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

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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!

Can Robert Kubica Break an F1 Record in 2018?

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We at F1Bytes were super excited to hear that Robert Kubica has once again found himself behind the wheel of an F1 racecar. After a seven year absence Kubica demonstrated real pace in his recent testing with Renault. Clearly his injury has not blunted his incredible talent.

Is a fairy tale return to F1 possible? We certainly hope so. But the stats suggest it may be a tough road.

The Crash

Robert Kubica was tipped as a future world champion when he entered the sport in late 2006. He claimed a podium in only his second race and won the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix for BMW Sauber. Tragically in February 2011 the career of one of the most promising young Formula One drivers was cut short. An accident in a low-key rally in Italy left him with a partially severed right hand.

The Recovery

Following the crash and after years of rehabilitation Kubica was physically able to drive again. Ironically he focused on rally, managing to win the World Rally Championship-2 in 2013. Unfortunately it was thought that limited mobility in his right arm would preclude him from returning to F1.

However in early June 2017 Robert Kubica, now 32, tested a 2012-spec car for Renault at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia. Kubica out-paced the team’s quick junior driver Sergey Sirotkin (who drove the previous day) identifying the key areas of weakness in the car. The 115 laps completed were his first laps in an F1 car since a pre-season test at the same circuit in 2011. In that test, and just three days before his accident, Kubica had set the fastest time.

Following the June 2017 test Robert indicated he is now targeting a “proper comeback” to F1. So is a comeback feasible? And just how good was Robert Kubica?

How good was Robert Kubica?

In a generation that includes Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, Kubica was arguably the best of them all – according to Fernando! In 2012, Alonso told Autosport’s Jonathan Noble how Kubica was “the best driver of the group”. The two-time world champion, considered by many to be the most complete performer in F1, admitted Kubica was the one he feared the most.

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Lewis Hamilton was of a similar mind. He regarded Kubica as the best driver he had ever encountered as they made their way through karting and up the junior car racing ladder.

So what do the stats tell us? Below are the Head to Head stats between Kubica and Nick Heidfeld during their four years together at BMW Sauber. It was clearly a tightly fought battle but the stats suggest Kubica came out on top overall. “Quick Nick” had a longstanding and successful career including 13 podiums.

Season: 2006 – 2009
Drivers: Kubica v Heidfeld
Team: BMW Sauber
Races: 57
H2H Winner: Kubica (4/2/0)
Kubica Heidfeld Winner
Points 137 150 Heidfeld
Race Result 24 21 Kubica
Qualifying 28 29 Heidfeld
Fastest Lap 29 27 Kubica
Laps in Top 10 2510 2385 Kubica
Best Result 1st 2nd (6x) Kubica

In 2010 Kubica joined Renault and proceeded to wipe the statistical floor with his team mate, Vitaly Petrov, finishing eighth in the Championship.

Season: 2010
Drivers: Kubica v Petrov
Team: Renault
Races: 19
H2H Winner: Kubica (6/0/0)
Kubica Petrov Winner
Points 136 27 Kubica
Race Result 12 0 Kubica
Qualifying 17 2 Kubica
Fastest Lap 15 3 Kubica
Laps in Top 10 891 336 Kubica
Best Result 2nd 5th Kubica

Overall Kubica achieved one victory, 12 podiums, and 273 championship points during his 5 years in Formula One. Is there more to come?

A Kubica comeback in perspective

Notwithstanding Kubica’s long recovery from injury is there any precedent for a comeback after so long away from F1? In short…yes…but there’s records to be broken if it’s to be a successful comeback!

Below are the ten longest driver absences preceding an F1 comeback. In the right hand columns you can see the (conspicuously absent) podiums achieved by returning drivers.

