I grew up watching, and loving, Formula 1. I’ve written quite a few articles about it in the past. One of my very first memories is watching Michael Schumacher grab his first Formula 1 world title in ’94, and repeating it in ’95. I remember being disappointed by him switching from Benetton to Ferrari, who (in my juvenile mind, unsoiled by historical context) were just a mid-level team. But, I endured the four relatively meager years that followed, only to see him rise to the top once again, dominating five seasons in a row. To people like me, these years were absolute bliss. However, to other’s, these five years were some of the hardest to watch Formula 1. This article will investigate whether this division has carried over to current driver choices with fans.
Love or Hate
Schumacher has always been a divisive figure in racing. He grabbed his first World Drivers’ Championship (WDC from now on) the year Senna died, a season which could’ve gone the way of Ayrton’s Williams team had he not had his lethal crash. While Schumacher had won the first two races before the eventful San Marino weekend took place, Senna had retired twice. However, due to two disqualifications and two exclusions due to technical irregularities, Schumacher found himself battling Senna’s teammate Damon Hill in the final race for the WDC. While Hill was faster, Schumacher was ahead. When Hill made a move to pass Schumacher, this happened (video). Schumacher made a lot of enemies that day, both on the grid and behind the television.
Schumacher repeated this ‘trick’ in 1997, crashing into Villeneuve in an almost similar situation. The outcome was quite the opposite. Villeneuve won the WDC that day, and Schumacher was scrapped from the championship listing. Then came the new millennium, marked by five consecutive titles for Schumacher and Ferrari, in seasons which he generally dominated to the point the outcome of each race was entirely predictable. For me, a fan, it was bliss. But, for many, it was a reason to stop watching Formula 1 altogether. Seeing this guy – who isn’t afraid to bend the rules of the sport in order to get what he want – win time and time again, must have been frustrating. While I wasn’t aware of this sentiment in my early teens, I know what these people went through now that Mercedes has dominated the sport in the same fashion for the past three years.
My point is: if you watched Formula between 1994 and 2004, you fell into two camps; fans or haters. There is (almost) no middle ground. Now that is an independent variable you can start research with.
While I was avoiding some tasks that had to be done, my mind wandered off. What if people who liked Schumacher back then, still back a distinctly different group of drivers than people who hated him? I myself have a bias towards drivers who drive or have driven for McLaren (because of the ’98 and ’99 seasons), maybe people who hated Schumacher still have a distaste for everything associated with Ferrari, or German drivers in general?
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I decided to put these questions to the test. I created a free survey through SurveyMonkey (bad choice) and ran it on the largest Formula 1 forum in the world, Reddit’s /r/Formula1. Incidentally, I myself am a frequent poster and commenter on this subreddit for over five years now, so I found myself on familiar territory. The survey came in three parts:
- Where you a fan of Michael Schumacher during his ‘first’ career? (1991 – 2006) – Yes/No
- Indicate your personal (irrational) opinion of each driver in the 2016 season – 7-point scale for each of the 24 drivers to have competed last season, from ‘Strongly Unfavourable’ to ‘Strongly Favourable’.
- In what period did you start watching Formula 1? – ‘pre 1991’, ‘1991-1995’, ‘1996-2000’, ‘2001-2005’, ‘2006-2010’ and ‘since 2011’.
The survey ran for a couple of hours, until I hit the quota for maximum amount of respondents (100), since I was using the free option (35$/month is too steep). unfortunately, I found that I could not export the raw data using this free option, so I manually entered the data into a SPSS dataset. I subsequently found that I could delete the 100th respondent, and it would give me the 101st ad infinem. While I had 142 respondents, I settled on a nice round number of 125. While I was coding, I found that SurveyMonkey had retained the IP-address of the respondent, which I used to determine the country of origin of said respondent.
67 out of 125 reported having been a fan of Schumacher during his first career (he did a comeback in 2010 which is seen as his ‘second’). 52 respondents were not, and six failed to answer the question (wat). 94 respondents started watching Formula 1 when Schumacher was still dominating, while 31 started watching F1 in the last decade. A total of 28 nationalities were derived from the IP-addresses. Unsurprisingly, the largest group hailed from the UK (33), followed by The Netherlands (19) and the US (18). While Formula 1 might not be as big of a sport as it is in Europe, Reddit is mainly an American platform, so this result is (like the UK dominance) unsurprising. What did surprise me, however, was the lack of German respondents (8). Also a special shout-out to the one Belgian guy (or girl) who answered the survey from a Flemish government computer.
Now that the easy descriptive stuff is out-of-the-way, on to some more interesting tidbits. First, I let SPSS find out what each respondent rated each driver, and put the results in some nice bar charts. Because posting 24 individual bar charts in here is highly impractical, I copy/pasted them all in one giant picture, which you can see below.
