Monday, December 9, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Ready Player No One

The Snowball Derby was rained out. NASCAR had a banquet. Autosport had an award show. There was an endurance race in California. Dale Coyne is narrowing down his list of drivers. Zandvoort is undergoing a facelift. The Vietnam Grand Prix circuit is adding corners. Fernando Alonso is talking to Andretti Autosport about a return for the Indianapolis 500. IMSA announced the details to its 2020 television schedule. One note, this is the final Musings From the Weekend of 2019 but do not worry. Over the final weeks of the year we will revisit a few sets of predictions, hand out some awards and look ahead to the 2020 season. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Ready Player No One
Christmas is coming up and it is the time for trying to decide what to get others and creating a Christmas list.

There are certain things we would like to have in our lives. Either they are too expensive to go out and buy ourselves or they are items we have not gotten a chance to get but here is a chance for someone else to get it. We can put it on a list for a family member, loved one or friend to pick out for us. Our hope is when peeling away wrapping paper on Christmas morning to discover the item our hearts desired.

There are plenty of gifts for race fans. Maybe it is a pair of tickets meant for a stocking, a new t-shirt of our favorite driver or manufacture or maybe it is a book to fill our winter before race cars roar back to life. The gifts range from the young to the old. What a person who grew up in the 1960s with the likes of Foyt, Andretti and Unser would want for Christmas will likely differ than a 13-year-old who has started loving motorsports but cannot get enough for it. The elder statesman may want something that is a little less flash; paper over plastic, something to keep on a shelf. The youngling may want something to simulate a limited attention span; something that makes noise and has a lot of color.

The youths are into video games. Not all, but a lot of them are playing something. It has been this way for a while but video games have migrated from arcades into our homes and have been a regular staple in living rooms, basements and bedrooms for girls and boys for two decades now.

There are many video game options out there for motorsports fan but the one that has been lacking has been an IndyCar game. There is a Formula One game. There is a NASCAR game. There are the compilation games like Gran Turismo and Forza that allow people to drive all different types of cars, from street vehicles to race cars to the wildest imaginations from the brightest minds in motorsports. An IndyCar-specific game is nowhere to be found.

You can find IndyCars somewhere. There were IndyCars included in one of the Forza games not long ago but that is only a small taste. The IndyCar fan base has wanted a game that includes everything beyond Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They want to race the streets of St. Petersburg and Long Beach, they want to navigate Road America and Laguna Seca, and they want to run the banking of Iowa and Texas. They want a career mode, starting at the bottom of the Road to Indy and working the way up to IndyCar and hoping to get the dream call from Team Penske or Andretti Autosport.

An IndyCar video game has potential. It would be more than just driving in circles. It could be something with great depth and provide a player with plenty of content to not get tired of the game. However, there is a reason why it does not exist.

I hate to say this but the demand for an IndyCar game isn't there to justify its creation.

It is one thing for a few hundred IndyCar fans to want an IndyCar game but the number of people needed to justify not only the game itself but the level of resources needed to create each racetrack and each automobile and make it as realistic as possible costs much more than any possible revenue.

There is a strain of thought that the one thing holding IndyCar back is the lack of a video game. IndyCar is not available to a segment of the audience that spends its Tuesday nights with controllers in hand instead of reading Racer Magazine or tuning into Trackside with Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee.

The problem is just because a game exists doesn't mean people are going to buy it and play it. It is a bringing a horse to water type of situation.

Don't get me wrong, it would be better to put something on the table than nothing at all but there is a reason isn't available to begin with.

So, if an IndyCar-specific game is not possible, then what?

IndyCar was in Forza, which is a popular game, but is only available on the XBOX platform. One option could be to expand its partnership with Forza or expand with Gran Turismo, the Sony-developed PlayStation game, and have it be an integral part of either of those platforms. This has been the case with sports cars. There hasn't been a sports car game, at least not in my lifetime, but the 24 Hours of Le Mans was prominently featured in the Gran Turismo games. You could drive the Audi R18 TDI, the Peugeot 908 HDi FAP, the Corvette C5-R, the Dodge Viper GTS-R and historic cars such as the Ford GT40 Mk. I, the Ferrari 330 P4, the Jaguar XJR-9 and Mazda 787 to name a few.

There is a limit to the platforms of Gran Turismo and Forza. Only so much can be included. It is not going to be an IndyCar-game. It is going to be a game that has IndyCar. It is not going to have the depths of a career mode with the Road to Indy taken into account. It is not going to include all 16 tracks and it is not going to have all the teams and drivers.

I think it is better to have something than nothing and if that means having IndyCar be an option in a video game that includes hundreds of other cars and races than so be it. Right now, an IndyCar-specific game is not coming but perhaps IndyCar should get into a serious partnership with Gran Turismo and/or Forza and use those platforms to promote IndyCar to more people. You have give people a taste, have them drive around Indianapolis Motor Speedway in not just the DW12 but bring out the machines that made IndyCar famous, the STP-Paxton Turbocar, Lotus 56, Penscke PC-23 and the Chaparral 2K and make people see how fun IndyCar can be.

Maybe a developer is willing to take the chance. Maybe the market for an IndyCar game is greater than it appears. It is something IndyCar has to work on. It has to find a way to be available to the gaming population.

IndyCar is not going to figure it out in time for this Christmas but it has plenty of time for Christmas 2020.

Winners From the Weekend
You know the Snowball Derby was rained out but did you know...

The #10 Turn 3 Motorsports Radical of Peter Dempsey, Neil Alberico, Antoine Comeau and Eric Wagner won the 25 Hours of Thunderhill.

Coming Up This Weekend
The FIA World Endurance Championship will have an eight-hour race in Bahrain.
The World Touring Car Cup concludes its season in Sepang.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Formula One's Best Drivers of the 2010s

We have reached the final review of the decade and, after looking over best from races from IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula One, we will conclude with the best drivers from Formula One in the 2010s.

Sixty-six drivers started a grand prix in the 2010s, which seems very low. IndyCar had 104 drivers start a race and the NASCAR Cup Series had 181 drivers start a race. Granted, the grids are larger in NASCAR and in most cases there is more fluctuation in drivers but 66 drivers? That is quite low.

Despite the number of drivers, as with IndyCar and NASCAR, the criteria to be considered for the top ten is you had to win one race. There were 198 opportunities to win a Formula One grand prix in the 2010s. If you could not win one then you are not considered.

For fans of Michael Schumacher, Felipe Massa, Nico Hülkenberg, Sergio Pérez, Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen, Carlos Sainz, Jr., Marcus Ericsson, Kamui Kobayashi, Lance Stroll, Adrian Sutil, Paul di Resa, Esteban Gutiérrez, Jean-Éric Vergne, Esteban Ocon, Max Chilton, Jarno Trulli, Lando Norris, Rio Haryanto and Alexander Rossi none of these drivers were considered.

Twelve drivers won a Formula One grand prix in the 2010s. That's it. With so few race winners, I just ranked all 12; including you know who and we start with our Venezuelan friend.

12. Pastor Maldonado
Starts: 95
Wins: 1
Podium Finishes: 1
Top Five Finishes: 2
Top Ten Finishes: 13
Pole Positions: 1
Average Finish: 15
Seasons with a Victory: 1
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: Look, I will level with you, Pastor Maldonado was not the 12th best driver this decade. His victory in the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix will go down as one of the most absurd things to every happen in Formula One.

Twenty-five drivers had podium finishes in Formula One this decade. Maldonado is one of nine drivers to have only one podium finish this decade. Maldonado's best championship was 14th. Of those other eight drivers, they all finished better than 14th in the championship at least once this decade. One of those drivers is Vitaly Petrov, who had championship finishes of 13th and tenth. It includes Kobayashi, who had three consecutive championship finishes of 12th to start the decade. It includes Nick Heidfeld, who finished 11th in the championship in 2011 despite only starting 11 races. Maldonado ran all 19 races that season and was 19th.

Thirty-three drivers had top five finishes in Formula One this decade. Rubens Barrichello, Paul di Resta, Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll had as many top five finishes at Maldonado. Antonio Giovinazzi, Heidfeld and Felipe Nasr all had only one top five finish.

Maldonado was probably the 33rd best driver this decade in Formula One. He did win one race but outside of that he was just another driver. You could probably make an argument he was only the 40th best driver. I am not sure any one would fight that... except for Maldonado himself.

11. Kimi Räikkönen
Starts: 158
Wins: 3
Podium Finishes: 41
Top Five Finishes: 75
Top Ten Finishes: 119
Pole Positions: 2
Average Finish: 7.7
Seasons with a Victory: 3
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: While being a fan favorite, Räikkönen has been living on borrowed time in Formula One.

Need I remind everyone the Finn was out of Formula One for the first two seasons of this decade? He won twice with Lotus but then spent five seasons with Ferrari and it took until his 96th start with the team to get a victory. In three of those five seasons he led zero, ten and six laps respectively.

Though Räikkönen was in the top five of the championship on five of eight occasions, I am not sure anyone saw him as a real threat. He seemed like a driver going through the motions and Ferrari kept giving him a contract. Now Alfa Romeo is giving him money.

10. Jenson Button
Starts: 137
Wins: 8
Podium Finishes: 26
Top Five Finishes: 46
Top Ten Finishes: 85
Pole Positions: 1
Average Finish: 9.4
Seasons with a Victory: 3
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: It is forgotten how Button backed up his World Drivers' Championship at the start of the decade.

Mercedes-Benz took over the Brawn GP organization and that forced Button out of the ride that he took to the mountaintop. He moved to McLaren, pairing him with Lewis Hamilton and immediately held his own with championship finishes of fifth, second and fifth in his first three seasons respectively. He had two, three and three victories in those seasons respectively.

The one down side is Button stayed with McLaren and the return of Honda was not the injection of life for the manufacture. Button spent the final two full seasons of his career and a Monaco Grand Prix significantly hampered.

9. Charles Leclerc
Starts: 42
Wins: 2
Podium Finishes: 10
Top Five Finishes: 17
Top Ten Finishes: 28
Pole Positions: 7
Average Finish: 9.2
Seasons with a Victory: 1
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: It is still early in Leclerc's career but he has jumped into Formula One and immediately found results.

His rookie season with Alfa Romeo went so well that Ferrari made him the second-youngest driver to ever run for the Scuderia. He nearly had victory in his second start but the car failed him. Leclerc went head-to-head with a four-time champion as his teammate and won the intra-team battle. He picked up his first two victories at Spa-Francorchamps and Monza. He won seven pole positions, the most in the 2019 season.

It is hard to justify putting Leclerc any higher than nine. There just isn't enough there but in ten years there will be and he should be a little higher in these rankings.

8. Valtteri Bottas
Starts: 139
Wins: 7
Podium Finishes: 45
Top Five Finishes: 78
Top Ten Finishes: 103
Pole Positions: 11
Average Finish: 7.2
Seasons with a Victory: 2
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: After going through the highs and the lows with Williams, Bottas landed at Mercedes and reached the heights every grand prix driver dreams about but continues to have low moments.

