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2014 F1 Mathematical Driver Rankings

The 2014 season was the first of the hybrid era. Mercedes produced a dominant engine/car combo that romped to their first constructors title. The rules reset also propelled Williams to the front whilst Red Bull, Lotus and Ferrari moved backwards.

The championship was a straight fight between Hamilton and Rosberg, but how well did each driver really do?

Marussia and Bianchi

Firstly, let’s mention the Marussia drivers. As the model compares drivers to the rest of the grid via teammate interactions, a calibration of Bianchi and Chilton to the rest of the grid is not possible due to a lack of other teammates. All the model can conclude is that Bianchi was stronger than Chilton in 2013. It’s a shame that there isn’t more data to work with, but obviously this pales into total insignificance compared to the tragedy of Bianchi’s fatal crash in Japan.

It is an awful example of the perils of motorsport. Whilst it’s good that lessons were learnt from the incident, it shouldn’t be necessary for change to occur. (Here’s a clip of Martin Brundle in 1998 talking of the danger.) Apologies for starting what should be a light article with such a heavy reference, but it would be a disservice to not mention it at all.

Which Drivers Performed Better Than Expected?

The colours represent the amount level of over/underperformance. Green suggests that the amount is basically negligible, with red suggested a significant difference from the expected results of that teammate matchup.

It’s clear that most results conform pretty well to expectations. Even results that were surprising at the time (e.g. Ricciardo vs Vettel) are considered pretty reasonable by the model with all the subsequent data. Kvyat and Magnussen are both considered to have done better than expected despite being outscored easily by their teammates. This is, in part, due to the model lowering its expectations of them for their rookie seasons.

Driver Rankings

As with other rankings, it’s the achievements of drivers (in terms of points and race positions) that are being ranked here.

C Tier

20) Pastor Maldonado, 39%

A disastrous season for Maldonado. In his first few years in F1 he’d shown himself to be fast, but inconsistent and liable to crash. This year saw him throughly beaten by Grosjean (a driver that the model does not rank particularly strongly) in both qualifying and races.

In addition, moving from Williams to Lotus was a massive step backwards (and probably an unexpected one too, given their relative form in 2013). A single points finish was his only reward, and even that required his teammate to be hit near the end of the race. His most memorable contribution to the year was a bizarre collision with Gutierrez.

19) Esteban Gutierrez, 41%

After a year of being badly beaten by Nico Hülkenberg in 2013, Gutierrez was much closer to teammate Sutil this year, albeit with a significantly less competitive car. He had chances of points in Monaco and Hungary, but ultimately came out pointless both times.

18) Adrian Sutil, 53%

The Sauber pairing is considered the worst on the grid, even when accounting for the poor car. Sutil came closest to scoring on a number of occassions. He finished 11th in the season opener and at Hungary, whilst in America he made a Q3 appearance before being taken out on the first lap. Overall a pretty miserable season with few highlights. It also that ultimately ended his F1 career after Sauber did not renew his contract.

B Tier

17) Kevin Magnussen, 60%

After a phenomenal debut race in Australia, Magnussen was quickly brought back to reality by a lower midfield car and a world champion teammate. Whilst Kevin was competitive in qualifying relative to Button, his race pace was often not strong enough to yield big points.

At several times during the season he raced hard against competitors, and he was penalised at Spa and Monza for being too aggressive. This is obviously understandable for a rookie, but it hurts his yearly ranking nonetheless. Ultimately his debut season showed a lot of promise, even if it only yielded one big result. This potential is evidenced by the fact that McLaren were seriously considering dropping Button and retaining Magnussen even towards the end of the season.

16) Roman Grosjean, 60%

After being Vettel’s closest competitor at the tail end of 2013, Grosjean’s prospects took a dramatic downwards in 2014. This was despite the team being confident of a championship challenge preseason. Despite this, he had the measure of Maldonado in both qualifying and races. The model thinks this is the minimum he should have achieved though, given his teammate is the lowest ranked driver. Grosjean’s F1 career never really recovered from Lotus’ collapse of form.

