Analysis: Who is the best Formula 1 driver on the current grid?
Formula 1 has the best racing drivers in the world, and getting a drive in Formula 1 is a tremendous achievement for any driver. But some drivers are just better than others. Some drivers are made for greatness. So, who is the greatest Formula 1 driver in the current grid? There are 20 drivers on the current F1 grid, but 3 drivers are valued on a level above everyone else: Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, and Sebastian Vettel.
Fernando Alonso has long been hailed as the best Formula 1 driver on the grid since Michael Schumacher’s departure from F1 in 2006, but does it still hold. It’s been 4 years since Alonso last won a race, and 11 years since he last won a World Championship. In this period 2 other big guns have entered F1, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. F1 Pundits have put both of them on the same level of merit as Alonso if not better. But how do these 3 compare against each other? All three drivers of them have won multiple World Championships. Alonso has 2 (2005, 2006), Hamilton has 3 (2008, 2014, 2015), and Vettel has 4 (2010, 2011, 2012, 2013).
However, it needs to be pointed out that both Alonso and Hamilton have narrowly missed several World Championships.
If both drivers profited from better fortune, they both could have been 5-time World Champions, and only 1 driver has more World Championships, Michael Schumacher (7x WDC).
Alonso has been regularly criticized for making the wrong career decisions. However, it’s impossible to know the outcome of a decision beforehand, one can only predict. Was his move to Ferrari in 2010 a mistake considering the history and success of the team? Or was his move to McLaren a terrible decision considering they would switch to Honda for engine supply, a team that McLaren had such great success with in the late 1980s, which by many is regarded as the golden age of F1? No one knows what the consequence would have have been if Honda had a superior engine or if Ferrari had a competitive car, because the fact persists: Alonso after so many years still only has 2 World Championships.
Vettel joined Ferrari in 2015 following his glorious 6-years at Red-Bull. He 'was' close to winning a 5th World Championship this season when he led the championship by 14 points to Hamilton at the halfway point, but his mistakes under pressure and Ferrari’s reliability issues since have left him trailing Hamilton by 59 points with just 4 races left. Nonetheless there is no denying that he is a 4-time World Champion and regardless of his mistakes, he has put in a handful of solid performances this year.
Hamilton on the other hand, has broken a few more records this season, he has passed Michael Schumacher and now holds the record for most pole positions with 71 to his name.
However, it is extremely difficult to compare the 3 drivers based on race wins and pole positions, because of the difference in machinery. Therefore, each driver will be compared to his teammate. The Head2Head battle with teammates is divided into 3 categories, qualifying position, race position, and fastest lap. Qualifying position and race position comparisons are the prime and most uncomplicated method to compare teammates. While a fastest lap comparison has been put in to determine the faster driver during a race, although there are many elements of a race that affect the fastest lap set by a driver. Various examples include: traffic, tyre wear, DRS and weather. To compensate for this, the fastest lap category has been given less importance compared to the other two categories. Comparison points are given as follows:
However, it will be biased to just take the total as Alonso has drove in 5 more seasons than both Hamilton and Vettel. Thus, a percentage value will be calculated, and points will be given based on that.
As results from the qualifying comparison show, Alonso has outqualified his teammate on 73.52% occasions, which is greater than both Hamilton at 64.85%, who is widely known for his one-lap pace, and Vettel at 67.36%. Surprisingly, even Vettel ranks ahead of Hamilton when it comes to outqualifying teammates.
As results from the race comparison show, Alonso and Vettel are able to convert their qualifying advantage into race advantage, however, Hamilton isn't able to. He loses out to his teammates by -7.49% from qualifying to race.
Alonso has a similar advantage over his teammate when it comes to setting a faster lap time during race, whereas Hamilton and Vettel both lose out to their teammates in regards to setting a faster lap in a race compared to qualifying. Computing all the comparison points, here is a total of how all three drivers rank up against their teammates:
Hamilton and Vettel perform worse against their teammates in comparison to Alonso by 52.97% and 33.19%, respectively. Data clearly illustrates Alonso's advantage over Hamilton and Vettel when it comes to outperforming teammates. While, Vettel has an edge over Hamilton. However, just comparing statistics isn’t adequate, quality of teammate matters.
Each driver has drove alongside a driver who was a World Champion at that point in time. Fernando Alonso has had 3 World Champions as his teammate: Jacques Villeneuve (3 races), Kimi Raikkonen (18 races) and Jenson Button (39 races). Lewis Hamilton has had 2 World Champions as his teammate: Fernando Alonso (17 races) and Jenson Button (57 races). While Sebastian Vettel has had 1 World Champion as his teammate: Kimi Raikkonen (56 races).
Alonso has performed better than his World Champion teammates in all but one occasion, where Button is tied with Alonso for fastest lap. Similarly, although Hamilton has managed to beat Button in qualifying and race, he is tied with Button for fastest lap as well. Hamilton has also lost out in 2 categories to Alonso, when they were teammates back in 2007. While, Vettel has also consistently performed better than Raikkonen in every category. Although that is somewhat controversial with Ferrari speculated to be favoring Vettel over Raikkonen.
Hamilton has a greater percent of races with a World Championship as his teammate, which could explain his deficit in H2H against teammates compared to Alonso and Vettel. However, it is impossible to know with certainty how Alonso and Vettel would have done if they had World Champion teammates for a greater percentage of races.
Comparing how each of them has done against all their teammates, and teammates who were World Champions at the time is a sufficient enough measure to conclude who is a better driver. Considering all these factors, Alonso comes out on top. He is ultra-consistent between his performances against his teammates in qualifying, races, and fastest laps; and he has also managed to beat each of the three World Champions he has had as his teammate.
While Hamilton and Vettel have won the World Championship more times than Alonso, Alonso 'might' still be the best driver on the current F1 grid. Former World Champion Jenson Button also recently claimed in his book that 'Alonso is a better all-round driver than Hamilton'.