Bottas was the top Williams driver in the championship in all four seasons he was with the team. He got the most out of the cars and the competency led him to Mercedes. He has been the clear number two to Lewis Hamilton but he has gotten the points Mercedes-Benz has needed.

Should we be a little disappointed Bottas has had one season where he has been able to challenge Hamilton? This season appeared it would be it after Bottas won the season opener and two of the first four to have him leading the championship before heading to Spain but Hamilton is on another level and Bottas has done a commendable job.

7. Mark Webber
Starts: 77
Wins: 7
Podium Finishes: 32
Top Five Finishes: 51
Top Ten Finishes: 65
Pole Positions: 12
Average Finish: 6.3
Seasons with a Victory: 3
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: Webber only ran the first four seasons of this decade and he was third in the championship three times this decade. He had only one great shot at a championship and as we know his teammate Sebastian Vettel won it but Webber kept Vettel honest at Red Bull.

Webber did all he could to not be the number two driver and he had his moments. Webber was not going to change the perception of who was Red Bull's top driver but he made it clear he was the right driver to have in the team for those four seasons. It was definitely a high-note to go out on.

6. Daniel Ricciardo
Starts: 171
Wins: 7
Podium Finishes: 29
Top Five Finishes: 58
Top Ten Finishes: 98
Pole Positions: 3
Average Finish: 9.9
Seasons with a Victory: 4
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: Though having the same number of victories, three fewer podium finishes and only seven more top five finishes despite nearly 100 more starts than Webber, Ricciardo gets sixth because he forced Vettel out of Red Bull.

Ricciardo came in and the year after Vettel had won his fourth consecutive championship beat his teammate in the championship. Not only did he beat his teammate but he was the only Red Bull driver to win a race that season. Vettel was gone like that.

One season isn' the only reason Ricciardo is sixth for the decade. Let's remember the Australian started with HRT for 11 races, getting him ready for Formula One before a move to Scuderia Toro Rosso. Few Toro Rosso drivers have left an impression on Formula One. We are talking about three seasons and 50 starts where Ricciardo was only hoping to get some points.

Ricciardo got the most he could out of Red Bull at a time when Mercedes had a stranglehold on the championship. He was a one of the drivers that could regularly breakthrough. Now he has moved to Renault and the trajectory of his career is unclear. He turned 30 years old in July. Renault does not appear to be on the cusp of winning anytime soon.

Ricciardo could be one of these talents that had it but never was at the right team at the right time.

5. Fernando Alonso
Starts: 174
Wins: 11
Podium Finishes: 44
Top Five Finishes: 70
Top Ten Finishes: 111
Pole Positions: 4
Average Finish: 8.9
Seasons with a Victory: 4
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: Alonso did more with less and was agonizingly close to adding another two World Drivers' Championships to his résumé this decade.

I think Alonso covered over many of the flaws Ferrari has had for the last ten seasons and we have seen many of those exposed since his departure from the Maranello-based team. Alonso was second, fourth, second, second and sixth in the championship while with Ferrari. Felipe Massa was his teammate in all of those seasons and Massa was never better than sixth in the championship during that time.

Alonso took the leap of faith to McLaren and the Honda engine never panned out. However, Alonso got the most out of the faulty car. In 2015, he was fifth in the Hungarian Grand Prix when up to that point McLaren had two points finishes for a total of five points. The following season he picked up two top five finishes and scored a fastest lap in Italy. The year after that he got another fastest lap, skipped Monaco to run the Indianapolis 500 and still finished ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne in the championship. In his final season, he handily outperformed Vandoorne with 50 points to the Belgian's 12 points.

Alonso's career will go down as incredible but also lacking. Every move was one or two years off. His numbers are great but they still will not tell the truth length of his greatness.

4. Max Verstappen
Starts: 102
Wins: 8
Podium Finishes: 31
Top Five Finishes: 57
Top Ten Finishes: 76
Pole Positions: 3
Average Finish: 7.7
Seasons with a Victory: 4
Championships: 0

Reason For the Ranking: Verstappen came in as a boy and did not buckle from the pressure.

There were many skeptics when it was announced the Dutchman would make his Formula One debut at 17 years old for Toro Rosso. The Red Bull program pushed the limits of driver selection going younger and younger and this move forced a strict age limit as well as Super License points.

Regulations aside, Verstappen outscored teammate Carlos Sainz, Jr. by 31 points in his rookie season with Toro Rosso. Verstappen's increasingly improving results combined with Daniil Kvyat's uninspiring results led to Red Bull making a swap early in Verstappen's sophomore season and the rest is history.

Verstappen won on his Red Bull debut and he pushed his teammate Ricciardo for nearly three seasons with him taking the number one position in the team and asserting himself as one of the top drivers in Formula One. Verstappen has made a name for himself with impressive wet-weather drives and an aggressiveness that at times has led to youthful mistakes but it has also gotten him better results against drivers with at least a decade of Formula One experience.

Each season he has improved, he has gotten a little more consistent each season and with an improving Red Bull and a ripened Honda engine the 2020s could be when the young protégé meets the great expectations set before he was a man.

3. Nico Rosberg
Starts: 136
Wins: 23
Podium Finishes: 55
Top Five Finishes: 75
Top Ten Finishes: 108
Pole Positions: 30
Average Finish: 6.7
Seasons with a Victory: 5
Championships: 1

Reason For the Ranking: You cannot ignore a world championship.

Rosberg might have been in the right place at the right time but when put head-to-head with teammate Lewis Hamilton it was not a walkover. Rosberg had the ability to keep up with Hamilton and beat Hamilton enough to be a championship-challenger.

With that said, Rosberg was also known for stepping on his teammate's toes to stay ahead. There were plenty of clashes and infighting, some of which landed at the feet of Hamilton but most of the time it felt Rosberg was the instigator, notably Spain 2016 and Austria 2016.

There was a level of consistency though that cannot be ignored. While Hamilton had his few problems in 2014, Rosberg kept putting the car on the podium and forced Hamilton to win more than double the number of Rosberg's victories to win the world championship. He did win seven consecutive races from the end of 2015 through the first four races of 2016.

At the end of 2016, there was no margin for error and Rosberg basically had to finish on the podium for the final nine races of the season. While we saw the fragility of Rosberg in other seasons, when he had a chance to close that season out he did.

2. Sebastian Vettel
Starts: 197
Wins: 48
Podium Finishes: 111
Top Five Finishes: 156
Top Ten Finishes: 172
Pole Positions: 52
Average Finish: 5.0
Seasons with a Victory: 8
Championships: 4

Reason For the Ranking: The Red Bull days.

As I touched upon at the end of the Best Races post, Red Bull-era Vettel was one of the most ruthless winners of the 2010s. It was a driver that could take a broken car and drive it to an astonishing result that most other drivers could not come close to matching.

Vettel won when the pressure was on and he also won when the rest of the field was out of his rearview mirror. The dominance was historic. He won the final nine races of the 2013 season, a Formula One record. He won 13 races that season, matching Michael Schumacher's single season record. He had 17 podium finishes in 2011, matching another Schumacher and a record that Hamilton has since also matched in four of the last five seasons.

Though he has not come close to matching his glory days at Red Bull, Vettel has had respectable showings, winning races with Ferrari and with consecutive vice-champion seasons in 2017 and 2018. However, we have also seen Vettel become a little more unhinged in recent seasons. We saw Ricciardo force Vettel out the door in 2014. In 2017 and possibly even 2018, Vettel had the better car but could not close out the season. He started the 2017 season with three victories and three runner-up finishes in the first six races and was leading the championship after the Belgian Grand Prix only for Hamilton to go on a tear and clinching the championship three races early while Vettel got caught in first lap accidents and had a few gremlins.

Vettel was leading the championship halfway through the 2018 season until he threw away a certain victory in Germany when no one was pressuring him. He simply went off in a drizzle and from there on the championship was Hamilton's. Vettel won four of the first ten races in 2018 but only won one of the final 11 races.

We have seen Vettel get caught in clashes with Verstappen and now Leclerc and appear to be the weaker man in each case. For a driver that started the decade unbreakable we are seeing the cracks form and the end approaching.

1. Lewis Hamilton
Starts: 198
Wins: 73
Podium Finishes: 124
Top Five Finishes: 157
Top Ten Finishes: 176
Pole Positions: 71
Average Finish: 4.7
Seasons with a Victory: 10
Championships: 5

Reason For the Ranking: The numbers speak for themselves.

Hamilton won 73 races, 25 more than the next driver. He won 71 pole positions, 19 more than the next driver. He is the only driver to win a race in every season this decade and he won five championships.

We have seen Hamilton make an assault on the record book that many never thought was possible in the shadows of Michael Schumacher's retirement. When Schumacher walked away from Formula One at the end of 2006, no one thought 91 grand prix victories could be touch. Alain Prost was still second all-time at the end of 2006, 40 victories off Schumacher. Seven championships seemed untouchable. Schumacher reached 5,000 laps led when no other driver had broken 3,000 laps led.

Hamilton entered in 2007 and he spent the entire 2010s running down the German. We will head into 2020 with Hamilton needing only eight victories to surpass Schumacher's 91. Hamilton has led 4,486 laps in his career, 625 laps behind Schumacher. He is one world championship away from seven.

While Hamilton still has records to break he has already shattered many. In this decade, Hamilton became the all-time leader in pole positions, he has won the most races from pole position all-time and he has the most front row starts all-time. He has started the most consecutive races. He has the most races led in Formula One history. He broke the record for most consecutive races led and has since matched it. If he leads one lap in the 2020 Australian Grand Prix he will break a record he set. He matched Nick Heidfeld's record of most consecutive victories and he has since matched it again. If Hamilton finishes the 2020 Australian Grand Prix he will have another record.

Hamilton re-wrote the Formula One record book before Schumacher's ink had even dried. Did he have the benefit of being with the best team? Of course, but we could be talking about Nico Rosberg having all these records if it was as simple as having the best car. We have also seen plenty of times when Hamilton has pulled out victories and results from sheer intelligence. While Schumacher made a reputation of taking out other drivers and running rivals off track, Hamilton has seen his success come with wit more than aggression.

We do not know how long Hamilton will race into the 2020s. It feels like he could walk away once he gets to the top but there are plenty of worthy milestones to achieve. He only needs 16 victories to reach 100 grand prix victories and he is a guy who has been averaging north of ten victories a season for the last half of the decade. The outright lead in championship could be his and he could (along with Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso if he returns to Formula One) become only the second driver to win a grand prix in three different decades joining Jack Brabham in doing so.

I don't think Hamilton will do in the 2020s what he did in the 2010s but I think we will see him further expand on what the possibilities are for a grand prix driver and continue to improve his case for the greatest driver of all-time.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Formula One's Best Races of the 2010s

We are in the final days of the decade. The race that was the 2010s has been run. Not much is going to change the results now.

