Was Sebastian Vettel's 2013 Performance the Most Dominant in Formula 1 History?

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2014

Was Sebastian Vettel's 2013 Performance the Most Dominant in Formula 1 History?

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    Vettel celebrates at the 2013 U.S. Grand Prix.
    Vettel celebrates at the 2013 U.S. Grand Prix.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Sebastian Vettel won 13 of 19 races in the 2013 Formula One season. He clinched the Drivers' Championship with three races remaining, capping one of the most impressive performances in the history of the sport.

    But was it the most dominant season by a driver in F1 history?

    From Alberto Ascari to Michael Schumacher, there have been a number of dominant performances since the championship began. Here, we will rank them.

    This list includes all the seasons where one driver won more than 50 percent of the races and clinched the Drivers' Championship with two or more races remaining on the calendar. Thirteen seasons match that description.

    The criteria to determine the most dominant season by a driver in F1 history are:

    • Percentage of races won
    • Margin of victory
    • Percentage of races remaining when the championship was decided

    For each criterion, the drivers are ranked and points are given to the top 10 in each category (10 points for first place, one point for 10th). Adding up the results from the three lists gives us an overall ranking of the most dominant performances.

    One note of clarification before we begin: This list is only concerned with seasons where one driver monopolized the point standings, not one team. So, for example, despite McLaren winning every race but one in 1988, that performance is not considered here—Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna split the victories, and the championship was not decided until the final race.

    *All figures in this article have been rounded to the nearest 10th.

Percentage of Races Won

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    Although Vettel and Michael Schumacher share the record for number of victories in a single season with 13, they accumulated those totals in seasons with 19 and 18 total races, respectively. When Alberto Ascari won the 1952 championship, the season only had eight races.

    Therefore, percentage of races won is a much more reliable indicator than total wins. Here is the ranking for the 13 seasons considered in this article (the final column—points—indicates the number of points awarded in our overall ranking): 

    DriverSeasonRacesWinsWin %Points
    1. Alberto Ascari19528675.010
    2. Michael Schumacher2004181372.29
    3. Jim Clark196310770.08
    4. Sebastian Vettel2013191368.47
    5. Juan Manuel Fangio19549666.76
    6. Michael Schumacher2002171164.75
    7. Jim Clark196510660.04
    8. Sebastian Vettel2011191157.93
    9. Nigel Mansell199216956.32
    T-10. Jackie Stewart1969/197111654.50.5/0.5
    T-12. Michael Schumacher1995/200117952.90/0

    By this criterion at least, Vettel's 2013 season is not the best in F1 history.

    Racing for Ferrari, Ascari scored the first of his two world championships by winning six of the eight races in 1952. Even more impressively, he only started seven of the eight races, skipping the Swiss Grand Prix in order to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 (which was part of the F1 world championship at the time).

    Schumacher and Jim Clark also edged Vettel in this category. In 1963, Clark finished on the podium in every race but Monaco. In 2004, Schumacher won 12 of the first 13 races of the season but only one of five the rest of the way.

Margin of Victory

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    Schumacher in 2002.
    Schumacher in 2002.Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    The second criterion in determining the most dominant season in F1 history is margin of victory. Since the points awarded for a win have varied between eight and 25 over the years, the actual measure used here is: How many victories did the champion finish ahead of the second-place driver?

    For example, in 2013, one victory equaled 25 points, so Vettel's 155-point margin equals 6.2 wins. In 2002, when a victory was worth 10 points, Schumacher's 67-point margin equals 6.7 wins.

    This measure is still biased toward drivers who had more races in a season (as you can see from the results), but those drivers also had to sustain their dominance over that greater number of grands prix.

    Until 1991, not all the results in a given year would count toward a driver's point total in the championship. For the purposes of this ranking, though, all points scored by each driver have been included for the given years.

    DriverSeasonPointsWinsPoints
    1. Michael Schumacher2002676.710
    2. Sebastian Vettel20131556.29
    3. Michael Schumacher2001585.88
    4. Nigel Mansell1992525.27
    5. Sebastian Vettel20111224.96
    6. Jim Clark1963394.35
    7. Juan Manuel Fangio195430.53.84
    8. Michael Schumacher2004343.43
    T-9. Alberto Ascari/Michael Schumacher1952/199526.5/333.31.5/1.5
    11. Jackie Stewart1971293.20
    12. Jackie Stewart1969262.90
    13. Jim Clark1965140.80

    Another Ferrari driver tops this ranking, although this time it is Schumacher. In 2002, he finished on the podium at every race, winning 11 of them and finishing second five times.

    Vettel's 2013 season was a close second here. That is unsurprising given his 155-point margin of victory is the largest in the history of the sport (although obviously aided by the current point system).

    Clark's huge gap in 1963 is also particularly notable, considering he built it in only 10 races.

Percentage of Races Remaining

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    Mansell in his Williams in 1992. (What, you wanted another Schumacher photo?)
    Mansell in his Williams in 1992. (What, you wanted another Schumacher photo?)Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

    The final criterion measures how early in the season each driver clinched his championship. Again, since the seasons vary widely in length, percentage is used rather than an absolute number.

    Somewhat surprisingly, Vettel's 2013 season does not score very highly on this metric. And with the new double-points system taking effect for the final race in 2014, it will be harder than ever for drivers to lock up the championship early (or so the FIA Strategy Group hopes).

    DriverSeasonRacesRemaining% RemainingPoints
    1. Michael Schumacher200217635.310
    2. Nigel Mansell199216531.39
    T-3. Jim Clark1965/196310330.07.5/7.5
    T-5. Jackie Stewart1969/197111327.35.5/5.5
    7. Alberto Ascari19528225.04
    8. Michael Schumacher200117423.53
    T-9. Juan Manuel Fangio1954/20049/182/422.21.5/1.5
    11. Sebastian Vettel201119421.10
    12. Sebastian Vettel201319315.80
    13. Michael Schumacher199517211.80

    Once again, Schumacher's ridiculous 2002 season comes out on top. He is the only driver to ever clinch a championship with more than one-third of the season still remaining. And you thought 2013 was boring!

    Mansell, in 1992, and Clark, in both 1963 and 1965, also were the only other drivers to win the title with 30 percent or more of the season remaining.

    Now, how do all of these rankings add up? Which driver produced the most dominant season in F1 history?

The Most Dominant Season in F1 History

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    OK, one more. Here is Schumacher celebrating the 2002 title at the French Grand Prix.
    OK, one more. Here is Schumacher celebrating the 2002 title at the French Grand Prix.Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

    If you have read this far, you will not be shocked that Schumacher's 2002 masterpiece is the most dominant season in F1 history. His 17 podiums in 17 races was an incredible achievement for him, and for Ferrari.

    DriverSeasonPoints
    1. Michael Schumacher200225
    2. Jim Clark196320.5
    3. Nigel Mansell199218
    4. Sebastian Vettel201316
    5. Alberto Ascari195215.5
    6. Michael Schumacher200413.5
    T-7. Juan Manuel Fangio/Jim Clark1954/196511.5
    9. Michael Schumacher200111
    10. Sebastian Vettel20119
    T-11. Jackie Stewart1969/19716
    13. Michael Schumacher19951.5

    The top five seasons all come from different drivers, and despite Vettel and Red Bull's strong performance in 2013, it only ranks fourth. 

    And now that we have determined the most dominant season in the history of the sport, let's hope the record is never broken. Instead, we should ask the racing gods for a lot more seasons like 2008, when the championship was decided on the last lap of the season.

    Follow Matthew Walthert on Twitter @MatthewWalthert