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Stat Wrap: 2016 in numbers part II

The 2016 title was decided with a close finish in Abu Dhabi
By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician

Our resident statistical expert is back with Part II of his stats wrap of the thrilling 2016 Formula One season.

As the teams returned from their summer hiatus at the Belgian Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was 19 points clear in the championship, having won the last four consecutive races.

Of course, he was destined to not be champion in 2016, as the title passed between teammates for the first time since Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost split the 1988 and 1989 crowns at McLaren.  

Hamilton became the first ever driver to win four consecutive races in any season and not claim the title with it – a distinction that would have belonged to Rosberg had he not won the title, as he took victory in the first four races of 2016.

To be honest, we could easily fill 20 of these articles with Mercedes stats - which is essentially what we have done for the last nine months!  Take Belgium just in isolation, where Hamilton broke the record for the lowest starting position by a podium finisher in Spa history (21st), surpassing the record of Michael Schumacher (16th) in 1995.

Mercedes' wide-ranging achievements obscured the less grandiose feats of other drivers in the field.  Hamilton beat Nico Hulkenberg to the final step of the podium in Spa and even though fourth place matched the German’s career-best finish (coincidentally set at Spa in 2012 as well as Korea 2013), it would be another season of frustration, as he ended the year still seeking that first career podium finish.

With 115 Grands Prix under his belt, Hulkenberg trails only Minardi perennial Pierluigi Martini (118) and Adrian Sutil (128) on the list of most experienced drivers never to climb the podium.  Sutil, like Hulkenberg, spent the majority of his career at Force India along with a single year at Sauber, so it may partly explain Hulkenberg’s mild gamble on a switch to Renault for 2017.

Missed Part I of the 2016 season in numbers? No problem - it's here. 

Monza is truly Ferrari country, and Sebastian Vettel was able to partly live up to that with third place in the Italian GP behind the Silver Arrows. That may seen like a mundane result for the Scuderia, but it was the only podium scored by Vettel across a span of 12 Grands Prix toward the end of the season.

To put that into context, Vettel endured a run of just one podium in 11 Grands Prix in 2014, a sequence that preceded his decision to quit Red Bull for Ferrari in the first place.  He also ended the year on a run of 27 consecutive races without a front row start, the longest of his career – even longer than when he first arrived in F1, when it took him only 22 races to get to the front row, despite driving for ostensibly less competitive teams, BMW Sauber and Toro Rosso.

Speaking of Toro Rosso, the next race in Singapore brought up the 200th Grand Prix in their history as a constructor.  Vettel’s win from pole at the 2008 Italian GP still remains the only podium for the team under any name, having first entered as Minardi in 1985, and then as Toro Rosso at the 2006 Bahrain GP.

It was at that Bahrain race that a 20-year-old Rosberg made his debut and became the youngest man ever to set the fastest lap.  That record stood until it was beaten by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at this year’s Brazilian Grand Prix aged 19 years and 44 days, a stat overlooked by many in the aftermath of his astonishing fightback to a podium finish from 14th position with only 16 laps remaining.

Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo was the man to watch in Singapore, when an aggressive strategy saw him pit for ultrasoft tyres with 13 laps remaining.  Despite having a 25-second deficit to close on Rosberg, the Australian came within 0.488 seconds of delivering a most unlikely victory.

Having had a near miss at Marina Bay, Ricciardo finally scored a win in Malaysia, his first since the 2014 Belgian GP.  It was ironic that it should occur at Sepang, a circuit on which he had only previously scored just one point in his career, but it did keep up his unique distinction of never having won a race when starting outside the top three on the grid.

Malaysia also saw the 300th Grand Prix start for Jenson Button, who was racing in what is likely to be his last season of an F1 career that began when he was signed by Williams in January 2000. It therefore means that Button is the only man to start 300 races entirely within the 21st Century, as the only men ahead of him on the all-time table are Michael Schumacher (306) and Rubens Barrichello (322).

