out in the order of last year's Constructors Championship, except for 1 and 2 which go wherever the champion is racing this year. Can't recall when that system started, it used to be they kept the same year to year.

I was amazed when I heard that was how they would decide a cancelled qualifying session! I just assumed championship order, even some TV analysts said it would be that.

The Speedgeek said...

Interesting to see that stats displayed that way. For a long time (like late '70s through early '90s) the team that won the driver's championship swapped numbers with the team who won the previous year. That's how the #27 got involved there: the previously uncessful (and therefore waaaayyy down the number order) Williams team won the championship with Alan Jones in 1980, then the #s 27 and 28 went to Ferrari (where they stayed until the system changed in 1996). #5 got in the mix when Nelson Piquet won the championship the next year, and the #s 11 and 12 have been in play since the mid-'70s (Ferrari, Lotus and McLaren traded them back and forth for a few years as they alternated as champions).

Anyway, very interesting stuff.

Allen Wedge said...

the most interesting thing, none of us can explain what the heck is wrong with #4...

The Speedgeek said...

Ooh! Ooh! I've got a theory there!

The main reason that #4 was shut out for said 36 year interval is because Tyrrell had those numbers from '75 to '95, and they were uncompetitive for like 95% of that time (isolated races excepted, like when Michele Alboreto won a couple of races for them). From '96 through today, the #4 has generally been the number for the second driver at the second best team on the grid, so that number wouldn't be a very strong contender for the title. The drivers who have held that number since '96: Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Eddie Irvine (who almost won with the #4 in 1999), Rubens Barrichello, David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher, Marc Gene (when he subbed for Ralf for a few races), Antonio Pizzonia (when he subbed for Ralf for a few races), Takuma Sato, Anthony Davidson (when he subbed for Taku for a race), Juan Pablo Montoya (when he did a half season for McLaren before he left for NASCAR...which I still can't believe happened), Pedro de la Rosa (when he finished 2006 for McLaren), Heikki Kovaleinen, Robert Kubica, and a disinterested Kimi Raikkonen. That's a list of driver/car combos who just weren't going to win a championship.