ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 37 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   History in the Making
Schumacher's Drive to the Top of the Stats

  by Barry Kalb, Hong Kong

Michael Schumacher often said he doesn't care about records and stats. When he broke down in tears, after matching the winning record of Ayrton Senna, his idol, he didn't look like someone who doesn't give a damn... Either way, Schumacher has taken one more giant step into the top of the records table of Formula One. He is now safely placed among the greatest of the sport and his own records will take years, if not decades, to surpass. Journalist Barry Kalb had been studying the achievements of the greatest drivers in F1 for several years now. He presents, exclusively for Atlas F1, the numbers and analysis of why Schumacher'd drive to the top is history in the making

Statistical Tables: The Greatest of All in Numbers

Michael Schumacher's win in Italy last Sunday not only put him back into contention for the 2000 world championship, it marked an enormous step forward in his drive into the Formula One history books.

More than a third championship is now at stake for Schumacher, sweet as that achievement alone would be for his long-deprived Ferrari team. His finish at Monza was his 41st grande epreuve victory, bringing him into a tie with Ayrton Senna for second most career wins. The only thing standing between him and the number one spot are the 51 wins of Alain Prost. Winning ten more races would be a prodigious feat for any normal driver: only 24 men have scored 10 or more championship wins in their entire careers. Yet if Schumacher's car remains competitive and his luck holds, he could conceivably catch Prost by the end of next season.

Schumacher in fact is already at or within striking distance of undisputed first or second place in every major category of achievement: wins, pole positions, points scored, podium finishes, fastest laps. Nor are his achievements due simply to the greater number of races per season or the greater number of points awarded a winner during the current era: in accomplishments per race started, he currently ranks no lower than sixth in all categories - ahead of Prost and Senna in almost every case.

Since entering Formula One halfway through the 1991 season, the 31-year-old German has shown himself to rank among the greatest eight or ten Grand Prix drivers of all time. He is one of the masters in the art of controlling a racing machine at high speed, in the dry or the wet. He is a master of race strategy and tactics. He is supremely competitive, which partly accounts for the extraordinary string of controversies he's been embroiled in, but it also makes for some very exciting racing.

Schumacher racks up critics almost the way he racks up race wins. This year, the criticism has centered on a couple of instances when, from pole position, he cut in front of the number two man at the start. The race stewards have concluded that his maneuver was within the rules, however much it might have angered drivers like David Coulthard. In fact, the German is hardly the first top driver to take full advantage of the rules-and to see how far they can be bent. Stirling Moss once told the writer Ken Purdy:

"…I noticed that on a certain circuit I needed to use about a foot, just about 12 inches of the pull-off zone for coming into the pits, if I wanted to go really and truly fast through a bend. So, knowing I could do it only once and get away with it, I waited until I needed one really quick lap, and I came through that bend flat out…and I took the extra foot; and immediately…I made a signal that I was coming into the pits, I fiddled with the gear-level, not lifting off on the throttle…but pretending to pull and tug a little as though it was jammed, and then just as I knew I was flat-out in that gear…I pulled my hand in, shoved the thing into the next gear…I could think of a good many things like that one can do."

Schumacher, like Moss, is famous not only for his sheer driving skills, but for thinking his way through a race, often winning in an inferior car as a result. A driver like this is almost bound to attract criticism, and envy, along the way. It's lonely at the top.

Motor racing is famously unpredictable, of course, as this season has demonstrated. Schumacher's drive toward the top of the historical charts could be derailed by any number of factors. His car could again become uncompetitive. He could suffer another injury, like the broken foot at Silverstone that put him out of combat for half of the 1999 season. He could, especially if he wins this year's championship, surprise everyone and retire early, or decide to coast during the final two years of his contract with Ferrari -although he does not seem to get into a racing car with any intention other than to win. All the great drivers ended their careers, whether through retirement, injury or death, still fighting if not necessarily winning. It would be extremely surprising to see Michael Schumacher dogging it.

The Records

Statistics are a cold way to judge something as subjective as motor racing skill, especially when the car plays so critical a role in a driver's performance. Yet driving skill and driving achievements tend to correlate pretty closely, and statistics are the only way we have to compare drivers of different eras.

By one admittedly statistical measure, Schumacher is already the most successful Formula One driver of the modern era. If you calculate the drivers' average ranking in all ten major categories (see the accompanying tables), Schumacher ranks highest of all. Prost is in second place, Juan Manuel Fangio in third. One doesn't have to resort to statistical juggling, however, to take the measure of Schumacher's accomplishments. Following is an abbreviated look at the rankings. The full statistics are in the accompanying tables.

