How good is Fernando Alonso really?

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Sir Stirling Moss is often described as the greatest driver never to win a World Championship. Similarly, many believe Fernando Alonso should have won more than his current two Championships – that he is one of the best ever.

With a reported $40M a year pay packet McLaren clearly values Fernando’s abilities. His pedigree is indisputable. He was world karting champion at 15, made his F1 debut four years later and won his first World Championship four years after that.

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN…

In addition to his two World Championships Alonso has come within just four points of a further three World Championship titles! Had the rub of the green gone his way those years we would now be talking about Fernando Alonso as a 5 time World Champion. Only 2 drivers in the history of the sport have won that many titles – Fangio (5) and Schumacher (7).

Let’s compare this to the other multiple World Champions on the grid today – Lewis Hamilton (3x WDC) and Sebastian Vettel (4x WDC). Amazingly Hamilton has also lost two World Championships by a mere five points or less. Vettel’s nearest miss of 11 points in 2009 wasn’t nearly so agonising (ok, maybe it was to Seb!).

Championships lost by Five Points or Less
Season Driver Lost To Margin
2007 Alonso Räikkönen 1 point
2007 Hamilton Räikkönen 1 point
2010 Alonso Vettel 4 points
2012 Alonso Vettel 3 points
2016 Hamilton Rosberg 5 points

Though these are certainly “coulda, woulda, shoulda” results they do show that both Fernando and Lewis could easily have been 5 time World Champions to Seb’s four with just a small tweak to history.

So just how good is Fernando Alonso?

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BACK TO REALITY

If we ignore the what-ifs the reality is that Alonso hasn’t won a Championship in 11 years and hasn’t won a race since the Spanish GP in 2013.

Is he still at the top of his game? Is it just bad timing and a lack of winning machinery that has stifled his career? The only way to really gauge the relative ability of a driver is to compare them to their teammates.  This takes differences in equipment largely out of the equation.  So let’s take a look at the Spaniard’s career results in our six teammate head to head factors (H2H).  A detailed explanation of the factors can be found here .

(Note: the two occasions where Alonso was beaten on H2H by his teammate are highlighted)

# Season Teammate Races H2H Winner
1 2001 Marques 14 (4/1/1) Alonso
2 2001 Yoong 3 (5/0/1) Alonso
3 2003 Trulli 16 (5/0/1) Alonso
4 2004 Trulli 15 (1/4/1) Trulli
5 2004 Villeneuve 3 (6/0/0) Alonso
6 2005 Fisichella 19 (6/0/0) Alonso
7 2006 Fisichella 18 (6/0/0) Alonso
8 2007 Hamilton 17 (3/1/2) Alonso
9 2008 Piquet Jr. 18 (6/0/0) Alonso
10 2009 Piquet Jr. 10 (6/0/0) Alonso
11 2009 Grosjean 7 (6/0/0) Alonso
12 2010 Massa 19 (6/0/0) Alonso
13 2011 Massa 19 (6/0/0) Alonso
14 2012 Massa 20 (6/0/0) Alonso
15 2013 Massa 19 (6/0/0) Alonso
16 2014 Räikkönen 19 (6/0/0) Alonso
17 2015 Button 18 (1/3/2) Button
18 2016 Button 20 (6/0/0) Alonso
19 2017 Vandoorne 13 (6/0/0) Alonso

We can get a feel for a driver’s overall H2H performance by averaging all of their individual head to head results.  Taking this approach we see that Alonso has won an average of 5.1 of the six H2H factors each year versus his teammates. Similarly he has lost just 0.5 factors and drawn 0.4 factors each year on average.

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Again let’s compare these results to his current multi-Championship-winning rivals. Averages of their respective H2H performances are shown in the table below.  The final column of the table boils each driver’s entire H2H history down into a single figure for comparison: Average Factor Wins less Average Factor Losses (AFW-AFL).

