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. Continue reading “F1 Fancy Stats: Lap 1 Baseline Retention”


Transaction Analysis: Marcus Ericsson and Sauber


One of the more remarkable games of the elimination stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil was the quarter-final match between Costa Rica and the Netherlands. Costa Rica survived a tough Group C to advance to the Round of 16 while traditional football powerhouses England and Italy went home after three games. They then beat the stingy Greek national team in the Round of 16 on penalty kicks, to advance to play the Netherlands – who had been a heavy favorite throughout the tournament. Despite the Dutch squad dominating possession for all 90 minutes, plus both 15-minute halves of extra time – Costa Rica’s strategy of “parking the bus” and playing not necessarily to win, but just to survive to get to penalty kicks – almost resulted in one of the all-time upsets in World Cup history. They ultimately lost the shootout 4-3, with Dutch backup goalkeeper Tim Krul making two crucial saves on penalty shots that saved their World Cup bid.

What Costa Rica did that day is what Sauber F1 Team is forced to do in 2015, as it will take on at least one driver bringing nearly $20,000,000 USD in sponsorship to a team that has not had a title sponsor in five years, not finished on the podium in two seasons, and as of the day before the United States Grand Prix, does not have a point to their name in 2014 – all the while, their financial and engineering resources continue to fall further behind those of the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Red Bull, and McLaren. Remember, this was, once upon a time, the factory Mercedes-Benz sports car racing team. This was the organization that brought the Silver Arrows back into Formula 1 in 1994, and the next year introduced new title sponsor Red Bull, and the year after that introduced new secondary sponsor Petronas, who now sponsor the Mercedes-Benz factory team that has dominated 2014. And the number of young talent that has either debuted or recieved a career-defining break with Sauber in their 22-year history in Formula 1 almost reads like a “who’s who” of contemporary F1 stars.

Shortly after qualifying ended in Austin, Caterham F1 Team driver Marcus Ericsson, forced to sit out the race as his soon-to-be ex-employers try and find a buyer for their team and their assets, was officially announced as one of a possible two new drivers for Sauber in the 2015 Formula One Season.

This is a move that is a positive development for the 24-year-old Swede’s career in a time where his F1 future seemed very uncertain. It’s a good sign for the nation of Sweden, which before Ericsson’s signing this year, hadn’t had a national representative on the F1 grid since Stefan Johansson last drove for the Footwork/Arrows team in 1991. And it’s a good sign that Sauber is able to secure at least one driver to a one-year contract for next season in a time where their future in the sport seems very murky.

Good all around, but not great – not even close. What Ericsson’s deal with Sauber amounts to is parking the bus in front of the goalkeeper and playing not to lose for 90 minutes and stoppage. For the more American audience, Sauber hit a single in signing Ericsson, when they needed an extra-base hit or even a home run. Continue reading “Transaction Analysis: Marcus Ericsson and Sauber”

The Importance of Qualifying


Intra-team qualifying statistics have become the new measuring stick of evaluating Formula 1 talent beyond the basic statistics many racing fans are used to – wins, points, podiums, etc. And the basic stat of how many times a driver has qualified ahead of their teammate over the course of a season is actually pretty easy for the average fan to understand.

Sure, there are no points to be paid on Saturday qualifying sessions. And, yes, there are renowned and respected World Champion drivers in the history of Formula 1 who have a reputation of being much better racers than qualifiers. Alain Prost is the best-known example of such a driver, even though he was by absolutely no stretch of the imagination a sub-par qualifier over the course of his career. So is Jenson Button, who has not won a season-long qualifying battle versus a teammate since 2009, but has put himself well clear of his younger teammates in the championship the last two seasons. And to be honest, the importance of how many times one driver qualifies ahead of their teammate is greatly reduced the farther up the running order you go. At the end of the day, the only battle between Nico Rosberg or Lewis Hamilton that’ll amount to much this year is the one they’re having for the 2014 World Championship. But not every team in Formula 1 can compete for the championship (certainly not in a Mercedes-dominated season such as this). And below those teams, there are the teams that won’t compete for race wins or podium finishes. And below them, are the teams that need a miracle to finish in the points any given week.

From the infrequent-scoring mid-grid all the way to the very back of the running order is where head-to-head qualifying metrics have the most weight. Because they are the most consistent and reliable method of determining a driver’s pace compared to a teammate in the exact same equipment. Race sessions are affected by so many variables including mechanical attrition, accidents, pit strategy, changing weather conditions, safety car periods, team tactics, lunatics running on track to cause a disruption – that they can produce results that can distort the perception of which driver is truly the more capable of the two over the course of a season. If Driver A of a team outqualifies their teammate Driver B every race but fails to score a point, while in just one of the races Driver B records a points-scoring finish in an attrition-filled race, it is a memorable, gutsy, determined, and hard-fought result…just not a result that truly reflects the difference in pace between Driver A and Driver B.

This is where the head-to-head qualifying results come in. Measuring a driver’s qualifying success rate versus their teammates is a much better method for evaluating the potential and ability of a driver at a team ranked lower than the top handful of teams in the sport. And in most cases, these drivers turn out to go on to great things when a young mid-field driver earns a promotion to a front-running team, or when a young driver at a backmarker team earns a promotion to a mid-field team or even up to a front-runner. It’s also a great tool for evaluating established talent at a team that has dramatically slid down the order over the course of a season.

For the baseball fans who read this, think of a driver’s head-to-head qualifying scores as being similar to a batter’s OPS (on-base percentage + slugging percentage), which has become a more effective method of measuring a batter’s effectiveness at the plate instead of just going by batting average or total hits in a season. Think of it as the equivalent to a hockey player’s individual Corsi rating, the accumulation of every attempted shot for and against a player while they’re on the ice, which has become a better tool to measure offensive and defensive effectiveness over the heavily team-dependent plus/minus stat. Continue reading “The Importance of Qualifying”

FR3.5 Review – Fortec Motorsports: Rowland’s Decisive Qualifying Edge


Fortec Motorsports once again put on a strong campaign in Formula Renault 3.5 this season. Having seen the likes of Alexander Rossi, Robin Frijns, and Stoffel Vandoorne walk through their paddock as series rookies and immediately put on stellar performances, the team were once again expected to impress after bringing in the Racing Steps Foundation’s top prospect Oliver Rowland to partner second-year driver and current Sauber F1 Team reserve, Sergey Sirotkin.

Carlos Sainz‘s dominance and a smattering of untimely DNFs throughout the season ultimately squashed any chance of either Fortec driver being able to post a serious championship challenge the way that Vandoorne did last season by finishing 2nd to Kevin Magnussen, or Frijns the year before when he won the whole thing. But Fortec just missed out on the Team Championship by three points to DAMS, who accumulated over two-thirds of their points from Sainz’s championship campaign. That’s a testament to a strong organization with two very capable drivers that were, for the most part, very evenly matched. During a qualifying session at Moscow Raceway, Rowland, who finished fourth in the championship, and Sirotkin, who was fifth, were separated in qualifying by just one one-thousandth of a second. The smallest quantifiable margin you could get.

One driver, however, did prove to be decisively more successful than the other in at least one area. I’ll explain. Continue reading “FR3.5 Review – Fortec Motorsports: Rowland’s Decisive Qualifying Edge”