Formula 1

Man v machine

Engineers, not racers, are now the true drivers of success in motor sports

“I ALWAYS THOUGHT records were there to be broken,” Michael Schumacher, a star Formula 1 (F1) driver, said in 2013. At the time, his record of 91 career F1 victories looked safe: the closest active racer had just 32. Yet on October 11th Lewis Hamilton of Britain equalled the mark. Mr Hamilton is also on pace to tie Mr Schumacher’s record of seven F1 championships later this year.

Mr Hamilton’s ascent has ignited debate over whether he is F1’s best driver ever. Comparing athletes across eras is always hard—especially in motor sports, where a racer depends on his car. Moreover, F1 has regularly changed its scoring system and its number of races, drivers and teams.

However, statistical analysis can address many of these nuances. We have built a mathematical model, based on a study by Andrew Bell of the University of Sheffield, to measure the…