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A Question for the Experts

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#1 bkalb

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 10:01

Here's a question I think is perfect for the TNF'ers, with their collective decades (centuries?) of motor racing knowledge and perspective:

There is endless comment today about the F1 cars and their respective pace vis-a-vis the rest of the pack. To put it in the terms of one often-posed question: has Michael Schumacher won so many races because he's the best driver, or because--as his detractors would have it--he has been given the best car?

My first reaction when I see that subject brought up is, it's a largely irrelevant question, because the best car has always attracted the best or one of the best drivers. Fangio in the '54 and '55 Mercedes, or Mansell in the '93 Williams, come to mind. But then I began to wonder: has that always been the case? There have been exceptions. So here's my question for you experts:

Have there been seasons when the best car has NOT had the best driver, or at least one of the best drivers (Senna as opposed to Prost, for example)? I'm defining the "best" car as the one capable of being driven around the average track by a top-notch driver at the fastest speed. If a car was blindingly fast but fell apart during every race, leave it out, but if it suffered only what used to be considered a normal number of mechanical failures, then include it. And let's limit it to the post-war period. (Who among us can say if Nuvolari, stuck with an inferior Alfa, was a better driver than Caracciola, who had the superior Mercedes?)

I'll throw in a couple of suggestions to get the discussion started.

1961 - The Ferrari was demonstrably the "best" car on most tracks, largely because it had a much more powerful engine than the rest in that first year of the 1.5 liter formula. Moss's Lotus handled a lot better, and Moss did beat the Ferraris in two races on two drivers' courses (the Nurburgring and Monaco) through sheer virtuosity, but overall, the Ferrari was the car that year. Moss, however, was the best driver at that point (no disrespect to Phil Hill and von Trips).

1966 - Similarly, the Brabham was far and away the best car. It was good in all ways, but it was fastest largely because it had a 3-liter engine in time for the new formula, and with Jack driving, it won the championship. The Lotus, driven by (the best driver) Jim Clark, only had a bored-out 1.5-liter Coventry Climax that first season.

1997 (leaving Schumacher's coming-together with Villeneuve out of the equation for the purposes of debate) - Schumacher came within a whisker of winning the championship against Villeneuve's Williams. Villeneuve was certainly a very good driver, at least back then. Was he as good as Schumacher, though, or was the best car on the track driven to the championshp by the second-best driver? To turn the question around: the 1996 Ferrari was terrible; Schumacher muscled it to three wins through superb driving skill alone. The 1997 was clearly a big improvement--but was the Ferrari the equal of the 1997 Williams, or did Schumacher make it the equal? Was the best driver in the second-best car that season?

Barry Kalb


#2 SEdward

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 11:59

Dear Barry,

To me, it's not exactly clear what point you are trying to make. In agreement with one notion expressed in your note, the best drivers do indeed have a habit of finding their way into the best cars, at which point they become pretty well unbeatable (there are many examples).

I think that this has been the case from Fangio to Schumacher.


#3 Racer.Demon

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 14:05

Originally posted by bkalb
1966 - Similarly, the Brabham was far and away the best car. It was good in all ways, but it was fastest largely because it had a 3-liter engine in time for the new formula, and with Jack driving, it won the championship.

But only because Ferrari shot itself in the foot again...

#4 philippe7

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 14:59

This is a huge debate , and there are probably dozens of examples of "the best driver not having the best car".....difficult to make a totally unbiased statement though ( and first of all : how do we agree on "the best" driver of the time....)

But also , how do we agree on "the best car" ......If we only look at the 70's for example ( the era I know - and like- best ) , the situation was so much different from today...there was a much bigger gap in performance between the quickest and slowest cars ( just look at the practice times then and now ) , but then the quickest cars were not always the same depending on the circuit , due to differences in technology ( the cars did look - and behave- very differently from each other) , engines , tyre brands.....the V12's would work best at Spa , Zeltweg or Monza ( just look where the BRM victories happened then...Pedro , Jo , Gethin even...) , the Tyrrells for some reason worked well at Anderstorp, etc....

Look at the Tyrell's 005/006 : considered "best" cars because in 73 Stewart took the title , and Cevert came 3rd.....but early in the next season those cars were considered very difficult to drive, twitchy and dangerous, by Scheckter and Depailler....so in 1973 they won because of their drivers , but were they "better" than , say , the McLaren M23 , or the Ferrari 312B3 ?

The good point was that a top driver could sometimes score a win in a lousy ( well , less good..) car , like Stewart with the March in 70 , or Ronnie with ( also ) a March in 76 . Something which is unlikely to happen nowadays.

However, if we try to find examples of cars on which we could agree they were "the best" of the moment :

1974 : Best car : McLaren M23
drivers : Emerson, Denny, Mike the Bike

Was one of those the "best" driver of the time ???? Mmmhhh ...maybe Fittipaldi, the best but not the quickest with Ronnie, or Reutemann , around.....

1975 : best car : Ferrari 312 T , driven by Lauda and Regazzoni . Best drivers of their time ? Well , was Niki already the best ? Mmmmh....maybe.

But you see , it's impossible to be unbiased about whom we qualify as the "best" driver.

Anyway, these are just my friday afternoon pre-long week end deep thoughts .....

#5 D-Type

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 21:18

In recent years the balance has definitely moved from driver to car.

Look at the number of times the grid has shown the cars in pairs - 2x Ferrari, 2 x Williams , 2x Mclaren, . . . , 2x Minardi, not often absolute symmetry but often very close. It certainly appears to be more difficult for a driver's skill to overcome deficiencies in the car.

The trend is clear, but why?

Are the cars now so near perfection that small differences become more significant?
Does the extremely tight regulation of cars nowadays stifle technical innovation limit the differences between cars so that the idea of some tracks suiting some cars is no longer true?
Or is this because the tracks are now more similar to each other?

#6 Option1

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Posted 09 April 2004 - 21:35

Originally posted by D-Type
In recent years the balance has definitely moved from driver to car.


Could be because a driver can't win without a car, but with so much electronics floating around the cars can almost win without a driver. :)