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Are the F1 drivers today at a higher level than in Senna/ Prost era?
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Posted By: James Allen  |  19 Aug 2012   |  8:56 am GMT  |  361 comments

In response to the debate we’ve been having this week about the “pagelle” or marks out of ten for drivers so far this season, one of our regular readers, Martin Leaver, has put forward an interesting position.

He argues that with the cars so close together on performance in modern F1 and fine details of tyre use sufficient to take the edge off a performance, the drivers are actually more highly skilled than in the golden age of drivers in the late 1908s and early 1990s – the Senna/Prost/Mansell/Piquet era.

Martin writes: ” Personally, I think the standard is higher now than in Piquet-Prost-Senna-Mansell era. As the cars are much closer in performance and passing is more difficult I believe the standards are greater. While Sennas’qualifying record is impressive compared to drivers since, the outcome was much less important. The refueling era and the high reliability gave an era where the drivers had to be at maximum concetration for the entire race, rather than conserving resources. The current cars have too much grip relative to their power, but the error rate is much reduced from Senna’s time. I remember working out that Senna had significant off-track moment/spin, car contact or crash in more than a quarter of his races.

“Based on that, you wouldn’t be surprised to read that I rate Alonso ahead of Senna. I think the current level of the sport has pushed the current drivers to be the best we’ve ever seen – they need to be more skilled. I believe the guys at the top now would have coped with the power:grip of the 1980s turbos and pretty much everything else is at a greater level except the gear changing.”

What do you think? Leave your comments in the section below?

Meanwhile the leading German motorsport title Auto Motor und Sport has issued its ratings today and below a table of how it sees the performance of the drivers. It should be stated that this is not a one off exercise, but the average of each driver’s score from the F1 races so far.

Compare it to the JA on F1 ratings and the Gazzetta dello Sport ratings

Not surprisingly Michael Schumacher comes out a little better than in other ratings, as does Sebastian Vettel. Interestingly they place Pastor Maldonado close to the bottom of the pile.

Fernando Alonso: 9.09
Sebastian Vettel: 7.64
Lewis Hamilton: 7.55
Kimi Räikkönen: 7.27
Mark Webber: 7.00
Michael Schumacher: 6.73
Nico Hülkenberg: 6.73
Sergio Perez: 6.64
Nico Rosberg: 6.27
Paul di Resta: 6.09
Kamui Kobayashi: 5.91
Jenson Button: 5.73
Romain Grosjean: 5.64
Heikki Kovalainen: 5.55
Vitaly Petrov: 5.27
Daniel Ricciardo: 5.18
Felipe Massa: 5.18
Bruno Senna: 5.18
Timo Glock: 5.00
Pedro de la Rosa: 5.00
Jean-Eric Vergne: 4.91
Charles Pic: 4.55
Pastor Maldonado: 4.45
Narain Karthikeyan: 3.00

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1

The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation.

My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic

but I had to share it with someone!

2

The days of Senna and Prost, it was raw racing. Safery wasn’t too good so there was much more danger, more so when it came to Senna. After Senna’s death, safety changed big time. It’s usually the case that it’s not until a tragedy that things change. Senna is probably the most famous F1 driver in history and I can’t see that ever changing. Senna would probably have won more than 3 championships if he had lived. And looking back to 1994 when Senna died, all the drivers went into that race after the death of Ratzenberger the day before. It was a case of lack of respect for Ratzenberger, but in all fairness to Senna, he was going to fly an Austrian flag in memory of Ratzenberger, as one was found in Senna’s crashed car. Even after Senna had died, the race went on. As for Schumacher, he’s a hard faced German t**t that couldn’t care less. His public views on Senna are all false. Even after the race in 1994, as if he looked bothered about Senna’s death. But in F1, it’s everyone for themselves. And money and points will always be at the top. Senna this, Senna that, he will never be left alone. But to his family and to his fans (me included), what counts is that he’ll live on as a legend for ever.

3

I think it s exactly the opposite: real driving skills show off if a pilot has an inferior car. It takes more skill to drive a less competitive car and be competitive. So it is not true that today s drivers have more skills because cars are more competitive. Each generation has it s most talented drivers. In the eighties and nineties there happened to be 3 or four fabulously talented drivers.

Schumy barely had any serious competition to worry after the untimely death of Senna. Senna was a legend before he smashed that wall at Imola and would probably have won more titles had he lived.

Alonso better than Senna? Give me a break. Is this coming from a Prost fan?

[Reply]

4

I think it s exactly the opposite: real driving skills show off if a pilot has an inferior car. It takes more skill to drive a less competitive car and be competitive. So it is not true that today s drivers have more skills because cars are more competitive. Each generation has it s most talented drivers. In the eighties and nineties there happened to be 3 or four fabulously talented drivers.

