Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor landroni
As the dust settles down after the end of the 2014 campaign, there is still considerable amount of debate over how closely matched were the Merc drivers after all. With Hamilton’s contract negotiations being handled by zee greitest negozieightorr in zee howl veid vvorrld, Toto Wolff—who just like our dearest Dr Helmut Marko and Niki Lauda—cares deeply about TJ13 readers and simply doesn’t know when to stop talking in front of the press. So we’re in for an entertaining spat starring Lewis and 1/3 of the Three Stooges, Wolff, which now seems to be going full-throttle. But how well did Rosberg actually fare versus Hamilton in 2014, and how entitled is Hamilton to press forward with his salary demands?
At first sight, Rosberg at the very least closely matched Hamilton. For much of 2014 he was leading the WDC, before the tables changed in Singapore, when Rosberg got his second taste of “leprechaun reliability”. He has also done a better job in qualifying, reportedly one of Hamilton’s strongest suits, beating him 11–7 and being faster by 0.187s on average.
Yet as pointed out by one of TJ13 readers, it’s interesting how:
- Hamilton beat Rosberg 11–5 in terms of wins, more than double and even though Rosberg started ahead of Hamilton more often than not
- Rosberg was unable to pass Hamilton on-track at any race
- Hamilton passed Rosberg more often than not, most spectacularly at the start of Abu Dhabi
- Rosberg couldn’t manage to win 2 races in a row in a supremely dominant car, while Hamilton had two win streaks (4 and 5 straight wins, respectively)
- and Hamilton finished on the podium every race that his car didn’t grind to a halt, affected by leprechauns (including after spectacular quali incidents like Hamilton flambé in Hungary or invisible brakes in Germany)
And somehow many argue, including your humble writer, that Rosberg has proved in 2014 that he was not too far off from Hamilton!
If you sit down with a glass of cold vodka and then take a sober look at the past season, then Rosberg’s performance suddenly seems much less impressive than at first sight.
If you exclude Hungary and Germany 2014, then the head-to-head tally stands at a less impressive 9–7, still advantage Rosberg. If we try to get a measure of their ultimate raw pace, and consider the best sector times throughout the year (set in any session, while still excluding qualifying times in both Hungary and Germany 2014), then Nico and Lewis are incredibly closely matched. From the 57 track sectors, Hamilton was quicker than Rosberg by a mere 29–28, with an average time separating the two drivers an infinitesimal 0.011 seconds. So if we look at both drivers’ theoretical best raw-pace performances while controlling for the Leprechaun effect, Rosberg has only done a wonderful job in matching the qualifying master, but not quite beating him. No mean feat, it must be said.
Switching to race day, Rosberg’s race performance versus Hamilton was ultimately flattered by the fact that the car’s advantage was so great over the competition that both of them were most of the times ahead of everyone else, while the closest challengers (Williams and Red Bull) were merely minor inconveniences on the start-finish straight. If you take this into account, then Rosberg was farther from Hamilton than many think.
That’s why, for instance, F1Metrics have classified Rosberg in 7th this year, his performance being only just in front that of Räikkönen (8th), and statistical miles behind behind the likes of Hamilton (2nd) and Alonso (1st). Put differently, the performance delta between Hamilton and Rosberg in 2014 was statistically not unlike the delta between Alonso and Räikkönen, which few would argue was a close-fought battle. (For more details on the methodology check the mathematical model and this very brief overview.)
When correcting for race-day luck as per our beloved Victims of Circumstance, Hamilton is still in front of Rosberg by a hefty 424–387. Clearly, even when you account for the obligatory race-day Leprechaun effect, Hamilton still emerges as the better racer.
So, if in 2015 Merc loses its crushing edge, then both Hamilton and Rosberg shall find themselves in traffic much more often than 2014, and unless Rosberg finds some grit—as he seemed to be doing in quali towards the end of last year, straining Hamilton’s nerves quite a few times—then these race performance differences will likely only get amplified.
Just like in fashion and entertainment, Hamilton seems to be having just that very little but ultimately tangible performance edge over Rosberg. As for his salary demands, my feeling is that all these outrageously overpaid drivers are plain and simple daylight robbers. But hey, employees like Hamilton clearly have market power, and can force their will onto very powerful corporations. (Funny when roles change, huh?)
And ze Wolff better be careful and brush his medieval history manuals: the last time a team (McLaren) felt Hamilton was replaceable and refused to give him an (“inflation-linked”) raise for excellent performance, they found that all of a sudden their car metamorphosed from fastest horse on the grid to midfield wheelbarrow when lucky, and incidentally, under the Leprechaun’s very own stewardship (Paddy Lowe, the other third of the Three Stooges). And two years on, with the former master’s head on a spike (Martin Whitmarsh), Lewis’ former team realised that they’d willingly give an arm and a leg just to get their former idol back. Bee verry verry keirfull Herr Wolff not to bark up the wrong tree…