For those interested in more detail, clicking the drivers name in the table shows their full career H2H stats.

Driver Ave. Wins Ave. Losses Ave. Drawn AFW-AFL
Alonso 5.1 0.5 0.4 4.6
Vettel 4.4 1.2 0.4 3.2
Hamilton 4.3 1.1 0.6 3.2

Fernando Alonso clearly comes out on top with an AFW-AFL score of 4.6. Vettel has on average won slightly more H2H factors than Hamilton but has also lost more – the end result is a dead heat between these two champions with an AFW-AFL score of 3.2.

Further analysis shows Fernando and Lewis have each lost two H2H battles over their careers. Even when beaten though these two drivers have always managed to score at least one factor win against their teammates.

In contrast Seb has had only one H2H loss and one draw but that loss was a painful one.  He was resoundingly beaten by Daniel Ricciardo in 2014 failing to win a single H2H factor – the result: a 5-0 loss with one draw at the hands of the “smiling assassin”.

NOT ALL TEAMMATES ARE CREATED EQUAL

What about the caliber of their teammates? Perhaps Alonso’s superior H2H performance simply reflects teammates who were not as strong as those Hamilton and Vettel have faced?  Well, as an indication of teammate quality let’s take a look at specific H2H performances versus other World Champions.

Alonso has beaten no fewer than four teammates that were, or would become, F1 World Champions (Villeneuve, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Button). In comparison Hamilton has beaten two (Button, Rosberg) and Vettel one (Raikkonen).

A more detailed appraisal of relative teammate quality across the full career history of each driver is a significant undertaking (perhaps we’ll take a look at this in another post).  Suffice to say, Alonso’s has not exactly had an easy run of it against substandard drivers!

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THE ULTIMATE HEAD TO HEAD

In 2007 Fernando and Lewis were pitted against each other as McLaren teammates. That battle was extremely close with both drivers finishing on equal Championship points (and losing out to Kimi by a single point!). It was certainly close but ultimately Lewis was beaten by Fernando in our six head to head factors by 3 to 1 with 2 draws. Another tick to Alonso.

Season: 2007
Drivers: Alonso v Hamilton
Team: McLaren
Races: 17
H2H Winner: Alonso (3/1/2)
Alonso Hamilton Winner
Points 109 109 draw
Race Result 9 6 Alonso
Qualifying 8 9 Hamilton
Fastest Lap 9 8 Alonso
Laps in Top 10 1032 974 Alonso
Best Result 1st (x4) 1st (x4) draw

A COMMON DENOMINATOR

To try and further separate the relative ability of these two Champions there has been one significant common denominator for comparison – Jenson Button.

Both Alonso and Hamilton have been teamed against fellow World Champion Button over multiple years at McLaren during their careers. As a credit to JB he beat both these drivers in one season head to head.

In statistics the more data we have the more confidence we can generally have in our results.  So multi-season H2H battles provide a good opportunity to really measure a given matchup.  Combining the data across seasons we created multi-season H2H summaries for both Alonso and Hamilton versus Button.  The bottom line: Fernando beat Jenson in all six factors while Hamilton won only five – scoring less championship points than JB during their time together at McLaren.

Tight, but Alonso manages to come out on top again.

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A CONTROVERSIAL CAREER

Fernando Alonso’s career has been surrounded by its fair share of controversy – Crash Gate & Spy Gate stand out and more recently a multitude of amusing sound bites from the cockpit at Honda’s expense. However the Spaniard’s determination, race craft and pure speed have never been in doubt.

The reality is that it is extremely difficult to draw absolute conclusions when comparing F1’s top drivers.  Regardless, the analysis here supports the conclusion that even though he has only won two World Championships Alonso is one of the very best.

Whether Fernando will win another World Championship remains to be seen. For the good of the sport we hope he at least gets the opportunity to fight for one.

Who is the Best Value Driver on the F1 Grid

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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.

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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.

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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.