The same can be said for these ten Formula One races. These results are final, even if Formula One has a history of retroactively changing results for technical infringements, which do not appear to be coming on the horizon.

The decade might seem split between two dynasties, one of Austrian funding based in Britain and the other of German funding based in Britain, but it was more than that.

There were 198 Formula One races this decade. Here are subjectively ten of the best...

10. 2019 German Grand Prix at the Hockenheimring
What Happened: A wet race and one that was appearing to be another dominating day for Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes in what was Mercedes' 200th grand prix.

The Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Sebastian Vettel had to start tenth and 20th respectively but both made up ground in the opening laps. Leclerc moved into a position to put pressure on Hamilton around a third of the way through the race. At that same point in the race, the track was beginning to dry and slick tires were looking to be the better option.

Both Hamilton and Leclerc put on slick tires but Leclerc would got off course in turn 17 and end his race. Hamilton ran wide and damaged his front wing in the same part of the track, forcing an unscheduled pit stop and Hamilton would incur a five-second penalty for entering pit lane on the wrong side of the bollard at pit entrance.

This extra pit stop put Hamilton on intermediate tires and dropped him to fifth behind Max Verstappen, Nico Hülkenberg, Valtteri Bottas and Alexander Albon. It did not take the Mercedes drivers long to move up to second and third and Hülkenberg would bring out the safety car when he went off course. Under this safety car, Verstappen and Bottas switched to slicks and the following lap Hamilton came in, put slicks back on and down to 12th after serving his five-second penalty.

Lance Stroll had put on slick tires prior to the Hülkenberg incident and inherited the lead but soon after the restart Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat overtook the Canadian.

Mercedes' dream 200th race took a turn for the worse when Hamilton spun in turn one and dropped to 13th on lap 53 and three laps later Bottas spun in the same corner and clattered the barrier, ending his race.

Bottas' accident bunched the field up again. Verstappen pulled away from the lead but the battle for second saw Kvyat, Stroll, Carlos Sainz, Jr. and Vettel go at it over the final four laps. Verstappen took a comfortable victory while Vettel worked his way Kvyat, Stroll and Sainz, Jr. for second with Kvyat taking the final podium position.

How is it Remembered: It is fresh in our minds and it is a quintessential wet-weather race.

Unexpected drivers were at the front and competing for the podium, regular front-runners were spinning off and it led to five different teams finishing in the top five.

It was another impressive performance for Max Verstappen in the wet and he did not slip up when other top drivers around him did.

As time marches on, I think this race will be remembered for Hamilton and Mercedes letting this race slip through their fingers but it also saw Kvyat have a strong race, this race was the launch pad for  Albon up to Red Bull, Vettel looked like the four-time world champion despite the massive setback and this was the race where Robert Kubica was elevated to tenth and got a point.

9. 2013 Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne Grand Prix Circuit
What Happened: A mix of pit strategy and different teams battling for the victory.

It started with Sebastian Vettel in the lead but with the tire falloff, driver came early to change tires and this brought the leaders to pit lane as well. While the likes of Vettel and Fernando Alonso were aggressive on tire strategy, Kimi Räikkönen was getting good life out of his tires and ran longer on his second stint.

There did come a point where Alonso started to close on Räikkönen due to fresher tires but Räikkönen and the Lotus team timed its second pit stop just right. Alonso took the lead but was caught up in slower traffic. The Spaniard was hung up and lost a lot of ground to the Finn before making his third stop.

Räikkönen would get ahead of Alonso and Vettel and after Adrian Sutil made his final pit stop, Räikkönen re-inherited the lead and made the two-stop strategy work while the rest of the field were well off the Finn despite running a three-stop strategy. Räikkönen started the season with a victory, 12.451 seconds ahead of Alonso with Vettel in third.

How is it Remembered: The surprise of Räikkönen leading the World Drivers' Championship.

No one penned this result down on paper but we seem to have some off-the-wall, unpredictable results in the first race of the season and this was no different.

I am not sure anyone thought Räikkönen could actually put together a title push. It is one thing to win one race but to put together an entire season was going to be a tall task for the Finn driving at Lotus. Red Bull and Ferrari were bested but were not far off.

8. 2012 Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang International Circuit
What Happened: A late-arriving storm made teams start on the intermediate tire but the storm's strength was greater than expected and it brought all the cars to pit lane quickly to switch to the full wet tire.

The rain brought out the safety car and led to a red flag for about 50 minutes.

Once the race restarted, Sergio Pérez worked his way to the lead for Sauber passing Lewis Hamilton. The lead lasted only two laps when Fernando Alonso took the top spot.

The track started to dry out but the forecasted for rain to return at some point during the lead. Alonso had a comfortable lead but with the track drying Pérez started to run down the Spaniard. The possibility of rain kept the teams on the intermediate tire out but the intermediate tires were getting severely worn due to the drying surface.

Daniel Ricciardo made the choice to take on slicks and reset fastest lap by three-seconds. The rest of the teams came for slicks. Alonso made his pit stop on lap 40 while Pérez stayed out and this decision cost Pérez, as he lost about five seconds to Alonso because of the extra lap on intermediate tires.

However, as Pérez had done earlier in the race, once on slicks he began to run down Alonso. Pérez pushed hard a slight off cost him nearly five seconds and provided insurance for Alonso. Pérez again closed the gap to the Ferrari driver but it was too little, too late.

Alonso won the race but Pérez stole the show and finished second with Hamilton rounding out the podium.

How is it Remembered: The race that put Sergio Pérez on the map.

If it wasn't for the few errors, Pérez may be a grand prix winner and maybe Ferrari would have taken him in instead of keeping Massa and letting Pérez go to McLaren for a dismal season.

While remembered for Pérez, it does have to be said that Alonso drove superb. He didn't really put a wheel wrong and Ferrari made the calls at the right time for him to take this victory.

7. 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit
What Happened: Many incidents and an unexpected result.

Lewis Hamilton jumped out to an early lead while other drivers had incidents behind him. Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen made contact and allowed Sebastian Vettel to take second position.

All the beating and banging led to Daniil Kvyat retiring and brought out a safety car.

During this safety car period, Hamilton felt the safety car was not going quick enough and, coming to the restart, Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton, causing damage to both drivers.

This contact allowed the Williams of Felipe Massa and the Force Indias of Esteban Ocon and Sergio Pérez to challenge Vettel for position. The Force India drivers collided in the battle and took each other out. The debris for the Force India clashed forced a tire puncture for Kimi Räikkönen and it forced a red flag for clean up.

Hamilton led at the restart ahead of Vettel and the Williams drivers Massa and Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo had worked his way to fifth.

Hamilton again had a respectable lead but his headrest came loose and forced him to make a pit stop. Simultaneously, Vettel was handed a ten-second stop/go penalty for his earlier incident with Hamilton. After both this incidents, the two drivers were still next to each other on the track with Vettel moving ahead of Hamilton but the drivers running seventh and eighth respectively.

Ricciardo had overtaken Stroll and now inherited the lead after the Hamilton and Vettel incidents. Ricciardo had a healthy lead but in the closing laps, Vettel and Hamilton closed on the podium positions. Stroll was holding on with Bottas charging as well.

Ricciardo took an unexpected victory from tenth on the grid and Bottas slipstreamed ahead of Stroll to get second at the line while Vettel and Hamilton came home in fourth and fifth.

How is it Remembered: The Hamilton-Vettel incident.

Did Hamilton brake check Vettel? The data says no. Should Vettel have been given a harsher penalty?  It is was a matter for debate and it was more sparks from this rivalry that has never seemed to take off. Hamilton and Vettel have both been in Formula One since 2007 and never have they really gone toe-to-toe for a title.

Outside of 2010, when Vettel and Hamilton were alive along with Alonso and Mark Webber, Hamilton didn't really factor in any of Vettel's championship seasons and Vettel didn't factor in any of Hamilton's championship seasons and the drivers combined to win nine of ten championships this decade. Odd.

Ricciardo drove a smart race while others faltered in front of him. This was a day where Force India could have definitely put a car on the podium and possibly stolen a victory because of all the trouble with the top teams. Instead, Red Bull took the victory and Stroll was the surprise man on the podium.

6. 2016 Mexican Grand Prix at Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez
What Happened: Chaos in a tight title fight.

Lewis Hamilton entered the final five races of 2016 knowing he needed to win races after his engine failure while leading the Malaysian Grand Prix. After finishing third in Japan with teammate Nico Rosberg taking the victory, Hamilton was now in a situation where even if he won out and Rosberg finished second in every race Hamilton could not win the championship.

Hamilton had won at Austin the week before and he had another pole position in Mexico City. Hamilton got out to the lead and ran a smart race while Rosberg just looking to stay in his shadow. Behind those two, Vettel worked a slightly alternate strategy to get into podium contention from seventh on the grid. Vettel led 12 laps before making a pit stop that gave Hamilton the lead once and for all.

It was another Mercedes 1-2 with Hamilton taking victory ahead of Rosberg but the fight was for third. Max Verstappen was in third but a lock up into turn one forced the Dutchman to cut the course and led to a command from race control to seize the position to Vettel. Verstappen did not give up the position and backed Vettel back to Verstappen's teammate Daniel Ricciardo. While Ricciardo made a move for the position, Vettel blocked Ricciardo

Verstappen did not give the position up and crossed the line in third with Vettel in fourth and Ricciardo in fifth. Verstappen went to the podium room but that is where he found out he was handed a five-second penalty. Vettel moved up to third and went through all the podium procedures, getting a trophy and spraying the champagne. After all that, Vettel was given a ten-second penalty for his move on Ricciardo. This dropped Vettel from third to fifth, elevating Ricciardo to the podium and it put Verstappen back ahead of Vettel in fourth.

How is it Remembered: The podium mix-up.

We had three different drivers listed as the third place finisher in a short period of time. It was flabbergasting.

It also set the tone for Verstappen and Vettel. This was the first time we really got to see the fire of Verstappen and the competitiveness. This was his first real fight on track and it showed a driver that was not going to back down but would also push the boundaries and let the stewards make the call whether or not to penalize him, very Michael Schumacher-esque.

This is also the first glimpse of the unraveling of Vettel. This was a driver that didn't seem to be one could annoy in the first half of the decade. We saw him get testy during 2014 when Ricciardo came on the scene and immediately became top dog but Vettel didn't lash out. In this case, Vettel cursed out Charlie Whiting and the stewards over the radio. It was a very unsportsmanlike outburst and we have seen little things like this be more common in recent seasons.

5. 2016 Spanish Grand Prix at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
What Happened: Within four corners, both Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton were out of the race.