# Driver Absence Returned Constructor 1st 2nd 3rd Total
1 Jan Lammers 3745 days 25-10-1992 March 0 0 0 0
2 Paddy Driver 3745 days 30-03-1974 Team Lotus 0 0 0 0
3 Luca Badoer 3584 days 23-08-2009 Ferrari 0 0 0 0
4 Gene Force 3288 days 30-05-1960 Kurtis Kraft 0 0 0 0
5 Pete Lovely 3226 days 20-09-1969 Lotus-Ford 0 0 0 0
6 Peter Revson 2583 days 03-10-1971 Tyrrell 2 2 4 8
7 Eppie Wietzes 2583 days 22-09-1974 Brabham 0 0 0 0
8 Mike Parkes 2542 days 03-07-1966 Ferrari 0 2 0 2
9 Bruno Giacomelli 2402 days 13-05-1990 Life 0 0 0 0
10 Mike Hailwood 2289 days 05-09-1971 Surtees 0 1 1 2

Let’s for a moment assume Kubica returns to F1 for the first round of the 2018 Season. He would have not raced in Formula 1 for 2,688 days – no driver has ever scored a podium finish after that duration out of the sport!

Below are the top 25 drivers (ranked on duration out of the sport) who achieved at least one podium post comeback. Those drivers achieving more than 5 podiums are highlighted.

# Driver Absence Returned Constructor 1st 2nd 3rd Total
1 Peter Revson 2583 days 03-10-1971 Tyrrell 2 2 4 8
2 Mike Parkes 2542 days 03-07-1966 Ferrari 0 2 0 2
3 Mike Hailwood 2289 days 05-09-1971 Surtees 0 1 1 2
4 Roberto Moreno 1947 days 01-11-1987 AGS 0 1 0 1
5 Alexander Wurz 1645 days 24-04-2005 McLaren 0 0 2 2
6 Stefan Johansson 1266 days 16-07-1983 Spirit 0 4 8 12
7 Timo Glock 1239 days 16-03-2008 Toyota 0 2 1 3
8 Michael Schumacher 1239 days 14-03-2010 Mercedes 0 0 1 1
9 Paul Russo 1096 days 30-05-1953 Kurtis Kraft 0 1 0 1
10 Pat Flaherty 1096 days 30-05-1953 Kuzma 1 0 0 1
11 Lucien Bianchi 1078 days 26-05-1968 Cooper-BRM 0 0 1 1
12 Pedro de la Rosa 903 days 03-04-2005 McLaren 0 1 0 1
13 Èric Bernard 889 days 27-03-1994 Ligier 0 0 1 1
14 Romain Grosjean 868 days 18-03-2012 Lotus F1 0 2 8 10
15 Kimi Räikkönen 868 days 18-03-2012 Lotus F1 2 14 10 26
16 Niki Lauda 846 days 23-01-1982 McLaren 8 5 2 15
17 Jean-Pierre Jabouille 741 days 16-07-1977 Renault 2 0 0 2
18 Lucien Bianchi 735 days 13-06-1965 BRM 0 0 1 1
19 Jim Rathmann 731 days 30-05-1952 Kurtis Kraft 1 3 0 4
20 Jimmy Davies 731 days 30-05-1953 Kurtis Kraft 0 0 1 1
21 John Love 731 days 02-01-1967 Cooper-Climax 0 1 0 1
22 Ron Flockhart 728 days 14-07-1956 BRM 0 0 1 1
23 Onofre Marimón 721 days 21-06-1953 Maserati 0 0 2 2
24 Mario Andretti 714 days 22-09-1974 Parnelli 11 2 4 17
25 Olivier Gendebien 714 days 15-06-1958 Ferrari 0 1 1 2

The list contains some significant names: Revson, Raikkonen, Lauda, Andretti. In fact Kimi Raikonnen had a similar career path to Kubica going from F1 to rally and back to F1, although for completely different reasons to Robert. Kimi was also only out of the sport for a comparatively brief 868 days. Needless to say if Kubica is to come back he will need to cover some unprecedented ground to be successful.

Should Kubica indeed mount a “proper comeback” and should his performance in the recent Renault test be replicated in grands prix, this could be one of the truly great sporting comebacks. We at F1Bytes very much hope to see it happen. Go Robert!

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