Legendary Argentinian racing car driver Juan Manuel Fangio may be the greatest Formula One driver of all time, according to a new study. Researchers from University of Sheffield in the UK used statistical analysis to find the sport’s most accomplished competitor - looking at who is the best driver because of their talent, rather than because they have a good car.
Without considering the impact of his team, the greatest driver of all time in terms of most race wins is Michael Schumacher.
However, the study found that once the effect of his team is removed, legendary racer Fangio claims the top spot, followed by Alain Prost in second and Fernando Alonso in third position.
Fangio, who died in 1995 at the age of 84, dominated the first decade of Formula One racing, winning the World Drivers’ Championship five times.
In fact, Schumacher drops to ninth place in this analysis although his ranking is dragged down by his post-retirement performances in 2010-2012 when he was generally outperformed by his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg.
If his pre-retirement career is considered on its own, he ranks in third position.
Of current drivers, Alonso is the highest ranked driver, and both he and Sebastian Vettel are ahead of reigning champion Lewis Hamilton.
The study also found that teams matter about six times more than drivers when it comes to success in Formula One (F1).
About two-thirds of the team effect is consistent over time, with the rest caused by teams changing year-on-year, the researchers said.
Team effects have increased over time, but appear to be smaller on street circuits, where the driver’s skill plays a greater role, they said.
“The question ‘who is the greatest F1 driver of all time’ is a difficult one to answer, because we don’t know the extent to which drivers do well because of their talent or because they are driving a good car,” said Andrew Bell, from the Sheffield Methods Institute.
“Our statistical model allows us to find a ranking and assess the relative importance of team and driver effects, and there are some surprising results,” Bell said.
“For example the relatively unknown Christian Fittipaldi is in the top 20, whilst three time champion Niki Lauda doesn’t even make the top 100,” he said.
“Had these drivers raced for different teams, their legacies might have been rather different,” Bell said.
The study was published in the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.