Friday, 27 December 2013


When they were first paired at Honda in 2006, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were fast, highly respected and experienced drivers. If not quite as highly regarded as peers  Michael and Ralf Schumacher, Montoya, Alonso and Raikkonen, Button and Barrichello were a very strong pair.

Because the Hondas of the years 2006-2008 were never the fastest cars, being in fact very slow in 2007 and 2008, typically as drivers with off-pace machinery, Button and Barrichello faded from the media radar. They became enigmatic and anonymous. Their reputations were redeemed in 2009 after Honda had pulled out and the team was taken over by team manager Ross Brawn and renamed Brawn-Mercedes. Button’s more so than Barrichellos.

By my rating statistics, the Hondas car-rated at a fast’, but fourth ranked, 100.3 in 2006, at a slow 101.6 ranked seventh  in 2007 and an even slower 102.1 for 2008, ranked second-last ahead of Super Aguri-Honda. Clearly then Jenson and Rubens had little chance of shining with such car-speed deficiencies. As a general rule throughout grand prix history my stats have shown that any car rated less than about 100.5 has hardly any chance of scoring a race win, even with the very top drivers. Of course the car came right for Button and Barrichello in 2009 as the Brawn-Mercedes, which my calculations rated at 100.0 until about halfway through the season. Then the Red Bull-Renault caught and surpassed the Brawn slightly to score the season average top spot at 100.0, relegating the Brawn-Mercedes to rank second at a car-rating of 100.1.

General consensus for 2009 is that Button was obviously faster in the first half, Barrichello in the second half.

Rubens Barrichello

This fading from media prominence from 2006-2008 was despite both drivers’ excellent credentials. Barrichello had started his career brilliantly with Jordan in 1993 and in only his third appearance was almost as fast as the Senna/McLaren-Cosworth in that rainy Donington GP! Button had debuted in 2000 as team-mate to the very talented Ralf Schumacher who was into his fourth season. Button put up some impressive performances in scoring a fourth and some fifth places. Both Barrichello and Button clearly showed talent.

 However as is normal in the monopolistic world of Formula One, more illustrious peers in faster cars hogged the wins: Senna, Michael Schumacher, Hakkinen, Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve in the nineties for Barrichello, who had to wait eight years until 2000 for his first win, driving for the Ferrari team. Button was overshadowed by his mores successful peers, Michael Schumacher and Barrichello for Ferrari, Hakkinen, Coulthard and Raikkonen for McLaren-Mercedes, Ralf Schumacher and Montoya for Williams-BMW and Alonso for Renault. Button also only scored his first win in his seventh season, for Honda in 2006.

Button and Barrichello had had statistically similar career paths before they were teamed at Honda in 2006. Rubens had scored nine wins for the dominant Ferrari team between 2000-2005. He then left, fed up with playing second-fiddle to Michael Schumacher. Jenson had had an excellent season in 2004 when the Bar-Honda car had been competitive enough to get four seconds and six third places, in a year of utter Ferrari dominance when the red cars won 15 of 17 races.

2009 Button/Brawn-Mercedes BGP001

To help accurately place and compare the two Honda team mates, I asked posters on the Planet F1 Forum for their views.  Under their usernames these were some of their words:

Mac_d: “Over 2007 and 2008 they were close to identical imo. In 2006 and 2009 though JB went for it a bit stronger... I think it is vital to JB that we note the 2006 and 2009 cars were pretty damn good. The 2007 and 2008 cars were not. Both were good enough drivers to win multiple races by JB in a car he likes and is more capable beats Rubens in the same car. In mediocre cars they become even”.

Mikeyg123; “In 2008 Rubens seemed to have an edge. I think for 2009 Button showed just how good he can be in a great car, but by the second half of the season Barrichello was a match for him again”.

Coulthards chin: “Before I delved in to the stats, the opinion etched into my brain was Button by a country mile in 2006 and 2009, but Barrichello edging 2007-2008. However the stats show it’s bit more complicated than that”. coulthard’s chin did detailed comparative stats analysis that showed that for ‘ahead-when-both-finished-races’ in 2006-2009 the score was 31:16 to Button.

Arai_or_Nothing: “While Button finally looked competitive consistently in 2009, it was truly the first time in his F1 career that he looked the part whilst driving some really good cars. Barrichello is clearly the more adaptable driver. [Button] simply cannot adapt to tires that are less than spectacular”.

AFCTUJacko: “I rate them pretty similarly. JB had the’ perfect storm’ he needed to win the title, Rubens didn’t”.

