Formula 1 Salaries vs. Points Won: Which Driver Provided the Best Value in 2016?

Five Formula One drivers collected salaries of more than £10 million in 2016, but only two of those drivers won a race this year. Unlike more traditional team sports, where a good player on a bad team can still rack up a load of goals or home runs or touchdowns, a good F1 driver on a bad team is not going to win races (well, not very often).

That was the case for the McLaren drivers—and Fernando Alonso, in particular—this year. The two-time world champion is widely considered one of the best drivers in the sport, yet his 10th-place finish in the Drivers’ Championship must be viewed as a success, thanks to McLaren’s lack of speed.

During the summer break, we ranked each driver according to how much money they were paid per point they scored. For the reason just explained, these rankings are not a definitive judgement on each driver’s performance, but they do provide an interesting alternative way of looking at the drivers’ standings, perhaps illuminating a rising star who is outperforming his current contract and is due for a raise.

For the end-of-season rankings, Bizdaq has kindly offered the use of this cool graphic they created to show how the drivers stack up:

f1-driver-value

The top three drivers in the value-for-money rankings are unchanged from the summer break. That they all driver for Red Bull or Toro Rosso is not surprising, as the team’s preference for developing their own drivers and promoting from within, rather than signing the latest big-name free agent, tends to keep salaries lower.

When Verstappen was promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull before the Spanish Grand Prix, he suggested that he also received a salary bump. But even if he was paid four times his original salary of £450,000, the Dutch teenager is still the best bargain on the grid.

Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz, Jr. has been near the top of a number of “Drivers of the Season” lists (both qualitative and quantitative), so it shouldn’t be a surprise that he is also near the top here. He made the most of a…let’s say…not ideal situation, with Toro Rosso running year-old Ferrari power units after their parent team, Red Bull, made a mess of their engine supplier negotiations.

NBC reporter Will Buxton put it succinctly: “Carlos Sainz is a champion in waiting.”

Daniel Ricciardo is another champion in waiting, per this writer, and he drove like it in 2016. He could/should have won in Spain and Monaco before he finally did win in Malaysia. He finished with the most podiums (eight) of any non-Mercedes driver; beat his former team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, for the second time in three years; and outscored Verstappen, his much-heralded current team-mate, by 52 points (yes, he had four extra races in the RB12, but in their 17 races together, the Ricciardo outscored Verstappen 220 to 191).

Ricciardo’s four wins since 2014 are also the most by any non-Merc driver since the Silver Arrows’ dominance began in 2013 (Vettel has three and Verstappen has one).

Sergio Perez was sixth in the midseason rankings, but jumped to fourth by the end of the year. Daniil Kvyat struggled after he was dropped to Toro Rosso and Valtteri Bottas failed to score for Williams in four races after the summer break.

Perez, meanwhile, led Force India’s surprise charge to fourth in the Constructors’ Championship, scoring in every race from Germany to the end of the season. It is shaping up to be an interesting fight between the Mexican and Romain Grosjean (and maybe Bottas or Verstappen) whenever Kimi Raikkonen finally gives up his grasp on the second Ferrari seat.

The recently retired Nico Rosberg is seventh in our ranking, the first of the £10-million men. Interestingly, he cost Mercedes less than half as much per point as Lewis Hamilton did.

There aren’t too many surprises at the bottom of the list, although Pascal Wehrlein’s single point would have been worth much more than the £250,000 Manor paid for it had Felipe Nasr not snagged those two points at his chaotic home race in Brazil.

And Nasr’s steady performance for Sauber in that Sao Paulo downpour is one illustration of a driver providing more value than meets the eye. By boosting Sauber over Manor for 10th place in the Constructors’ Standings, Nasr secured an extra $11 million or so in prize money for the Swiss team.

That’s enough 2016 analysis for now. Time for everyone to get back to their breathless, who-will-Mercedes-choose-to-replace-Rosberg watch.

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