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Lies, damn lies and F1 statistics // Sebastian Vettel's pole position spectacular has to be taken with a pinch of salt

Published by Christine

Sebastian Vettel took another pole position today, which isn't a surprise after the season he has experienced. The news is almost not worthy of headlines anymore, except for the fact that apparently, he's on his way to another record. Vettel has now equalled the statistic set by Nigel Mansell in 1992 - 14 pole positions in one season.

Sebastian Vettel makes it 14 pole positions and counting in 2011
Sebastian Vettel makes it 14 pole positions and counting in 2011Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Saying the facts and figures like that is easy and may sound grand, but it isn't at all meaningful. It has taken Vettel two additional races to reach Mansell's goal, and he also has more opportunity to do so. With an ever-growing calendar, the Red Bull driver has a total of 19 opportunities to go for pole position in 2011. For Nigel's championship-winning 1992 year, he had only 16 opportunities to secure those 14 top grid spots.

Perhaps a better way of measuring it would be to say that Mansell scored all the pole positions in one year bar two. That lifts him above Vettel because Sebastian has lost out three times to his teammate, and once to Lewis Hamilton. Four pole positions that he has not managed to secure this year - that's not the same thing at all!

The trouble with Formula One is that there is so much history to look back on, that it's very tempting to compare current drivers and teams with what has gone before. There's a wealth of information available, a whole host of records to be made and broken, and that is part of the fun.

However, there have been so many changes over the years, that it is no longer a fair comparison. As this tweet puts so much more eloquently than I can:

I wish people would stop talking about records. They're pointless now that the calendar is much longer, points system, quali system different.

TheVillainF1 TheVillainF1

I suppose the only way to counter it is to either a) not compare anyone to anyone, which is a little bit disappointing or b) compare and contrast but do it all with footnotes. Yes, Sebastian Vettel has led the way for 14 races this season and that in itself is epic. Yes, he is likely to do it one more time and beat Mansell's record completely. But no, never forget that the seasons are completely different and this stat has to be taken with a pinch of salt.