Benmc: Button is definitely more sensitive to car handling and tyre temperature than most...”

M. Nader-DODZ-: “Rubens made steady improvement against Button. Among a few things to consider in such a comparison (coulthards chin stats), Rubens age when making the switch to Honda. I think Jenson is a lot better than Rubens. I would say Rubens is in the Webber/DC class and Jenson is one step above that”.

Flavio81: Speedwise I think they were mostly matched although Jenson can be thought as faster in the race. However I must say that I think Jenson is the better racer’.

Tootsie323: “Over the course of their four seasons together I felt they were fairly evenly matched; it was largely due to Jenson maximising the early-season advantage of the Brawn in 2009 that he is WDC and Rubens not.”

Slowestofall: took an interesting set of stats from the  FIA Race Analysis files, and averaged the two drivers’ ten  fastest laps for the last eight races of the season at each circuit: and found:“...when it mattered, Button drove faster than Barrichello […] in the second half of the [2009] season, Button drove consistently faster than Barrichello in the races...”

As anyone who analyses Formula One racing finds, there are many measures and methods, some of which produce converging results, others produce differing conclusions.

We have here above a pretty detailed and accurate picture of how Button and Barrichello compared.


 I now set out some other factors that further explain the comparison between Button and Barrichello.

Why had Button, who clearly showed immediate talent, not managed a win before 2006? He was too new in 2000 and 2001. Thereafter and apart from the 2004 season, he had driven inferior cars. This partly explains his 2002, 2003 and 2005 seasons. But what about 2004, when the BAR-Honda car was outstanding and up with the Ferrari speedwise? Simply, Jenson was not as fast as Michael Schumacher and the Honda team were not as good racers as the Ferrari team. Another factor pointed out by expert driver analyst Peter Windsor: that although Button is unsurpassed in slow speed corners, at rotating the car so accurately and efficiently to aid corner exit, up with Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher in this respect,  he was not good in high-speed corners, detesting high-speed, flick oversteer. When his car was so behaving, Windsor reckoned “Button became just another driver”.  Another factor mentioned by posters above that adversely affected Button, and still does today (2013) by his own admission: he has trouble warming the tyres in certain conditions and coping with an imbalanced car. It is these factors that have kept Button’s driver-rating below that of those top drivers, Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton and now Vettel, who have the ability to drive around car issues and are very consistent. Button certainly is their equal in talent, feel and sensitivity when he feels confident with his car. In changeable weather conditions Jenson’s sensitivity enabled several great wins.

When Rubens at last got into a top-rated car and team, Ferrari in 2000-2005, he was unfortunate to be teamed with one of the greatest drivers in Michael Schumacher. Barrichello was just not fast enough. However being teamed with a top driver in a dominant team/car was also an advantage: Barrichello’s standards, understanding of the car and himself through much testing, his confidence and speed all improved. This phenomenon has been fairly common in F1 racing: Berger with Senna at McLaren-Honda in 1991-1992, Mansell with Keke Rosberg at Williams-Honda in 1985, Moss with Fangio at Mercedes-Benz in 1955 and with Button himself at Brawn-Mercedes  with Barrichello in 2009 and then at McLaren-Mercedes paired with Hamilton in 2010-2012. Before joining Ferrari in 2000 Barrichello had always displayed exceptional wet-weather ability, but generally seemed to lack some self-belief or confidence.

So in their earlier careers, Button and Barrichello each scored just one win, each in their sixth season!

When they teamed at Honda in 2006 the 34-year-old Barrichello had been in F1 for 13 seasons, while 26-year-old Button was into his sixth season. That eight year age difference counted as did their differing years in F1 racing. What I also found critical was the fact that Barrichello’s form and speed had slumped significantly in 2005, his last season at Ferrari. On the heels of  Rubens’s great 2004, when he scored two wins and 14 podiums to Michael’s 13 wins and 15 podiums and 16 top-six finishes to Michael’s 15, Rubens’ 2005 results plummeted: three podiums to Michael’s six and five top-six placings to Michael’s ten. It seems that Rubens’confidence and motivation had been lost in that last season as number two to Michael Schumacher.
2009 Brawn-Mercedes BGP001

Taking another measure to compare the two drivers, my driver-rating calculations, which are based primarily on time-speed and scores drivers on season-averages (where 100.0 is the ultimate speed):

2006:  Button 100.4 : Barrichello 100.7
2007:  Button 100.4:  Barrichello 100.5
2008:  Button 100.4 : Barrichello 100.4
2009:  Button 100.3:  Barrichello 100.4.

