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F1 defends fastest driver list

Mat Coch

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Thursday 20th August, 2020 - 9:03am

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Ayrton behind the wheel of the 1991 MP4/6

Formula 1 has defended its publication of a list of the fastest single lap drivers over the last four decades.

Earlier this week, Ayrton Senna was named the fastest driver in F1 since 1983.

The Brazilian headed the list from Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton after a machine learning algorithm analysed data stretching back to the early 1980s.

While the top three came as no surprise, other entries and omissions did raise eyebrows.

Surprisingly, Jarno Trulli and Heikki Kovalainen both made the top 10, while Charles Leclerc placed ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

Alain Prost, meanwhile, was listed in 20th while Lando Norris is 15th, one place ahead of Daniel Ricciardo.

Mika Hakkinen, Nelson Piquet, Jacques Villeneuve, and Juan-Pablo Montoya were absent.

The list’s publication triggered strong reactions on social media, though Ross Brawn, Formula 1 Managing Director, Motorsport, stands by the process.

“I don’t think they’re laughing at it; I think it’s caused plenty of debate,” said Brawn of the social media response.

“I think once you get the methodology, people will start to understand. What’s the alternative?

“The alternative is you get everybody to write their own top 10, and I guarantee you there will be differences.

“It is controversial, but once you understand what we do… We look at two team-mates on exactly the same day, in the same situation, with the same opportunity; and we get a time (difference) between the two.

“You build that up over time, see how that’s averaging, and then you need one of them to migrate to another team.

“So Driver A is quicker than Driver B. Driver B goes to another team and he’s quicker than Driver C, so you can say A is quicker than C because A beat B in his own team and B beat C in another team.

“Then you build that out with (data) and analysis, and you start to understand who are the quick guys and who consistently outperforms his team-mate and by how much.”

Brawn defended the appearance of comparative newcomers such as Norris and Leclerc, suggesting it’s a fair reflection of the potential they possess.

“What we set out to do here was try to identify who we thought was the fastest driver,” Brawn explained.

“That’s over one lap, so it’s a driver who has demonstrated his speed over one lap, not necessarily his racing prowess or his results.

“Of course it’s a big challenge because you’re looking at different eras, different cars and different teams, so it’s a massively complex and multi-faceted problem.

“(Amazon Web Solutions) and our people – especially Rob (Smedley) and his team – set about trying to build an approach that would answer that constant question of who is the fastest driver?

“As you’ve seen, there’s been one or two surprises; but when you delve into it, (it makes) a certain amount of sense.

“Someone who worked with Jarno (Trulli) who I know very well said if a GP was five laps long he’d win every race because his speed was phenomenal over a very short period. But he didn’t have the ability to maintain that pace over a whole race.

“It will be controversial because there is no absolutely definitive way of comparing someone from the ’80s with someone in the ’90s.

“They’re not in the same cars and they’re not racing around the same tracks and they’re not the same age when they’re at their fastest.

“So we’ve extrapolated, and we’re quite proud of it.

“It withstands scrutiny and it’s controversial. We’ll get lots of debate around it and maybe we’ll refine it.”

Formula 1’s 20 fastest drivers since 1983

  1. Ayrton Senna
  2. Michael Schumacher +0.114s
  3. Lewis Hamilton +0.275s
  4. Max Verstappen +0.280s
  5. Fernando Alonso +0.309s
  6. Nico Rosberg +0.374s
  7. Charles Leclerc +0.376s
  8. Heikki Kovalainen +0.378s
  9. Jarno Trulli +0.409s
  10. Sebastian Vettel +0.435s
  11. Rubens Barrichello +0.445s
  12. Nico Hulkenberg +0.456s
  13. Valtteri Bottas +0.457s
  14. Carlos Sainz +0.457s
  15. Lando Norris +0.459s
  16. Daniel Ricciardo +0.461s
  17. Jenson Button +0.462s
  18. Robert Kubica +0.463s
  19. Giancarlo Fisichella +0.469s
  20. Alain Prost +0.514s

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