The final seven seasons of Button’s F1 career were spent at McLaren, who are now well into a 78-race winless streak that is the longest in the team's history, eclipsing the 53-race streak between the 1977 Japanese and 1981 British Grands Prix.  On a positive note, McLaren are slowly returning to form, with 76 points won this year being nearly three times more than they scored in their disastrous 2015 season (27).  Button’s best lap of the weekend in Malaysia was 7.204s quicker than he did at Sepang last year!

Read all of the 2016 Stat Wrap columns in our news section

Jolyon Palmer had an inauspicious start to his F1 career, just as he did when he was a rookie GP2 driver in 2011, when he failed to score points all season, before going on to win the championship in 2014.  It remains to be seen if he can scale such heights in F1, but the Englishman claimed his first career point in Malaysia, and out-qualified esteemed teammate Kevin Magnussen seven times in the final 11 races of the year.

As Palmer’s performances improved toward the end of the year, Haas saw their season rather tail off. However in Suzuka both Haas cars reached Q3 for the first time in their constructor history.  Romain Grosjean would ultimately finish 11th in Japan, which was normally where we found his teammate Esteban Gutierrez during 2016.

The Mexican somehow never managed to score a point this season, despite finishing 11th on five separate occasions!  It was by far the highest number of 11th place finishes by any driver who finished pointless since points began being awarded to 10th place in 2010.

Haas received the adulation of a home crowd at the following race in Austin, but it was race more memorable for Spaniards than Americans, as Fernando Alonso won a late battle with Carlos Sainz to claim fifth place, matching his best result from the past two seasons (set at the 2015 Hungarian and 2016 Monaco GPs).

While Sainz lost out, he matched his career-best result in sixth, coincidentally set on home soil in Catalunya back in May.  It was the first time two Spaniards have finished in the top six of a race since Alonso and Pedro de la Rosa did so at the Chinese Grand Prix, ten years ago.

Mexico City is over 7,300ft above sea level, and air is thinner as a result.  Because of this, since it returned to the calendar last year it has surpassed even Monza when it comes to top speeds, as the forced induction engines suffer less than their normally-aspirated predecessors would have done, and thin air means less drag.

Matters came to a head this year, as Valtteri Bottas was officially clocked at a speed of 372.54km/h (231.49mph), the highest ever recorded in a speed trap in a Grand Prix, and at the time it was reported as falling just short of Juan-Pablo Montoya’s Guinness World Record 372.6km/h, the fastest speed ever recorded at any location during a race (Italy 2005).

However, further enquiries by this author led Williams to analyse their telemetry and discover that Bottas actually maxed out at 373.3km/h before braking.  Once Bottas can take his mind off contending for the open Mercedes seat, perhaps a phone call to Guinness may be in order…

A succession of red flags in Brazil saw Hamilton become the first driver to win a Grand Prix without making a pitstop since Alain Prost at the 1993 German Grand Prix.  That race was Prost’s 51st and final Grand Prix victory, and by incredible coincidence Hamilton’s Interlagos win was the one that saw him surpass Prost’s career total and go second on the all-time list, behind only Michael Schumacher (91).

Away from the top of the tree, it was also the only race of the year in which a Sauber scored points, as Felipe Nasr held on to finish ninth, meaning the Swiss squad avoided a second pointless campaign in the last three years, having put up a zero in 2014.
By the time Hamilton crossed the line in Abu Dhabi to take a slightly hollow victory, he had backed the field up so much that he had inadvertently drawn a link to Gilles Villeneuve in the stat books.

The top three finishers – Hamilton, Rosberg and Vettel – were separated by just 0.843s at the flag, the closest since the 1981 Spanish GP, when Villeneuve’s powerful but ill-handling turbo Ferrari held off Jacques Laffite and John Watson by just 0.58s.  That was Villeneuve’s sixth and final win in Formula 1, but it seems unlikely that we’ve seen the end of Hamilton’s winning ways just yet.

So that was the season that was.  At 21 races, it was the longest ever seen in World Championship history, and some of the achievements this year may live on for generations to come.  The story shall continue on March 26 2017 in Melbourne…