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World driver rankings? What a Champion idea!

NEWS STORY
26/02/2010

There has been increased talk of driver rankings in recent weeks. It follows last month's debut of Castrol's world driver rankings system which is a single standings list comparing drivers from a multitude of different motorsports. It sounds like an interesting idea but Pitpass' business editor Chris Sylt can't understand what the fanfare is all about.

According to the launch press release (pdf file), the Castrol Rankings use "highly advanced technology to measure and rank the performance in every single race of over 2000 drivers, across 47 major motorsport series every year."

Each series is given a value which yields the drivers' position in the rankings. They are updated weekly and the results can be viewed on a website owned by Haymarket which also reveals that a "Castrol Rankings committee, comprising experts with knowledge across the spectrum of motorsport, monitors each of the championships and races to assess their value."

The launch press release describes it as "the world's first driver rankings system to measure and compare the performances of every driver across the world's major motorsport disciplines. It will, for the first time, enable fans to compare the finest racers across the full spectrum of motorsport." Castrol Senior Vice-President Mike Johnson adds that it is "a unique and extensive tool." It rung loud bells with Sylt.

Avid followers of F1 may remember reading about a ranking system which described itself as being "a way of establishing the best and most promising racing drivers in competition... Using a Ratings system, drivers will be able to compete with those from other series giving up-and-coming competitors the chance to pit themselves against the big boys." No, this didn't come from an early version of the press release for Castrol's world driver rankings but instead it came from the website of the Champion Spark Plug Super Rankings back in 1998.

This rankings system was sponsored by the spark plug manufacturer Champion which was a supplier to Renault's F1 team until the end of 2008. The press release, distributed nearly 12 years ago, about the launch of Champion's system, declared that "rankings have long been a popular way to compare performances of tennis players on the world circuit and golf players on the European or US Tour but it is the first time they have been introduced to worldwide motor sport."

It continues to explain that "the results from each Championship race are entered into a database," and, like the Castrol Rankings, some advanced technology was also used with the release adding that "the rest is worked out by computer." Again along the lines of the the Castrol rankings, according to Champion's press release "a panel of Experts made up of international motor sport specialists and headed by former F1 driver John Watson, ensures fair play.

Like Castrol's system, Champion's rankings were also calculated each week and featured over 800 drivers from 23 major motor racing championships. The purpose of the Champion Spark Plug Super Rankings was simple and the launch release asked: "Who is the best racing driver in the world? The Champion Spark Plug World Driver Rankings is a Web site dedicated to discovering the answer to this question." Likewise, nearly 12 years later, the Castrol Rankings release claimed that "motorsport fans and pundits around the globe can now compare their favourite drivers against each other on a weekly basis, and find the definitive answer to the question 'Who is the best driver in the world?'"

Champion's website stopped being updated in 2001 but its pages are still viewable on the global internet archive. To access them, click on this link, then type in 'www.champion-rankings.com' into the box above where it reads 'take me back'. This will take you to another page where you simply click on the link 'Feb 12, 1998'.

F1 may have changed but it seems that the interest in creating one ranking system for drivers in different series has not. The Castrol Rankings website states that the oil company "intends to continue the Castrol Rankings beyond 2010," but it remains to be seen how long this will be. The Champion Spark Plug World Driver Rankings were only going for around five years so why didn't they continue?

The truth is that each motorsport series has its own champion - no pun intended - and each discipline is clearly different. In order to compare one driver against another from a different series their points tallies are given huge multiples and this yields a list which looked like a series of telephone numbers when Champion's rankings were displayed on Telextext at the end of the 1990s. The Castrol Rankings are no different with the highest ranking drivers having points hauls of over 20,000. This doesn't make it the easiest thing to get to grips with.

But perhaps the biggest irony is that the most attractive aspect of these rankings may be their biggest downside. After all, whilst it may initially sound interesting to rank the world's top drivers alongside each other, in reality, if ever there was a case of comparing apples and oranges, then comparing an F1 driver to one in the Eurocup Megane Trophy or Super GT is it.

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