Tuesday, 7 October 2014


2014 Daniel Ricciardo
Many people were surprised when Daniel Ricciardo, new Red Bull-Renault team-mate to Sebastian Vettel for 2014, started beating the four-time World Champion. Along with many, I thought that Vettel would soon get back on top. Yet at race 14 this has not happened. Ricciardo has been ahead eight times, in the ten races when both finished, to Vettel’s two. Ricciardo has won three races, Vettel none.

The impression created is of a virtual rookie dethroning a four-time World Champion. Incredible, especially when one considers that Vettel utterly dominated the 2011 and 2013 seasons and scored the most points in 2010 and 2012. His first win was in 2008 and his last came at the end of an exceptional nine consecutive wins at the end of the 2013 season. Vettel had won 39 races, almost as many as Mansell.

Ricciardo by comparison was a relative unknown. He started in F1 halfway through the 2011 season with the backmarker Hispania-Cosworth team, moved closer to midgrid with Toro Rosso-Ferrari for 2012-2013. Ricciardo’s best placings were 18th in 2011, two 9ths in 2012 and two 7ths in 2013. Measured against his team-mates:

2011: Ricciardo ahead in races (when both finished) 4 times to Liuzzi’s 1.
2012: Ricciardo ahead in races (when both finished) 8 times to Vergne’s 7.
2013: Ricciardo and Vergne were equal, each being 5 times ahead in races (when both finished).

Going by these simple stats, it did not seem as if Ricciardo was anything special. Of course the Red Bull-Toro Rosso experts knew more and promoted him to the Red Bull-Renault Team for 2014.

Vettel had been with Toro Rosso since 2007, scored his first win in 2008 and was promoted to the Red Bull-Renault team for 2009. Vettel had looked special from the start in 2007 when he beat the experienced Liuzzi and then drove impressively in a one-off race for BMW, showing well against his fast, experienced team-mate Nick Heidfeld.

Many questioned Vettel’s ability when he defeated his Red Bull-Renault veteran team-mate Webber in 2009 and 2010. However for 2011, 2012 and 2013 he was clearly faster by some margin. Webber was no slouch, proven by his several superb wins, particularly at Monaco and Silverstone. Vettel managed all aspects of his Red Bull-Renault cars superbly, his speed and talent being highlighted by his many late qualifying laps for pole (46 poles in 7 seasons), as well as by his cheeky fastest laps (22 in 6 seasons) set at the end of almost every race, his eye on the record books! This despite his stressed race engineer Rocky urging him to slow down and make sure the car finished!

How then could newboy Ricciardo in 2014 be the faster racer for 8 of the 14 races to date, while Vettel finished ahead only twice?

Experts attribute Vettel’s falling from top-rate form to his being uneasy with the lack of rear downforce exiting corners. This was due to new technical regulations which reduced the aerodynamic use of rear bodywork diffusers. Another part of the reason is that Ricciardo has obviously taken a step up, and is at home in the car as well as displaying sound racing maturity. According to Toro Rosso team principal, the astute and experienced Franz Tost, Vettel managed a big step up in performance for 2011. This I noticed by my driver-rating against his then team-mate Webber, compared with 2010.

This exceptional phenomenon of a new, younger driver Ricciardo, upstaging a talented old hand like Vettel: has it happened before? A look back through Grand Prix history is always informative for placing things in context.

2008 Lewis Hamilton

For the 2007 season it was an actual F1 rookie, Hamilton who equalled his twice World Champion team-mate Alonso at McLaren-Mercedes. Alonso had been racing since 2001 and was into his 6th season when he joined McLaren-Mercedes for 2007. He had won back-to-back titles with Renault in 2005-6 and in 2006 had tellingly gone head-to-head with Michael Schumacher in virtually equal cars, Renault and Ferrari respectively. Alonso scored 6 poles to Schumacher’s 4 and won the races narrowly with 7 wins to 6. There was no doubting Alonso’s ability.

