Thursday, July 5, 2012

General Classification in Formula One

The general classification (or the GC) in bicycle racing is the category that tracks overall times for bicycle riders in multi-stage bicycle races. Each stage will have a stage winner, but the overall winner in the GC is the rider who has the fastest time when all the stage results are added together.

This is method of determining who gets to wear the prestigious Yellow Jersey at the Tour de France and ultimately "win" the Tour de France. 

I always thought it would be fascinating if the same classification would be applied to Formula 1 , taking each "stage" as individual grand prix and taking the overall time as the sum of the time taken for a driver to finish every stage. 

A couple of things before we start : 
  • A major problem I faced while trying to determine the General Classification method in Formula One was when a driver crashed or retired and did not finish is the lack sufficient data as to what was the exact time in terms of race distance did the driver complete before retiring during a grand prix. I tried to overcome this method using the lap time of the driver who subsequently finished the race in the position of the retiring driver driver on the last lap of grand prix and multiplied it with the number of laps the driver did not finish. Thereby determining the time the driver lost out from the winner in that particular grand prix.
  • For example :In the European Grand Prix where Sebastian Vettel retired on Lap 33 and the driver who subsequently finished the race in the race position Vettel retired in was Alonso.  So , I multiplied Alonso' lap time in the final lap by the number of Laps Vettel did not finish = 57-33 = 24. Alonso's final lap time was suppose X seconds , we then multiply 24*X = Y seconds. Hence Vettel finished Y seconds behind the leader in the particular stage(race).
  • Although this isnt the best way to overcome the problem , lack of sufficient data led me to do this. And in essence after looking at the results we really can see that this assumption can be taken safely.
  • Its pretty obvious that in this method of classification , consistency would be key as finishing each race would put you right at the top of pack in terms of overall leader.
  • However, another different dimension this method of classification opens up is the fact that time is everything , so whilst finishing second or third in a grand prix under the present scoring system would mean that you would have had a deficit of 7 and 10 points respectively; however if a driver finishes close to his championship contender he wouldn't loose out on much. 
  • For example : if we take the 2012 Monaco Grand Prix where the top six all finished withing a second of the leader,  even 6th place Felipe Massa would have had a brilliant result in that sense .

Let's begin : 

The Data :

The numbers with respect to each driver is the overall deficit with the wearer of the yellow jersey(the overall leader , in the General Classification method the leader being the driver with the least completion time of all the stages till that stage).

For instance , Button won the season opening Australian Grand Prix and hence has a deficit of zero.
After the second round , adding up the total race times of each driver we see that Hamilton who placed third in the Malaysian Grand Prix leads and Alonso is now just 2.899 seconds from him.  

The Graph:


Consistency and strong finishes have given Fernando Alonso a twenty point lead in the current scoring format and not surprisingly he's also the leader in the general classification method with a lead of 57.157 seconds.

What is surprising is that in second place with the least deficit to the leader Alonso is Kimi Raikkonen , who is now 34 point behind Alonso and sixth in the championship. Only three drivers have finished all laps raced in this season till date : Alonso, Raikkonen and Rosberg. This puts Raikkonen in a strong position in the overall classification ,however it necessarily does not do the same for Rosberg.

We can see that he lost a lot of time to leaders due to poor finishes in the Malaysian, Spanish and European Grand Prix.  Funnily enough the graph levels in Monaco as Alonso finished .6 behind him and he finished .43 seconds in front of Rosberg in Canada.

Although Mark Webber has not had a retirement yet, he did finish 1 lap down at the Spanish Grand Prix leading to a big spike from round 4 to round 5 but strong consistent finishes have put him third in the General Classification method.

Although Hamilton started strongly and was the leader till the Chinese Grand Prix , but due to bad bit stops in Bahrain and starting from the back of grid in Spain made him loose a lot of time with respect to Alonso.

The biggest loser ,in this form of classification would be any driver who retires early in the race. Although Sebastian Vettel was second till the Canadian Grand Prix , due to his early retirement in Valencia, his graph substantially shoots up . Such a huge spike that I could not accommodate his deficit in the graph without the other deficits being too minuscule to notice. The same can be noticed for Button too and Romain Grosjean can be expected to be languishing with the Caterhams due to his many early retirements. 

Apart from just looking at numbers, if this method was indeed at some point adopted by the FIA for a Formula One Championship it would definitely open new avenues in racing.

Simply consolidating a position whether it may be the lead driver in a grand prix or someone down the grid is not sufficient to win the championship. With the current Pirelli tires, which need to caressed and looked after this would indeed bring forward more pit stops as every driver would constantly be on the limit of his car and go as fast as possible. Although this is always the aim in racing , drivers and team do take advantage of tactics such as an undercut to gain track position. With this method even if a driver ends up coming second he can still be close in the championship if he finished within a second of the leader.

This was evident at this year's Spanish Grand Prix , where Kimi Raikkonen pitted and put on an extra set of softs and ended up closing the gap to Alonso to .7 seconds when he crossed the chequered flag. 

This would please those who criticized the Pirelli tires for not being like the Bridgestone era tires where drivers would be told to put in 20-30 qualifying laps in a race due to the durability of the tires and the ease with which the drivers got the tires in the working temperature .

Even for someone who would let's say would be somewhere in position six with an uneventful race where he finds himself quite a bit in front of the driver in position 7 and quite a bit behind the driver in position 5 ( as Nico Rosberg found himself quite a few times in the 2010 Formula One Season ) , he simply would not sit calm and look after his car or engine for the next races , he would be harried by the driver behind him and he obviously would be harrying his nearest championship contender. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, and good analysis, and data behind calculation of the GC. It definitely is a different idea, though comes up with the same result, Alonso wins :)

    However I think there are flaws with GC for it to be applicable to F1:
    1. Say in a close season like this year, Vettel, manages to finish the previous race, 20-30 seconds ahead of the others. This gives him a massive lead in an otherwise close title race, and makes it much more difficult for the others to catchup. A couple of more races like that, and the season would be effectively over.

    2. 2 equally paced cars would have lower incentive to attempt overtaking manouevers, such as those we saw last race. 1 second is probably not worth the points Kimi got, by making his move on Hamilton last race. This is particularly important when positions 1 and 2 are equally paced cars, not separated by a huge time margin. The additional gain from 7 points outweights the additional time advantage, and leads to more competition to win.

    3. As you said, cars who dont finish would be penalised heavily, again preventing risk taking, and going for the gap. In fact, it may make pit stop strategy more defensive.