Hamilton had a poor start to the season. Rosberg had won the first four races. Hamilton started on pole position but Rosberg had inched ahead of Hamilton at the start. The two drivers were side-by-side heading into turn four. Rosberg pinched Hamilton to the inside, forcing the Briton to the grass and this led to both Mercedes colliding. Both drivers were out, the tension reached a level reminiscent of Alain Prost vs. Ayrton Senna and there was still an entire race to run.

The incident put Daniel Ricciardo in the lead ahead of Max Verstappen, who was making his Red Bull Racing debut after the team flipped him and Daniil Kvyat after the Russian Grand Prix. Carlos Sainz, Jr. was third with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen rounding out the top five.

The Red Bulls led but Vettel worked his way to third and was closing on them.

Red Bull and Ferrari both made the decision to split the strategies for both their drivers with Ricciardo and Vettel running three-stop strategies and Verstappen and Räikkönen going with two stops.

The two-stop strategy ended up being the way to go. The three-stop strategy took Ricciardo and Vettel out of the fight and left it to be Verstappen vs. Räikkönen.

While Räikkönen got in DRS range, he was not able to take the position from the Dutchman. Verstappen took a historic victory, becoming the youngest winner in grand prix history with Räikkönen in second and Vettel taking third after Ricciardo had run wide.

How is it Remembered: The breaking point for Mercedes.

When it comes to intra-team friction, this race has to go up there with the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix, 1990 Japanese Grand Prix and 2007 Hungarian Grand Prix. Hamilton knew he could not lose any more ground to Rosberg and Rosberg knew he could not let Hamilton gain any momentum.

To say this race determined the championship and gave Rosberg his only title is an exaggeration. Hamilton did lose an engine while leading in Malaysia when he was poised to take the championship lead and he did have a disappointing Japanese Grand Prix. This race did play into Rosberg's favor. Though he did not extend the gap Hamilton didn't close it either. It was a result Rosberg could live with and one he and Hamilton knew could not be repeated.

For such a jaw-dropping first lap, it was only fitting this race saw Verstappen become the youngest grand prix winner in Formula One history and he did it in his first start with Red Bull. Red Bull could not have looked any smarter for this early season driver swap.

4. 2014 Hungarian Grand Prix at Hungaroring
What Happened: A pre-race thunderstorm forced the entire grid to start on intermediate tires.

Nico Rosberg jumped out to the lead from pole position with Valtteri Bottas in second with Sebastian Vettel in third and Fernando Alonso in fourth. Lewis Hamilton started from the pit lane after his car caught fire during qualifying and he spun on the opening lap.

Hamilton would make his way up to 13th on lap nine and later that lap Marcus Ericsson would bring out a safety car after he had an accident. Jenson Button inherited the lead after staying out on intermediates while the rest of the field switched to slick tires. The timing of the safety car caught out the top four runners and shuffled them behind Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa, who were able to stop before queuing behind the safety car.

Ricciardo quickly took the lead, which he would hold until lap 24, when he stopped under a safety car period for Sergio Pérez's accident in the final corner. Alonso took the lead and led for 14 laps before making a pit stop where Hamilton would lead a lap before stopping and putting Ricciardo back in the lead.

Hamilton emerged ahead of Rosberg, who was on the softer tire and was going to make another pit stop. The team ordered Hamilton to let Rosberg pass but refused to do so. Ricciardo made his final pit stop with 24 laps to go, dropping him to fourth and Rosberg stopped two laps later and re-joined in seventh.

Alonso was back in the lead with Hamilton in second but Ricciardo was closing on the fresher tires. With four laps to go, Ricciardo made an audacious move on the outside of Hamilton for second in turn two. Heading into turn one on the following lap, Ricciardo took the lead from Alonso.

Ricciardo took his second career victory with Alonso in second and Hamilton getting third from the pit lane despite a challenge from Rosberg.

How is it Remembered: Another stellar drive from Ricciardo but also from Hamilton.

Hamilton did everything he could not to win the world championship in 2014. He was the Mercedes that constantly had problems. It really was a title that should have gone to Rosberg but Hamilton had the drive to squeak out results like this one. He constantly found a way to steal points off Rosberg when he should not have been able to do so.

It was also possible because of the conditions. It was wet-to-dry and once dry it became a chess match with the slick tires. It is a kind of race Hungary is becoming known for in recent seasons.

3. 2014 Canadian Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve
What Happened: Lewis Hamilton started on pole position but he dropped to third after Nico Rosberg forced Hamilton off track and Sebastian Vettel skirted through to make it a German 1-2. The Marussias of Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi got together on the first lap and brought out a safety car for the first seven laps.

Hamilton would get around Vettel shortly after the restart. Rosberg had a comfortable lead and Hamilton was in second while Vettel struggled on his tires and it moved the Force Indias of Sergio Pérez and Nico Hülkenberg.

The Mercedes teammates continued to battle with Hamilton pressuring Rosberg for the top spot. On Hamilton's second pit stop, a delay caused him to overheat his brakes. While back on track with Rosberg, he attempted an over take in the penultimate corner but blew that corner and allowed Rosberg back by. Hamilton's brakes were failing and it led to a retirement for the Brit.

Hamilton's retirement led to Mercedes telling Rosberg to conserve his brakes in the final half of the race. Pérez was in second and started to pressure Rosberg but he too was struggling with his brakes. This allowed the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Vettel to close and Felipe Massa as well. Ricciardo took second into turn two while Vettel was balked behind the Mexican.

In two laps, Ricciardo took the lead on a vulnerable Rosberg. Meanwhile, Vettel, Pérez and Massa continued to battle. Vettel took third entering the final chicane coming to start the final lap. Massa made a run on Pérez heading into turn one but mistimed it entering turn one and made contact sending both drivers spinning off into the barrier.

Ricciardo cruised to his first career victory with Rosberg getting a lifeline to finish second and Vettel rounding out the podium.

How is it Remembered: Daniel Ricciardo getting this first victory, shaking the apple cart at Red Bull while Mercedes showed it had a weakness.

Ricciardo had been the better driver than Vettel leading into Canada and the gap would have been greater had it not been for a disqualification from second in Australia. This result was always coming and Vettel could not stop it. Vettel lost the top spot at Red Bull and never got it back.

This is also one of the few races that set up the title fight for 2014. Hamilton was strong but the brakes went on his car, not Rosberg. Rosberg was the fortunate one. He could conserve and while he lost the victory he still left Canada with 18 points to his name.

It was an intense battle in the closing laps. Not only did you have Ricciardo hunting down the sketchy Rosberg but the battle for third could have gone any one of three ways and the crowd let out an noticeable gasp when Massa and Pérez collided. When you hear the crowd about the car noise, it sets the tone for what a race is.

2. 2019 Hungarian Grand Prix at Hungaroring
What Happened: Max Verstappen won his first career pole position and held off Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton while Hamilton made a pass on Bottas for second into turn three but it left Bottas with slight front wing damage.

Hamilton remained in Verstappen's tracks throughout the first stint. Verstappen relinquished the lead after 24 laps with Hamilton leading the next seven laps. Though Hamilton emerged from the pit lane further behind Verstappen than when Verstappen made his stop, Hamilton closed back in on the Red Bull and got to the Dutchman's rear wing whilst navigating traffic.

While lapping Ricciardo, Hamilton was able to make a run on Verstappen but ran wide in turn four and had to give up the position. Hamilton remained in the wake of Verstappen and the crew made a decision to make an extra pit stop and switch to the medium-compound tire with 21 laps to go. Verstappen had a chance to counter the move but a combination of lapped traffic and pace lost forced Verstappen to stay out and hope he would have the pace late and Hamilton would not.

Hamilton clawed out some time but with nine laps to go he was still over nine-seconds back and was unsure over if the tires would be there at the end. Verstappen continued to struggle with his tires and Hamilton continued to close. At the start of lap 67, Hamilton took the top spot with ease into turn one.

Hamilton took the victory while Verstappen made a late pit stop for fresh tires and to take fastest lap as a consolation with his runner-up performance. Sebastian Vettel had a late battle with Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc for third with the German taking the final spot on the podium.

How is it Remembered: This is still fresh but it is another case of the strategically superiority of Mercedes.

Mercedes has not won six consecutive World Drivers' Championships and World Constructors' Championship just because it has had Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari keeps shooting itself in the foot and Vettel left Red Bull. Mercedes has been dominant because it has hired the best person in every position needed to run a Formula One team.

The team saw an alternate strategy to get the lead but it would have been playing the long game. It would have required no safety car interference. It was a gamble but one the team knew it could take. Hamilton had no pressure from behind for second. Sitting within DRS range but not being able to have it be effective was no use to Hamilton so the team made the call to beat Red Bull and Verstappen over the long run and it paid off.

Red Bull stuck to its guns. It could have made the extra pit stop but one lap of waiting erased any margin of error. It made no sense to pit once Hamilton got within the pit delta. Red Bull had to cross its fingers and play from front. Verstappen did all he could but his tires were a softer compound and twice as old as Hamilton's. He was a sitting duck.

1. 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix at Autódromo José Carlos Pace
What Happened: Sebastian Vettel headed to Interlagos with a 13-point championship lead over Fernando Alonso. A fourth-place finish for the German would clinch his third consecutive World Drivers' Championship. Vettel had finished on the podium in six consecutive races while Alonso had four consecutive podium finishes.

Vettel qualified where he needed to finish, fourth. Alonso started seventh. It all went sideways immediately.

Vettel spun at the start after contact from Bruno Senna but Vettel avoided any serious damage and resumed racing in 22nd. However, Alonso had moved up to third, exactly where he needed to finish to take the world title if Vettel failed to score any points.

As Vettel worked his way back up the field rain started to fall and it led to teams jumping to the intermediate tire. The rain did not last long and many drivers would be forced to return to the pit lane for slicks.

When the safety car was deployed for debris on lap 23, Alonso and Vettel were fourth and fifth respectively. The damage Vettel suffered from his opening lap spin hampered his race and he would lose a spot to Kamui Kobayashi not long after the restart.

At the front of the field, Nico Hülkenberg led after staying on slicks during the first rain shower but the McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were giving him a fight and Hamilton took the lead after Hülkenberg had a moment. The German made a charge to re-take the position but collided with Hamilton, knocking Hamilton out of the race and Hülkenberg down the running order.

Button inherited the lead and the rain returned but this time it was here to stay. Vettel had radio issues and the crew was not ready when he came in to switch to intermediates. The long delay knocked him down the order while Alonso had moved up to second and was provisionally World Drivers' Champion.

Alonso was too far back of Button and Vettel was working his way up the order. Vettel was up to seventh, which would have given him the title by one point but he was gifted sixth from Michael Schumacher, in his final Formula One race, to add a cushion.

The title did not go to the final lap, as Paul di Resta suffered an accident with two laps to go. The safety car neutralized the field. Button took the victory, Alonso was second, Felipe Massa rounded out the podium but sixth place was all Vettel needed to secure his third World Drivers' Championship.

How is it Remembered: This was a great race.