Yet from the first race for McLaren-Mercedes in 2007, the 22-year-old rookie Hamilton performed close to the 26-year-old double Champion Alonso. Alonso was ahead 9:6 in the races when both finished, but Hamilton scored 6 poles to Alonso’s 2, each won 4 races. A phenomenal performance for a rookie.

Contemporary Formula One commentators hailed this as the greatest rookie feat of all time.

Grand Prix racing however went back a long way before the inauguration of the Formula One Championship in 1950. It can be said to have started in 1894, and included over 300 top-class races until 1949. Having measured and compared each of the 2000-plus competitors from 1894-2013 on a consistent basis in my Rating System, some interesting phenomena were revealed.

1934 Guy Moll

The closest pattern of similarities to the Ricciardo-Vettel situation of 2014 occurred 80 years ago in 1934. The Alfa Romeo team had dominated since 1932, with top drivers Nuvolari and Caracciola in 1932 and Nuvolari and Chiron in 1933. For 1934 Nuvolari had left, and the team were led by Varzi and Chiron, who could be said to have been the equivalent of Alonso and Schumacher in 2006 or Alonso and Hamilton in 2014. Varzi was 24 in 1934, an ex-motorcycle racer who Enzo Ferrari reckoned ‘was Nuvolari’s equal from 1930 to 1934’. Chiron was 33 and as fast as both Varzi and Nuvolari.

Young Algerian Guy Moll started Grand Prix racing in 1932 and showed enough promise to be invited to join the strong Alfa Romeo team for 1934 at age 25.
Just as Ricciardo was to do in 2014, Moll was instantly fast, running second behind Chiron at Monaco until Chiron slid into the barrier at the Station Hairpin on the 98th lap of 100, allowing Moll past to win. At the high-speed Tripoli race Moll almost passed winner Varzi on the last lap, just failing by 0.2- second at the flag. The next race was at the even faster banked autobahn circuit AVUS, outside Berlin. Varzi and Chiron had the standard, open-wheel-bodied Alfa Romeo 8C2900Bs, while Moll was given one with an aerodynamically-shaped body that was 20 kmh/12 mph faster on the straights. After the faster Auto-Union had retired by lap 10 of 15, Moll took over at the front and beat Varzi by 1m 27s, although not a straight comparison due to Moll’s faster car. This dangerous circuit took some skill where the race average was 206 kmh/128 mph compared with Tripoli’s 186 kmh/115 mph race speed. Next came the Marne GP at Reims, where all drove the standard bodied Alfa Romeos, but Moll was beaten by Chiron into second place by a lap. Initially Varzi and Chiron had battled each other furiously for the lead for 41 of the 64 laps until Varzi’s gearbox gave trouble. The next meeting of the Alfa Romeo drivers was at the slow, tortuous Ciano Cup circuit in Livorno. Here Varzi won by 9-seconds from Moll, Chiron not being present.

Tragically the next event at Pescara for the Coppa Acerbo, was to be Moll’s last. Outclassed by the Auto-Union and Mercedes-Benz teams, especially on the 10km/6 mile straight along the Adriatic coast, the Alfa Romeos chased hard, Moll then Chiron running behind the three or four German cars for 5 of the 20 laps. Chiron then went up to third place but his car caught fire during a pitstop. When the German cars pitted, Moll took the lead for laps 10 and 11. Then Varzi took over at the front for laps 12 and 13 until his gearbox failed, allowing the Fagioli/Mercedes-Benz to lead, but chased by Moll in second place from lap 14 onwards. On lap 18 Moll’s car veered off the long, straight at about 260 kmh/160 mph and somersaulted, the driver being killed instantly.

Moll had shown such promise, that Enzo Ferrari likened him to Stirling Moss for his speed and racing presence of mind. His challenging of experienced team-mates Varzi and Chiron was similar to Ricciardo’s of Vettel, in that neither was arookie, Moll being into his third season, Ricciardo his fourth. Doubtless had Moll lived, he’d have been even more competitive in 1935, his fourth season.

