Which Country Produces the Best Formula 1 Drivers?
Hands up who thinks Sebastian Vettel will make it five world championships on the bounce after the 2014 season?
Okay, so I obviously can’t see which of you loyal Formula One fans have stuck their paws in the air on reading that question. But my guess is that the majority of you have done it, even with the new rules and regulations set to shake up the sport further this year.
Following on from the record-breaking exploits of a certain Michael Schumacher, and the fact that Germany has four top drivers on the grid, surely the Germans now rule the roost when it comes to who produces the best drivers in F1?
It’s clearly a difficult question to answer and subject to conjecture. But by measuring a number of variables, including statistics from past and present, nationwide facilities and future trends, Bleacher Report is going to take a shot at this complex conundrum.
Will Germany still rule the roost? We’re about to find out...
The Simple Stats: It’s England or Germany
Up to the end of the 2013 season, Great Britain has produced the most F1 World Champions with a total of 10 and the most race wins with Lewis Hamilton bringing the 221st in Hungary. Eight of those 10 British champions have come from England, with Scotland’s Jim Clark and Sir Jackie Stewart the other two.
And yet such statistics can be misleading, as British drivers have competed in far more grands prix than any other nation but in a races competed in to grand prix victories ratio, Britain comes a lowly eighth in the rankings list behind Canada, Austria, Australia, Spain and Finland.
The top two? Germany first with 145 wins from 676 races started and Argentina second with 38 wins from 248 races.
The only problem with such rankings is that the statistics do not discriminate against the dominance of the few stars those countries have provided, notably Juan Manuel Fangio who won 24 of his 52 career F1 races under the Argentine flag and messrs Schumacher and Vettel who have contributed the majority of their country’s victories.
Stats supplied by FORIX.
Champions and Wins According to Population Size: Finland
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Whilst Great Britain has produced 10 different world champions, there’s little doubt that in terms of population size it is statistically more likely.
It must also not be forgotten that Great Britain is made up of three countries, England, Scotland and Wales.
England has produced eight of those but has a much bigger population—currently around 53 million people—and therefore the better chance of success. But Scotland has produced two in Jim Clark and Sir Jackie Stewart and has a current population of just over 5 million.
Not withstanding the steady rise in population growth since the 50s when the F1 World Championship began, it’s clear that England has the statistical advantage. Brazil has produced three different world champions in Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna, but dwarfs the competition in terms of population size with almost 200 million people.
But one little country stands head and shoulders above the opposition in its ability to churn out consistently excellent drivers. That country is Finland.
Three world champions have emerged from the Scandinavian nation in the form of Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen twice and more recently Kimi Raikkonen. Like Scotland, Finland has a population of little over 5 million people but currently has three drivers on the grid to Scotland’s none after the disappearance of Paul di Resta.
So why does Finland produce so many good drivers, not just in F1 but in motorsport in general? We're about to find out...
Countries Providing the Best Opportunity to Shine: Germany, England and France
To find out why countries with relatively small populations tend to produce so many good drivers, we must look into what kind of opportunities are being made available for the talent of tomorrow.
The universal starting point for all youngsters learning to drive is karting. It’s an extremely accessible hobby with most of the already mentioned countries providing numerous karting centres within easy reach of almost any location.
What appears to make karting a more popular pursuit in Finland is that F1 rivals Ice Hockey in terms of media coverage of the sport according to Wikipedia. It means that many children growing up want to follow in the footsteps of Kimi Raikkonen wheras in Britain there are many more distractions such as football, golf, cricket and rugby.
For those youngsters talented enough and lucky enough to be blessed with sponsorship or family funding, the next step is to rise through the ranks of the junior formulae. That’s where countries such as England, France and Germany have the advantage.
Future champions Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button made their first step on the ladder to F1 superstardom in the British Formula Ford Championship whilst both Renault and BMW supply feeder championships on national race circuits before drivers progress to the wider European championships, notably the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, GP3 and GP2.
Brazil is also notable for churning out super-talented drivers and world champions despite the country’s obvious passion for football and massive population. There is also a huge discrepancy between the classes with football the game for the masses and motorsport the domain of the wealthy, those lucky sponsored few jetting off to Europe to hone their skills.
Italy appears to be a bit of an anomaly here. Despite having the most iconic and successful team in motorsport, the country has failed to produce world-quality drivers of decent stature since the 1950s. A lack of junior formula series could be a contributing factor as well as football being the sport that consumes the passions of youngsters in the country.
Add to that the recent financial crisis in Italy and sponsors have simply not been willing or able to back any talented young drivers had they appeared on the radar.
Ferrari have recently made steps to redress this balance by inducting young Italian drivers into the Ferrari Driver Academy.
The Domino Effect: Germany
If the old adage that success breeds success holds any water, then youngsters all over Germany will be as keen to become the next Sebastian Vettel or Nico Rosberg as they will to be the next Mesut Ozil or Thomas Muller.
Exposure to F1 in Germany will have reached a high to rival the years of the Schumacher era with billboards and adverts of Sebastian Vettel saturating media coverage.
Taking all of the aforementioned variables into account, Bleacher Report concludes that Germany is currently the country that produces and will continue to produce the best F1 drivers.
The country not only has the statistics on its side to back this up, but the grass-roots infrastructure in place to nurture the best of the young talent through the likes of BMW.
How long will that last? Only time will tell. Perhaps we’ll run another of these in five years' time and check on the progress of the latest wunderkinds dominating the ranks of the junior formulae to see if Vettel has created a domino effect or Rosberg or Hulkenberg have been added to the roster of the country’s champions.