My stats here show that for 2006 Rubens was 0.3% slower than Jenson, which would be 0.3-second slower in a qualifying lap and 18-seconds behind in a 60-lap race. This is the same as the gap Webber has been measured on my system against Vettel from 2011-2013. Rubens’s huge improvement mentioned by the Planet F1 posters for 2007-2008 is reflected in my ratings; when the two were just 0.1% apart, or 0.1-second per qualifying lap and 6-seconds in a 60 lap race of 100-minutes (as at Abu Dhabi). Very close indeed.

These driver-rating stats confirm posters views quoted above: that Jenson was better overall, but that Barrichello improved from his slow start in 2006 to become very little slower/virtually equal for their last three seasons together.

Barrichello’s deep experience, especially from his six seasons paired with Michael at Ferrari and his excellent car-set up ability, must have rubbed off on team-mate Button. The two were on good terms and worked together as a team, not hiding information from each other. Rubens was new to the Honda team in 2006 and needed adjustment time, which partly explains his 0.3 deficiency in driver-rating speed to Jenson who had been with the team since 2003. Additionally Rubens also needed to recover his confidence or motivation lost in 2005. For the 2009 season many mentions were made concerning Barrichello’s unhappiness with his Brawn’s brake characteristics. When the brake manufacturer was changed halfway through 2009, his performance and Jenson’s seemed to converge, and Rubens gained the upper hand. After the first eight races and Button’s six wins, Barrichello set one pole, scored two wins and three podiums to Button’s no pole, no win and two podiums. Another view is that Button had the championship sewn up and was cruising for points.

To further place the two drivers’ careers in context, I show how my system’s driver-ratings scores them outside of the topic years 2006-2009. Barrichello’s peak seasons were 2002-2004 at Ferrari and Button’s during 2010-2011 at McLaren-Mercedes, when both rated at 100.2. This was faster than they had performed in their Honda-Brawn years and at any other time. Barrichello slowed considerably after he left Brawn and went to Williams-Cosworth in 2010-11. Driver comparisons must always be placed in context by considering career stages and ages. Is Jenson in 2012-2013 approaching the same age-slowing phenomenon as Rubens had, now that he is 34 and has been racing for 14 seasons?

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


Saturday, 14 December 2013


These two drivers have been largely overlooked during their three seasons as team-mates at Toyota due to the cars being far off-pace. Their generally low placings have downgraded perceptions of these fine drivers. In my opinion both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli were really fast, competitive and vastly under-rated. Was it just the car that was slow? Just how good were Ralf and Jarno?

Driver CVs before Toyota
Ralf Schumacher
Some idea of Ralf’s and Jarno’s abilities and speed can be gauged from their pre-Toyota years. Each faced some very fast team-mates. Jarno had come from two seasons with the experienced and fast Frentzen at Jordan in 2000-2001, one year with Button at Renault in 2002 and then two seasons with Alonso at Renault in 2003-2004. As a rookie Ralf Schumacher had been paired with Fisichella at Jordan in 1997, then with Damon Hill at Jordan in 1998, with Button at Williams-BMW in 2001 and then spent another four years in that team with the combative Montoya. All these team-mates were formidable drivers, particularly Alonso and Montoya.

Clearly the fact that Ralf slugged it out for four seasons at Williams-BMW with one of the toughest and talented drivers, Colombian Juan-Pablo Montoya, is a good measure of his abilities. These two Williams-BMW drivers gave the dominant Michael-Schumacher-led Ferrari ‘steamroller’ its toughest opposition from 2002-2004. Ralf and Montoya were very close-matched throughout their four seasons as team-mates. Ralf’s 2004 was cut short by a puncture-induced crash in the US GP at Indianapolis; his resultant concussion causing him to miss the next six events. Returning for the last three races of 2004, Ralf was immediately fast, beating Montoya in qualifying in China and then starting from the front row alongside Michael’s 13-win Ferrari in Japan to score a great second place. The crash apparently had not affected Ralf’s driving at all.

Jarno had two seasons paired with Fernando Alonso at Renault. Overshadowed in 2003, Jarno bounced back for 2004 and virtually equalled Alonso in results and speed. He scored a first and a third place to Alonso’s one second place and three thirds. Jarno’s season was cut short when Renault Team manager Briatore fired him at race 16 of 18. This proved a huge loss to Renault, but Jarno was promptly snapped up by Toyota for the last two events of 2004.