I don't want to hark on this being the most recent great title fight in Formula One. The title did go to the wire in 2014 and 2016 but in both cases it was Mercedes vs. Mercedes, Hamilton vs. Rosberg. This was the last time we had two constructors going at it down to the final laps of the season and boy was it a finale.

Vettel started where he needed to and he may have been a little too aggressive at the start or perhaps he was cautious, either way, the nightmare scenario started to play out immediately. He went down to last and had some damage. The title very well could have been lost and Vettel's only hope would be something going wrong for Alonso.

However, Vettel fought back. He overcame the damage. He put himself back in position of control. This was something he did the year prior at Interlagos when gearbox issues hampered his race but he was still able to take a car that most drivers would retire and finish second. This is the Vettel we have not seen for some time. It is almost a driver we have lost.

I think this finale should put into perspective Vettel's four consecutive championships and this decade as a whole. There were only three different world champions in the 2010s. Vettel started with four straight and Hamilton ended with three straight. As much as people look back and think Vettel was untouchable for four years that is far from the truth.

Without Vitaly Petrov, Vettel probably does not win the 2010 title. Vettel did not lead the 2010 championship until after the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. In this season, Vettel very well could have finished second. If his damage is only marginally worse than it was it could have forced him to retire or maybe at best finish ninth and that would not have been good enough for the title.

Vettel did dominate 2011 and he destroyed the field in 2013 but in the even-numbered years, Vettel was far from spotless. Though not spotless, Vettel did show the ability to rise to the occasion. In 2010, Vettel lost the engine with ten laps to go in South Korea. If he had won that race he would have had 231 points and led Alonso by seven points. Instead, he went into the final two races down 25 points, cut it 15 points after a victory in Brazil and then drove a flawless race in Abu Dhabi while Alonso and Webber, who was second to Alonso entering the finale, were outwitted. Vettel went for it while those two were so focused on the battle between themselves they lost sight that Vettel was still in it.

In 2012, Vettel won four consecutive races, Singapore, Japan, Korea and India to take the championship lead. It helped that Alonso did not complete a lap in Japan and the championship went from Alonso +29 to Alonso +4 in a blink. Vettel had a 50-point swing from -37 to +13 after winning four consecutive races.

While Vettel found a way to win, Alonso could not breakthrough. The gap remained +13 to Vettel heading into the finale. Alonso had not won any of the previous nine races entering the finale. He had a great record of finishing on the podium but he finished behind Vettel in seven of those nine races. In a race where it was time for Alonso to step up, get a victory and put all the pressure he could on Vettel he fell short.

When it came time to win a championship, Vettel always seemed to come through and I think that has been lost. Vettel didn't luck out with the best car and just had to put him left foot down. Vettel was a ruthless winner that Formula One has somehow lost.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

2019 Formula One Predictions: Revisited

We are in early December and we now look back at predictions made nearly a full year ago.

This was the latest end to a Formula One season since 1963 and it saw Lewis Hamilton pick up his sixth World Drivers' Champion. Along the way, Formula One had its 1,000 grand prix, it saw a Monegasque on the podium for the first time since the second race in Formula One history, a Thai score points for the first time since 1954 and all 20 drivers start all 21 races. Both Renaults were disqualified from Japan and a five-second penalty decided the winner of the Canadian Grand Prix.

It was quite a season but how did those predictions fare? This is where we find out.

1. Lewis Hamilton will move up to second all-time in fastest laps
Correct! Hamilton picked up fastest lap six times, giving him 47 fastest laps in his career and surpassing Kimi Räikkönen's 46 fastest laps for second all-time in this category.

Hamilton's fastest laps came at Barcelona, Silverstone, Monza, Sochi, Suzuka and Abu Dhabi. He left his fastest laps until later in the season and he didn't get second all-time outright until lap 53 of 55 at Abu Dhabi. I will come clean here and admit if he finished level with Räikkönen on 46 fastest laps I would have given myself this one, one because I needed it as you will see as we move on and, two, because I never said anything about Hamilton being outright second.

2. Mercedes surpasses Brawn for best winning percentage in Formula One history
Correct! Mercedes has won 102 of 210 entries and that gives Mercedes a winning percentage of 48.6%, which is now ahead of Brawn's 47.1% winning percentage after Brawn won eight of 17 races in 2009.

Mercedes picked up its 100th victory in Mexico and in doing so joined Ferrari, McLaren and Williams as the only constructors with at least 100 victories. In case you are wondering, Mercedes is 12 points behind Williams for third all-time.

3. Charles Leclerc does not out qualifying Sebastian Vettel on speed in the first six races 
Wrong! Leclerc won pole position in his second race with Ferrari at Bahrain. It was the only time Leclerc qualified ahead of Vettel in the first six races and Vettel did qualify second in Bahrain, so though I was not even close to getting this prediction correct and it is a lot closer than it appears on paper.

I thought it was going to take Leclerc the first-quarter or first-third of the season to get up to Vettel but he was there from the start and he was the better driver than Vettel for majority of the season. It ended with Leclerc fourth in the World Drivers' Championship, 24 points ahead of Vettel, nearly a race victory more in points than the four-time world champion.

4. Antonio Giovinazzi scores at least 66% of Kimi Räikkönen's points total
Wrong! Giovinazzi scored only 14 points compared to Räikkönen's 43 points, meaning Giovinazzi scored 32.558% of Räikkönen's points total.

I will mark this down to Räikkönen doing slightly better than I expected and Giovinazzi doing slightly worse than I expected. I guess I thought this would be a case where Räikkönen would have scored 30 points and Giovinazzi would have scored 20 points.

5. Robert Kubica does not start all 21 races
Wrong! Kubica started all 21 races and he scored a point in Germany.

I thought the combination of a lackluster Williams and physical difficulties would lead to Kubica to miss at least one race or pull out of the team early but neither were the case.

I am glad Kubica got this opportunity and, in some way, closure for a career that was derailed at the start of the decade. Kubica is far from his prime but he was respectable and though the Williams was slow, it was reliable.

The team has a long way to go and Williams and Kubica have parted for 2020 but both sides deserve a little recognition for what each did in 2019.

6. At least five constructors get a podium finish
Correct! Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Scuderia Toro Rosso all put a car on the podium.

The surprise is Toro Rosso not putting one car on the podium but two with Daniil Kvyat picking up third in Germany and then Pierre Gasly taking second in Brazil.

Speaking of Brazil, this prediction was not fulfilled until Interlagos and well after the checkered flag when Lewis Hamilton was handed a penalty for avoidable contact after he spun Alexander Albon. This dropped Hamilton from third and lifted the McLaren of Carlos Sainz, Jr. to the podium. It was Sainz, Jr.'s first podium of his Formula One career in his 101st start and it was McLaren's first podium since the 2014 Australian Grand Prix.

At Germany, I picked up a lot of hope this prediction would be fulfilled. It didn't seem likely this would be a correct prediction at the start of Brazil. Sometimes, crazy things happen.

Although, looking back I thought Renault would get a podium and Haas could get a podium. The Haas one seems nuts in hindsight. Renault only got close at Monza when Daniel Ricciardo was fourth with Nico Hülkenberg in fifth.

7. A driver will end a drought of 50 races or more without a podium finish
Correct! See Sainz, Jr., who had never had podium in his first 100 starts

8. None of the rookies break 39 points
Wrong! Two of the rookies broke 39 points. Alexander Albon scored 92 points and Lando Norris scored 49 points.

Albon did switch to Red Bull midseason and scored 76 points in his nine starts with Red Bull. The only race after switching to Red Bull where Albon did not score points was Brazil, where Hamilton spun Albon out from third.

Even if Albon hadn't switched to Red Bull, this prediction would have been incorrect because of Norris. He had 41 points after the United States Grand Prix with two races to go. I thought Norris would only score about 31 points.

9. Daniil Kvyat does not improve his best finish with Toro Rosso
Wrong! See third in the German Grand Prix. Other than that third in Germany, Kvyat bettered his previous best Toro Rosso best finish of ninth with seventh place finishes at Monaco and Spa-Francorchamps.

To put Kvyat's season into context, 40.54% of the points Kvyat scored in 2019 came in the German Grand Prix. He achieved a personal best at the team but this was far from a stellar season.

10. There will be at least two grand slams
Wrong! There was only one grand slam and it was the finale, where Lewis Hamilton led every lap from pole position and did not pick up fastest lap until lap 53 of 55.

An interesting note, besides Hamilton at Abu Dhabi, the only other time a pole-sitter picked up fastest lap in 2019 was Leclerc at Bahrain.

I thought we would see a few grand slams and with the return of point for fastest lap I thought it would be more frequent. It just didn't play out that we had many sheer dominating races where the pole-sitter pulled away.

In 2018, only four times did the race winner also pick up fastest lap. In 2019, it happened seven times, five of those occurring in the first 11 races.

11. At least three countries have multiple driver finish in the top ten of the championship
Wrong! In fact, the top ten drivers in the World Drivers' Championship represented ten different nationalities, the first time this has occurred since the 1974 season.

I thought Finland would get two representatives with Bottas and Räikkönen. Räikkönen missed out by nine points. I thought Germany would get it with Vettel and Hülkenberg. Hülkenberg was not even close, 15 points out. Gasly ended up seventh in the championship but Romain Grosjean was 18th with only eight points. The only other drivers not to break into double-figures were the Williams drivers, Kubica and George Russell.

Norris nearly made the United Kingdom the only nation with multiple drivers and it would have ruined ten nationalities in the top ten but he fell three points short and he lost tenth in the closing laps. Sergio Pérez got ahead of Norris for seventh in Abu Dhabi and that flipped Pérez back into the top ten with 52 points and dropped Norris to 11th on 49 points. If Norris had finished seventh, he would have been tenth with 51 points to Pérez's 50 points.

By the way, shout out to Pérez for finishing tenth. Pérez was definitely the least mentioned of the top ten championship finishers and because of Haas' struggles, Hülkenberg's struggles and the ineptitude of Williams, Pérez might have been the 14th or 15th most mentioned driver. Pérez has had a great career of just scoring points. He has finished in the top ten of the championship in seven of nine seasons. Pérez is the Formula One driver United States Formula One fans should want.

12. The championship is not clinched in Mexico
Correct! Hamilton clinched his sixth World Drivers' Championship in the United States.

Five out of 12. That is not good at all. A few I was close on and a few I could not have been any farther off than I was. Plenty of room for improvement in 2020.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Musings From the Weekend: Why Root For a Driver?

We have made it to December! Eleven months down, one month to go and Christmas is ahead of us. Formula One had its first December race since 1963 South African Grand Prix and it was just the fourth December race in Formula One history. Lewis Hamilton joined Bruce McLaren, Graham Hill and Jim Clark as the only December winners in Formula One history. Ferrari screwed up Charles Leclerc's fuel and got away with only a fine. The Drag Reduction System was inoperative for the first portion of the race and there was still passing. A potential future IndyCar driver won in Formula Two. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

Why Root For a Driver?
There have been a lot of disappointed fans in the last month in motorsports.

