Then and Now – Team Mates in Dominant Cars

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There is no doubt that the current Mercedes team has an edge over their rivals, since the introduction of the new regulation in 2014 they have only failed to win seven Grands Prix, while Lewis Hamilton has won two world championships and is leading the title at this point in the season.  Many in the media (certainly in the UK) are celebrating this period of dominance for a British driver and heaping praise upon him for his performance over the past two and a half seasons.  I don’t think I am alone in finding a bias in the reporting in this coverage that is getting a little over the top.  I have no problem in stating that Lewis Hamilton is a deserving world champion, and that he shows some outstanding race craft and has done for at least twenty years since he won the McLaren Mercedes Champions of the Future cadet karting series in 1996.  However I do feel that the constant praise he gets in the media undermines just how good Nico Rosberg is, and how mentally strong he has had to be to provide such a challenge to Hamilton for so long.  Looking at the points scored by the two Mercedes drivers over the past two and a half years:

Points 2014

Points 2015

Points 2016

We can see that Rosberg was ahead for much of the year in 2014, and the large points difference come the end of the year was due to his troubles in the double points race at the end of the season.  In 2015 although Hamilton was ahead all year, Rosberg was close until mid-season, and then fell away with a couple of retirements (engine at Monza and a throttle issue in Russia).  This season Rosberg has been leading for the first ten rounds after Hamilton had a series of poor starts at the beginning of the year and a couple of Power Unit issues that meant he started lower down the grid than would be expected for the dominant car.  In recent races the tables have turned, with Rosberg suffering brake issues in Austria, Gearbox problems in Britain, and after losing out to a better starting Hamilton in Hungary he has been passed for the lead in the points race.  It is still however very close, and there are still ten races to go.

Under the last set of regulations it was the aerodynamic advantage of the Red Bull that proved decisive, rather than the power of the Mercedes.  Unlike now where other teams can buy an identical Mercedes power unit, no-one was able to buy a Red Bull chassis.  In the four years that Sebastian Vettel won consecutive world titles however the competition did get closer.

Points 2010

Points 2011

Points 2012

Points 2013

In 2010 although Vettel started out ahead of Mark Webber (his team-mate) he didn’t actually lead the championship until after the final round when he was crowned champion and although Webber finished only fourteen points behind he was in third place in the title hunt.  In fact 3rd was Webber’s best finish in the title chase, even when the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel was most dominant (2011 and 2013). Over the four years of Vettel’s hold on the championship Webber only stood on the top step of the podium seven times, compared to Vettel’s 34.  2013 was the first year that Hamilton joined Rosberg at Mercedes, and although Hamilton finished ahead (fourth compared to sixth) Rosberg did win more often (two against Hamilton’s single victory for his new team) and the pair of them were far closer to Webber than he was to Vettel (who had nearly double Webber’s points).

The previous driver pairing who were in a dominant car for several years was Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari.  Schumacher won five consecutive titles and the team being especially dominant in 2002 and 2004.

Points 2000

Points 2001

Points 2002

Points 2003

Points 2004

Only in the dominant years (2002 and 2004) did Barrichello finish second in the championship and even in 2002 he only scored just over half Schumacher’s points (77 compared to 144).  Although he could be said to be improving against his team-mate (ending 2004 with over three quarters of Schumacher’s points total – 114 vs 148) he was never ahead in the title race.  This was no doubt influenced by the team’s heavy handed use of team orders that meant that the chosen driver would always finish ahead until the title was sealed, not matter how early in the season it was.

Moving then to the driver pairing that probably more closely resembles the intra team battle we see at the moment, if only due to the lack of team orders.  Looking at the two years Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna were team-mates at McLaren, the pair were very close on points.

Points 1988

Points 1989

In their first year as team-mates the car was even more dominant than the Mercedes of today, with the team only failing to win one race, at Monza when Senna was collected by a backmarker (stand in for Nigel Mansell at Williams – Jean-Louis Schlesser) when lapping him after Prost had already retired.  With dropped scores still applying at this time (the best eleven results from the sixteen races counting), it was Senna’s eight wins to Prost’s seven than saw the Brazilian take his first title by just three points.  The following year Prost had his  revenge, although again he won fewer races (four compared to Senna’s six), greater consistency in his remaining races enabled him to take the title by sixteen points.

Looking at all these graphs it seems it is rare to find two closely matched drivers in a winning car.  This may be (as in the case of Ferrari) that in order to ensure the team has the drivers as well as the constructors championship, the team imposes team orders.  It may also be that many drivers cannot maintain driving at such a high level for many years if they are constantly being beaten by their team-mate (both Barrichello and Massa regained form after moving away from Ferrari).  Either way, it appears to me that Rosberg is doing far more to put Hamilton under pressure than any other team-mate has to the world champion for the last twenty years.  In my opinion he probably deserves more credit than he gets from the UK media for his performances.  What do you think, how are the relative performance of the Mercedes drivers reported around the world?  Let us know in the comments below.

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24 Comments on "Then and Now – Team Mates in Dominant Cars"

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Peter Riva
Member
Peter Riva

Lord, I love good graphs. BRAVO!

