F1 Fancy Stats: Lap 1 Baseline Retention

belgian gp startjpg

This article on advanced statistics applied to Formula 1 focuses on baseline position retention after the first lap of a grand prix race. Baseline position retention is simply a measure of how often a driver is able to retain or move up from their starting position after the first lap of the race.

This statistic complements the widely-used positions gained and lost off after lap one in determining a driver’s opening-lap efficiency and effectiveness, and one of the advantages that it holds over position net gain/loss is that it fairly rewards the polesitter for executing the start properly and retaining first place after the opening lap, in general it is more if not entirely driver-dependent, and there are only two possible outcomes.

Note that classified “DNS” results, the products of events such as mechanical failures that render a car unable to take the start, or other extreme circumstances such as Valtteri Bottas’ back injury that rendered him unfit to start the Australian Grand Prix, are not factored into the percentages.

Here is the baseline position retention percentages of the twenty drivers that contested the majority of the 2015 Formula 1 season, from most efficient to least efficient.

2015 baseline retention

The wrinkle in the 2015 season was the introduction of new regulations covering race starts after the summer break. The FIA sought to put the race starts solely into the drivers’ hands by restricting coaching from the pitwall on setting the clutch “bite point” and other choreographed procedures.

To reflect how this change affected each driver’s baseline position retention, here is a split graph of their percentages, first from rounds one through ten (Australia to Hungary), and then from rounds eleven through nineteen (Belgium to Abu Dhabi), after the new regulations were put into place.

2015 retention splits

Analysis

Staying at or above his original grid position in seventeen of the nineteen races in 2015, Sergio Perez of Sahara Force India was the outright most efficient starter of the season, with a full season percentage of 89.47%, an undervalued factor in his best season to date – in which Perez scored a career-best 78 points. His teammate Nico Hulkenberg wasn’t too far behind at 77.78%. Force India continues to get ridiculous value and production out of their two drivers, and they would be best advised to keep them as long as they can.

Motor Racing - Formula One World Championship - Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - Race Day - Abu Dhabi, UAE

Of the regular front-runners in 2015, Sebastian Vettel took top honours in his first full season at Scuderia Ferrari, at 84.21% – sixteen successful starts out of nineteen. And that’s not much of a surprise, since Vettel shares the record for most victories from pole position in a season, when he won nine times from pole in 2013 – with a baseline retention percentage of 94.74% (eighteen out of nineteen).

Further down the field, Sauber’s new combination of Felipe Nasr and Marcus Ericsson both brought the Swiss team back into the points, and did so with remarkable consistency off the grid – both Ericsson and Nasr had a retention rate of over 75%.

Long regarded as the best starter in modern Formula 1 history, McLaren Honda’s Fernando Alonso‘s reputation still holds up in 2015 – he matched Hulkenberg and Nasr’s 77.78% clip despite slumping in this area in the second half from a stellar 88.89%, to a merely passable 66.67% after the break. He also had the biggest net gain of positions on the opening lap in 2015.

And fellow long-haired Spaniard Roberto Merhi was extremely efficient on the opening lap for the minnows at Manor (Marussia) F1 Team, with a retention percentage of 84.61% in thirteen starts in 2015.

The change in start procedures positively affected three drivers in particular. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton jumped from 60% before the break to a perfect 100% rate after the break, though in both halves of the season he was by far and away the most complete and effective driver on the grid regardless en route to a third World Drivers’ Championship. He ended the year tied with Ericsson for fifth at 78.95% – about where he was last season.

Kimi Raikkonen‘s 2015 campaign at Ferrari saw him well behind Vettel for most of the season, but he did improve from 60% up to 88.89% before and after the summer break. Then there was Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, who lost out on the start of three of his first four races, and then never lost a place on the opening lap from the Monaco Grand Prix onward – he, like Hamilton, had a perfect 100% conversion rate in the second half of the 2015 season, and he finished fourth overall with an 83.33% retention rate for the year.

The changes had the most profound negative effect on Nico Rosberg in the other side of the Mercedes garage. It wasn’t a dramatic drop in retention rate in terms of sheer numbers from 70% in Rounds 1-10 to 55.56% in the last nine races, but that 55.56% puts him next to last among all drivers in the second half of 2015.

Will Stevens in the other Manor was consistently abysmal in retaining his starting position on the opening lap, finishing at 41.18% for the season and failing to clear 50% in either the first or second halves of 2015.

Pastor Maldonado now has another “advanced analytic” that actually makes him look worse than his general perception, the Venezuelan was second-worst at 52.63%. A fair bit of bad luck factored into this, but there were still races where he was simply not successful off the line.

And as a team, the Williams Martini Racing duo of Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa weren’t exactly dynamos off the grid. Bottas’ 66.67% rate and Massa’s 63.16% rate could both be seen as passable, but only just barely. Toro Rosso’s Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz finished just ahead at 68.24% each, but their relative inexperience gives them a valid pass.

One last note: Something to watch out for in 2016 will be the return of Esteban Gutierrez at Haas F1 Team. Generally panned as a lackluster partner to Romain Grosjean, particularly with other options like Jean-Eric Vergne and Kevin Magnussen available, Gutierrez quietly established himself as the best starter in Formula 1 in his two years at Sauber. He racked up a baseline retention rate of 94.74% in 2014, best among all drivers, and in his two previous racing seasons had the largest net gain of positions on the opening lap. If the 2016 Haas chassis is effective enough and Gutierrez can maintain this trend of opening lap excellence, he may be able to parlay that into a more productive season than the scribes and pundits expect.

The data for these graphs was compiled from the Formula 1 Lap Charts by David Ortiz, which features full data from the 2011 to 2015 seasons.

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