Thursday, 8 March 2012


During and after the 2011 season many media commentators and fans reckoned that Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull-Renault were so dominant; that Sebastian had such an easy ride, thanks to his utterly superior car. Some were Vettel fans, others were detractors or supporters of other drivers, claiming that Vettel was not a good racer, that he could only lead from the front, was not an overtaker. Similar comments were levelled at Alberto Ascari in the early fifties and Jim Clark in the sixties, because they too often led from the start.

The 2011 Sebastian Vettel/Red Bull-Renault RBR7 package scored 11 wins from 19 races, a rate of 57.8%. This is only tenth in the rankings of dominance since 1950

Firstly, Vettel has proved that he can overtake: his 160 mph/260 kmh move around the outside of Alonso on the grass at Monza’s Curva Grande, was masterful. The way he has qualified, raced, led and overshadowed his team-mate, is proof of sheer talent and ability. It is patent nonsense to suggest that Ascari, Clark and Vettel were deficient; all three were and are great drivers.

Secondly, the matter of the Vettel/Red Bull-Renault package dominance: this has been exaggerated. It was often very little faster than the McLaren-Mercedes packages of Button and Hamilton. The Vettel/Red Bull-Renault won 11 times, others packages 8 times. The McLarens scored six wins and on occasion were faster, and overall very little slower than the Vettel/Red Bull-Renault. Only good packages ever won six races in a season, that is almost a one-in-three rate. Both the 2011 McLaren-Mercedes packages were good.

What is dominance in F1 racing? Winning every second race definitely is, a win-rate of 50.0%. So, the Vettel/Red Bull-Renault was undoubtedly dominant.

But it was not the most superior package in F1 history. How it ranks is listed below on a table of dominance in F1 since 1950:

Note: The total races shown are not necessarily for the whole season, just those races competed in by the driver/car package concerned.

Table of Dominance
1. The 1952 Alberto Ascari/Ferrari package won 6 out of 6 races for a 100.0% score.
2. Fangio/Mercedes-Benz in 1954 took 4 wins from 6 races to score at 75.0%.
3. Fangio/Mercedes-Benz in 1955 won 4 of 6 events, to again rate at 75.0%.
4. In 2004 the Schumacher/Ferrari steamroller managed to win 13 of 18 races, for a score of 72.2%; included were two streaks of 5 and 7 consecutive wins.
5. Clark/Lotus-Climax scored 7 times in 10 races to make 70.0%.
6. Clark/Lotus-Climax in 1965 won 6 of 9 races for 66.6%.
7. Schumacher/Ferrari in 2002 won 11 of 17 for 64.7%;
8. Ascari/Ferrari in 1953 managed 5 of 8 for 62.5% and
9. In 1960 Brabham/Cooper-Climax won 5 of 8 races for 62.5%

10. The 2011 Vettel/Red Bull-Renault package won 11 of its 19 races, for 57.8%.

This was almost identical to the following three dominant examples:

11. Fangio/Maserati in 1957 with 4 wins of 7events at 57.1%.
12. In 1994 Schumacher/Benetton-Cosworth won 8 of 14 for 57.1%
13. Mansell/Williams-Renault in 1992 scored 9 of 16 at 56.3%

So, the Vettel/Red Bull-Renault superiority of 2011 ranks 10th in F1 history; not as highly as some commentators and fans would have us believe. Also some way off the Fangio/Mercedes-Benz, Schumacher/Ferrari, Clark/Lotus-Climax and Brabham/Cooper-Climax records. And way behind the 1952 Ascari/Ferrari full-house score. This last feat becomes even more exceptional when considering that this package went on the win the next three races of 1953. That makes 9 consecutive wins! In days of just 7 or 8 races per season. Designer Lampredi’s deep-breathing, torquey Ferrari four and Alberto’s driving were obviously exceptional.

None of this detracts from Sebastian Vettel or the Red Bull-Renault RBR7 car and team. All I am doing is highlighting that they did not enjoy as much superiority or speed advantage as nine other combinations in F1 history.

The 1971 Jackie Stewart/Tyrrell-Cosworth 001-3 package scored 6 wins from 11 races for a rate of 54.5%. Jackie had achieved exactly the same stats with the Matra-Cosworth in 1969

For interest’s sake and to make the list-ranking complete, the other dominant winning packages that scored at least a win in every second race:

14. Stewart/Matra-Cosworth in 1969, 6/11 at 54.5%
15. Stewart/Tyrrell-Cosworth in 1971 with 6/11 at 54.5%
16. Schumacher/Benetton-Renault in 1995 with 9/17 for 52.9%
17. Schumacher/Ferrari in 2000 with 9/17 for 52.9%
18. Schumacher/Ferrari in 2001 with 9/17 for 52.9%
19. Farina/Alfa Romeo in 1950 with 3/6 for 50.0%
20. Fangio/Alfa Romeo in 1950 with 3/6 for 50.0%
21. Senna/McLaren-Honda in 1988 with 8/16 for 50.0%.
22. Hakkinen/McLaren-Mercedes in 1998 with 8/16 at 50.0%

Dominance depends on rival packages
All is down to ‘the gap’, the difference in speed between packages, which is almost randomly accidental each season. Rivals can be other team packages or one’s own team-mate. In 2010 Vettel only just outscored his team-mate Mark Webber 5:4 in wins; in 2011 he was so much faster and more successful at 11:1 in victories. So, for 2011 a major rival for wins was eliminated. Ascari had little opposition from his mates, being so much faster. As were the cases with Fangio, Jim Clark and Michael Schumacher.

