Who is the Best Value Driver on the F1 Grid

Formula 1 is one of the world’s most popular sports – it is also a complex business. The top teams in F1 spend literally hundreds of millions of dollars each year putting two cars on track.

It’s big business but ultimately each team has limited funds available and needs to ensure they are getting the best return possible on every dollar invested.

Getting a return on investment extends to every one of each team’s employees – drivers included.

A fundamental indicator of a driver’s performance is the number of world championship points they have earned over a season.

At the half way stage of the 2017 season we thought it would be interesting to see what return on investment each driver has generated for their employers to date.

Earlier this year Fox Sports reported each driver’s salary for the 2017 season (except Lance Stroll’s, interestingly?!).

Pro-rating these salary figures to mid-season and dividing by each driver’s championship points to date gives us an indication of which drivers have delivered the best bang for the buck for their teams – and those who have not!

AND THE WINNER IS…

Rank Driver Team Salary WDC Points $ / Point
* Salary figures for Bottas and Alonso include bonus payments
1 Esteban Ocon Force India $185,000 45 $2,261
2 Carlos Sainz Torro Rosso $750,000 35 $11,786
3 Pascal Werlein Sauber $150,000 5 $16,500
4 Sergio Perez Force India $2,500,000 56 $24,554
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull $3,000,000 67 $24,627
6 Valtteri Bottas* Mercedes $8,500,000 169 $27,663
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull $6,500,000 117 $30,556
8 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari $7,000,000 116 $33,190
9 Romain Grosjean HAAS $1,500,000 18 $45,833
10 Kevin Magnussen HAAS $1,000,000 11 $50,000
11 Nico Hulkenberg Renault $3,000,000 26 $63,462
12 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari $30,000,000 202 $81,683
13 Felipe Massa Williams $3,500,000 23 $83,696
14 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes $31,000,000 188 $90,691
15 Daniil Kvyat Torro Rosso $750,000 4 $103,125
16 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren $300,000 1 $165,000
17 Fernando Alonso* McLaren $40,000,000 10 $2,200,000
18 Jolyon Palmer Renault $1,000,000 0
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber $285,000 0
N/A Lance Stroll Williams Not Available 18 Not Available

We have a clear winner. At $2,261 per championship point Esteban Ocon has the second lowest salary on the grid but is impressively ranked eighth in the WDC with 45 points.

Force India have clearly achieved a solid return on their driver investment.

Both their drivers rank in the top four on $/point but the rookie Frenchman stands apart as the best value for money on the grid so far this year.

WHAT ELSE DID WE LEARN?

Comparing $/point scores between teammates and checking the correlation with on track head to head performance throws up some interesting results.

For example Force India is one of five teams with drivers that are currently behind their team mates in the season head to head battle but still represent better value for money in the $/point rankings. Ocon, Bottas, Raikkonen, Verstappen and Vandoorne all fit into this category.

On the other hand HulkenbergSainzWerlein and Grosjean are all beating their team mates in the head to head factors on track as well as also being better value for money than their respective team mates.

There are some big discrepancies between both value and performance of team mates at Renault, Torro Rosso and Sauber. Haas is the exception among this group with Grosjean and Magnussen closely matched in both on track head to head and $/point.

“Chilli” Sainz and “Hulk” Hulkenberg are wiping the floor with their team mates in their head to head results and also represent far better value for each dollar spent on team salaries.

Their teammates, Kvyat and Palmer, have both had their share of bad luck in the season to date but the stats don’t lie. Palmer must surely be in a perilous position at Renault having not scored a single point all season.

He’s been beaten in all head to head factors by Hulkenberg and is ranked equal last on the $/point ranking…Robert Kubica may need to break a record to make a successful comeback but Palmer’s rankings surely suggest a good business case for Renault to make the switch.

Other than Hulkenberg, the only other driver who has beaten his team mate on all six head to head factors in the season to date is Fernando Alonso.

As a return on investment the double world champion’s salary of a reported $40M (including bonuses) leaves him at the back of the $/point value for money rankings so far this year (yes folks, that’s $2m per point!).

Few would argue that given competitive machinery Fernando would be at the pointy end of the field but the cash burn for McLaren on the Spaniard’s pay packet must add to their financial woes from an uncompetitive Honda engine.

Embed from Getty Images

We understand there are many other factors that teams use to value a driver other than their points haul and track performance.

Some drivers bring large amounts of sponsorship money with them. Large companies like Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull ultimately want to market their brands whether they are selling road cars or energy drinks.

No doubt there is a lot of leverage that comes from being able to use multi world champions to market your products.

Regardless, we think the $/point ranking is a good rough and ready guide to value for money in the F1 driver market.

The top two drivers in our mid-season rankings, Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz, are clearly punching well above their weight suggesting their (hopefully very happy) teams may need to rebalance the pay scales heading into 2018.

Can History Tell Us Who the 2017 F1 World Champion Will Be?

Embed from Getty Images

As the summer break draws to a close we thought it would be interesting to see if history can shed any light on the likely outcome of the 2017 F1 Drivers Championship.