Ralf vs Jarno Compared 2005-2007
Comparing their statistics averaged over their three Toyota seasons together shows that Jarno and Ralf were very close-matched. Each scored three podiums, Ralf ten top-six placings, Jarno eight. Comparing their average grid positions, which I scored only when neither had significant problems and using their best pre-race times instead of some of the official grid positions due to penalties or other issues: Jarno was best at an average grid place of 7.84 vs Ralf’s 9.15. Ralf was better in average race finishing position at 8.6 vs Jarno’s 9.4. When each finished the races, Jarno was ahead 16 times and Ralf 14. As another measure my Rating System scored Jarno slightly faster in 2005, Ralf in 2006 and Jarno faster in 2007. On average over the three seasons they were virtually equal in speed. 

The Toyota Cars 2005-2007

Jarno Trulli
Why was the Toyota’s early 2005 promise not realised? In the first five races of 2005 Trulli scored two second places and a third behind the dominating McLaren-Mercedes and Renault packages. Thereafter Ralf and Jarno rarely scored better than fifth place, mostly lower, apart from Ralf’s two third places and Jarno’s one fourth. Considering that the Toyota TF105 car-rated at 100.7 and ranked fifth by my system’s season average, Ralf and Jarno had little chance of winning races. That car-rating is 0.7% from the top-rated McLaren-Mercedes, or 0.7 seconds slower per lap which translates to a hypothetical 42-seconds behind in a 60-lap, 100-minute race as at Abu Dhabi. The car was inconsistent, at times very fast, scoring two second and two third places and setting two poles, Jarno at Indianapolis and Ralf at Suzuka. But in most races they dropped to several 6th to 9ths places and even some 12th to 15ths! No drivers are that erratic, and certainly not two who had virtually equalled Montoya and Alonso the year before.

In 2006 the Toyota was even further from the front-running, fastest cars of Ferrari and Renault top-rated equal at 100.0, the Toyota car-rating on my system at 100.8 and ranked sixth. Consequently it was mazing that Ralf managed a third place in Australia; Jarno’s best were two sixths. Average race-finishes of 8.2 and 10.2 says it all for the Toyota team.

The 2007 season was even worse, each driver’s best finish being a sixth place. The car, by my season-average car-rating, had dropped to 101.6 and ranked seventh. That is over 1.5 seconds per lap and over 90-seconds behind after a 60 lapper! The notoriously slow 2007 Honda car-rated equal to the Toyota by my calculations. Honda drivers Button and Barrichello scoring best finishes of fifth and ninth respectively, partly confirms the accuracy of the Toyota TF107’s low car-rating, with Ralf and Jarno best-scoring a sixth place each. This Toyota’s slowness is reflected in the average race-finishing places of 11.1 for Ralf and 10.8 for Jarno. Considering how the 2013 McLaren-Mercedes has struggled with Button driving, and that my car-rating scored it at 100.5, highlights just how far off-pace the 2005-2007 Toyotas were, car-rated at 100.6,100.7 and 101.6. Not even Michael Schumacher, Senna or Fangio could have won more than perhaps one or two races for Toyota; the gap was just too big. My findings based on over 1200 grand prix-calibre races from 1894-2013, show that few cars that are slower than 0.5% from the fastest are capable of much success. This clears Ralf and Jarno.

The Toyota Team

2005 Jarno Trulli-Toyota TF105
Such poor and declining results 2005-2007 point to a major problem for such a big, powerful and huge-budget manufacturer: Toyota had debuted in 2002, 2007 was their sixth season and they had the best wind-tunnel of all, still used by Ferrari and other teams in 2012 and 2013! The Toyota situation was aptly stated by Planet F1 Forum poster, username 'Fiki': “”Toyota weren’t a racing team with a manufacturer behind them; they were a manufacturer with a far-away racing division somewhere.” Basically the remote, corporate-style management was unsuited to Formula One racing. Between 2002 and their exit in 2009 Toyota spent on a huge scale, which made their decline and winlessness hard to understand.

The Toyota cars showed occasional promise, especially in Trulli’s acknowledged speedy qualifying hands. However, similar to the 2010-2013 Mercedes cars, in the races the Toyota’s seemed to over-use their rear tyres, and often dropped back soon after the start. The derogatory ‘Trulli train’ term aptly described how the Toyotas’ sometimes high grid positions turned into a train of cars struggling to get past in the races.

