Schu vs Stats

In his fifteen years of Formula One, Michael Schumacher has been the dominant force in the sport for most of the time. As such, he has led an assault on the F1 record books almost without parallel.

He is notoriously indifferent to the scale of this achievement – in public, at least. Having won one race, or one championship, his immediate thoughts are of how to win the next one. Enjoy the moment, jump on the podium, spray the champagne, and on with the battle. This is an essential part of a winning Grand Prix driver’s mind-set.

Thus many of F1′s oldest records, and so many of those that commentators thought would stand the test of time, have been crushed with a dizzying relentlessness. Alain Prost’s 52 GP wins? Beaten in 2001. Schumacher now has 83 and counting. Mansell’s nine wins in one season (1992)? Schumacher equalled this as early as 1995 and in 2004 set a new high watermark: 13. (Admittedly, in both these cases he had more events to do it in: 17 and 18 respectively compared to Mansell’s 16.)

So where now for the Schu? Are there any significant stats left he has not painted red?

Most pole positions

Ayrton Senna – 65 from 162 starts, 40.1%
Michael Schumacher – 63 from 217 starts, 29%

This is one of the records that few thought could ever be beaten. And indeed, in relative terms, and given the recent asinine changes to the qualifying system, it is very unlikely that anyone will beat Ayrton Senna’s hit rate of over 40% of pole positions. It seems very likely that Schumacher will overhaul Senna’s total of 65 pole positions before the end of the 2005 season.

However, to achieve at least a 40.1% success rate of pole positions, he would need to start from the front for the next 40 races, taking him to 103 poles from 257 starts. Assuming the current calendar continues, that would take him until the 2007 European Grand Prix. He may be a bit handy behind the wheel, but I’m not putting my money on that one.

Most race wins

Michael Schumacher – 83 from 217 starts, 38.2%
Alain Prost – 51 from 202 starts, 25.2%
Juan Manuel Fangio – 24 from 50 starts, 48%

Schumacher has already obliterated the ‘most wins’ leader board, but again he has been assisted by the greater number of races per season in contemporary Formula One giving him more opportunities to win races during the prime of his career (and I won’t even get into the controversial circumstances under which his team-mate is never allowed to challenge him for wins).

Juan Manuel Fangio remains the top driver in terms of most races won per participation – an incredible 48% win average over an eight-year career. For Schumacher to have won 38% of races in fifteen years is commendable.

But he has very often benefited from favourable reliability (58 races without failure until Bahrain 2005) and weak opposition (on two separate occasions in his career the grid has been bereft of former world champions other than himself).

If Schumacher were to equal Fangio’s win ratio, he would have to win the next 45 races, which would take until the 12th race of 2007. I do not have a mathematical model to predict what would happen to F1 viewing figures, but one can expect with confidence that they would not improve.

Most consecutive wins

Alberto Ascari – 9 (Belgium 1952 – Belgium 1953)
Michael Schumacher – 7 (Europe 2004 – Hungary 2004)

Michael has already come oh-so-close not just to breaking this, but smashing it out of sight. Prior to his seven-win streak in 2004 he failed to win the preceding Grand Prix in Monaco after an utterly unnecessary altercation with Juan-Pablo Montoya in tunnel. But before that, he had won the previous five rounds – a 13-race winning streak was in the offing! But still, only he has seriously threatened Alberto Ascari’s 52 year-old record. Schumacher’s accident in Monaco also thwarted his attempts to better Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record for winning the first five rounds of a season – he equalled, but did not extend, the record.

Biggest championship deficit overhauled

1976: Niki Lauda 52 points; James Hunt 26 points (Hunt won championship)
2005: Fernando Alonso 36 points; Michael Schumacher 10 points

If Schumacher is to win the 2005 world championship, he may have to set at least one more record in the process. If Alonso gets any further ahead of him, yet Schumacher still wins the title, he will have beaten James Hunt’s recovery of the 1976 world championship. Of course, Hunt had the grim advantage that Niki Lauda missed a string of races after his life-threatening crash at the Nurburgring, but Schumacher will surely have far more races in which to do it. Game on!

NB. Errata

  • All statistics are correct up to and including the 2005 San Marino Grand Prix.
  • Both Michael Schumacher and Alain Prost on occasion won Grands Prix but subsequently lost them through disqualification – Prost in San Marino, 1985; Schumacher in Belgium, 1994.
  • Technically, the driver with the greatest wins-to-starts ratio is Lee Wallard, who twice entered the Indianapolis 500 when it counted towards the F1 championship, and won it in 1951 at the wheel of his Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser. Proof, if it were needed, that bare statistics can tell us part of, but not the whole story.

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