Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have been the dominating combination of the current hybrid power units era, having won all six previous constructors’ titles and on course to making it a seventh in a row. As for the driver’s championships, only the 2016 edition has escaped from the Briton’s monopoly, who has won 69 of the 132 races held so far. It is more than a 50% win ratio, which means Hamilton wins every other race.
Assuming that the combination of Hamilton and Mercedes leaves the top step on very rare occasions, the other teams and drivers are left to figure who is the best of the rest. When a win is not an option on the table, who among these drivers are the most capable of securing the most podiums, be it second or third place? Furthermore, how consistently do they finish within the top-5, which is the most expected result from teams of the caliber of which these drivers race for?
Before starting, here are three postulates which underlie the analysis:
- The study is based on the 132 races being held from 2014 to the Eifel GP, which constitute the hybrid era, and carried out on the drivers of the top three teams - Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull.
- Ferrari is here considered as a top team, from the very beginning of the hybrid era. Hence their 2014’s season is included in the benchmark.
- It may be a contentious opinion, but the SF1000 is capable of podiums. Thus Ferrari’s drivers’ 2020 results are included in the benchmark as well.
In the unlikelihood of a win, the aim is to see who is the second most competitive driver with machineries and teams that are close in resources and performances.
In that regard, ten drivers who have driven for the three top teams on the grid have been selected: Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo, Fernando Alonso, Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon.
The number of podiums scored has been pondered with the number of entries with either Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari, and we get the following chart:
Interestingly in terms of podiums scoring, Valtteri Bottas is the most consistent driver, ahead of the 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg. The Finn is only two units short to score a podium every other race.
On the other hand, Charles Leclerc, Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen are tied in the way that they secure a podium every three races. Alex Albon however records the worst ratio, as he failed to score a podium on 19 over 20 occasions to do so.
In addition to the general podiums’ classification, diving into the spread of the Top-5 finishes gives the overview picture :
Regarding these numbers the driver to stand out is Valtteri Bottas. The Nastola native has been indeed subject to a lot of criticism, as people were expecting him to bring to Hamilton, much tougher fights. With Toto Wolff often praising the Finn’s team spirit, it added fuel to the public dissatisfaction, as Bottas is commonly considered to be too much of a gentleman. According to many pundits and F1 aficionados, Bottas’ driving must muscle up, like Rosberg’s in his time against Hamilton. Yet, In the eventuality of a 20-races championship where Hamilton would lock the first place, Bottas would have the edge over Rosberg and Verstappen, purely based on their respective statistics. Of course, this is an hypothetical scenario, but it is nonetheless intriguing.
For the sake of the game, based on the said statistics, this is how a 20-races championship among the top guns would look like:
Regarding the results of that simulation, Bottas would emerge as a solid second, with Rosberg closer to the likes of Verstappen and Vettel than he would be to the Finn. Actually, the battle for third would be absolutely thrilling, as the three of Vettel, Verstappen and Rosberg would be fighting within a 7-points gap among them.
In the end, from a constructor perspective, it is important for teams to have consistent scorers, and Mercedes can be very pleased with its current drivers’ line-up. Red Bull on the contrary is to some extent, very Verstappen-dependent, and they need to find a driver who, failing to consistently challenge the Dutchman, would at least come close to his stats. Ferrari has a bright future as well with Charles Leclerc, who manages to be in the mix, despite being in a top team only for the second year. His upcoming fights with his Red Bull’s vis-a-vis promise a rivalry worthy of the “Senna-Prost” one.
From a driver’s point of view however, all drivers on the grid aim to be world champion, so being best of the rest is certainly a distinction they would gladly do without. As in the famous ‘Talladega nights’ movie, If You Ain't First, You're Last!