Home Advantage Does Not Exist in Formula 1

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistJanuary 3, 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 16:  Grid girls hold the national flags of all of drivers nationalities before the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit on March 16, 2008 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Before the 2012 German Grand Prix, his last on home soil, Michael Schumacher addressed the concept of home-field advantage in Formula One.

According to Formula1.com, he said, "People often ask me whether there is any such thing as a home advantage in such an international sport as ours and my answer is: perhaps not a home advantage, but certainly a home-race feeling."

Despite those views, Schumacher won nine grands prix in Germany, at both Hockenheim and the Nurburgring, during his illustrious career.

Perhaps surprisingly, though, Schumacher is correct—there is no home-field advantage in F1. Nigel Mansell, who won four British Grands Prix, might disagree, but the statistics (compiled by the author, originally published by PureF1.com) do not lie.

To determine whether any sort of home-field advantage does exist, we need to consider more than just how many grands prix have been won by a home driver. Since only a few drivers can realistically be expected to win any given race, it is more telling to examine each driver individually and compare their finish in their home grand prix against their results in the other races that season.

In the following table, the "Advantage/Disadvantage" column shows how many places higher (+) or lower (-), on average, drivers finished at their home races for the given season. The "Number of Drivers" column indicates how many drivers finished their home grand prix, plus at least five others, that season (the only drivers counted in this study).*

Formula 1 Home Race Results, 2003–2013
SeasonAdvantage/DisadvantageNumber of Drivers
2013- 0.7511
2012+ 0.5016
2011- 0.1919
2010- 1.5019
2009- 1.5415
2008- 0.1410
2007- 0.8312
2006- 0.0915
2005+ 0.4615
2004- 0.0215
2003- 0.6613
Compiled by Matthew Walthert, originally published by PureF1.com

In the original analysis of the 10 seasons from 2003 to 2012, there were only two years where drivers had a better average finish in their home races than in other grands prix. Despite both Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel winning at home in 2013, the trend continued: Drivers finished an average of 0.75 places lower at their home races in the 2013 season than they did elsewhere.

Since 2003, comprising 160 individual results, drivers have finished an average of 0.44 places lower at their home grands prix. 

MONTMELO, SPAIN - MAY 12:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari celebrates in parc ferme after winning the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya on May 12, 2013 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Clive Rose/Getty Images

For fans of other team sports, home-field advantage is taken as a given. Baseball, basketball and football (American and association) teams really do win more often at home. In their book, Scorecasting, Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim examined this phenomenon. Their findings indicate that home crowds subconsciously influenced referees into giving their teams more favourable calls.

While Felipe Massa could have used some of that influence when the stewards slapped him with a drive-through penalty at the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix, F1 fans do not have contact with the stewards the same way football or baseball fans do with referees (to say nothing of basketball fans, who do not even have a wall separating them from the game officials).

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that home-field advantage does not exist in F1.

What about breaking the numbers down by country, though? Surely our Italian, German, British or Brazilian readers would argue that their cheers provide a bit of a boost to their drivers at home.

(Note that this table only includes countries where are least five drivers met the criteria over the 11 seasons considered.)

Formula 1 Home Race Results By Country, 2003–2013
CountryAdvantage/DisadvantageNumber of Drivers
Japan+ 1.219
Spain+ 0.7721
Germany- 0.1149
Brazil- 0.5419
Italy- 1.3921
United Kingdom- 1.5724
Australia- 1.758
Compiled by Matthew Walthert, originally published by PureF1.com

Aside from his shocking fifth-place finish at home in his first career race, Mark Webber's struggles in Australia are borne out in these statistics. Likewise, Jenson Button's string of disappointing results at Silverstone continued in 2013, with a 13th-place finish. He would likely not be surprised that British drivers actually have one of the largest home-field disadvantages in the sport.

NORTHAMPTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 21:  Jenson Button of Great Britain and Brawn GP walks back to his garage following the British Formula One Grand Prix at Silverstone on June 21, 2009 in Northampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

The question has now become: Why is there a home-field disadvantage in F1?

Perhaps drivers are overexcited or nervous by the prospect of driving in front of their countrymen, leading to more mental mistakes. Or maybe they are willing to push just a bit harder at their home races than at other grands prix, just as often leading to errors as to quicker lap times.

In The Telegraph, David Coulthard—winner of two British Grands Prix—suggested that drivers may simply be worn out by extra media and sponsor commitments at their home races.

No matter the reason for it, there is a slight disadvantage for drivers racing on home soil. Home-field advantage may be a fact in other sports, but it does not exist in F1.   

*A few notes on the statistics in this article:

  • Drivers' home countries are those on their Super Licence, not necessarily where they were born or reside.
  • Some drivers are counted twice in one season, when their home country hosted more than one race (e.g. San Marino Grand Prix in Italy, European Grand Prix in Germany or Spain).
  • DNFs and races where drivers were classified without finishing were not considered—they skew the results and are not necessarily the driver's fault. 
  • All figures are rounded to the nearest hundredth.

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