15) Marcus Ericsson, 65%

The collapse of Caterham meant that Ericsson didn’t complete the season, but his performances steadily improved over time. After a slow start featuring several crashes, he was on pace with teammate Kobayashi by the tail end of the year. Ultimately a trying debut season, but one that showed hints of potential to build upon.

14) Felipe Massa, 66%

The first of the season was poor, with just 30 points in the first 10 races. His form (and luck) improved over time though. Three podiums in the seasons second half saw his total increase to 134 over the 19 races. Pole in Austria was an obvious high point, but he was out scored by Bottas over the season.

13) Kamui Kobayashi, 67%

Kobayashi’s last F1 season was perfectly respectable. He was generally faster and more consistent than teammate Ericsson (despite finishing below him in the championship). Exposure was probably not helped by being at the back of the grid, which meant some strong performances went under the radar.

12) Sergio Pérez, 69%

After being dropped by McLaren, Pérez found a long term home at Force India. Of his 7 years at the Silverstone based team, his first is seen as the least impressive. He grabbed the team’s first podium at a typically opportunistic drive in only his 3rd race for the team. However he was generally outraced and outscored by Nico Hülkenberg. There were also several races where he gave away points, most notably in Canada, where a last lap crash when fighting for 4th place was followed by a grid penalty for causing the accident.

11) Kimi Räikkönen, 70%

We may have waited a decade more than many would have liked, but the excitement at getting Räikkönen and Alonso as teammates was real. Unfortunately for Kimi it turned out to be rather one sided. He only finished ahead of Alonso once (at Spa, naturally). By the end of the season they had both McLarens, both Force India’s and a Williams separating them in the championship.

Whilst Räikkönen clearly struggled with the difficult Ferrari car at times, the comparisons with Massa at Ferrari paint a remarkably consistent picture. Kimi and Massa were at a similar level across 2007-2009, with both subsequently being significantly outscored by Alonso at Ferrari. Perhaps this is slightly unfair on Räikkönen given that few would consider his Ferrari years to be his absolute peak, but the general trend is quite clear.

10) Daniel Kvyat, 70%

Kvyat’s first season was solid, with 5 points finishes. He compared relatively positively against the more experienced Vergne, despite being easily outscored by the end of the year. His move to Red Bull for 2015 was largely due to Vettel leaving. However he definitely showed enough potential for Red Bull to consider him, even if his subsequent Red Bull career was rather anticlimactic.

9) Valterri Bottas, 75%

Bottas’ 2nd year in F1 saw him up against Felipe Massa. The two were closely matched throughout their 3 years together, with a slight edge to Valterri in each year. 2014 saw 6 podiums with a surprisingly competitive car, making it his most successful non-Mercedes year. He showed speed and consistency throughout the year, although was unable to win a race in a semi-competitive car. Some of this is down to luck and timing in specific races, but ultimately the results gave a good representation of Bottas’ level. He’s good, but not among the elite in F1.

A Tier

8) Nico Hülkenberg, 83%

Hülkenberg finished in the top six 7 times, compared to just 2 for Pérez. (Although inevitably it was his teammate that grabbed the podium.) Given that the two were fairly evenly matched across their years together, this suggests Nico’s season was pretty exceptional. This period (combined with his thrashing of Gutierrez in the 2013 Sauber) saw Hülkenberg’s stock reach its peak. Like many drivers though, he got stuck in the midfield and was unable to build to future F1 success.

7) John-Eric Vergne, 85%

Vergne has shown his quality since leaving Formula One, but always couldn’t establish himself within it. This is despite the model concluding that he was actually quite a strong driver. Given he was in contention for a Red Bull drive for both 2014 and 2015, it seems almost inconceivable that he would end 2014 without a drive. This was partly due to bad timing. Given that Vergne’s Toro Rosso replacements (Sainz and Verstappen) have both established themselves amongst the top F1 drivers of today, it could be argued that Red Bull actually made a screwed call.