There are several more examples of new drivers challenging and even beating established and more experienced team-mates.

1936 Bernd Rosemeyer

In 1935 now-veteran Varzi, ‘Nuvolari’s equal’ according to then team-manager Enzo Ferrari, was into his eighth season, but was in for another challenge from a young driver when he left Alfa Romeo for Auto-Union. Varzi’s brilliance was displayed in his first race in the rear-engined V16 Auto-Union at the high speed Tripoli circuit when he finished a fine second to Caracciola’s Mercedes-Benz, the fastest package of 1935.

For the AVUS race in May Auto-Union veterans Varzi aged 31 and Stuck aged 36 were joined by 26-year-old ex-motorcyclist and Grand Prix rookie Bernd Rosemeyer. This circuit was the fastest of all, being formed by two 10 kilometre/6-mile lanes of a new autobahn, joined by a very steeply-banked turn at one end. Rookie Rosemeyer did well in his heat to qualify behind Stuck who averaged 260kmh/160 mph for pole. On lap 4 of 5 Rosemeyer’s car burst a rear tyre on the banking, but he brought it safely to a stop, which amazed Mercedes-Benz team manager Neubauer.
At the Eifel GP on the Nurburgring Rosemeyer displayed his exceptional talent by leading the race in the rain for the last few laps, only losing narrowly to ‘Rainmaster’ Caracciola’s Mercedes-Benz. In the next three races, the French and German GPs and the Coppa Acerbo at Pescara, Varzi and Stuck were faster than Rosemeyer, who managed a fine second place at Pescara. In the next, the Swiss GP, Rosemeyer finished third, Varzi fourth behind two Mercedes-Benz’s. At Monza Stuck won, Rosemeyer’ s car failed but he took team-mate Pietsch’s car and finished third behind the shared Dreyfus-Nuvolari Alfa Romeo. At the Spanish GP all three Auto-Unions gave trouble, but Rosemeyer did best, struggling in fifth after several pitstops. The season finale at Brno’s Masaryykring, in the absence of the Mercedes-Benz team, saw first Stuck then Varzi lead laps 1-5 and 5-12 of 17 until both cars gave trouble, allowing Rosemeyer past to win.

For a rookie to mix it with such tough, experienced drivers as Varzi and Stuck in the rear-engined V16 Auto-Union team was quite something. Not surprisingly Rosemeyer went on to become the fastest driver by 1937.

1908 Ralph de Palma
Another great driver to be challenged by a rookie was the smooth, refined and fast Italian Felice Nazzaro, who had been driving for Fiat since 1905. He dominated the 1907 season. Yet at the American Grand Prize of 1908, rookie Ralph de Palma led from the start and set the race’s fastest lap, until after a pitstop to change tyres, the spare tyre cradle dragged on the road, dropping de Palma back. Team-mates Wagner and Nazzaro finished 1st and 3rd. Again invited to join the Fiat team for the 1910 American GP alongside Nazzaro and Wagner, de Palma joined in the close, lead-swopping fight between the Fiat and Benz teams. He was leading narrowly going into the last lap when his Fiat cracked a cylinder, allowing six cars past.
De Palma’s talent was obvious, to match and even upstage Nazzaro and Wagner clearly pointed to an exceptional talent. He continued to be a leading grand prix driver until 1921.

1912 David Bruce-Brown

In the 1910 American Grand Prize 20 year-old rookie David Bruce-Brown joined the Benz team as team-mate to Hemery, the tough, 35-year-old ex-sailor who had debuted in 1905, and American Willie Haupt. In a close battle with the three Fiats, Hemery led laps 1-7 of 20, Haupt laps 9-13 while rookie Bruce-brown took the lead in the last quarter of the last lap to win by just 1.4-seconds after 5-hours and 53-minutes. The best rookie debut of all time?

