@freelittlebirds yep – no qualms there. But let’s go with your line of reasoning. In what way is Alonso/Hamilton a known quantity? Hamilton is a known, relative to Alonso. Alonso is a known… relative to Trulli, Fisichella, etc.
See where I’m going with this?
I’m not slating Alonso – I’m saying that there are times when you have to ask “ok – how DO we know?” Alonso is undoubtedly a top driver. But if he was the benchmark for Hamilton, who was the benchmark for him?
For example if you’re going to take early F1 results, then in 2004 Trulli was ahead of Alonso in the standings. But then again I don’t believe for a moment that Alonso (at least the Alonso of today) is a lesser driver than Trulli.
Without an inside eye – a part of it will undoubtedly be, for lack of a better word – black magic. Mind you if we did have an inside eye that could change a lot of things. In terms of which drivers maximise a car’s grip – there are certain parameters you could indeed measure on telemetry, and pretty definitively see whether or not a driver was close to the limit (though you cannot see if, for example, the driver is missing a trick by using the wrong racing line, or not missing the correct bumps etc)
A part of it will undoubtedly be nothing more than through reputation.