Unlike Prost who accepted one of the best drivers joining him at McLaren-Honda in 1988: Senna. Had either of them been paired with slower team-mates in those years, they’d each have been more dominant. If one adds their wins to the races when they finished second to each other, Prost would have scored 14 wins in 1988 to Senna’s 11 from 16 races; and Alain 10 in 1989 to Ayrton’s 8 also from 16 events! Jackie Stewart obviously knows what he is talking about, when he said: “Without Prost in the Team, Senna would not have won as many races”.

It seems a strange quirk that such exceptional drivers as Moss, Surtees, Rindt, Andretti, Lauda, Piquet, Gilles Villeneuve and Prost do not make it onto the ‘Dominance List’ here. And Senna only once.

The ultimate in dominance: the 1952 Alberto Ascari/Ferrari Tipo 500/52 package won all six of the races entered, for a perfect score of 100.0%. The six consecutive wins was extended into 1953 with another 3 to make a yet unbeaten 9-in-a-row

This is why results and scores are in large part due to the level of opposition. Either one’s own team-mate or rival team packages. If Ascari had Fangio as team-mate at Ferrari in 1952-53, his wins would have been severely reduced, maybe halved? Vice-versa Fangio at Mercedes-Benz in 1954-5 paired with Ascari. Or Clark at Lotus in the sixties, had Surtees remained his team-mate? Instead Jim had much slower drivers, and in poorly-prepared cars. Would Michael Schumacher have dominated as much if he’d had Hakkinen, Raikkonen or Alonso in the Ferrari team?

Without diminishing any of these great drivers and their team’s achievements, they would all have suffered the more equalising fate that Prost-Senna (1988-9), Fittipaldi-Peterson (1973), Piquet-Mansell (1986-7), and Moss-Brooks (1958) did, when sharing their top-rated team/cars with other high-rated drivers.

Racing competition has not changed
In the pre-F1/1950 era it was no different: Whenever two good drivers were paired at one team, none dominated, and the wins were shared, usually fairly evenly. Just as was the case with the Prost-Senna pairing:

1948-9 at Maserati with Villoresi and Alberto Ascari.
1938 when most Mercedes-Benz wins went to Caracciola and Lang.
1934 Alfa Romeo had Chiron, Varzi and Moll sharing wins.
1932 Nuvolari-Caracciola shared wins for Alfa Romeo.
1931 at Bugatti it was Chiron-Varzi.
1925 Divo and Benoist for Delage.
1924 Masetti and Antonio Ascari for Alfa Romeo.
1922 Bordino and Nazzaro for Fiat.
1916 Resta ,Wilcox and Aitken in Peugeots.
1915 Cooper and Anderson for Stutz
1910 at Fiat it was Hémery and Bruce-Brown.
1898 Panhard had Charron, de Knyff and Leys sharing their wins.

No dominance has ever been possible when close-matched drivers were in the same team cars. Nor was it possible when rival packages were equal or close-matched. Which makes grand prix racing so interesting and exciting: two or more very close-matched drivers at the top and a bonus when the cars are almost equal too. Roll on the 2012 season.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.


Monday, 5 March 2012



Lethal handling; rear-engined monsters; killed von Delius; drivers sat so far forward that they could not tell when the tail was sliding; too much rearward weight bias; only ex-motorcyclist Rosemeyer could get the best out of the tail-heavy brutes, having had no experience of driving a car; drivers had to have exceptional reaction times to catch the vicous tail-slides...

Recently, esteemed ex-Brabham-McLaren design-engineer Gordon Murray dismissed the Auto-Unions for having “got the mid-engined concept wrong, with all the fuel and weight slung out the back.” These are just some of the many derogatory comments that continue to be bandied about ever since Dr Porsche’s revolutionary, mid-engined V16 Auto-Union appeared three-quarters of a century ago in 1934.

1936 Auto-Union C-Type which dominated the season, scoring six wins to Mercedes-Benz’s two and Alfa Romeo’s three

“Most grand prix races are won by the best cars” as Gordon Murray said. Second-best machines, those just a tenth or so off-pace, have usually only won when driven by really top-rate drivers. For instance, the Williams-BMWs and McLarens-Mercedes of 2000 -2004 managed few wins against the superior Ferraris: 10 for Williams, 15 for McLaren versus 57 for Ferrari. No-one ever suggested that those Williams-BMW models FW22-26A or McLaren-Mercedes MP4/15-19B were significantly deficient, ill-conceived or in any way bad cars. At worst they were criticised for being just off-pace. Their drivers Montoya-Ralf Schumacher and Hakkinen-Coulthard-Raikkonen were close-matched with the Michael Schumacher-Barrichello Ferrari duo. The 2010 -2011 McLaren-Mercedes cars won 11 races against the Red Bull-Renault’s 21. Despite scoring 52.4% as many wins, no-one would suggest that these McLaren-Mercedes models were bad or seriously deficient cars.