We began by reconstructing the midseason standings for all prior seasons back to 1950. A couple of things are interesting to note on a first pass through the data.

At the moment Sebastian Vettel is leading the championship by 14 points – but of course drivers leading at the mid-season point don’t always win the title.

So how likely is it that Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas or someone else could overcome the deficit to beat Vettel?

Below is the top ten second-half comebacks: drivers who trailed at mid-season and went on to win the championship, along with the points difference they had to make up.

Rank Driver Year Mid-Season Points Mid-Season Deficit
1 Vettel 2012 110 -44
2 Hunt 1976 26 -26
3 Vettel 2010 121 -24
4 Surtees 1964 10 -20
5 Räikkönen 2007 52 -18
6 Hamilton 2014 176 -14
7 Rosberg 1982 17 -13
8 Lauda 1984 24 -12
9 Piquet 1981 26 -11
10 Senna 1988 48 -6

As we can see, Vettel himself is the driver who has overcome the biggest deficit to win it – his 44 point recovery in 2012 takes the prize there.

Another interesting point to note is that Hamilton at number six on the list won the 2014 season after trailing by 14 points at mid-season. Why is this interesting? Because Hamilton currently trails Vettel by exactly 14 points in 2017. Lewis will be hoping history repeats!

Hang on, this is not a fair fight, you say. The point system was completely different for some of those earlier years so we’re not comparing apples with apples. Quite right. Here is the top 10 comebacks based on the current points system applied to all historical seasons.

Rank Driver Year Mid-Season Points Mid-Season Deficit
1 Hunt 1976 78 -73
2 Lauda 1984 68 -58
3 Vettel 2012 110 -44
4 Rosberg 1982 58 -41
5 Räikkönen 2007 131 -36
6 Piquet 1981 80 -34
7 Vettel 2010 121 -24
8 Villeneuve 1997 112 -21
9 Senna 1988 136 -18
10 Piquet 1983 85 -18

This really puts Hunt’s 1976 triumph into perspective, although it did take some exceptional circumstances for him to win from such a deficit. So exceptional in fact that they made a feature film about the season!

And the plot thickens. Hunt’s fellow protagonist in 1976, the inimitable Niki Lauda, managed to turn the tables nearly a decade later to pull off his own lazarus-like recovery to claim his third World Drivers Championship in 1984.

But back to the analysis – and a quick note: from this point on we exclude seasons prior to 1974 as the number of races per season was significantly lower than today making comparisons more difficult.

In the next step we “bucket” the results to group drivers who had similar positions at mid-season.

For example, the (-30, -20) bucket in the graph below includes all drivers in all seasons (since 1974) who were trailing the leader by between 20 and 30 points at mid-season. Similarly, the (40, 50) bucket includes all drivers in all seasons (since 1974) who were leading the championship at mid-season by between 40 and 50 points.

Next, we check to see the proportion of drivers from each bucket who went on to win the championship. The results are presented in the chart below.

As you would expect the drivers with significant points leads at mid-season (buckets towards the right in the chart above) went on to win the championship fairly often.

Those trailing the leader at mid-season (towards the left of the chart) sometimes still manage to win but the frequency for these buckets is understandably lower. So far so good.

As you can see the relationship isn’t perfect but there is an unmistakable upward slope that is consistent with expectations.

In order to allow us to make specific predictions for the 2017 season, we fit a curve to this data to create a prediction model.

The fitted prediction model is presented below (the green line). Once again, a positive number on the x-axis refers to a points lead at mid-season while a negative number refers to a points deficit (ie, trailing the leader).

For a given relative points position at mid-season we can now estimate the likelihood that a driver will go on to win the championship.

Finally we map this model to the current mid-season points standings for 2017 to arrive at an estimate of the probability that each driver will win the 2017 championship.

The results are presented below. For context we’ve overlaid the probabilities implied by the mid-market prices from Betfair at the time of writing.

Interestingly Hamilton is favoured on Betfair despite trailing Vettel by 14 points at mid-season.

As a result there is evidence of under-pricing of both Vettel and Bottas relative to our historical probability model.

So what does this tell us?

SEBASTIAN VETTEL

The analysis suggests Vettel has a 56% chance of victory – but Betfair only give him a 40% chance.

LEWIS HAMILTON

Hamilton has a 29% chance of victory based on the data, while Betfair give him a much more generous 54% chance.

VALTTERI BOTTAS

Bottas’ chances of taking the title look pretty slim at just 15%, with Betfair even more miserly at just 5%.

WHAT ABOUT THE REST?

All other drivers are effectively out of the hunt at this stage in the Championship. Although we’d secretly love to see Ricciardo knock James Hunt off his perch for the biggest comeback in Formula 1 history.

So are the punters on Betfair right to ignore the historical record? The jury is out.

Perhaps the betting market is efficiently pricing a range of factors specific to 2017 that our historical analysis just can’t capture.

Or perhaps the F1 betting market is just a popularity contest and punters ignore history at their peril?

Only one way to find out. Get set for the second half of a great 2017 season!