Wins            First  Second
Prost             51         
Senna                    41  
Schumacher               41  

Poles           First  Second  Fourth  Fifth
Senna             65                        
Jim Clark                 33                
Prost                     33                
Nigel Mansell                      32       
Juan Fangio                             29  
Schumacher                              29  

Podiums         First  Second
Prost            106         
Senna                     80 
Schumacher                80 

Fastest laps    First  Third
Prost             41        
Schumacher        41        
Mansell                   30 


Comparing the number of points scored by various drivers is complicated by several factors. First, the scoring system has changed several times. Between 1950 and 1959, the winner received eight points, one point was given for fastest lap, only the first five finishers were awarded points. In 1960, the fastest-lap point was eliminated, and 6th place began to receive points. In 1961, the winner's award was raised from eight points to nine, and in 1991, it was raised again, to 10.

Second, during the early years of the modern championship, two drivers could share the same car, and each would gain half of any points scored. At Monza in 1956, for example, Peter Collins turned his Ferrari over to teammate Fangio after the latter's steering had broken, allowing the Argentinean to score just enough points to take his fourth world championship. Third, during many seasons, only a certain number of races counted towards the championship, so the actual points scored and the points with which a driver officially finished the season have frequently been different.

There is no practical way to strip out the effects of shared points. But for comparative purposes, it is easy enough to make allowances for the other variables in the scoring system. I have first of all counted total points scored by each driver, which gives a table of "actual" points. Next, I have added an appropriate one or two points for each pre-1991 win, one point for any pre-1960 6th place, and subtracted any fastest-lap points from the 1950-59 seasons, to provide a "theoretical" total.

(actual)        First  Second  Third
Prost           798.5               
Schumacher              648         
Senna                           614 

(theoretical)   First  Second  Third
Prost           842.5               
Schumacher              648         
Senna                           640 

There are those who will argue that, the race calendar now longer than it used to be, Schumacher has had a lot more races in which to score points and poles and the like. Those people should take a look at the achievements-per-start tables. Schumacher's per-start achievements are greater than Prost's and Senna's in almost every case, and greater than almost everyone else's. (Fangio, in case anyone doubts the validity of this measure, ranks first in all categories on a per-start basis.)

Wins / start    First  Second  Third  Fourth
Fangio          47.06%                      
Alberto Ascari          40.6%               
Clark                          34.72%       
Schumacher                            29.29%

Poles / start   First  Second  Third  Fourth  Fifth  Sixth 
Fangio          56.86%                                     
Clark                  45.83%                              
Ascari                         45.16%                      
Senna                                 40.37%               
Moss                                          24.24%       
Schumacher                                           20.71%

Podiums / start First  Second  Third 
Fangio          68.63%               
Farina                 60.61%        
Schumacher                     57.14%

Points / start  First  Second  Third
Fangio           5.44               
Schumacher              4.63        
Ascari                          4.56

Points / start  First  Second  Third
Fangio           5.95               
Ascari                  5.03        
Schumacher                      4.63

F.Laps / start  First  Second  Third  Fourth 
Fangio          45.10%                       
Clark                  38.89%                
Ascari                         38.71%        
Schumacher                             29.29%

The Future

Schumacher's per-start averages might go up or down before he hangs up his helmet. His total number of wins, poles, podiums, points and fastest laps will inevitably rise, assuming he is able to continue competing. He will almost certainly reach undisputed second place, and very possibly first place, in wins, points and podium finishes. He is already tied for first in fastest laps. It seems unlikely anyone will ever surpass Senna's 65 poles, but there is every reason to believe that before he retires, Schumacher will score the five additional poles that will put him in second place in this category.

There are people who don't like Schumacher, and nothing he does will ever please them. There are those who will argue that if Senna had not been killed in 1994, Schumacher's record would look different.

Perhaps. But motor racing is full of what-if's. What records might have been set if Jimmy Clark's Lotus hadn't fallen apart and killed him in 1968? How different might Prost's statistics look if Gilles Villeneuve had lived to challenge him in the 1980s? Who would have been champion in '98 if Coulthard hadn't handed the first race to Mika Hakkinen on a platter, and hadn't later precipitated the incident at Spa that crippled Schumacher's car while the latter was running away with the race? What might the 1999 season have looked like if Schumacher hadn't missed half of it?

In Formula One, what you see is what you get. Anybody who appreciates the fine art of motor racing knows that to watch Michael Schumacher behind the wheel of a Formula One car is to see racing genius at work. And indeed, the man's career record confirms that he is one of the best of all time.

Barry Kalb© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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Barry Kalb is a veteran journalist of 20 years' experience (the Washington Star, CBS News, Time Magazine) and a motor racing fan - especially Formula One - for almost 40 years. He currently resides in Hong Kong.

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