Schumy barely had any serious competition to worry after the untimely death of Senna. Senna was a legend before he smashed that wall at Imola and would probably have won more titles had he lived.

Alonso better than Senna? Give me a break. Is this coming from a Prost fan?

5

I think drivers, like all athletes, are always getting better; the pool of potential drivers is larger, they start earlier, the training is better, they have data feedback, can rack up countless hours on sims, plus we are collectively learning about what makes a driver fast.

Think back to the ’50’s or ’60’s, if a driver was fast no one really knew why, now others can look at their data, find out what they are doing and practice it for hours on a sim or kart track. Plus they have more time to get good since they are living longer.

All this takes nothing away from the greatness of those past drivers. In my mind the true heroes are the likes of Fangio, Ascari, Nuvolari, Moss, Clark etc.

6

I think Senna is the best because of so many things. But his mystique and charisma single him out above all others. I feel he was cheated out of the 1989 title by Balestre and Prost (plus his car had so many mechanical problems mid season).

However, I think the season that singles him out most of all was sadly his last full season of 1993. That McLaren was often 2 to 3 seconds a lap slower in qualifying than the all conquering Williams. Yet somehow he still won 5 races that season. An incredible feat. Could you see any other current driver managing that. Sadly Senna spent much of his career without the top machinery. I can only remember that 88-90 McLaren had the best car. Schumi spent 7 or 8 seasons with the dominant car.

7

The mid and low end drivers are definitely better today. The top, I doubt it.

Todays cars are much easier to drive.

They are good behaving and can be tuned to perfection with a weak engine and huge downforce. To gain the last tenths there is of course much skill.

80-95s cars was wild energeticraw beasts with their own mind that had extreme performance and it took much more skill to drive to perfection. Drivers did not have more skill, but that is a difference.

Look at Alonso-Massa early season. Massa was miles away and when the car is good he is some tenth behind.

It would be better racing with harder to race cars.

8

Wow, arguments. I love the internet…..

9

So do I 😀 BFFFL!

10

its hard to rate drivers of today to the likes of Senna and Prost because they raced in different era’s to eachother. The only person who should be allowed to say is Schumacher because he raced in the Senna era and todays era….but even he says Senna is “at number one”

Senna was the best of his era. Todays era is Alonso or Schumacher. I rate them both highly but i still think Senna is the greatest driver.

11

I suppose that cars today have that much built into them, they do most of the driving. I wonder how current drivers would hold up if they went back to cars from the 1980s, going up against Prost and Senna?…

12
Mike from Colombia

Let’s say that format for F1 is radically changed to put all drivers on a level playing field.

If a 30 year old Ayrton Senna was to enter the championship do you really think that he would be languishing at the back of the grid? I don’t think so. He would inevitably rise to the top.

Era comparisons are pointless as previous era drivers will never have the chance to competitively drive current machinery.

You could similarly debate whether a 30 year old Alonso would happily to race flat out with the best competitors in the 1960s where death was a much higher probability outcome. If you could send him back in time he would probably be slower than most as he has never had to race under those types of pressures.

A 43 year old Michael Schumacher is giving Nico Rosberg, 27 a very good run for his money. Surely that proves how good Schumacher really was at his peak in the 1990s and early 2000s. So if a 1990s Michael Schumacher was great then so was a 1990s Ayrton Senna, and likewise a 1980s/1990s Prost or Mansell.

13

This debate could be easily answered in the best possible way if we gave Senna’s car to a top driver of today to practice for enough time and then check his times in qualifying and race simulation to Monaco or Spa compared to Senna or Prost. Unfortunately the opposite is not possible because the drivers of previous eras are quite old to drive to the limit, but still this test would be indicative and provide our answer.

Which would be the driver today to take the challenge and face the truth?

14

To assess that alonso is better than senna, i doubt about it. nowadays ther is many ways to keep control of traction, but not in the 1980- 1990 s.without mentioning gearbox change,sheer difference of power,safety concerning the cars.to say that senna became a legend because he died must only come from people who discovered f1 yesterday. from all f1 drivers in activity , 90 per cent of them rated him as the best of best.if he didn t die din 1994 he would have easily a six time champion at least. F1 today is possibly more complicated, but when you hear schumacher saying that it is not f1 to race like that {pirelli tyres}, i can t believe that the car of today are more demanding. there is a difference between a championship where you can t drive the car flat out , even for few laps, without compromising the entire race and a championship where cars would still wheelspin in 6 gear at the top of monaco{ according to berger}

15

When we compare drivers of different eras one key element overlooked is: how would Senna do if he were to drive today’s cars? Not based on how he drove cars of his time but how he would adapt and drive today’s cars. I guess the answer is ‘pretty good’. He would end at the top of the list.

