Hamilton’s luck: the stats

Lewis Hamilton’s chances of winning the 2014 world championship took another blow yesterday when his Mercedes W05 caught fire in final qualifying. Since the championship is still probably only between himself and his team mate, Nico Rosberg, forumula1.com decided to look into how much damage Hamilton’s luck has caused him this season…

So we thought what we’d do is have a system. Nico and Lewis have finished first and second in every race this year where neither of them has had mechanical issues. So we can say that every time either of them had a mechanical issue, they lost either first or second place – an average of 21.5 points. Where has Lewis been race-unlucky this season? Australia and Canada. (We’ll exclude Canada for the moment, because both of them had brake issues, and Rosberg was able to manage the brakes and therefore can have those points on merit). So Lewis is 21.5 points down.

But then Rosberg was also the victim of gremlins in Silverstone, which means it’s back equal. So let’s turn to qualifying. Can we apply the same rule – that either driver would have come first or second without problems in qualifying? Arguably, yes – although it’s adding another degree or two of decreased probability, that’s balanced out by the probability that the driver without difficulties in qualifying and so on pole has an easier run and wins more often.

But the driver is not losing the whole race here after quali – not both first and second, just the possibility of the win. So he only loses an extra 1.75 points on average – the difference between first (25) and the average score (21.5). (Again, although this does depend on how far down the field he ends up qualifying, that’s balanced out by the fact that he has a vastly superior car to the rest of the field and has in most cases been able to work his way through the field on pace alone to a theoretical second place).

Lewis’ travails in qualifying – Monaco, where he was forced to back off through no fault of his own; Silverstone, where he chose to back off; Germany, where he had brake failure; Hungary yesterday. We can discount Silverstone on the basis that it was his error. But if we take Monaco, Germany and Hungary together, Lewis has lost 5.25 points.

And he hasn’t. He’s down by 14 (even before Hungary today). There are other factors of course, like Hamilton’s slower pitstops, which arguably cause him more lost points. But there are glaring errors, like failing to conserve brakes in Canada, and running into Jenson Button in Germany (which cost him second). So bemoan Hamilton’s luck all you may, fans, but the reality is that the discrepancy between himself and Rosberg is probably to be found somewhere else.

Rosberg and Hamilton – the battle will rage all the way

Lewis Hamilton’s win in the British Grand Prix last weekend was the definitive statement he needed to bring his title challenge back to life. Of course, it helped that Nico Rosberg was the victim of mechanical trouble and did not score at all. The gap that now separates the only two realistic title challengers is a mere four points. But has the tide turned in favour of the Englishman as he profits from new confidence? Or will the German be able to contain his maverick team mate?

The debate was in microcosm last time out at Silverstone. Rosberg was serene after qualifying, safe in the knowledge that he had kept going as the third sector dried and had found the time he needed to topple his rival there. His glee was the polar opposite of Hamilton’s ire – but where Rosberg could say fortune and savvy had won him the day, Hamilton could only blame himself for his lowly starting position.

Fast forward to race day and Hamilton rapidly showed that he was the only credible pretender and threat to race leader Rosberg. They swept round, Hamilton finding more pace on the harder compound. Then Rosberg slowed. The argument still rages as to whether Hamilton would have caught and passed Rosberg if the latter had not retired. It’s hard not to think he would have done – spurred on by a wonderful crowd, a sense of duty and a fury fired by his own mistake in qualifying.

However. In that scenario, Rosberg licks his wounds, doffs his hat and comes second – scoring enough points to maintain a healthy lead in the standings. It wasn’t to be and that was none of the fault of the German. Would he have conceded purely as a tactical measure? Post-Austria, there’s a new reading of Rosberg – that he is simply the master technician. In an Alonso-like fashion, he has the ability to read races, set-ups, tracks, rivals, tyres, fuel consumption, etc etc ad infinitum. In this he is superior to, or at the very least unlike, Lewis.

But then there’s the speed, the sheer dynamism and the sense of destiny that wafts around Lewis Hamilton. You simply can’t write him off, because for all the flaws (and there are a few), that speed seems to inexplicably compensate. It allows him to royally cock up qualifying and yet be in distinct contention for the race win. It allows him to suffer slower pitstops (we’ve noticed, Merc) and be on terms. It allows him to have suffered the lion’s share of the reliability issues and still be nearly on a par with Rosberg.

So who will triumph? I have no idea. I suspect it will become clearer as the season progresses; that a trend will emerge that will preface the eventual victory of one over the other. But then you could just see the other coming back…F1 really needed this kind of battle this season, and we are going to have it just about all the way. What a great prospect.