A total of 250 special stages made up the 13 rounds of this year’s World Rally Championship. Only one was not run – Rally Catalunya’s Savallà 1 due to spectator safety concerns. Despite finishing third in the driver’s championship, Toyota’s Ott Tänak stormed many rallies and collected the most stage wins (66), almost twice as many as champion Sebastien Ogier (38) despite completing 25 less stages. But do the type of stages drivers win say much about their driving style or the season they have had? What can we learn about our drivers from the list of stage winners, considering this is when our drivers are at their best and beating others?
Visualising the Data – Stage Winning Drivers – All Surfaces
This bubble chart shows the amount of stages won by a driver (size of the bubble) placed at the average distance of those stages won (x axis) and the average speed those stages were won at (y-axis).
At the top Mads Ostberg shows us that when he wins, he likes to win the fastest stages. 4 of his 6 stage wins came on the fast flowing roads of Rally Finland, but all were over 100kph. Craig Breen also likes to win the fastest stages but also the longest stages. Only one of his seven stage wins was below 112kph at a very slow 80.1kph (Çetibeli 1, Turkey) else his average would be as high as Mads.
But maybe it’s the length of that stage at 38.1km that suits Craig. Only 2 of his stage wins were shorter than the average stage length of the season. Sebastien Loeb, Elfyn Evans and Dani Sordo all seem to prefer winning on the longer stages too but are balanced between the fast and the slow. Does this show they have more stamina than the other drivers, are they able to concentrate harder for longer?
Interestingly, Andreas Mikkelsen won the same amount of stages as Breen and Ostberg but his were the slowest stages of the season (bar Teemu Suninen). Though 2 were super specials, which are slow by nature, only 4 of his 13 came above the 250 stages average speed of 97kph. Does this make him a more technical driver than the rest of the field with the ability to win stages on the rugged torn roads of Mexico, Turkey and Italy?
The WRC rookie Teemu Suninen won 3 stages in his debut year, one was a super special in Mexico, though two were stages in their own right in Portugal and Italy. These were all in the bottom left corner of the chart but it’s fair to assume his bubble will move in future.
The All-Round Powerhouse Ott Tänak
You would expect the driver who won the most stages to have a pretty central bubble, but Ott Tänak disproves everything I wrote above about the strengths of others. Ott won the fastest (Äänekoski 2, Finland, 132.74kph), slowest (Salou, Spain, 49.81kmh) and longest (Vero – Sarrola -Carcopino, Corsica, 55.17km) stages of the season. And many of the shortest, the super specials too. Yet he still gets that bubble closer to the average than any other driver. But for car reliability, many would argue Ott would have won the 2018 drivers championship and it’s this all round talent that you need to compete for the title. Those drivers mentioned above show up at the extremes because they aren’t winning at the other ends. There is no doubt in my mind that if Tänak can keep the car running on the road in 2019 he will be champion.
Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville along with Tänak look to balance each other out to average. It goes without saying that all three are all-rounders, but there is the argument Thierry and his Hyundai could have won more of the longer stages, or Sebastien the shorter stages. Neuville won two more stages than Ogier this season, 40 to 38. Interestingly they both completed 242 of the 250 stages, more than any other driver. But they were both pummelled on pace across the board by Ott.
This might not be an in depth analysis of each driver’s driving style but it’s still an interesting indicator, particularly those who completed all events. I know that winning the most stages doesn’t win you the rally, and there can be a gulf of class between coming second and last which this won’t show. There is also other factors such as team orders, or managing the risk on a Sunday when leading a rally for example. There is also the difference of the cars which I shall look at next.
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