Conventional wisdom suggests that the success of Formula One drivers is determined by the number of races won.
Now, researchers at the University of Sheffield's Method Institute have used statistical analysis to work out who the sport’s most accomplished competitor is – and the result may surprise you.
The study has essentially levelled the playing field and accounted for improvements in car performance, technology and team contributions over the past 60 years. As a result researchers believe the best isn’t James Hunt, Jackie Stewart or even Michael Schumacher.
Instead they name driving ace Juan Manuel Fangio as the greatest Formula One driver of all time.
Argentinian Fangio, who was hugely successful between 1949 – 1958, won the World Championship of Drivers five times—a record which stood for 47 years until beaten by Michael Schumacher—with four different teams (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Maserati), a feat that has not been repeated.
If success is measured by the number of wins then the greatest driver of all time would indeed be Michael Schumacher. With 91 F1 wins under his belt, this record is considered almost unbeatable. But the study found that once the effect of his team is removed, legendary racer Fangio takes pole position, followed by Alain Prost in second and Fernando Alonso in third position.
The study, published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports found:
Teams matter about six times more than drivers when it comes to success in F1.
About two-thirds of the team effect is consistent over time, with the rest caused by teams changing year-on-year.
Team effects have increased over time, but appear to be smaller on street circuits, where the driver’s skill plays a greater role.
Dr Andrew Bell and his colleagues, of the University of Sheffield's Methods Institute, believe that the effect of the driver's team makes up 85 per cent of the performance, with the driver' skill accounting for the final 15 per cent.
Dr Bell commented: “The question ‘who is the greatest F1 driver of all time’ is a difficult one to answer, because we don’t know the extent to which drivers do well because of their talent or because they are driving a good car. The question has fascinated fans for years and I’m sure will continue to do so"
Top 10 Drivers in Formula One
1. Juan Manuel Fangio
2. Alain Prost
3. Fernando Alanso
4. Jim Clark
5. Ayrton Senna
6. Jackie Stewart
7. Nelson Piquet
8. Emerson Pittipaldi
9. Michael Schumacher
10. Sebastian Vettel