All season long I have kept tabs on a couple of figures associated with qualifying for all formula one grands prix, the teams' positions after the first practice sessions and the differences between these and their positions on the starting grids. Analyses of these figures have been reported quarterly (see. vol. 1, numbers 5, 9, 13, and 18). I wish not to bore previous readers with the details of the methodology, but a bit of explanation for first-time readers seems to be in order.
My methods, and the madness behind them, were really quite simple. After completion of the first Friday morning practice session for each race, I averaged the standings of the two cars for each team. For example, at the Spanish Grand Prix the Ferraris finished the opening session second and third for an average position of 2.5; in Brazil the Jordans finished eleventh and fifteenth for an average position of 13. Later each race weekend I averaged the positions of each team's cars on the starting grid and then calculated the difference from the Friday figure. The relative positions were then established. To illustrate, in Spain the Ferraris qualified second and third for an average of 2.5, which was no change, and in Brazil the Jordans qualified eighth and sixteenth for an average of 12, or an improvement of one full position. What do these figures mean? Well, all other things equal, which of course does not always hold true in formula one, they mean that the Ferrari factory did a better job than that of Jordan in terms of building a car for the Spanish Grand Prix, but the Jordan mechanics and engineers did a better job than Ferrari of preparing the car to meet the specific conditions at the Brazilian race.
Now it is time to look at the season summary, which is really nothing more than a average of all 17 races held this year. The summary of the first practice sessions, or a relative measure of how well the factories did their jobs is a follows:
The only surprises are probably that Simtek was included here and they did better than two other teams. I included this team because they did compete for a third of the season, but based their average only on the five events in which they made an appearance. Similarly, I based McLaren's figures on only 16 races, as the team did not start two cars for the final event. Hats are off to Frank Williams for building the best cars in 1995.
In order to measure how well the traveling crews did in preparing what their factories delivered, we first have to see how well the teams qualified. Below are the season-long average postions on the starting grid.
Surprises are not too numerous here either, are they? Hats remain off to Frank Williams.
The relative positions of each team may not have changed any between the Friday morning practice sessions and the final qualifying grid, however, a close examination of the differences in the absolute starting positions does yield insight. Indeed, it shows exactly how well each team's traveling mechanics performed. These figures are:
Frank Williams, you are a genious. You pulled-off a hat trick; the grand slam! You clearly have the best factory and the finest mechanics and engineers. You built the best car, and then improved it. Typically, the only place one can go from the top is down, but you did the impossible and went even higher. And, congratulations are in order for Ron Dennis, Eddie Jordan, Jackie Oliver, and Nick Wirth. Conversely, the faces of the Ferrari boys should be as red as their cars.
Now, exactly what does all this mean and what does it hold in terms of next year's prospects? Well, for one thing, these figures and my analyses lend substance to what several million people have thinking and what Maurice Hamilton of Racer, and Tony Dodgins of On Track said in the December and the 16 and 30 November issues of their respective magazines. The Williams drivers did not deliver with the equipment they were provided. In contrast, Michael Schumacher took the third-best equipment and won all the proverbial marbles. Is there any more doubt that Schumacher is a better driver than Damon Hill? Only a fool would say yes.
And what about Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger? Really, nothing. Collectively, they took the second-best cars and turned-in the third-best performance. Ditto for Reubens Barichello and Eddie Irvine. They took the fifth-best cars, and two that were improved upon greatly to meet specific conditions of each venue, and turned-in the sixth-best performance over the season.
So, what can we look forward to next year? On the basis of these figures, I have to say that the future does not look too bright for the united colors. It looks like the third-best cars will be driven by the third-best drivers. Flavio Briatore's hair should be a little grayer this time next year. He need not worry about a constructor's championship, nor celebrating a driver's championship. Down in Maranello, the red horse will be prancing. One of the second-best cars will be driven by the best driver. The other will be driven by a colorful character who, although does not have the numbers to support it, has demonstrated artfulness on the track. Irvine might well be a perfect teammate for Schumacher. Certainly he is the only driver who openly admits that Schumacher is the best and worth $25 million. Eddie has an ego, to be sure, but he also understands things quite clearly.
Meanwhile, things should really heat-up in Didcot. One of the best cars will be driven by Jacques Villeneuve--the best thing to hit formula one since Schumacher. The other will be driven by a more than competent driver, but not one of world championship caliber. Look for Hill to be driving a Jordan or a Ligier, if anything, in 1997. We may well see a rookie winning the championship this coming year. At the very least, Villeneuve will be going mano a mano with Schumacher. And, finally, he may be down, but Ron Dennis is not out; look for a resurrgence in McLaren. Remember, only a few years ago, Ferrari was floundering and now they are back in the thick of things. An exciting year awaits, 1996.