When the braking of the cars improve, road safety doesn’t improve by the same margin. Drivers engage in more risky driving as they are more confident of the car’s breaking distance. Drivers have an inherent risk profile and they adapt their driving to match the risk/safety offered by the car.

16

I’d say that alonso, Hamilton and possibly Kimi will have what it takes to race against the greats Prost Senna or Mansell

17

Yeah very godo point indeed.

I think that Kimi is missing from the picture above. If he is shy or doesn’t like press – it doesn’t mean he is not as great driver as Alonso or Hamilton or Vettel. ESPECIALLY when taking in concern his 2 YEARS ABSENCE – I would rate him as the second best driver today.

18

I can imagine Bernie in the ticket office putting the prices.

19

James,

Sorry if I used that word incorrectly in my comment – I try to be careful to ensure there is no need for moderation on my comments, but may have slipped up. It is a word used by BBC in various reports on events of Hungary 2007.

20

I reckon in the same cars, teams, support. Senna or Prost or Mansell would wipe the deck with most 2012 drivers including Fernando. He doesn’t have that steely determination and is quite temperamental when things aren’t ALL his way .2007 proved that. Can we start talking about Perez or Dela Rosa please.. !

21

“The current cars have too much grip relative to their power,”

That is the biggest difference when comparing the generations, sure the cars are alot closer today but they are easier to drive as compared with a V12 Honda or Ferrari.

I think Senna or Prost Mansell, Piquet, would still be up at the front if they were in their prime.

22

Q. Are the F1 drivers today at a higher level than in Senna/Prost era?

A. 1.Driving level- Probably

2.Corporate/Media level- Definitely

3.Fitness level- Yes

4.Personality level- Not a chance

Drivers/Cars/Eras are obviously all relative,

but if Tazio Nuvolari was born in the 80’s and was in F1, he would have already been approached to replace Massa.

23

I have to take this opportunity to complement ‘Hero_was_senna’ as he has highlighted a few things that Im not sure have been considered by readers but the important factors he considered is the ‘turbo’ and ‘low downforce’; when thease two elements are thrown in I can not make a conclutsion as many readers have made above.

But for me the foundamental point that has been made is the low downforce that Senna, Mansell and prost had to deal with.

I therefore, cannot come to a conclution or subscribe to any of the readers above.

24

I think MS should be higher than Vettel.

The only time that MS had such a dominant car as Vettel enjoyed during the seasons that he was WC, it was in 2004.

That year, Michael Schumacher won the title with 5 or 6 races to spare.

Only Alonso can eventually be higher than MS, but guys like Hamilton, Button, Raikkonen, should never been in the same sentence with MS.

25

Even if MS has the record he will always be a Nobody in my eyes because he illegally drove people off the track – Damon Hill , Villeneauve and many more quite blatantly. Many people still question also the Ferraris and tyres of that era with good reason. Either way your dead right no driver – Especially Kimi, or Lewis or Fernando should be mentioned in the same sentence as MS because he is Low ! And as drivers Every Single One of Them is better Because they won fairly.

26

Just to remind you, that in euroseries Hamilton won 15 races of 20 races. And all the cars were at the same level (Vettel, Di resta Sutil were his victims). If Hamilton had a super dominant car and a damn team-mate like MSC or Vettel then i think he will do the job easily.

27

Absolutely they are way better!

But the comparison is unfair: they got better education.

28

Without putting today’s drivers in older cars and reverting today’s circuits back to their older incarnation, this question is pretty much unanswerable. Any decision one way or another is going to be based on subjective reasoning rather than objective fact for the most part, based on how each person rates one driver or another. What I would say is that in light of the cars being easier to drive (as demonstrated by a number of features by Martin Brundle over the years – more controls on the steering wheel does not equal more difficult), the circuits being easier to drive (especially Spa and the Nurburgring) and the margin for error being considerably greater than in other eras, I feel it is unlikely that the grid is at a higher level. I would say they are probably broadly comparable, with their own strengths and weaknesses based on the demands of the day.

29
part time viewer

The only point i would like to make is that while hes was a great man, i believe that senna’s death has skewed things slightly, Schumacher was already taking the fight to senna, and i think he had the upper hand, senna was also not mentaly that strong. Where Schumacher is very, and yes he wone in the best car, but who made it the best car/team, Im not a massive fan but Schumacher has to be the most compleat driver ever, and that he can still cut it in his 40,s against 20 year old hot shots says it all really. who of us in our 40,s can still perform at the level we could in our 20,s???

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