The drivers?

Another factor that could have influenced Toyota performance was the drivers. Jarno, like Button and Raikkonen is recognised as having a narrow tyre or car-balance window in which to display his speed. If the tyres or car are not right, Jarno struggles and cannot drive around the problem as Michael Schumacher and Alonso could. This was borne out by Jarno’s fast single-lap qualifying performances, and his often fading in the races. This issue of Jarno’s with Topyota seemed to be similar to Button’s problems with his McLaren-Mercedes in mid-2012: a lack of aero-tyre warming balance which reduced the driver’s confidence.

Some commentators reckoned Ralf’s concussion from his 2004 Indy crash could have affected his performance. The on-track speed and results show otherwise: he was on-pace straight away on return. However for 2007 Ralf’s performance did slow, as he dropped pace by a huge 0.4% relative to Jarno, by my calculations. That was almost half-a-second per lap or over 20- seconds in a 60 lap race. Ralf’s average grid position for 2007 was 10.5 vs Jarno’s 9.2. Was Ralf losing interest, de-motivated by the slow car? Planet F1 Forum poster username 'Senna88' states it clearly: “Ralf in particular began to suffer from de-motivation I remember many times when Brundle would interview him on the grid from 2006 onwards and he always seemed a bit down on how well the race would go... Ralf suffered more derision from the media than Trulli during these under performing years at Toyota (considering the budget they had) due to his massive pay check.”

The drivers directly compared

Considering their Toyota cars over the three seasons with Ralf’s and Jarno’s average grid positions of around 8.5 and an average race-finishing position of 9.0, Ralf and Jarno must have been really good to score six podiums, two poles and in Trulli’s case, to once come close to a win, in their three seasons as team-mates at Toyota.

 I directly compared the drivers season by season:
Ahead when both finished the race:
2005: Jarno vs Ralf: 8:5
2006: Ralf vs Jarno :4:3
2007: Ralf and Jarno 5:5
Three-season average: Jarno vs Ralf :16:14

Average race-finishing position:
2005: Ralf vs Jarno: 6.5:7.3
2006: Ralf vs jarno: 8.2:101.2
2007: Jarno vs Ralf: 10.8:11.1
Three-season average: Ralf vs Jarno 8.6:9.4

Average grid position/ time-based start position:
2005: Jarno vs Ralf 5.4 :8.1
2006: ,Ralf vs Jarno 8.1: 9.2
2007: Jarno vs Ralf : 9.2:10.5
Three-season average: Jarno vs Ralf 7.9:9.2.

My system’s driver-ratings score them:
2005: Jarno 100.2, Ralf 100.3
2006: Ralf 100.3, Jarno 100.6
2007: Jarno 100.4, Ralf 100.7.
Three-season average Jarno 100.40, Ralf 100.43

If we discount Ralf’s demotivated 2007 season and compare only 2005-6:
Ahead when both finished race: Jarno 11, Ralf 9
Average POB driver-rating Ralf 100.3, Jarno 100.4
Average grid/time position: Jarno 7.19 Ralf 8.48
Average race finish position: Ralf 7.36, Jarno 8.77

As with all statistics on Formula One racing, each only tells part of the story, but togther they form a more complete, definitive assessment.
“I think Ralf tends to get massively underrated. In 2005 and 2006 he beat Trulli but was still getting slated.”. This observation by Planet F1 poster username 'mikeyg123'.
was so true. Many in the media and among fans were biased against Ralf, and irrationally downgraded perceptions of his actual and considerable capabilities.

Overall the two drivers were close-matched in 2005-6, Ralf being the better racer, Jarno the better qualifier. Planet F1 poster, username 'Aria_or_Nothing' reckons: “Of all the drivers Toyota employed, I’d say Ralf was the very best ... When Ralf had a good car he won and often challenged for the top spots with regularity. When Trulli was in a similar situation he still didn’t podium much or challenge for the top spots.”

“I don’t think Toyota ever had a vehicle capable of having a go at the title. Ralf and Trulli were’t THAT bad! Toyota had a quality pairing in those two.” This summary by Plantet F1 poster username 'mcdo' seems spot-on. What they achieved in slow, inconsistent cars showed what a strong pair they were..

As drivers I rate or rank Ralf at least up with Coulthard, Barrichello and Button at their best (DC 1997-2000, RB 2002-2004 and JB 2010-2011). Jarno I’d rate slightly lower, perhaps on a par with Mark Webber.

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