Button vs the best (F1 in numbers)

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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43 comments on Button vs the best (F1 in numbers)

  1. A graph that shows that Button is the greatest F1 driver ever?!!!

    I wouldn’t get too carried away.

    Stirling Moss might argue that out of the drivers mentioned only Clark, Fangio and Hill could come close to matching Ascari since they had to deal with the possibility of death at every corner and Sir Stirling might be right. He might also argue that the sport since his time has been emasculated although I’d argue that the bigger man would not accept seeing some of his friends and competitors die every other week.

  2. W-K said on 30th May 2009, 4:21

    Sorry to say this but this is a set of graphs and figures that are trying to compare apples with oranges.
    It might have made sense if it compared the same number of races or percentage of season.
    But even then the different rules and regulations that applied in the different years make it almost impossible to make these comparisons. As the rules stand at the moment to win a race you just need the best strategy, or luck with safety cars, to be ahead after the final pit stops, before that laps in front basically means nothing. And Jensen can still win this season, on points or ‘most wins’ without winning another race, or leading another lap, in which case it would be 5/17 or 29.41% race wins i.e. not even on the chart.

    • F1Yankee said on 30th May 2009, 15:19

      It might have made sense if it compared the same number of races or percentage of season.

      there is an asterisk noting the incomplete 2009 season.

      But even then the different rules and regulations that applied in the different years make it almost impossible to make these comparisons.

      win percentage – how is this disputable?
      laps led percentage – some gray area, but still not brain surgery.

      As the rules stand at the moment to win a race you just need the best strategy, or luck with safety cars, to be ahead after the final pit stops, before that laps in front basically means nothing.

      i think it takes quite a bit in addition to those things to win. as for laps in front, ask a driver where he wants to be running.

  3. Ayrton said on 30th May 2009, 12:49

    Surprised Prost 1993 is not on the most laps led stats…just shows you how well Senna did that year in an inferior car. Don’t see that today!

    • Dougie said on 31st May 2009, 12:36

      Surprised Prost 1993 is not on the most laps led stats…just shows you how well Senna did that year in an inferior car. Don’t see that today!

      There was nothing inferior about Sennas McLaren/Ford if it can win 5 races and score 9 podiums. The Benetton/Ford also of Schumacher/Patrese scored 1 win and 11 podiums… and don’t forget Damon Hill was also in the Williams winning.

      That’s at least 5 drivers (including Prost) capable of easily running at the front.

  4. Chaz said on 30th May 2009, 19:18

    I’m all for records being broken, so good luck Jenson…

  5. Matt said on 2nd June 2009, 10:32

    I think what could be really interesting here is statistically how does Ross Brawn’s involvement stack up on statistics? – maybe its not the car or the driver, but putting those things together beautifully and creating a car that works with the drivers and not against their racing styles. Its a team sport and not down to one card.

  6. As good as Ascari was, i think looking at Schumacher in 2004 is the best comparison to what button has to achieve this year:

    Michael Schumacher (2004) 72.22 13/18

  7. Chaz said on 11th March 2010, 20:12

    Keith. Lately I see more and more spam on the site like the comment above. Is it worth considering a developing a registration process (which is something I’ve never really been keen on but if needs must then so be it) where people sign in to comment and have to enter the random caption before being able to comment…

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