Shaolin
Guest
Shaolin

No doubt Rosberg is almost as quick as Lewis. You often hear LH saying how quick Nico is, he has to at his absolute best to be able to beat him.
If Nico wasn’t at Mercedes, the last few seasons would have been pretty dull. I am a Lewis fan, but I would love to see Nico win a title, he totally deserves it. Even though Lewis has edged in front, with the upcoming engine penalties I think this could be the year for Nico

Keith Young
Guest
Keith Young

It’s so bad watching on Sky Sports F1 that it may as well be the Lewis Hamilton show. It is a brilliant production with obviously huge amounts of money and effort being invested……..but they need to dial back on the overly bias programme content.

I have been watching live on television since I was a child in the 70’s and have rarely missed a live broadcast to this day……..but I am at the end of my tether with Sky!!!!

Forza Ferrari!!!

A41202813GMAIL
Guest
A41202813GMAIL

You Can Always Watch RTL – Enjoy The Commercials.

GO, 44 !

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

I completely agree with you Keith, more F1 coverage than ever but so much of it focused on ‘praise singing’ for Hamilton. Imagine if they gave equal time to all the teams, we’d be nearly as well informed as the mighty MIE

B2
Guest
B2

Cut them some slack. It has been a while since British driver (let alone a team) won the title and once the rules change it will probably take quite a while again :)

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

2009 was doubly (diffuserly) good for the British fans. A British driver – Button, in a British Team – Brawn, using Japanese money, innovation (the rules interpretation that identified that the double diffuser), and German power, won the constructors and drivers championships.
British fans will just have to hope Williams resurgence continues in the new format, and that they select a British driver to fill one of the seats. I don’t think there are any other British teams on the grid, maybe McLaren, but the kiwi’s still claim that team.

Roger Flerity
Guest
Roger Flerity
It’s also possible that the cars themselves are being operated so far below their performance threshold – particularly in regard to tire and fuel conservation, that its masking the dominant drivers superiority to some degree. The eras before had less of this dynamic, with the cars being driven harder and nearer their physical limits than today. It’s easier to stay in close contact with the fastest driver, when that driver is throttling it, running in a reduced engine mode, etc… Meanwhile, drivers outside the dominant team are also throttling it, conserving tires, etc… so are no longer mounting strong challenges,… Read more »
jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

I think the fact that Hamilton and Rosberg are consistently so close in qualifying, when the cars are fully wound up, indicates that the parity in performance is real.

Joshua Z.H. Wu
Guest
Joshua Z.H. Wu
I agree with the notion that Nico doesn’t get enough credit for how he’s kept Lewis honest. I like Nico at least how he’s portrayed in the media. Humble, level headed, but still very competitive and hates losing. As much as I’d like to see Nico win a title, I think small differences in their abilities ultimately makes Lewis a more complete driver at least in the current formula. I feel for Nico though. Sometimes he seems like the F1 version of Andy Roddick trying to best Roger Federer. Unquestionably talented, but there’s just that one guy who’s a bit… Read more »
Mike
Member
Mike

This is brilliant! Love the comparison charts, wow! I also say in Nico’s credit that I think his ability and racecraft is so good that it has FORCED Lewis to dig deeper than maybe even Lewis believed possible…and some of the ‘completeness’ of LH as a driver is a result of this team paring

Mike
Member
Mike

My dream season would be to see Vettel, LH and Alonso all in competitive equipment toe-to-toe with each other…

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

Mine would be to see cars brimming with varied and innovative technology, with the focus on the teams and engineering. Weird ae ;-)

jakobusvdl
Guest
jakobusvdl

Great work Dave, more thoughtful and insightful analysis. It comfirms the view I’ve held since Mercedes signed Rosberg, and then Schumacher, and Rosberg was competitive with Schumacher from the start. The same when Hamilton came in. They’re both incredibly skilled and talented drivers, and the coverage that singles out Hamilton as being markedly superior is plainly nonsense.

FryDaddy
Guest
FryDaddy
I’m not one of Nico’s fans, but I do respect his ability as a driver. And it’s clear that Lewis does too. Nico makes Lewis a better driver, and the reverse is true as well. Lewis gave Nico the best gift ever last season by continuing to race against him after the title was decided. Can you imagine how demoralized he would have been had Lewis just stopped racing? “Yes, Nico can win, but only if Lewis isn’t really racing…” The other thing is that while their styles of driver are distinct, they are still similar enough so that as… Read more »
F1kat
Guest
F1kat

actually I became interested in Seb now. would it also possible to compare Sec vs his team-mate for his whole carrier?
He has always blown away the whole field in his champion winning years (mostly)
How remarkable he is.

Ricardo Beautement
Guest
Ricardo Beautement
Great analysis and love the graphs although they don’t necessarily paint a complete picture. Totally agree that Rosberg doesn’t get the credit he deserves although I believe his best chance to win the title was in 2014 when he had superior one lap pace. The lowest he qualified that year was China (4) with top 3 starts for the rest of the season. Lewis on the other hand started 6,9,20 and 22 mainly due to reliability, coupled with a 3 vs 2 DNF advantage it’s really was a great chance for Nico to win the title. Unfortunately the fact that… Read more »
Nj77
Guest
Nj77

Awesome eye-opening comparison and analysis Dave!
Wihhout doubt, Rosberg deserves more credit for holding up the fight however lacking he may be regarded on pure talent and skills compared to Ham!
-nj77