Just how do you rate the greatest driver of all time?

cider_and_toast

Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff Member
Premium Contributor
This thread isn't about who is the greatest driver of all time but the mechanics of actually reaching the conclusion about the answer to that question. What I mean by that is, how do we go about working out the parameters to find out who that is?

I know there are a lot of people out there who say this can't be done for the very reason that it is arbitrary. You can’t for example compare the likes of Fangio with Schumacher yet each have their own place in F1 History among the greats. Most top 10 or top 50 or top whatever lists mostly contain the thoughts of drivers or F1 enthusiasts, journalists or historians for example and are a matter of opinion. What I’m after is more along the lines of a mathematical equation. Something that would iron out the inconsistencies of opinion to produce a better answer.

Now the tricky thing is just how many variables that have to be taken into account to reach the purest answer. An example of the problem is looking at how some world champions got on against their team mates. In some cases the driver was the champion and the team mate in second place meaning that they both had great cars and drove them to the best of their ability. In at least one case however, Emerson Fittipaldi in 1972, he had one of the truly great cars of that era in the shape of the Lotus 72 and yet his team mate failed to score a single point all season which is I believe, the only time this has ever happened.

Then we face the issue of the competition each driver faces and the era within which he drives, modern cars may be quicker and handle far nicer than the cars from the 50s but then all Fangio and Moss had to do was press down on the “loud pedal” for as long as they dared and keep the round rubber things on the Tarmac. What would Moss have made of trying to juggle 7 paddles and gawd knows how many buttons on his steering wheel just to turn into, clip the apex and come out of every corner.

So where do we start?
 

siffert_fan

Too old to watch the Asian races live.
Contributor
Excuse me, C_A_T:

"All Fangio had to do was hold down the loud pedal"?

How about using the third pedal (called a clutch, which the modern F1 drivers never heard of), moving the gear lever by hand, knowing that missing a gear would probably end your race, all while driving between a brick wall and a cliff while seated in a wheeled tank of gas without protective gear (seat belts, fireproof underwear, helmets worthy of the name)! Would any of today's drivers be willing to race under such conditions?

Point is, as Hamberg states, comparing cannot be done!
 

FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
In Italy when you stand up in court rather than swearing to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" you swear to tell "your truth" and this would be appropriate in any discussion around this subject. Your perspective will be skewed by your age, personal likes and dislikes and this question will also make you ask "how much of it was the car?" - true for every generation since the inception of the World Championship.

Interesting you mention Emmo CaT, you have to wonder how many more titles he could have won if he hadn't gone off to drive for his brother.
 

cider_and_toast

Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff Member
Premium Contributor
Excuse me, C_A_T:

"All Fangio had to do was hold down the loud pedal"?

How about using the third pedal (called a clutch, which the modern F1 drivers never heard of), moving the gear lever by hand, knowing that missing a gear would probably end your race, all while driving between a brick wall and a cliff while seated in a wheeled tank of gas without protective gear (seat belts, fireproof underwear, helmets worthy of the name)! Would any of today's drivers be willing to race under such conditions?

Point is, as Hamberg states, comparing cannot be done!

LOL

Absolutely correct S_F. I was rather crudely highlighting the difference in era's.

I'm certain though that some method of comparison could be defined.
 

sportsman

Sidecar racers have the biggest cojones
Contributor
Its an impossible task.
For reasons already pointed out by Hamberg and siffert fan, both of whom I fully agree with I wouldn't even attempt it.
 

cider_and_toast

Exulted Lord High Moderator of the Apex
Staff Member
Premium Contributor
In Italy when you stand up in court rather than swearing to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" you swear to tell "your truth" and this would be appropriate in any discussion around this subject. Your perspective will be skewed by your age, personal likes and dislikes and this question will also make you ask "how much of it was the car?" - true for every generation since the inception of the World Championship.

Interesting you mention Emmo CaT, you have to wonder how many more titles he could have won if he hadn't gone off to drive for his brother.

That's just it isn't it. The first qestion that everyone asks when they think of an F1 world champion is "how much of it was the car". Take both Button and Mansell for example. Very few F1 drivers have ever become world champion in anything less than the very best of cars though.

No one would ever say that Jim Clark wasn't among the greatest ever but he always had some of the very best cars on the grid of its day.