For 1911 and 1912 Bruce-Brown joined the top-rated Fiat team, with team-mates Wagner, Bragg and de Palma. In the 1911 American GP Bruce-Brown won again, after Wagner and Brag had suffered car trouble. In the epic 1912 French GP, when the small, high-revving 7.6-litre/464 ci Peugeot toppled the big, 14.1-litre/860ci Fiat cars, Bruce Brown led from the start until a fuel line leaked and he ran out at lap 14.5 of 20, allowing the innovative Peugeot to win from Fiat team-mate Wagner.
Despite being such a brilliant driver, still only 22 years old, Bruce-Brown crashed fatally later that year practicing for the Vanderbilt Cup at Milwaukee, after a worn tyre burst. His mechanic Tony Scudelari also died.


And now for a more modern pairing, Moss and Fangio for just one race together in the Maserati team for the 1957 Argentine GP. Only after doing my Rating System study in 2002 did I discover this phenomenon: that Moss was actually somewhat faster than Fangio! Sacreligious as it sounds, and despite general consensus that Fangio was supreme in GP cars, I wrote it up in detail elsewhere on my blog.

For the 1957 season opener Moss’s Vanwall team were not ready, and released Moss to drive for Maserati, alongside Fangio. Moss outqualified Fangio by a whole second for pole, but suffered a broken accelerator linkage on the grid. He spent nine laps at his pit for repairs, then charged back out, continually broke the lap record and made up two laps on ‘The Old Man’ who won. Having lost so much time, Moss still only managed to finish eighth.

Hereafter Moss went back to Vanwall for the rest of the 1957 season, which was a slower, more difficult-to-drive car than the Maserati.

According to my rating System, Moss was actually faster than Fangio from 1956 onwards; not surprising considering Moss was 28 and into his 7th season, and Fangio was 46. It was primarily Fangio’s superior cars (1956 Lancia-Ferrari and 1957 Maserati) that enabled him to beat Moss in those years.


In the 120 year history of Grand Prix racing since 1894, there are several other examples of young drivers challenging and even beating established top-rated drivers in same-teams. Fernand Charron dominated his experienced Panhard team-mates in 1898; rookie Lancia driver Eugenio Castellotti challenged Ascari in 1955, and proved much faster than his experienced Lancia-Ferrari team-mates Collins and Hawthorn in 1956-7 (see separate feature in this blog).; rookie Jackie Stewart challenged his team-mate Graham Hill at BRM in 1965; in 1979 the young Gilles Villeneuve matched Jody Scheckter at Ferrari…

So it is clear that Ricciardo beating Vettel in 2014 is not a unique occurrence. Besides, meritorious as it is, unlike de Palma, Bruce-Brown, Rosemeyer, Stewart or Hamilton, Ricciardo is no rookie.

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


Thursday, 2 October 2014


After 12 years of development and refinement from its 2002 inception, my Rating System is being published. I have started with the Formula One era, 1950-2013, and divided it into decades for practical purposes.  Each ten-year period will be published separately. The seventh decade (1950-1959) is now available – see ‘Buy my Rating System’ above or click on the link below:

The seventh book contains the 1950-1959 seasons, is 91 pages, soft-cover bound and available now online here.

The sixth book contains the 1960-1969 seasons, is 82 pages, soft-cover bound and available now online here.

The fifth book contains the 1970-1979 seasons, is 90 pages, soft-cover bound and available now online here.

The fourth book contains the 1980-1989 seasons, is 81 pages, soft-cover bound and is available online here.

The third book contains the 1990-1999 seasons, is 80 pages, soft-cover bound and available online here.

The second book contains the 2010-2013 seasons, is 50 pages, soft-cover bound and available now online here.

The first book contains the 2000-2009 seasons, is 80 pages, soft-cover bound and available now online here.

A section entitled ‘Guidelines for interpreting my Rating System’ is included in all books which briefly explains my System.

Each season is in three sections, Package, Driver and Car, with the whole field rated and tabulated, and text discussing mainly the winners and the front-runners. My own illustrations are used, and reflect a spread of competitors for each season.

For those who are interested further, additional explanations can be found here: