Valtteri Bottas’ 2014 Season Improvement is Underrated

William’s driver Valtteri Bottas.  Source: Gallery Hip

Williams Martini Racing driver Valtteri Bottas finished the 2013 Formula One season in 17th place in the driver’s championship, just one spot above his teammate Pastor Maldonado. Certainly not a terrible outing for a rookie in the series. But 2014 was a different story for the Finn, paired with ex-Ferrari driver Felipe Massa, Bottas finished in the top five of the points standings and came close to clinching a race win for Williams on several occasions. 

In the first five races of the 2014 season, Bottas had consecutive top ten finishes with the highest being fifth place in both Australia and Spain.  His 13 year-F1 veteran teammate had finishes of 20, 7, 7, 15, and 13 in those same five races, with Australia being a DNF due to a first lap crash.  Bottas has his lone DNF of the year in the next race, Monte Carlo, due to an engine failure on lap 56.  


After the disappointing setback in Monaco, Bottas really set himself apart from the “rest of the pack” and established himself as a firm competitor with the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.  The remaining 13 races on the calendar saw top ten finishes in all but Singapore (13th place finish) for Bottas, eight of those being top five performances. In 2013,  Valtteri Bottas had one top ten finish all year which came in the form of a P8 performance in Austin, Texas.  

The end of the year tally saw Bottas put up some impressive stats:  

  • Average start of 6.2
  • Average finish of 6.1
  • 6 podium finishes
  • 98% of the total laps run completed
Along with natural improvement, much of his success can be attributed to Williams’ 2014 chassis design and overall performance.  In 2014, the only mechanical failure came in Monte Carlo with an engine failure, making Williams one of the most reliable teams in the sport.  Only Force India and McLaren had just as impressive reliability, with one mechanical failure for each.   

Even with such an incredible second year in the sport, Bottas isn’t satisfied with his performance just yet, telling reporters he is “expecting a lot from next year.”  Williams have already announced prior to the 2014 season ending that both Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas will drive for them in 2015.  Bottas shared that the team has “made some very impressive gains this season”, and that he’s confident the team is “moving in the right direction and can continue to be competitive.”

Bottas is just 25 years old, making him one of the younger drivers on the grid, and has all the signs of a long, successful career in front of him.  The large improvement from last year is a good sign of things to come for Bottas.  With Williams Racing regaining some of their historical success in recent years, the team is a good fit for a championship contending Bottas.  2014 was an inspiring year for the young Finn, and he’ll be looking to build on that and take another shot at the title next year.  

Is Williams Finally Regaining Their Old Success?

Williams drivers Valtteri Bottas and Felipe Massa in front of the 2014 Williams F1 car.  Source: motorsportchannel.com

Back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, Williams Formula 1 team was a powerhouse of the sport. Their drivers included Keke Rosberg, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Michael Schumacher and Aryton Senna.  They had tremendous success with these drivers, bringing home multiple driver’s and constructor’s World Championships.   But in the last couple of years, Williams has been at an all time low, finishing 9th, 8th and 9th again the last three years in the Constructor’s Championship.  


But this year has been different.  Williams seems to be regaining their game after the addition of Felipe Massa to their team and keeping Valtteri Bottas.  Ten races into the season, Williams is third in the Constructor’s Championship (just ahead of Ferrari) and Bottas is fifth in the driver’s side of things, with no sign of slowing down (Figure 1).  At the German Grand Prix this year Bottas started second and Massa third, a tremendous qualifying result for the team.

So what’s making them so strong?  To start, they have a strong and experienced Massa paired with 24 year old Bottas, and they are both performing at a very high level.  

Bottas has been on the podium three times and has an average finish so far of 6.3.  This is far better than last years stats of no podiums and a 14.4 finish.  If Valtteri Bottas continues his form through the rest of the season, he could definitely see a new contract offer from another team.  Bottas is all set to keep improving in the coming seasons, with his points going from 4 in 2013 thorough all 19 races to 91 this season through just 10.  Bottas’ success this season is a huge part of the Williams team great success so far.  