Look at cars such as the Lotus 25 and the Mclaren MP4/9 and you tend to think that anyone could have won a world title in them
 

sportsman

Sidecar racers have the biggest cojones
Contributor
Just hold down the loud pedal in a Mercedes Benz W96. Bit more to it than that.
Configuration M196 R Straight 8​
Location Front, longitudinally mounted​
Construction steel block and head​
Displacement 2.496 liter / 152.3 cu in​
Bore / Stroke 76.0 mm (3 in) / 68.8 mm (2.7 in)​
Compression 12.0:1​
Valvetrain 2 valves / cylinder, DOHC, with desmodromic valve operation​
Fuel feed Bosch Direct Fuel Injection​
Aspiration Naturally Aspirated​
Power 290 bhp / 216 KW @ 5800 rpm​
Torque 294 Nm / 217 ft lbs​
BHP/Liter 116 bhp / liter​

Drivetrain​
Chassis/body aluminium body on steel tubular spaceframe​
Front suspension double wishbones, torsion bars, telescopic shock absorbers​
Rear suspension swing axle, longitudinal torsion bars, telescopic shock absorbers​
Steering worm-and-sector​
Brakes light alloy drums all-round​
Gearbox 5 speed Manual​
Drive Rear wheel drive​

Dimensions​
Weight 829 kilo / 1827.6 lbs​
Length / Width / Height 4360 mm (171.7 in) / 1680 mm (66.1 in) / 1020 mm (40.2 in)​
Wheelbase / Track (fr/r) 2350 mm (92.5 in) / 1330 mm (52.4 in) / 1358 mm (53.5 in)​

Performance figures​
Power to weight 0.35 bhp / kg​
Top Speed 300 km/h (186 mph)​
 

KekeTheKing

Banned
Supporter
I'll ponder this question a bit and get back with a serious, well thought out reply, but for now I'll leave you with a few lines from the classic film, Caddyshack.

Judge Smails: What did you shoot today Ty?
Ty Webb: Oh, I don't keep score Judge.
Judge Smails: Well how do you measure yourself with other golfers?
Ty Webb: By height.
 

FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
I'll ponder this question a bit and get back with a serious, well thought out reply, but for know I'll leave you with a few lines from the classic film, Caddyshack.

Judge Smails: What did you shoot today Ty?
Ty Webb: Oh, I don't keep score Judge.
Judge Smails: Well how do you measure yourself with other golfers?
Ty Webb: By height.

Woo Hoo! Justin Wilson - the greatest F1 Driver ever LOL
 

MCLS

Anti F1 fan
Valued Member
You can judge the greatest driver out of a given decade. But due to advances in safety/technology you cant say who is the greatest out of all time. Not accurately anyway.
 
J

johnnoble1990

Guest
You can judge the greatest driver out of a given decade. But due to advances in safety/technology you cant say who is the greatest out of all time. Not accurately anyway.

This is exactly what i was about to post. You can break F1 down into eras and judge drivers, but even then it is difficult. Judging drivers from different eras and even defining these eras is impossible.

It was like the other day when some of the forum members were talking about racing in the 80s and i thought to myself that it sounded like a different sport from what i have ever known. It is like watching the evolution of ape to man. You can follow it from one generation to the next, but sooner or later you have to just say they are two different things.
 

MCLS

Anti F1 fan
Valued Member
The performance gap in cars is also a major stumbling gap. How good is Bruno Senna, who knows. The HRT was never going to give him a chance to shine. Take Button and Hamilton, both world champions. But look at their finishes in the RA-107/8 and the MP4-24 (first half) respectively. But then thats another thread in itself :whistle:
 
J

johnnoble1990

Guest
The performance gap in cars is also a major stumbling gap. How good is Bruno Senna, who knows. The HRT was never going to give him a chance to shine. Take Button and Hamilton, both world champions. But look at their finishes in the RA-107/8 and the MP4-24 (first half) respectively. But then thats another thread in itself :whistle:

The only thing with that is if Bruno Senna was that good then he wouldn't have been with Hispania. If there was ever the ultimate paydriver, a Brazillian named Senna is it. Personally, i thought Lewis was very impressive at times in the MP4-24. 15th to 4th in the first race of that season, although there is obviously more to that story than just an impressive drive. Now that really was another thread in itself. :whistle:
 

FB

Not my cup of cake
Valued Member
The only thing with that is if Bruno Senna was that good then he wouldn't have been with Hispania.