James Hinchcliffe was sent to the curb. Sébastien Bourdais lost his ride at Dale Coyne Racing and he will be moving to IMSA in 2020. Spencer Pigot was let go from Ed Carpenter Racing. Jimmie Johnson announced his retirement after the 2020 season. Paul Menard and David Ragan are out of rides. It is a tough time of the year.

The Hinchcliffe news particularly drew the most disdain. Many were upset IndyCar's "most popular" driver was out of a ride and with clear no landing spot. Some people said they were not going to tune in to IndyCar if Hinchcliffe was without a ride. If that is the case, why root for anyone at all?

I understand some people need someone to root for. It is part of fandom. For some people, if they do not have any emotional stakes in the proceedings they will not care. I get it. It is just like gambling for some. There is this feeling you need to pull for someone but do you really need to pick one driver to root for?

There is nothing saying you have to root for one driver. That is a personal choice. IndyCar would be just as happy if you tuned in or showed up at a racetrack with no rooting interest but was simply there for the race. After all, you should be a race fan first and you were probably a race fan first. You probably fell in love with the spectacle of speed at a young age and the sight of a race car made you giddy. With age comes this shift from simply loving the machinery and what it does to looking for a person to make an emotional connection.

Drivers are going to come and go. Tying all joy in a race on one driver is rather foolish and it is only going to lead to heartbreak.

No driver lasts forever. They are all going to retire. All their careers are going to end. You are eventually going to have to face that reality. It is a lot like death. At some point you cannot avoid it and you must confront but that is only if you choose one driver to represent your emotions.

If you do not pick one driver then you are good. You just keep showing up and you do not have to worry about so-and-so being there. There are people you are going to like to be there and those that you enjoy watching but the presence or lack thereof for certain drivers will not dictate whether you remain invested. The race is always going to happen.

Let's take James Hinchcliffe for a second, because when the news broke he would be out at the McLaren Schmidt Peterson Motorsports operation for 2020, I asked the question whether or not Hinchcliffe would be that big of a loss for the series? The real question I should ask is should Hinchcliffe be a big loss for the series?

I get that he has a personality that people are drawn to but there was always going to come a point where Hinchcliffe was going to leave IndyCar. This is a day we were someday going to have to confront.

Hinchcliffe is a driver that has never finished better than eighth in the championship. He has only finished in the top ten of the championship once since 2014. He has six career victories; half of those came over six years ago. I get that Hinchcliffe has a Twitter persona but if someone is interested in IndyCar and is looking for a driver to pull for, I would not direct that person to Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe might have a great personality but people get into sports and competitions to win. They aren't looking for a buddy. People want to root for winners. Hinchcliffe has not been that.

If James Hinchcliffe is your driver now, you were probably watching IndyCar before Hinchcliffe was there. Hinchcliffe wasn't Danica Patrick. He didn't bring in a lot of new people. He may have brought in some but let's not act like 68% of the fans live and die on how Hinchcliffe does. He isn't the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. of NASCAR. And if you are rooting for Hinchcliffe, his presence or lack thereof should not dictate whether or not you keep watching.

What I am trying to say is, Hinchcliffe is not worth dying over. No one was born into a James Hinchcliffe family. No one is really born rooting for any driver. It is all by choice. That driver is always going to leave. Then what? What do you enjoy? If you enjoy IndyCar, you should enjoy it regardless of who is on the grid. That is not to say there are drivers that make the series better. It is great if Hinchcliffe is there, the same way it would be great is Bourdais and Pigot are there but nothing lasts forever.

Drivers come and go and not everyone gets the exit they deserve. Paul Tracy, Bruno Junqueira, Alex Tagliani, Simona de Silvestro, Ryan Briscoe and Dario Franchitti were all popular drivers that did not get to go out the way they would have liked. If you extend it farther back, I bet Tom Sneva, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock and even Al Unser did not go out the way they would have liked. Despite all these less than stellar exits, IndyCar continued on and IndyCar will continue on for years to come.

People get too invested in drivers and series do not do a good enough of a job promoting fans to be open to multiple favorites. NASCAR is experiencing this problem first hand and it has been experiencing it for almost two decades now. In the early portion of the 21st century, Dale Earnhardt lost his life and slowly the retirements of Bill Elliott, Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett and Terry Labonte followed. The drivers that were at the top of NASCAR during its rise in the 1990s were gone.

NASCAR had Jeff Gordon to fall back on and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was lift to the top. Tony Stewart was hitting his peak. Jimmie Johnson would soon be champion. Kevin Harvick emerged in the absence of Dale Earnhardt. NASCAR has had a few names to follow but a segment of the fan base was lost when the mustachioed generation left.

Now Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt, Jr. are all retired and Johnson will join them at the end of 2020. Harvick is going to stick around for a little bit but 40 is the new 50 in NASCAR and we are in the midst of Harvick's final days in NASCAR.

Kyle Busch will still be around for a few more years. Martin Truex, Jr., Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano will be around but they have not generated the same following as the drivers from 20 years. There is some hope the newer blood, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace and William Byron will bring some life to the series but the jury is still out on them and, importantly, they have to win something if they really want to make waves.

People are great but motorsports has been too dependent on a few faces. The love has to be generated from what happens on the track and the heroes should be the winners each week and champions at the end of the year. There should be some fluidity. There is nothing tying anyone to a particular driver. There should be multiple drivers that make a person happy if he or she wins.

You do not need one driver to be invested in a series or race. There are many things to root for without tying your fandom to one person. There is beauty in rooting for the storyline, rooting for how things turn out and that gives you flexibility to pull for different drivers on a regular basis. The story is always going to be changing. There will be times when it is not clear what the story will be and as a season moves on one or two or three storylines become clear and then you can choose what story fits you best. A season will end, you will either get the story you want or the story you do not want and then it will start all over again.

While the drivers are temporary, there is always going to be a story.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Lewis Hamilton but did you know...

Sérgio Sette Câmara and Luca Ghiotto split the Formula Two races from Abu Dhabi. It was Câmara's second victory of the season and Ghiotto's fourth.

Kyle Larson won the Turkey Night Grand Prix from Ventura Raceway. The race was delayed a day due to rain. It is Larson's third Turkey Night Grand Prix victory.

Coming Up This Weekend
Nothing... I got nothing on my calendar. Go get a Christmas tree and do some shopping. Enjoy the eggnog boys and girls.

Friday, November 29, 2019

This Month in Motorsports Headlines: November 2019

Thanksgiving is behind us, Christmas is ahead of us but first we are closing out the Formula One season from Abu Dhabi.

A lot happened in November. We had a lot of unexpected news, some of which was good, some of which was not what we would have wished but that is the way of the world. You got to take the good with the bad.

Once again, this is just for fun. In case you are new, this is my gut reaction to headlines without reading the article. Of course, the gripes I have may be answered in the article.

We are going to start with IndyCar because that is where the biggest waves were made this month...

Penske downplays conflict of interest concerns
You rarely hear people play up conflict of interest when it clearly exists, which it does now that Roger Penske owns IndyCar.

Is Penske going to turn IndyCar into his personal playground so his team can win 17 of 17 races? No. Penske is in a lose-lose situation. He already has the best team on the grid. It was already believed his team got the benefit of calls from IndyCar to begin with. Penske owning the series is just going to give people more ammunition.

Penske might not exploit this conflict of interest but it is still there. You can bring up Jim France owning IMSA and a team and Don Panoz owning the American Le Mans Series and Panoz and Bernie Ecclestone owning Brabham and Formula One Group but those are all conflicts of interest. Just because they existed does not mean what Penske is doing now is not a conflict of interest.

Earlier this week, when writing about Trevor Carlin's concern about big teams continuing to expand and potentially squeezing out the little guys I wrote the following line: "IndyCar should value [Carlin] and his wishes as much as Roger Penske, Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti."

There is a problem in that IndyCar is Roger Penske. Penske is going to value the insights of Carlin, Mike Shank and Dale Coyne but can Penske value their wishes as much as his own? And there is the conflict of interest. It will come down to whether or not Penske makes the decision that Roger Penske does not want to make but majority of car owners want. Will Penske be able to see that what is best for him may not be best for the masses?

The true power of Penske's leadership of the series will come down to whether the likes of Carlin, Shank and others can remain in the series and be competitive and if other teams join. The conflict of interest will not be a problem if Penske does not make selfish decisions and the series continues to expand and succeed. If the series sees a decline, people will want Penske's head.

Penske deal could strengthen IndyCar, IMSA ties
Or it could do nothing at all.

A reason why we do not see more IndyCar/IMSA combined weekends is these are two series that want to be top dog. IMSA does not want to be the Saturday show, even if it the same number of people that would go to a Sunday race would attend on Saturday and the television rating would be no different.

IMSA has to look out for itself. It has its own support series to fill a weekend. Being a part of an IndyCar bill squeezed between Indy Lights and Indy Pro 2000 is not of interest to IMSA. The reason why it joins the bill at Long Beach and Belle Isle is both are events the manufactures want to go to and IMSA cannot have a street race without IndyCar.

Penske could strengthen IndyCar and IMSA ties and IndyCar and NASCAR ties or it will do nothing at all because while Penske may be king there are plenty of other monarchies looking to increase their power.

Pagenaud aims to keep sport 'approachable' to fans
Is Pagenaud the only one aiming to keep it approachable to fans?

Also, define approachable.

Are social media posts the only thing? What makes his social media posts any more approachable than the one billion other people regularly posting on social media? How is Pagenaud going to stand out?

You can keep people engaged and informed through social media posts but it has to go beyond the digital world and continue into the real world. Approachability must exist at the racetrack, at meet and greets and Pagenaud cannot be the one leading the charge.

The approachability of IndyCar comes down to IndyCar. IndyCar does a good job of letting people in. Paddock passes are easy to get. The series has autograph sessions at every race weekend. It has to keep that up. The series must push its drivers to be open and engage with others in a way that fits best  for the driver. Some will be better at social media than others. Some drivers will be better in face-to-face interactions. Some will master speaking to 250 people at once. Others will be better reaching out to three or four people at once.

Pagenaud cannot be the only one. Approachability is a full team effort.

On to Formula One...

Opinion: F1 needs new points system for more title deciders
The point system will not matter if Lewis Hamilton keeps winning ten races a season and no other driver is winning more than half of that total.

It wasn't that long ago we had the championship go down to the final race. The 2016 season was not that long ago and before that was 2014 and the point system in 2014 was created for more title decides with the finale being double points. Formula One made it so the finale would see a greater chance at a championship battle in the final race and almost everyone pushed back on that. It was immediately dropped after one year.

In the 2010s, four times did the championship go down to the finale: 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

In the 2000s, four times did the championship go down to the finale: 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

In the 1990s, five times did the championship go down to the finale: 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999.

