Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Is Vettel-Webber the new Schumacher-Barrichello?

After Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel has taken 143 out of a possible 150 points, and rather than examining Vettel's high upturn in form, spectators and fans alike have been analysing Webber's relatively poor form in comparison to his young team-mate.

It was all smiles between the Red Bull drivers at the RB7's February launch
But no-one appears to have likened Red Bull's new driver partnership to the highly successful pairing of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari in the early 'Noughties'. Should we be doing? I've crunched the numbers to find out.

One of the main reasons why we should take these numbers with a pinch of salt is context - drivers do better at some tracks in comparison to others, team-mates may not always have equal cars and there could be other factors which damage their speed, such as heavy crashes for them or even other crashes in either practice or qualifying. Add to that the fact that sometimes teams will controversially help one driver over another, the statistics can become difficult to properly read. However, I've done my best to give it a go.

First of all, we should start off with the past - the longest and most successful driver pairing of all time. Barrichello and Schumacher competed in 104 races together as team-mates at Ferrari and it doesn't take a genius to work out the most decorated in that time - Schumacher took five world championships in that time whilst Barrichello took none. However, he did win races - in that 104-race period he won nine races, which works out at 8.65%. Schumacher, on the other hand, took 40 more, with an impressive tally of 49 race wins - 47.12%. Rather than showing up Barrichello as a bad driver, these numbers show that Schumacher was very much dominant in those six seasons (although less dominant than some people might remember) as he won almost half of all the races. If we add the two percentages together, from 2000 to 2005, Ferrari won 55.77% of all the Grands Prix they took part in. If we remove 2005 from the statistics (the longest season of the six yet Ferrari only took one win), the team won an almost unbelievable 67.06% of all the races that took place. However, one thing that must be taken into account is the team's apparent favouritism towards Schumacher in that time - the German normally had a new car or new parts before his Brazilian counterpart, and this will inevitably reflect in their results. But how does this compare with the ongoing partnership of Vettel and Webber?

The two Red Bull drivers, in comparison, have only spent 42 races together at the same team (although this number will increase to 55 or 56 by the end of this season). Whilst this seems quite short compared to Schumacher and Barrichello, it is still a significant enough number to calculate percentages from. Between the first race of 2009 and the most recent race of 2011 (the Monaco Grand Prix), Mark Webber has won six races, giving a percentage of 14.29% which is no mean feat. Vettel, on the other hand, has one exactly a third - 14 of the 42, giving a percentage of 33.33%. That said, Webber's start to 2011 has been his most successful of his entire career, and it only pales in comparison to Vettel's almost superhuman feats. So much so, that if Vettel were a team in his own right, he would currently be second in the constructor's standings, 50 points ahead of Ferrari.

But what does this tell us about Vettel and Webber? In the future, we may look back on Vettel-Webber as a partnership reminiscent of Schumacher-Barrichello. But unlike the other young German before him, Vettel has a much harder team-mate to compete against. In an interview with the BBC in Monaco, Webber said that the main reason why his garage buddy was so much further ahead was because of his quicker adaptation to the new Pirelli tyres. If Webber can get to grips with those (no pun intended) and start to fight Vettel for race wins, we could see a turn in fortune for the Australian when the Formula One circus returns to the place of his first ever win, the NΓΌrburgring, later on in the year. Until then, all these numbers tell us is that Red Bull are becoming almost as dominant as Ferrari used to be. Scary stuff.

Image (c) Red Bull

Sunday, 15 May 2011

What can Ferrari and Mercedes achieve in 2011?

Without doubt the two biggest let-downs of the early races have been the Silver Arrows and the Scuderia. But are things about to change come this time next week?

Alonso and Rosberg have been racing each other a little lower down the field than they would have hoped

So why will the Spanish Grand Prix be any different? First of all, Mercedes have been on a upward trend ever since unveiling their car early this year. Such an upturn it has been, that the silver cars lapped the Circuit de Catalunya, home of the Spanish Grand Prix, fastest in pre-season testing. Furthermore, Ross Brawn has said that there will be some important updates ready for the Catalan race; Turkey was all about solving their chronic overheating issues, and Spain will be about doing battle higher up the field. Nico Rosberg, seen by many as the real team leader, has seen some impressive form recently, leading the Chinese Grand Prix at one point. Schumacher has had it a little worse, with a Turkish Grand Prix drive that would have been more suited to a demolition derby. However, paddock insiders say that the Mercedes rear-wing system which opens up on the straights is the best on the grid - and Spain has some very long straights indeed. Look out for them in Qualifying and for some overtaking action in the race.

On the other hand, Ferrari are looking at much more basic problems - Alonso's car ground to a halt with hydraulic issues in practice in Istanbul. Like Eddie Jordan said at the time, the most experienced team in the history of the sport, with over 800 Grands Prix to their name, should be able to create and maintain something as basic as the hydraulics system. But the team say that it was a one off and that they'll be back on the pace in Spain. Indeed, the flashes of pace we've seen from them this year, albeit briefly, were promising. It appears that the old Felipe Massa is back for good, as we've seen from his wheel-to-wheel racing in Oz. It's not like he doesn't like the Spanish track, either; he took pole, the win and fastest lap here in 2007. Alonso, on the other hand, will be desperate to put on a good show for his adoring fans. The circuit is annually decked out in the colours of Alonso's home region on the other side of Spain. The supporters of 'El Nano', as he is known, routinely make the 1000km trip to see their hero race. But will he be able to do good? He'll be homing to step up a place from last year, where he took second after Lewis Hamilton's trip through the gravel.

Only time will tell whether these two teams will be able to do good in Spain - where scorching temperatures are forecast. Will the tyres stand up to the heat? And will we see overtaking at the most notoriously difficult circuit for racing wheel-to-wheel? Let's wait and see.

Image (c) F1Fanatic, Daimler