I can't agree with you there John. Alonso started with Minardi, Senna with Toleman, Prost in the pre-RD McLaren team, Lauda at March, Hakkinen at the post-CC Lotus, Keke Rosberg at Wolf and then Fittipaldi, Damon Hill at the post-BE Brabham team, even Schumie did one race with Jordan and Vettel a season at STR. World Champions one and all, all starting out in less than competitive cars.

Hamilton is almost unique in sitting in an uber competitive car in his first season in F1 (no criticism, he deserved the seat despite what David Coulthard had to say at the time), I would think Jackie Stewart is the only one who comes close finishing 3rd in the drivers title race in a BRM back in 1965.

Perhaps one day Senna will get into a faster car and prove his ability. Let's see how "quick" Nick fairs over the next few races, we might yet see him in the Lotus Renault.
 
J

johnnoble1990

Guest
I can't agree with you there John. Alonso started with Minardi, Senna with Toleman, Prost in the pre-RD McLaren team, Lauda at March, Hakkinen at the post-CC Lotus, Keke Rosberg at Wolf and then Fittipaldi, Damon Hill at the post-BE Brabham team, even Schumie did one race with Jordan and Vettel a season at STR. World Champions one and all, all starting out in less than competitive cars.

Hamilton is almost unique in sitting in an uber competitive car in his first season in F1 (no criticism, he deserved the seat despite what David Coulthard had to say at the time), I would think Jackie Stewart is the only one who comes close finishing 3rd in the drivers title race in a BRM back in 1965.

Perhaps one day Senna will get into a faster car and prove his ability. Let's see how "quick" Nick fairs over the next few races, we might yet see him in the Lotus Renault.

I did think about the fact that this is how people like Alonso, Massa, Webber, Button, Vettel and pretty much every good modern driver started out. As you say, getting given a title winning car in your first season is not only unique, but bizzare. No team can say for certain that a driver proven in lower formulas will instantly perform in F1.

The point i was making about Senna is if he was good enough, then all the good teams would've been watching him for the payday he would inevitably bring. My point gets lost by the fact that i forgot something when i originally posted. Senna did almost end up in a title winning car in his first season. Had Brawn not chosen Barrichello over him for his experience, he might have been given a chance to compete for a world championship in his first season. Like you, i do hope Senna proves to be a top driver in future, but it will be difficult for him to ever get out of the shadow of his uncle. Still, who knows how good he will prove to be?

It was a good point about Nick. I was pleased to see him getting a drive this season because he has been proven in the past, but that result at the weekend was very poor indeed. Maybe we might see Senna returning sooner than we thought.
 

sportsman

Sidecar racers have the biggest cojones
Contributor
The only thing with that is if Bruno Senna was that good then he wouldn't have been with Hispania. If there was ever the ultimate paydriver, a Brazillian named Senna is it. Personally, i thought Lewis was very impressive at times in the MP4-24. 15th to 4th in the first race of that season, although there is obviously more to that story than just an impressive drive. Now that really was another thread in itself. :whistle:

Gaston Mazzacane ring any bells.
 

Galahad

Not a Moderator
Valued Member
I started a project some time ago to compare qualifying times for drivers across all their teammates, excluding outlying results and wet sessions, then cross-compare with the other drivers those teammates had, adjusting for age, to build up some sort of index of performance that could go back through time and cut the machinery out of the equation.

e.g. Patrese at 24yo was 0.53% quicker than Jochen Mass; but at 39 was 1.36% slower than Michael Schumacher, therefore...?

Unfortunately it turned out to be a load of rubbish, naturally.
 

sportsman

Sidecar racers have the biggest cojones
Contributor
Rather you than me Galahad.
In over sixty years of F1 its impossible to to state the greatest driver of all time.
 
J

johnnoble1990

Guest
That sounds like something i would start doing Galahad, only to realise half way through it was an impossible task. Although to be fair, comparing drivers to their teammates is probably the only way to quantify a drivers quality. We know Alonso's>Massa, Kubica's>Petrov, Sutil's>Liuzzi, etc.
 
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