Button vs the best (F1 in numbers)

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Most wins by an F1 driver in a season (click to enlarge)
Most wins by an F1 driver in a season (click to enlarge)

There’s a lot of discussion among F1 fans at the moment about how Brawn – and Jenson Button in particular – are dominating the championship.

So how far ahead are Button and Brawn? Are we set for the kind of one-sided seasons we’ve seen in the past? Let’s see how they measure up against F1’s greats.

Most wins in a season

Driver (year) % races won total races won
Jenson Button (2009)* 83.33 5/6
Alberto Ascari (1952) 75.00 6/8
Michael Schumacher (2004) 72.22 13/18
Jim Clark (1963) 70.00 7/10
Juan Manuel Fangio (1954) 66.67 6/9
Michael Schumacher (2002) 64.71 11/17
Jim Clark (1965) 60.00 6/10
Nigel Mansell (1992) 56.25 9/16
Jackie Stewart (1971) 54.55 6/11
Jackie Stewart (1969) 54.55 6/11
Michael Schumacher (2001) 52.94 9/17

*Season not complete

Michael Schumacher holds the record for most races won in a single season with 13 victories in 2004. Not only that, he’s also second on 11 (2002) and tied for third with nine (three times – 1995, 2000 and 2001), along with Nigel Mansell (1992).

But a better measure of domination is what percentage of the total number of races a driver won. By this measure Alberto Ascari is on top with six out of eight for a score of 75%. This is even more impressive when you consider he didn’t participate in the Indianapolis 500, one of the eight rounds that counted towards the championship that year.

Button needs to win eight of the 11 remaining races to beat Ascari’s record. That’s a gigantic challenge even in a car as formidable as the Brawn-Mercedes BGP001.

The difficulty of winning that many races doesn’t just come down to how much quicker his car is than the opposition and whether it is reliable. Championship pragmatism plays a role too. Late in the season, faced with the choice of bagging safe points to ease his way towards the championship, or risk everything for another win, wiser drivers will always take the former option – failing to do so cost Lewis Hamilton the title in 2007.

However if Button wins four more races this year – which at this stage looks more than likely – he will become only the third driver to have won nine races in a single season.

Most laps led in a season

Most laps led by an F1 driver in a season (click to enlarge)
Most laps led by an F1 driver in a season (click to enlarge)

This is perhaps a better measure of how much a particular car and driver is dominating a season.

So far Button has led just under two-thirds of the racing laps this season, including every lap at Melbourne and all bar one at Monaco.

The most dominant season by this measure was Jim Clark’s with Lotus in 1963, when he led over 71% of the racing laps. That included every lap of the Belgian, Netherlands, French, Mexican and South African Grands Prix.

I think it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see Button approach anything like this degree of superiority this year. We’ve already seen how Ferrari have closed the gap to Brawn in recent races, and Red Bull are likely to be strong in the next Grands Prix.

Driver (year) % laps lead total laps led
Jim Clark (1963) 71.19 504/708
Nigel Mansell (1992) 66.99 694/1036
Jenson Button (2009)* 64.45 223/346
Michael Schumacher (1994) 61.76 646/1046
Michael Schumacher (2004) 60.87 683/1122
Alberto Ascari (1953) 56.79 418/736
Mika Hakkinen (1998) 56.75 576/1015
Alberto Ascari (1952) 53.79 348/647
Ayrton Senna (1988) 53.64 553/1031
Jackie Stewart (1971) 51.71 347/671
Graham Hill (1962) 51.44 321/624

*Season not complete

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