The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the Castrol Driver Rankings


In case you missed it, this week Castrol, in partnership with Autosport.com, have launched the Castrol Driver Rankings, which ranks the world’s best drivers across nearly 50 different top class motorsport series. For the first time, a comprehensive and objective system has been established to track and compare the performances of drivers in different formulas and will be updated on a weekly basis.

So how does it work? Well, each driver is given a score depending on his/her qualifying position and race results as well as gaining additional points for fastest lap, leading the race/rally, leading the most laps, finishing on leading lap, most positions gained and starting the event. Points accumulated are then weighted based on the type of race being contested with the more important the event, the higher the weighting.

The introduction of this rating system is very much a good thing and will help display the effectiveness of drivers who may not be leading the championship and/or in the best cars but consistently produce good results. In particular, stats-obsessed Americans will love it and is about time we had some way of comparing performances across different driving series.

As of 11 January 2009, the current leader board is as follows:

Although overall the introduction of the ranking system is a good innovation, there are some bad and ugly things about it which prevent it from being perfect or pure. Firstly, we are not told precisely how the index score is calculated so we cannot tell if it is really fair or not. Castrol say ‘we do the maths so you don’t have to’, which is great but surely there can be no harm in letting us know how the calculations work? It is meant to be a pure and objective system so the withholding of this information makes us suspicious of whether it really is?

Secondly, there is the Series/Event weighting which is calculated, we are told, by Castrol Performance Analysts who ‘use their knowledge of the drivers and teams in each championship, plus the relative strength in depth of competition, to generate a strength rating for each series’. Sounds reasonable and logical, but from their online Guide Book, it tells us on page 10 that F1 and NASCAR Sprint Cup are both ranked number one?! Does anyone really believe that NASCAR and F1 are on a true even footing in terms of performance and competition? Joint 3rd in the weighting is IndyCar and Le Mans 24Hrs; 5th is World Rally Championship; 6th NASCAR All-Star races; 7th equal is GP2, A1GP and DTM and 10th is World Touring Car Championship.

NASCAR is not at the same level at F1, which I would strongly argue should be the highest weighting all on its own. The pinnacle of motorsport has the best drivers, biggest budgets, best engineers and the 2010 season is shaping up to be the most closely fought championship in history. Does GP2 deserve only to be 7th and at the same weighting as A1GP? I would say it is of comparison to IndyCar. It is subjective, of course, but I think many people will have an issue with the weighting as it stands at the moment.

Being cynical, it would appear that the American racing series’ have been given higher weighting than they deserve. Castrol has not established the rating system out of the goodness of its heart and is doing this as a marketing campaign, and I’m glad they have done so, but I can’t help thinking they want to give greater prominence to racers in America otherwise they won’t follow the rating system and won’t give Castrol the exposure it wants in the US.

To see if the calculations seem fair, just scroll through the list of top ranked drivers and have a think about why some drivers appear where they do? For example, Sebastian Loeb, who is currently 3rd in the Castrol Driver Rankings, won the World Rally Championship by winning an impressive 7 of 12 rallies and came second twice. The only reason he is not at the top of the rankings is because the WRC is ranked significantly lower than Formula One. This may not be unfair as the WRC does not have the depth in competition it once had, but does that make Loeb any less of a driver? He comprehensively dominated his sport in 2009 and will have to do it to an even greater degree to appear top of the ratings in 2010.

Nico Hulkenberg is the highest GP2 driver on the list but is only 27th on the ratings and he won the GP2 series last year by an impressive 25 points. He achieved 5 Race victories and 5 other podium finishes in a highly competitive series that currently acts as a feeder series to F1 itself. A higher weighting to GP2 would see Hulkenberg quite high in the top 20 which I would say was more deserved.

Disgraced driver Nelsinho Piquet who was sacked by Renault half way through the season is ranked at 158th, but is above drivers such as Ralf Schumacher (DTM – 163rd), Alain Menu (WTCC – 167th) and BTCC  Series Leader, Jason Plato, at 170th. Does this seem right?

I’m definitely all in favour of the ratings system and will be following it closely throughout the year and it certainly seems quite comprehensive in its coverage. However, I am not sure how pure and objective it is and I hope they alter the weighting system and disclose exactly how they make their calculations. Without that, its credence will always be slightly in doubt.

For a more statistical critique of this new system I very much recommend reading rubbergoat’s article: http://f1numbers.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/castrol-driver-rankings/

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Jake McMillan

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One response to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the Castrol Driver Rankings

  1. I am a huge F1 fan, but I agree with Castrol’s decision to rank NASCAR equal to F1. I used to think NASCAR required less skill than F1, but Juan Pablo Montoya’s (and other open wheel drivers) struggles in NASCAR prove that it does require a lot of skill, and that the series is home to many very skilled drivers.

    I wish the Castrol ranking would take team/car performance into account (for a great driver on a bad team, ie: Fernando Alonso), but that is even more subjective than series weighting.

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