Hamilton is the most divisive current driver, and Ricciardo is the most universally liked. While you move further back on the grid, indifference becomes more pervasive. Since they are mostly at the back at the field anyway, they don’t have as much exposure as the front-runners. As long as they don’t get in the way of the front-runners, people don’t care about the backmarkers. Slight differences in favourability can be ascribed to a driver’s status as a ‘pay driver’; a driver who doesn’t necessarily have the skill to make it to the top flight of car racing, but bought his seat at the team. This is best illustrated by comparing Ocon and Haryanto in the graph below. While most remain indifferent about either of the two drivers, Ocon is regarded slightly favourable, while Haryanto is regarded slightly unfavourable. This is perhaps slightly better illustrated by the chart below, which shows the average favourability for each driver.
As suspected from the earlier charts, Ricciardo is (by far) the most well-liked driver in the field. It also shows Gutiérrez to be the least liked driver, something I did not expect (my bet would have been Haryanto). Since ‘Indifference’ was coded as ‘4’, every rating below 4 means the driver has a net unfavourable rating, et vice versa. The Y-axis starts at ‘1’, since the first coded option (‘strongly unfavourable’) was coded as ‘1’. As such, the lowest possible score a driver could get is one, and not zero – hence the Y-axis. The maximum (‘strongly favourable’) was coded at ‘7’. Also, fun fact: the total average is 4.503, meaning that generally people voted indifferent/mildly favourable.
In order to get the dataset I need for the hypothesis, I selected those cases that answered question one (dropping six), and selecting those that started watching F1 before 2006 (dropping another 21 respondents). Yes, ladies and gentleman, this final question was a trick question to weed out those who misread the first question. This resulted in a total sample of 88 cases, 59 of which were a fan of Michael Schumacher, and 29 were not. First, I looked at how the mean favourability ratings for each group deviated from the total mean, the results of which can be seen below:
This chart clearly shows that Vettel is the most divisive between the groups, with former Schumacher fans rating Vettel way higher than those who were not. Conversely, those who were not Schumacher fans rated Hamilton above average. Strangely, both groups rated Rosberg lower than the total average. The same goes for Ricciardo (both lower), Massa (both higher), Sainz (both lower) and Gutiérrez (both higher). One reason I can think of this happening is because the sample has been watching Formula 1 longer on average than the total population, and they take other things in regard more than those who started watching more recently. Massa’s favourability might have to do with his years playing second fiddle to Schumacher, losing out to Raikkonen in ’07, having the WDC slip from his hands in ’08, and his horrific accident in ’09 which left him out of contention for the last part of the season and which never saw him return to the level he was driving at before. These types of hardships you can read about, but experiencing them while they happen will influence your opinion more greatly.
In order to detect whether any of these results pose an actual significant relationship, I used SPSS to run a ‘One-way ANOVA’ on the data with the above described filters. As I suspect most of the people reading this might not be familiar with the scientific jargon, I will keep it simple. There were two significant results (p < .05). While you might expect those two to be Vettel and Hamilton from the above graph, the significant results were actually Vettel (p < .00) and Magnussen (p <.05). Hamilton’s significance level remained at .106 which means that while there is some relation, this relation is not strong enough.
To check whether these results are skewed by the differences in population size (since Schumacher-fans outnumbered non-fans 59 to 29), I created a random sample through SPSS of 29 Schumacher-fans and pooled them against the 29 non-fans. Vettel remained significant (p < .00). Remarkably, now it was Raikkonen who posed a significant relation (p < .05).
Some might say nationality will play a large role, so I excluded any Germans from the first (n=88 to n=81) and second (n=58 to n=56) populations. Without Germans in the population, Vettel’s significant relation was unwavering (p < .00), but no other significant relations popped up. When I excluded Germans from the second population however, two more popped up next to Vettel (p < .00); Raikkonen (p < .05) and Verstappen (p < .05). A full overview of all significance levels can be seen below.
If this might not have been clear based on the analysis above, the answer to the question “does having been a fan of Michael Schumacher during his first career predict favourability towards current drivers” is yes, it does. People who have been a Schumacher fan tend to be significantly more favourable towards Sebastian Vettel. Other relations exist, but show no (consistent) significance. This might be explained by the parallels between Schumacher’s and Vettel’s careers. Both are Germans who at one point dominated for a long period of time (Vettel won the WDC four years in a row, from 2010 to 2013). Vettel himself stated his switch from Red Bull to Ferrari in the winter of ’14/’15 was inspired by Michael’s similar move in ’95/’96. When people see Vettel, they often see a younger version of Michael Schumacher. To some, this creates an instant connection. To others, this creates an instant distaste. And now, I’ve empirically proven this to be the case. That is, if the data were normally distributed. Which it is not. Fuck.
If you enjoyed reading this post, thank you, I had fun writing it! I want to thank the 142 respondents from /r/formula1 for filling in the survey. I don’t want to thank SurveyMonkey, since their free offering is shit. Next time I will use Qualtrics, or some other service if it proves to be better fitted. If you want me to do further analysis on the dataset, please let me know below or in the reddit-thread (direct link) what you want me to analyse. If there is enough interest, I will create a follow-up post showing all requested analyses and results.