Having long had a strong interest in Formula One racing (which admittedly has progressively waned since around 2012, as Sky have progressively taken over the coverage and commentator Martin Brundle jumped ship) I have decided to publish some of my ratings of how the Formula One drivers performed from 1990 onwards.
Relative to a starting rating of 9 out of 10, the following adjustments are made:
Drivers are deducted a mark for every half second per lap slower than the maximum feasible speed. Lap times are converted so that they are relative to a "best" lap time of 1:40.00 (or 100 seconds), thus giving a percentage difference (e.g. half a second per lap = 0.5% difference). This value has been chosen to maintain consistency, since a 2 tenths per lap difference indicates a smaller performance difference between the drivers if the circuit is long (e.g. Spa) than if it is relatively short.
Determining the maximum speed is far from easy, but is mostly judged relative to the speed that the fastest driver of the era is capable of if in good form. I have assumed the fastest drivers since 1980 to be (in chronological order) Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, with Gilles Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Mika Hakkinen, Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel very close behind. Some may doubt Alain Prost's inclusion in the first list, but his conservative approach during the mid to latter part of his career causes many to overlook how fast he was during the early part of his career.
Adjustments are made according to how good the car is, which takes into account the car's relative performance over the season as a whole, adjusted to take race-on-race variations into account. This is determined by a combination of factors, including pace differences over the race weekend as a whole, and how teams and drivers performed relative to each other in previous and subsequent seasons. I generally give weight primarily to the driver's race speed rather than qualifying speed, as the races are when points are won and lost, and a poor qualifying result tends to propagate across to the race anyway by compromising the driver's track position and race finishing time. But qualifying speed often gives a useful indication of how well the cars are doing.
Comparisons between team-mates are generally the most reliable basis for assessing speed, but even this is far from foolproof. Sometimes a team's number two driver is compromised, as was the case for Johnny Herbert at Benetton in 1995 for example, where the stats show that he was usually over a second per lap slower than Michael Schumacher, but I reckon that the real difference between the two was probably just over half a second per lap, considering that Johnny came very close to matching Mika Hakkinen in 1992 and Heinz-Harald Frentzen in 1996.
Setting fastest lap and/or winning the race can also gain a driver up to 1 extra mark, especially if the driver's rating would otherwise have been relatively low.
Entertainment and racecraft
This is where it gets more subjective, as I award drivers up to 2 extra marks for good wheel-to-wheel combat (e.g. strong overtaking moves or repeated overtaking attempts, or hard but fair defence of a position) and for moments of inspiration such as knowing the right moment to change tyres in changeable weather conditions or pressuring a rival into making a mistake. While F1 has increasingly evolved into a business, its appeal still depends considerably on entertaining the fans, and so I think it is worth rewarding drivers for providing entertainment.
Errors and unsporting behaviour
When drivers make errors (e.g. causing collisions, crashing out, spins, overshooting their pit crew) they can get up to 3 marks deducted per error (depending on how elementary the error is), or up to 4 marks deducted over a race distance if they make multiple errors. Again, much depends on the severity of the error and this is where some subjectivity can kick in. I do not generally deduct marks for "racing incidents" where the distribution of blame is controversial - if drivers race hard and try to entertain the crowds, every once in a while you will end up with contact.
Unsporting behaviour includes deliberately taking out another driver, excessive blocking, deliberately going off the track limits to gain an advantage, parking on the side of the track to try and get a session or race red-flagged. Up to 3 additional marks can be deducted from the driver's total for these depending on the magnitude of the unsporting behaviour. The most blatant examples to my mind include Ayrton Senna's move on Alain Prost at Suzuka 1990, Michael Schumacher's move on Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez 1997, and Michael Schumacher parking in qualifying at Monaco 2006 to stop Fernando Alonso from beating him, and these cases all resulted in hefty points deductions.
I don't factor the off-track politics and team building into consideration, although of course what happens off the race track can influence what happens on it.
The tables give each driver's rating out of 10 for each race of the season. An average rating is given for the first half of the season, for the second half, and for the season as a whole. Bold figures denote my "Driver of the Day" for that particular race.