The other half of the team is governed bye ex-Ferrari driver and 11 time winner Felipe Massa.  He is the veteran of the team with 12 years of F1 experience under his belt. Although he was never a world champion, Massa has been crazy consistent in a Formula 1 car.  His average start and average finish are 8.4 and 12.8, respectively.  It is very valuable for Williams and in particular Bottas to have an experienced driver to help with getting the car set up.  

Figure 1


Williams as a team has had it’s fair share of retirements, (4) but only on three other occasions have one of their drivers finished outside of the top ten.  This is a testament to the drivers and teams consistency.  They haven’t been good on just one track but have performed well on all of the circuits.  These types of results are what put Williams in the Constructor’s Championship running.  I don’t think they have the car or driver (yet) to win a Driver’s World Championship, but they certainly are moving in the right direction.  

If Williams can continue to improve the reliability and speed of the car, as well as continue to get young talent like Bottas on the team, they are looking as if they can regain their success of the past in the coming years.  As for the rest of the season, we’ll have to see if either Bottas or Massa can get a win and truly put Williams back on top.  

          – Drew Bennison

When Are IndyCar Drivers In Their Prime?

Tony Kanaan after his Indianapolis 500 win in 2013. Source: USA Today

Racing has long been a sport for people of all ages.  For example, Mario Andretti won the Phoenix Grand Prix in 1993, making him 53 at the time, and the oldest person to ever win an IndyCar race.  This wasn’t his last year in racing either, Mario went on to Formula 1 in the next season, arguably (but it’s really hard to), the top racing series in the world.  And yet we have people such as Josele Garza who are racing in the Indianapolis 500 at just 19 years old. So that begs the question, at what age do Indy Car drivers actually peak?  More specifically we’ll be taking a look at Tony Kanaan after his outstanding performance in the Iowa 300 this week and his Indianapolis 500 win last year, to see his peak years.   


We are going to be using Tony Kanaan’s career results as our data points for a number of reasons.

          1) Tony Kanaan is still an active driver and provides recent data
          2) He is an old enough driver (39) to have gone through his peak years
          3) He is an actively competitive driver in the races
          4) Kanaan has endured a long career which gives us a lot of numbers to work with

Note: Obviously, the final age isn’t going to be perfect for all drivers because of a number of factors.  There are going to be drivers that are different and achieve success at a very young age and yet some that have their best years towards their end of their career.  This is meant to be a generalization of when to expect the best performance out of a driver, as well as give us a good understanding of when Kanaan peaked.  

We will be comparing the top three statistics of Kanaan over the course of the last 12 years he has been in the IndyCar series.  The only season we are excluding his 2002 season is because he only ran one race.  We’ll check out the number of wins, average start position, average finish position, and points earned for each year:  


If we take a look at the age where he was most proficient in each category, we get age 29 for average finish, 32 for average start, 29 for points per season, and age 32 for most wins in a season (5).  This model doesn’t take into account the number of races run each season but since they only differed by 2 races for the bulk of Kanaan’s time it is still accurate.  Now based on this data, we could say Tony Kanaan had most of his success at age 30.5 in his career.  But, this would be an average of just the four statistics we looked at.  


His most successful age is really up to interpretation, whether you say that it’s the season he had his most wins, points or if you choose to think that all of his stats combined and averaged gives us his best season.  The problem that arises when you try and put all sorts of stats together is in how you choose to weigh the different pieces of data.  Maybe poles and wins are more important than average finish to you, it all depends.  

According to our weighted model, TK was in his prime at around age 29.5.  This is when he had is overall best season and finished with 3 wins, 11 podiums, and finished first in the driver’s championship with 618 points.  If we want to try and apply this to all drivers, we can give the model a +/- 3 years lenience to determine the “prime” years of said driver.

As for Tony Kanaan, it seems he has left his best years behind.  Sure, he’ll still be putting up good results every once in a while and maybe even a few wins, but he won’t be nearly as consistently competitive as in his early thirties. 
         
               – Drew Bennison