One way to measure the level of competition in a championship is to divide the points earned by the runner-up by the champion’s points. Expressed as a percentage, this quantity is between 0 and 100. Measured by it, ADAC Formula 4 was the most competitive championship in 2020, while Formula 1 was the least competitive.
Omitted: a few series I don’t bother reading about
Consider that FR Americas uses the same scoring system as F1, and its season also had 17 races. Lundqvist won 15 out of 17 (finishing P2 and P6 in the other two), and even that championship was closer than F1.
The last ever season of Eurocup ended with Martins as champion and a neat graph of 1-2 finishes. One can point to the Martins-Collets battle as evidence of championship drama, but it was mostly a snoozer with few notable position changes after the first lap.
Biggest disappointment: Paul Aron. One P2 and far too many unforced errors.
CryptoTower Racing won 16 out of 18 races… divided 11:5 between Ye and Dunner. But if one puts aside the four races that Dunner missed because of schedule clashes, the win counts are nearly even, 7:5. This is a championship fight that could have been but wasn’t.
The Edgar-Crawford fight was intense and entertainting, but overall the season was a disappointment by comparison with 2019. Prema team dropped out after two rounds, Pizzi (VAR) left one round later, and US Racing fell far short of replicating the strength of their 2019 lineup. The contest between Edgar and Crawford largely came down to who got torpedoed more often (Crawford, as it seemed to me).
I try to track the movement of drivers between the following categories: F1, F2, F3, F3R, and F4. Here F3R (“regional F3”) category also includes Formula Renault and Euroformula Open.
F2 to F1
F3 to F2
F3R to F2
This is an oversimplification of events, but most of Sato’s and Ticktum’s races in 2019 were on F3R level.
F3R to F3
Unusually, Jüri Vips moved in the opposite direction: from F3 to FREC. This highlights the absurdity of equating FREC with Super Formula in terms of Super Licence points. Whether Vips stepped up to SF or stepped down to FREC, the potential reward in terms of points is the same. It is pretty clear that FREC competition is much weaker. This is not to suggest that Vips is looking for a weaker series: the travel issues and the Lost in Translation effects are obvious obstacles in SF.
F4 to F3
Skipping F3R is a bold move, and originally, only two drivers were set to attempt it in 2020: the winners of two most competitive F4 championships, Italy and Germany. The last-minute addition of Roman Staněk to this list is a very bold move.
F4 to F3R
Reshad de Gerus
Glenn van Berlo
This list is inevitably incomplete due to the fuzziness of F3R category.
Karting to F3R
I am not going to track the drivers coming to F4 from karts due to sheer numbers, but going directly to F3R is sufficiently rare to be mentioned.
Following the method of this post presents the evolution of the graph of 1-2 finishes throughout 2019 season. The graphs are shown as they were after the race mentioned in the subheading. At times, when the main F1 graph remained unchanged, I threw in similar graphs for some F1 feeder series.
Obviously, there is only one edge after the first race of the season, a Mercedes 1-2. This turned out to be the beginning of a series of five 1-2 for Mercedes, so the graph did not change again until Monaco.
At Monaco, Mercedes drivers took “only” the first and third place, as Vettel appeared in top 2.
It began with the youngest ever front row of the F1 grid: Leclerc and Verstappen. And ended with the youngest ever 1-2 finish (represented by an edge here) in Formula One: Verstappen and Leclerc. For the moment, the graph is disconnected.
Two predictions: (1) the components will get connected; (2) the graph will stay with 5 vertices, tying the record for the fewest number of vertices (there were 5 in 2000 and 2011). Which is a way of saying, I don’t expect either Gasly or anyone outside of top 3 teams to finish in top two for the rest of the season.
The rain-induced chaos in Hockenheim could have added a third component to the graph, but instead it linked the two existing ones. The graph is now a path on 5 vertices, which is not a likely structure in this context.
Sure, the configuration did not last. The graph is longer a tree, and nor longer bipartite.
A prediction added during the summer break: the season’s graph will contain a Hamiltonian cycle.
Getting closer to constructing a Hamiltonian cycle: only one degree-1 vertex remains. The graph is similar to 1992 season, except the appendage was one edge longer then.
In 1992, the central position was occupied by Mansell, who scored 93% more points than the runner-up to the title. This is where we find Hamilton at present, though with “only” 32% more points than the 2nd place. (The percentages are called for, because the scoring system changed in between.)
A Hamiltonian cycle is now complete. The only way to lose it is by adding another vertex to the graph, which I do not expect to happen.
The graph resembles the 2001 season where Hamilton’s position was occupied by Schumacher. The only difference is that in 2001, there was an extra edge incident to Schumacher.
We have a 4-clique, and are two edges short of the complete graph on 5 vertices.
However, I predict the complete graph will not happen. Achieving it would require two races in which neither Hamilton nor Leclerc finishes in top two. Such a thing happened just once in the first 15 races, in the chaos of rainy Hockenheim. Not likely to happen twice in the remaining 6.
The Formula 1 graph did not change, which is not surprising, considering how unlikely the two missing edges are to appear (see above). But since FIA Formula 3 championship ended in Sochi, here is its complete graph.
The champion, Shwartzman, has the highest vertex degree with 5. Given the level of success of Prema team, one could expect their drivers to form a 3-clique, but this is not the case: Armstrong and Daruvala are not connected (Daruvala’s successful races were mostly toward the beginning of the season, Armstrong’s toward the end). Two Hitech drivers, Vips and Pulcini, each share a couple edges with Prema drivers. All in all, this was a closely fought championship that sometimes made Formula 1 races look like parade laps in comparison.