In the 1980s, five times did the championship go down to the finale: 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1986.

In the 1970s, two times did the championship go down to the finale: 1974 and 1976.

In the 1960s, four times did the championship go down to the finale: 1962, 1964, 1967 and 1968.

In the 1950s, five times did the championship go down to the finale: 1950, 1951, 1956, 1958 and 1959.

Despite this dominance of Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes-Benz, this decade fell in line with previous decades when it came to championships decided in the final race.

The question becomes what can you do to make sure the championship goes to the finale when one driver wins nearly half the races and double the number of races as the next best driver?

Unless Formula One is going to adopt some type of NASCAR elimination format and make it so the finale will decide the championship, I am not sure anything can be down to the points system to make sure we are on the edge of our seats until the final lap of the season.

Haas "like a lame duck" in Austin - Steiner
And Mexico City and Suzuka and Sochi and Singapore and Monza and Spa-Francorchamps and need I go on?

I am not sure the ninth-best team in the World Constructors' Championship has gotten more attention at any point in Formula One history than Haas has gotten this season and better yet, this team is keeping its driver line-up, a line-up the team doesn't seem to have any faith in.

Do you hear that? That is the clocking ticking towards Haas' exit.

Moving to NASCAR...

Dead serious: Martin Truex Jr. lost the NASCAR Cup championship because his pit crew put his tires on backward
I am going to push back on this a little bit because after Truex's crew put the left side tires on the right side and right side tires on the left side Truex got the lucky dog, was back on the lead lap and he was fourth at the end of the second stage.

This pit stop mistake was a set back but Truex got back in the title fight and I think an argument could be made he lost the title because he went five laps longer on his penultimate stint. This allowed Kyle Busch to have a 12-second gap to Truex after both drivers made their stops and in the end Truex fell 4.5 seconds short of his second title.

If Truex had covered Busch's pit stop and come in on the next lap he may still have come out behind Busch but been closer and Truex seemed to have the better car over the long run.

One pit stop is going to be remembered as the reason why Truex was second in the championship for the second consecutive year but we might be remembering the wrong one.

What's next for Xfinity Rookie of the Year Briscoe?
NASCAR's second division might have a problem in 2020.

One: The three drivers that combined to win 21 of 33 races are gone. Two: A driver like Chase Briscoe might be completely out of a ride because Stewart-Haas Racing might drop its Grand National Series program because, after all, it got Cole Custer to the Cup Series, mission accomplished. Add to it, Richard Childress Racing has not announced any full-time driver. GMS Racing is dropping out of the series. Joe Gibbs Racing is putting Harrison Burton and Riley Herbst into its cars, two drivers into the series that have a combined 19 starts, one top five finish and nine top ten finishes as part-timers in the series.

Kailua Racing is expanding with Ross Chastain being full-time. Burton and Herbst are going to accidentally end up in the playoffs. Daniel Hemric is going to be part-time with JR Motorsports and if he can find a ride for the 12 other races he does not have with JRM, he could make the playoffs and fight for the championship. Austin Cindric is still going to be there but is there anyone to be all that excited about in 2020? Is anyone excited to see Brandon Jones for his fifth season? Is Michael Annett getting people riled up?

I hope Briscoe ends up somewhere. The series could definitely use him.

On to two-wheels...

Honda: Álex Márquez MotoGP deal depended on Moto2 success
And Álex Márquez's next MotoGP deal will be depended on his MotoGP success.

Talk about a fortunate set of events for Álex Márquez: He has his best season in Moto2, ends up winning the championship but there did not appear to be a worthy opening in MotoGP and he was going to return to the series. Then Jorge Lorenzo announced his retirement, opening a season at Repsol Honda, which just so happens to be his brother's team.

Álex may get the familial benefit if he has some struggles but if Álex is having problems and there is another rider that is more worthy of a factory seat than Álex may get the bump. I do not think Marc Márquez is going to make Honda keep his brother or risk losing him. Although, crazier things have happened.

And we end with a little bit of a sad story...

Ticktum may "forget motorsport" if he can't get to F1
This is disheartening but understandable.

Dan Ticktum has some talent. Though none of his plans or Red Bull plans have worked out, Ticktum is not a schlub. If he cannot make it to Formula One there are plenty of other avenues where he can be successful. He could go to IndyCar, FIA World Endurance Championship, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters, any one of a dozen GT3 series, IMSA, ELMS, Ticktum could make a career in motorsports.

But, for some drivers, the dream is only Formula One; there is no alternative.

That might be shortsighted but he is no different then kids all over the world. How many kids end up playing baseball or basketball with dreams of going professional but drop out after high school because they did not get a college scholarship and it is not worth the time to try and walk on?

How many kids get a scholarship and get to play in college but come to realize the best they are going to do is single-A ball and may break into double-A but the money is too little for the amount of time they have to dedicate to the practice and they could make more in an office job and at least have more structure in their life?

Ticktum is no different. He has had Red Bull backing for a while but how much money did he and his family put to get him there? A few years in Formula One can pay that off but only Formula One. He could spend ten years in sports cars and still not made it all back. He could become IndyCar champion and it not give him financial security nor guarantee him job security. It is just the nature of motorsports at this time.

We are seeing Richie Stanaway potentially walk away from motorsports at the age of 28. We have seen plenty of drivers have careers end before the age of 30 but these are drivers that the sport has walked on by. Stanaway won races in GP2 and got a great opportunity with Aston Martin. If Ticktum had the super license points on January 1st of this year he would have likely been in one of the Toro Rosso seats instead of Daniil Kvyat or Alexander Albon. I think we are going to see more drivers go down this road. There just does not seem to be as many openings or money to keep careers going.

I hope Ticktum continues. He may have made mistakes but he has talent and it would be appreciated somewhere.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

NASCAR's Best Drivers of the 2010s

With the top NASCAR races of the decade behind, we will now look at the top ten drivers from the 2010s.

Same criteria as IndyCar, to be considered for the top ten drivers you have to win a race this decade. For NASCAR, if you could not win one of 360 races you definitely do not belong in the consideration for being one of the ten best NASCAR drivers of the decade.

So for fans of Michael McDowell, Tyler Dillon, Reed Sorenson, Landon Cassill, Matt DiBenedetto, Daniel Suárez, Corey LaJoie, Joe Nemechek, Casey Mears, William Byron, Dave Blaney, Jeff Burton, David Gilliland, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Brian Scott, Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Scott Speed, Andy Lally, Kevin Conway, Ken Schrader, Michael Waltrip, Boris Said and Danica Patrick, they were not considered for this list.

Thirty-six drivers won a race this decade in the NASCAR Cup Series and I will cut to the chase, David Ragan, Paul Menard, Justin Haley, Trevor Bayne, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Brian Vickers, A.J. Allmendinger, Chris Buescher, Regan Smith, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, David Reutimann, Marcos Ambrose and Jamie McMurray were not considered, never once considered.

That leaves 21 drivers for ten spots. Let's get after it.

10. Carl Edwards
Starts: 252
Wins: 12
Top Five Finishes: 63
Top Ten Finishes: 121
Pole Positions: 18
Average Finish: 13.3
Seasons with a Victory: 6
Championships: 0

9. Jeff Gordon
Starts: 224
Wins: 11
Top Five Finishes: 62
Top Ten Finishes: 116
Pole Positions: 13
Average Finish: 13.2
Seasons with a Victory: 5
Championships: 0

Reasons For the Rankings: It was difficult deciding between three drivers for the final two spots and though Tony Stewart won the championship in 2011, Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon made the top ten over Stewart because of consistency.

Gordon did not get a championship, he made two fewer starts than Stewart in the decade and had one fewer victory but Gordon had 19 more top five finishes and 38 more top ten finishes. Stewart had 15 or more top ten finishes in the first three seasons of the decade and then never reach double-figures in his next four seasons. Outside of 2016 when Gordon ran substituting for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., his fewest number of top ten finishes in a season was 17. Stewart had only one season where he had ten or more top five finishes. Gordon had four seasons with double-digit top five finishes.

Edwards did not get a championship and made 26 more starts than Stewart. They were level on victories but Edwards had one more top five finish than Gordon and five more top ten finishes than Gordon. On top of that, Edwards was in the top five in four of his seven seasons this decade while Gordon was in the top five of the championship only once, his final season when he was third, and Stewart's only top five championship was his 2011 championship, which he won on tiebreaker over Edwards.

While Stewart defeated Edwards heads-up for that championship, Edwards had the more consistent decade with his fewest number of top ten finishes in a season being 13. He won multiple races in five of the seven seasons. Edwards had more top five finishes than Stewart in five of the seasons with one of the seasons the two drivers finishing level.

Stewart had a few injuries and was involved in a fatal sprint car accident where Stewart faced possible manslaughter charges and a civil suit. Physically and mentally, Stewart was strained for the final four years of his Cup career. Who knows what a fully fit Stewart would have been able to accomplish.

Gordon remained consistent. He never matched the flashy numbers of his early career but he was constantly in the top ten and running at the front. He was in the top ten of championship every season he was full-time this decade. He is ahead of Edwards because he did more in less time than Edwards. Was Edwards unfortunate to be at Roush Fenway Racing during the start of its decade-long decline? Absolutely and he found the right landing place but it only lasted the final two seasons of his career.

8. Matt Kenseth
Starts: 301
Wins: 21
Top Five Finishes: 86
Top Ten Finishes: 155
Pole Positions: 15
Average Finish: 13.3
Seasons with a Victory: 6
Championships: 0

Reasons For the Ranking: Kenseth proved to be one of the most consistent drivers of the previous decade and he continued it into the 2010s. Not only was Kenseth consistent but he ended up being more prolific.

After having only two seasons where he won more than three races in the 2000s, Kenseth had four seasons of three victories or more in the 2010s, eight of which he ran full-time. Of his eight full seasons, he never had fewer than 15 top ten finishes in a season. He had four seasons with 20 top tens. He had only two seasons where he had fewer than ten top five finishes.

The only season Kenseth was not in the top ten of the championship was 2015, when he was suspended from Texas and Phoenix after he took out Joey Logano while laps down at Martinsville. It was a season where he entered the playoffs seventh in the championship.

Kenseth had five victories in that 2015 season. A series of events knocked him out before the semifinal round. It felt like he would have been a threat in the final four. In 2013, he won seven races, most in the series and was second in the championship. The pace was there. The results never added up for that second championship.

7. Joey Logano
Starts: 360
Wins: 22
Top Five Finishes: 113
Top Ten Finishes: 193
Pole Positions: 22
Average Finish: 13.6
Seasons with a Victory: 8
Championships: 1

6. Denny Hamlin
Starts: 355
Wins: 29
Top Five Finishes: 114
Top Ten Finishes: 180
Pole Positions: 26
Average Finish: 13.5
Seasons with a Victory: 9
Championships: 0

5. Brad Keselowski
Starts: 360
Wins: 29
Top Five Finishes: 114
Top Ten Finishes: 182
Pole Positions: 17
Average Finish: 13.5
Seasons with a Victory: 9
Championships: 1

Reasons For the Rankings: Similar to Stewart, Edwards and Gordon, the trio of Logano, Hamlin and Keselowski are nearly identical.