Some strong drives in 2014 were overshadowed by poor grid slots. As teams often place a premium on qualifying pace to assess a younger driver’s ultimate potential, a decent points was not enough to save him.

6) Jenson Button, 86%

Button’s season was largely anonymous. His only podium came at the season opener, where he finished behind his teammate and inherited 3rd place due to Ricciardo’s disqualification. (It was his final podium finish in the sport, and he wasn’t even on the rostrum!) His qualifying average over the year was also lower than his rookie teammate’s, suggesting that he wasn’t always delivering at his peak.

However, he was faster and more consistent in the races, scoring over double Magnussen’s points total. He also had five top 4 finishes compared to Magnussen’s one (at the aforementioned season opener). McLaren spent much of the year assessing whether Button would keep his drive. The model thinks they made the right choice, even if his “reward” was 2 years of driving a McLaren-Honda.

5) Nico Rosberg, 88%

The battles between Rosberg and Hamilton have become part of F1 legend, and ultimately allowed the first seasons of the hybrid era to have a championship battle. Rosberg won the season opener race easily as Hamilton retired from pole with engine problems. Four second places to Hamilton followed. Their battle in Bahrain was particularly intense. However, Rosberg was unable to retake Hamilton despite a tyre advantage. This rather set the tone for the Rosberg’s season. He was very good, but rarely competitive enough in races to beat Lewis in a straight fight. Five victories compared to ten 2nd places say a lot about his 2014 performances.

6) Sebastian Vettel, 89%

After winning 9 races in a row and cruising to a 4th world title the previous year, 2014 showed that both Red Bull and Vettel were beatable. His loss to Ricciardo was surprising at the time. However, the model does not consider it anywhere near such a shocking result in hindsight considering their future careers. Ultimately Vettel was unfortunate not to claim at least 1 win. Explanations at the time for the gap to Ricciardo varied from bad luck, a car that did not suit him and a bizarre suggestion that he was “poor on purpose” to trigger a contract exit clause.

S Tier

3) Daniel Ricciardo, 104%

When Red Bull hired Ricciardo to replace the outgoing Mark Webber, the general expectation was that he’d be a solid number 2 driver to their 4 time champion Sebastian Vettel. Predictions from Sky Sports were that he’d outqualify Vettel between 1 and 7 times over the course of the season. (One person suggested that 5 would be “more than people expect”). Red Bull themselves were naturally enthusiastic about their new driver, but Christian Horner suggestion that “It’s very much a medium to long term view that we’re taking in developing him” suggests that they do not expect Ricciardo to be so competitive right off the bat either.

Not only did Ricciardo out qualify Vettel 12 times, but he was the only non-Mercedes winner. He also stayed in the championship fight until surprisingly late despite obviously inferior machinery. With Vettel departing to Ferrari, Ricciardo became the team leader and seemed to be on the verge of championship success. As is the case with many F1 careers, the plethora of factors has so far stopped this realistic goal from manifesting.

2) Lewis Hamilton, 106%

With 11 wins and a further 4 podiums, Lewis was a well deserved champion. Of the 8 races he didn’t win, 2 were mechanical DNFs, 2 races he started at the back of the field and 1 he retired with damage after Rosberg hit him. Given this, he was fairy unlucky not to wrap up the title before the final round.

Of course he had an incredibly dominant car beneath him, and his season was not fully error free. He failed to string a lap together in Austria and lost a chance to snatch victory in Brazil with a spin just before his pit stop.

1) Fernando Alonso, 120%

2014 was Alonso’s last year with Ferrari. Whilst the engine was a huge disappointment and his relationship with the team fell apart, there’s every evidence he was performing at somewhere near his absolute peak.

14 top six finishes (compared to just 2 for Räikkönen) demonstrated his consistency. However, his season also featured some impressive peaks, coming within a couple of laps of victory in Hungary after a long stint on the soft tyres.

At the time his 2 podium finishes were seen as a massive underachievement. Few would have predicted it would be a long 7 years before his next F1 podium.