Unlikely as it was, another edge was created, bringing the graph within one edge of the first non-planar season in F1.
Could we get an even more unlikely Verstappen-Bottas finish in the remaining four races? Red Bull did not look strong enough in recent races for that to happen.
Interlude: Formula 4
The level of Formula 4 championships is highly variable: some struggle to survive with a handful of cars on the grid, some have developed into spectacular competitions. The following summary of F4 history is highly recommended.
The two most noteworthy ones are the “twin” F4 championships held in Germany and Italy which have disjoint calendars and share many of the drivers. Here is a summary of German (ADAC) F4 in 2019:
At times, US Racing team threatened to take positions 1-2-3-4 in the standings. They did get 1, 3, 4, 6 but it was a close fight, with Pourchaire taking the title by 7 points (258 : 251) over Hauger. Hauger and his neighbors in the graph (US Racing quartet and Petecof of Prema team) occupied the top 6 positions. The radius of the graph is 3, with its (unique) center being Pourchaire.
The Italian F4 championship sometimes had over 35 cars on the grid, but its 1-2 graph is smaller, of radius 2. The unique center is Hauger, who won by a landslide (Hauger 369 : 233 Petecof). The only Italian driver on the graph of this Italian championship is Ferrari who once took second place when Hauger and Petecof collided.
Arguably, Hauger is the 2019 driver of the year at F4 level: he won 6 races in ADAC F4 and 12 in Italian F4. Pourchaire won 4 races in ADAC F4 and did not participate in Italian F4.
Another fascinating contest was the season-long battle of two 15-year old F4 rookies: Aron and Stanek. Stanek took ADAC F4 rookie title, Aron did likewise in Italy. One can call it a tie, with a rematch likely next year unless they move to different categories. Mercedes-backed Aron gets more media attention so far.
No new edge, just another repeat of Hamilton-Vettel pairing: it is the 55th time they took the top two spots in Formula 1, an all-time record. They are adjacent on every graph since 2010 except for 2013, where Hamilton’s only race win came with Vettel finishing 3rd. They were also 1-3 in Japan 2009, so one has to go back to 2008, when Vettel drove for Toro Rosso, to find a season where they did not share the podium.
Meanwhile, Formula Renault Eurocup 2019 season ended, so here is its summary graph.
As usual, the highest vertex degree (Piastri, 6) indicates the champion. The 4-clique in the center of the large component took the top 4 places. The small component De Wilde – Lorandi comes from the season opener, where JD Motorsport team claimed the top two. Neither driver was in top two again, as the rest of the season was almost entirely a contest between R-ace GP and MP Motorsport. Not obvious from the graph: despite only appearing in top 2 once, as a second place in Spa, Collet took a handful of 3rd and 4th places on his way to the 5th place in overall standings and the top rookie title. The gap between 5th and 6th places was 207:102, more than a factor of 2, and the championship often felt like there were only 5 cars in the running, all from R-ace GP or MP Motorsport.
It was so close to Bottas-Verstappen finish, which would have completed the graph to , making it the first non-planar F1 graph in history. Could be that some Law of Planarity interfered, causing the yellow flags that denied Verstappen that final chance at overtaking Hamilton. No change to the graph, then.
Another feeder series fills up the spot, then: Formula Regional European Championship (FREC). An unimpressive affair from start to finish, to be frank. Yes, it was the first year the championship took place, and it’s supposed to play an important role as a stepping stone from F4 to FIA F3. (Few drivers can realistically jump into international F3 competition directly from F4, with Hauger and Pourchaire likely to be the only two to pull off this move in 2020.) Still, it is a travesty to award 25 Super License points – same as in Japanese Super Formula – for beating this small field of mostly under-tested cars and some under-prepared drivers. As Floersch put it,
Prema had three cars since November, so they’d been testing since November with three guys who actually can also drive. We had the cars one week before Paul Ricard and had one driver.
At least it was pretty close to a wheel graph. At its center, Vesti won the championship by a wide margin. I included the Fraga-Guzman edge based on my recollection of Guzman finishing second in the second race at Monza – the official standings table gives Guzman no points for any Monza race, as if there was a post-race DQ that nobody mentioned to the press (but given the level of organization, I would not be surprised if it was a clerical error).
Funny how predictions work sometimes. After the Austrian Grand Prix, when Gasly was still with Red Bull, I wrote
I don’t expect either Gasly or anyone outside of top 3 teams to finish in top two for the rest of the season.
But Gasly dropped out of a top-3 team and then finished second in Brazil.
Well, my prediction did not cover the Toro Rosso version of Gasly, who now looks like a different driver inhabiting the same body, Jekyll/Hyde style.
This race also broke the Hamiltonian cycle, and the only chance for it to be recovered is for Gasly to finish in top two again in Abu Dhabi.
At the end of the season, the Formula 1 graph stayed as it was after Brazil, shown just above. But as Formula 2 season also ended there, here is its graph.
The highest degree vertex belongs to the champion de Vries. Surprisingly, the vice champion Latifi only has degree 3, less than Ghiotto, Aitken, and Matsushita who finished in places 3, 5, 6. Hubert and Correa are joined by an edge due to Hubert’s win in the sprint race in France. Two months later, their collision in Belgium ended Hubert’s life and possibly ended Correa’s racing career. Hubert took the 10th place in the championship posthumously.