Logano gets knocked down to seventh, one because of fewer victories but also because of a slow start to the decade. He had one victory over the first three seasons. He didn't finish in the top fifteen of the championship in any of those seasons. There is also the 2017 season, where Logano won a race at Richmond, failed inspection and had it encumbered, meaning it did not qualify him for the playoffs. He was still fifth in the championship after Richmond but went on to drop to 15th entering Richmond and failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Logano did win a championship, he had over 20 top ten finishes in five of the last six seasons and he has picked up double-digit top five finishes for seven consecutive seasons but these few seasons stand out.

Hamlin and Keselowski could not be anymore identical. Equal on victories, top five finishes, average finishes and only two top ten finishes separate them. If Hamlin had won the championship at Homestead this year, I think he would have ended up fifth. That is really the one thing that puts Keselowski ahead of Hamlin.

The only time Hamlin did not make the postseason was 2013 when he missed four races from a broken back from an accident with Logano at Fontana. That was a season where one simple victory could not lift a driver up into the title fight. Once Hamlin missed those races, his championship hopes were toast for that season. Outside of 2013, his worst championship finish was 11th in 2018.

Keselowski's decade started poorly in his first full season with Team Penske in the third car. He had only two top ten finishes. Sam Hornish, Jr. only had one. Kurt Busch won twice and was 11th in the championship. In two seasons, Keselowski was champion. The following year he failed to make the Chase, getting knocked out at Richmond. Since then, Keselowski has had at least three victories in five of the last six seasons.

One thing to take into consideration is the five races Hamlin missed this decade, four due to his back injury and one because he had a piece of metal in his eye before Fontana in 2014. If you look at the 355 races all three drivers contested together, head-to-head Hamlin finished ahead of Logano 182 times to 173 times and he finished ahead of Keselowski 182 times to 173 times. In the 355 races Hamlin and Keselowski contested, Hamlin had 180 top ten finishes to Keselowski's 179 top ten finishes and Hamlin's would best Keselowski on average finish 13.5 to 13.6.

There really was next to nothing between these three drivers and it took a deep dive into the statistic to find any separation.

4. Martin Truex, Jr.
Starts: 360
Wins: 25
Top Five Finishes: 89
Top Ten Finishes: 168
Pole Positions: 15
Average Finish: 14.1
Seasons with a Victory: 6
Championships: 1

Reasons For the Ranking: Truex, Jr. won a championship with Furniture Row Racing.

I know that sounds too simple of a reason but talk about doing more with less.

Yes, Truex, Jr. did not win a race in four seasons. Yes, Truex, Jr. was outside the top fifteen in four seasons and outside the top twenty in two seasons. Yes, 19 of Truex's 25 victories came in the last three seasons but really think about Truex, Jr.'s decade.

He moved to Michael Waltrip Racing when the team was still stumbling. The team had only once had a drier finish in the top twenty of the championship. Its only victory was David Reutimann in the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 in 2009. The team had five top five finishes in three seasons.

Things seemed to be going right. Clint Bowyer was second in the championship for MWR in 2012 and in 2013, Truex won at Sonoma. He was fighting for a Chase spot and then the infamous team orders came. Bowyer caused a caution that Truex didn't end up needing. Bowyer and Truex were each docked 100 points. The penalty took Truex out of the championship. Bowyer stayed in the Chase. NAPA Auto Parts announced its departure from the team and it left Truex without a ride.

He found a ride at Furniture Row Racing in 2014 but was 24th in the championship with one top five finish and five top ten finishes.

Truex's career could very well have gone the way of Reed Sorenson, Michael McDowell, Joe Nemechek, David Ragan and so on from there. He could have become a field-filler, a guy that hangs around but is just there, not really adding anything to the scenery.

One year after being 24th, Truex made the Championship 4 in this playoff formats in 2015. The season after that Furniture Row Racing switched to Toyota and won four races.

Then came the historic 2017 season, eight victories, 19 top five finishes and 26 top ten finishes. In an aggregate championship, Truex would have locked up the title with two races to go. He has finished runner-up in the championship the last two seasons.

I think many try to diminish Truex's accomplishments as a driver ending up with the right manufacture at the right time but no single-car was supposed to be that successful in NASCAR. Kurt Busch may have finished tenth in the championship with Furniture Row Racing but Truex took it to a higher level and the group did it with two manufactures. To confirm it was not just the team, Truex entered Joe Gibbs Racing and immediately won the most races in the team. It was no fluke.

We have watched the late blooming of Truex, Jr. and we will watch to see whether or not it can continue into the 2020s.

3. Jimmie Johnson
Starts: 360
Wins: 36
Top Five Finishes: 110
Top Ten Finishes: 184
Pole Positions: 13
Average Finish: 13.8
Seasons with a Victory: 8
Championships: 3

Reasons For the Ranking: Johnson had the most championships this decade. He hasn't won a race the last two seasons. He still ended up with the third most victories this decade.

It just goes to show how dominant Johnson was and the last two seasons have fogged out the first eight years of the 2010s. Johnson had five victories or more in a season five times. He had four victories or more six times. He had 20 top ten finishes in the first six seasons of this decade.

In the wake of Johnson announcing his retirement at the end of the 2020 season, it is still not clear how it has gone so wrong the last two years. He has just lost it but it cannot all be gone.

Entering the final race of 2019, Johnson was potentially going to be the only driver to have won multiple championships in the decade. If that had been the case, I think I would have put him at number one because we would have had six consecutive different champions in the Cup Series, matching the longest streak in Cup history. In one of NASCAR's greatest periods of parity, no one broke through as much as Johnson did. He did it in different generations of cars and in different championship systems. Everything NASCAR threw at the drivers and Johnson would have been the only one to master the different formats and regulations.

How one race can change everything. Johnson still won three championships. He was the one guy that could constantly pull it out. That is what separates the very good from the great. Plenty of drivers won a championship this decade but it takes more than one to stand out when the air starts to get thinner.

The last two years may show Johnson being a shell of his former self but he has eight years where most could not beat him.

2. Kevin Harvick
Starts: 360
Wins: 38
Top Five Finishes: 145
Top Ten Finishes: 233
Pole Positions: 26
Average Finish: 10.5
Seasons with a Victory: 10
Championships: 1

Reasons For the Ranking: Excellence but slightly not enough. The numbers show Harvick was stout across the board, most top five finishes, most top ten finishes and best average finish, he was in the top three of the championship eight times with his championship finish in the other two seasons being eighth.

After going over those numbers, I had to put Harvick ahead of Johnson. Johnson might have had three championships but Harvick was always there this decade, even when with Richard Childress Racing. Look at how far RCR has fallen compared to when it had Harvick and what Harvick has done for the last six seasons. He had four or more victories in six seasons. He had 20 or more top ten finishes in eight seasons. He had 15 or more top five finishes in five seasons.

He won the first championship in the Championship 4 format and he has made the final round four times since. Harvick's decade is something that is comparable to Scott Dixon in IndyCar. Every driver would take Dixon's worst season in the 2010s and the same is true for Harvick. The only difference is Dixon won three championships to Harvick's one.

Harvick is a driver that doesn't put a wheel wrong. Of 360 races this decade, he was running at the finish of 337. That is 93.6% of the races. He completed the fourth most laps. Most races you know Harvick can finish in the top ten. How much confidence can a team have when it goes into 36 races and feels like it should at least finish tenth? That is what Harvick brings each race.

1. Kyle Busch
Starts: 348
Wins: 40
Top Five Finishes: 144
Top Ten Finishes: 211
Pole Positions: 27
Average Finish: 12.3
Seasons with a Victory: 10
Championships: 2

Reasons For the Ranking: Kyle Busch was a threat to win every race.

In how many races this decade was Busch not mentioned for the first 75% of it and then in the final 25% he would emerge in the fight for the victory? No other drivers did it as often as Busch did that is for sure.

This season concluded with his second championship and it a title that was a long-time coming. He won four races or more in seven of ten seasons. Two seasons he only had one victory. The other season he had three victories. He was in the top five of the championship for six seasons.

A lot of people downgrade his 2015 championship because of the format. Busch missed 11 races due to injury. In the 25 races he did compete in, he won five times, he was in the top five on 12 occasions and he had 16 top ten finishes. On top of that, he finished 23 of 25 races and was on the lead lap in 20 of 25 races.

Yes, in no other NASCAR season could a driver only run 70% of the races and win the championship but looking at the percentages, he was on point with any other top driver.

If any driver could win a championship after missing 11 races it is Kyle Busch and it was almost the motivation needed for him to take the title. Who else was going to do it? People wrote Busch off after his injury and when all he could do was rack up victory after victory to get back into the Top 30 of the championship and qualify for the playoffs, he did it and he did it comfortably. 

This season, when the winless streak continued for Busch into September and October and every other Joe Gibbs Racing car was winning races, he was written off again. Busch has a way of blowing up his own season. He will overstep the boundary. It happened plenty of times in 2019 where a promising result was ruined because of slight body damage and the car was gone. Busch is a stick of dynamite, he can get the job done but he can also blow all your fingers off. 

There were plenty of times between Pocono in June and Homestead in November where Busch could have gotten another victory. He only lost to his brother Kurt by 0.076 seconds at Kentucky. The Southern 500 was really Busch's but when he came out second to Erik Jones on the final pit stop he lost the clean air and there was nothing he could do. He led over half the Richmond race later that month. He was knocking on the door at Phoenix.

Busch was always there and when it came time for Busch to win a race, he won it. It felt like Busch was more or less playing with his food for the first nine playoff races. As much as he wanted to win, he knew he just had to advance from each round. When he had to win, he would get it. 

At Homestead, his three championship rivals had won the previous three races, two of which were his teammates. Many seemed to have no confidence Busch could pull it out because he had not pulled out a victory in five months. Even in the race itself, it appeared to be Truex, Jr.'s day. 

But, as I wrote before, how many times have we seen Busch not be in the conversation for the first 75% and then pull it out in the final 25%? He did it again. It might not have been as extreme as Busch not factoring for the first 75%, he did lead 120 of 267 laps after all, but for the first half, Busch was not there. The team improved the car and in the closing laps, he had enough of a gap over Truex to win the championship. 

We do not talk enough about Busch's intelligence as a driver and that is why he can go from nothing to something in races. He can take the first 50% or 75% and work on the race car so it can be competitive in the closing stages. He can take a car not of his liking, keep it in the hunt and then be in a position to pounce. 

For the last ten seasons, Kyle Busch is the one driver you have to keep an eye on in heading into every race but also for every lap of a race. He is never out of it.