This, by way of placing the 1934-1937 Auto-Union performances in related perspective. No better test crucible for inter-car/team performance than grand prix racing, with its direct comparisons.

If the V16 Auto-Unions were as bad as the media and expert commentators have been claiming, one would expect their win and podium placing record to have been poor. Somewhere down with the much-maligned 1956-1958 BRM P25, the overweight 1967 Cooper-Maserati, or the resource-scarce Minardi and HRT team performances in more recent times?

1936 Auto Union C-Type which the brilliantr Rosemeyer drove to five wins, Varzi one

Between the Eifel GP in June 1934 and the Donington GP in October 1937, the Auto- Union and Mercedes-Benz rivals faced each other in 35 grand prix races. Of these, Mercedes-Benz’s trend-setting, front-engined, all-independently suspended, universally and technically-lauded models W25 A, B, C and W125, won 17 times, the unconventional, mid-engined V16 Auto-Unions Type A, B and C won 12. For the other podium spots, Auto-Union scored 13 seconds and 11 thirds to Stuttgart’s 15 and 8. The rear-engined cars managed 15 fastest laps and 9 poles to Benz’s 9 and 10. Surprisingly close-matched! Auto Union’s wins at 71% of Mercedes-Benz’s far outshone the 26% of McLaren-Mercedes and 17.5% of Williams-BMW against Ferrari in those first five seasons of the 21st century, and far better than the 52.4% wins achieved by the 2010-11 McLaren-Mercedes against the Red Bull-Renaults.

For a car with ‘diabolical handling traits’ to score so well, accepted wisdom and judgement could claim that Auto-Union’s drivers must have been exceptional.

Rosemeyer in the 1937 German GP, rounding the Karussel on his way to another victory

In 1934 Auto-Union, led by Hans Stuck with the far slower Leinigen and Momberger, were heavily outgunned by Mercedes driven by Fagioli, Caracciola and Von Brauchitsch. Driverwise the teams were close-matched in 1935 as Zwickau’s Stuck was joined by Varzi and Rosemeyer to face Stuttgart’s Caracciola-Fagioli-Von Brauchitsch trio. The two teams were well-matched again in 1936 when Varzi-Rosemeyer-Stuck equal-rated Caracciola-Chiron-von Brauchitsch. However for 1937 Auto-Union was really a one-driver team, as it was in 1934 with Stuck, now dominated and led by the precocious Rosemeyer.By now Stuck and one-timer Nuvolari were far slower, while other part-timers Fagioli, Hasse, von Delius and Muller even more off-pace. Mercedes had Caracciola-von Brauchitsch-Lang, all race-winners and far faster than the Auto-Unions drivers behind Rosemeyer. Clearly then, Auto-Union never enjoyed a significant driver advantage. The Auto-Union cars had to have been very competitive to almost even-score with the mighty Daimler-Benz concern. And on a fraction of the resources.

If the Auto Union’s handling had been ‘unpredictable, prone to sudden-oversteer, lethal’, there would have been many more spins and crashes than for the well-balanced, predictable, state-of-the-art, mainstream, front-engined Mercedes-Benz machines. In four seasons and 101 starts the rear-engined cars registered 9 such mishaps or 8.9%, against the Stuttgart cars’ 9 from 122 starts for 7.4%. Included in these statistics are the ‘misdemeanors’ of the very second-string drivers of both teams: Leinigen, Momberger, Sebastian, Burgaller, von Delius, Pietsch, Hasse and Muller for Zwickau and Geier, Henne, Zehender and Kautz for Stuttgart. All of whom raced far further from the front than every driver on the grids of 2007 and 2011. There was one fatality when tragically, a nervous Von Delius was unable to cope with Seaman’s overtaking Mercedes on Nurburgring’s long, undulating, narrow, hedge-lined, main straight. Two of Auto-Union’s other off-track excursions came from Rosemeyer. Trying so hard to beat the Mercedes team in 1937, he spun off at the Bremgarten and then struck a kerb on the bumpy, tortuous Masarykring, both times damaging the suspension. Just as such other greats as Chiron, Fangio, Gilles Villeneuve and Alonso were to do on occasion.

Varzi in the Auto-Union B-Type at Monza for the1935 Italian GP; he retired while team-mate Stuck won.  All four Mercedes-Benz cars retired

The V16 Auto-Unions must have been outstanding to virtually equal Mercedes-Benz for wins, podiums and poles, and outdo them in fastest laps over those four seasons, 1934 to 1937. If they had drivers of the calibre of Caracciola or Fagioli in 1934 or Von Brauchitsch or Lang in 1937, to back Stuck and Rosemeyer, they could well have won the first place battle. Dr Porsche and his team’s mighty V16s in Type A, B and C-forms were actually very successful forerunners of the mid-engined revolution. Others just took a quarter of a century longer to follow their trend.

© Patrick O’Brien. Nothing from this page can be used without the permission of Patrick E. O’Brien.