Home ground advantage
Read or watch a preview of any match, for any sport, anywhere around the world and you are likely to see some mention of the advantage of the home team. Many people dismiss this as simply something the pundits to fill newspaper inches, or to give home fans extra encouragement to turn up and buy tickets.
But the fact is home field advantage exists. And it exists in almost every sport, and every league around the globe.
We know it exists because its quantifiable. Look at the winning percentage of home teams in any league and it will be higher for home teams than for away teams. From baseball to soccer, basketball to cricket, its always the same.
Some handicappers and ratings providers even provide the home advantage in terms of points. The famous Sagarin Ratings give the home team 1.5 extra points in the NBA, 0.3 of a goal in the NHL, and 2.6 points in the NFL.
So if we see this trend across so many sports its stands to reason that the same may apply in Formula 1. But is this the case, do drivers (Mark Webber aside), perform better in their home country?
Formula 1 grand prix advantage
As I did earlier with Mark Webber’s career I am interested in seeing how drivers results compare at their home grand prix compared to other races.
To do this we can use the stat available at StatsF1, to find average finishing positions and win percentages.
For this study I am not counting races where the driver did not finish as this could skew the results (being last classified finisher in 18th or retired in 24th can be a big difference), and retirements can largely be out of the driver’s hands. Races will be counted as home races if the circuit is located in the driver’s home nation. So for example European Grand Prix’s held at Valencia will be counted as home races for Fernando Alonso.
Initially for the study I am only interested in drivers competing in the 2015 season so that any findings can be applied to the upcoming season, drivers with more than 100 career finishes so we have a reasonable sample size, and most importantly drivers who have a home grand prix.
These requirements leave us with six drivers, Alonso, Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel.
Career and home average positions & win percentage
|Driver||Nationality||Career Average Finish||Home Average Finish||Career Win Percentage||Home Win Percentage|
As we can see from the table above some drivers do better at home, some certainly do not. Unlike Nigel Mansell, both Jensen Button and Lewis Hamilton have a higher finishing position and lower win percentage at Silverstone than over their careers.
Fernando Alonso certainly seems to prefer Barcelona and Valencia, winning in Spain 20% of the time and finishing almost a full position higher on average. The same can be said for Brazilian Felipe Massa who finishes on average a position higher at Interlagos, and has a winning percentage of 20% compared to his overall career 6%.
Comparing Nico Rosberg and Sebastian Vettel got me thinking though. Yes they see to both perform better in Germany (aside from Vettel’s win percentage), but there have been quite a few German drivers of late. Can they all be performing better at the same time?
German home grand prix advantage
No nation has contributed to the Formula 1 grid the way Germany has in recent years. In 2014 alone we had Rosberg, Vettel, Nico Hulkenberg and Adrian Sutil. Throw in Nick Heidfeld and some guy called Michael Schumacher and you’ve got a serious sample to play with.
So again we analyse the numbers, this time with just the Germans (minus Hulkenberg who does not meet the 100 race criteria). This sample also gives us some data from more “average” drivers in Sutil and Heidfeld, who might not be winning races, but still performing better or worse than average.
German driver career and home average positions & win percentage
|Driver||Career Average Finish||Home Average Finish||Career Win Percentage||Home Win Percentage|
Statistically the greatest driver of all time, Schumacher is the real litmus test of any home race advantage. With 22 finishes at Hockenheim and the Nurbergring and 241 career finishes your simply won’t find someone with a better sample size. Disappointingly though his numbers were pretty much the same, he has a slightly better average finishing position, and a slightly worse winning percentage. It was not different for Sutil (slightly worse), and Heidfeld (slightly better).
Combined the German’s finished 0.12 positions better at home, but won 1% less of the time.
Taking this approach to the next level and combining the results for all the German drivers, and adding Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Massa and Webber sees a very similar result.
The average career finishing position was 6.46 compared the the home average position of 6.51. The average career winning percentage was 14%, compared to the home winning percentage of, you guessed it, 14%.
It seems that Formula 1 drivers don’t have an advantage at home. It also doesn’t seem as though they perform worse.
They perform exactly the same as they do everywhere else.
Why no home grand prix advantage?
So why do we see a distinct and measurable home ground advantage in all other sports but not in Formula 1?
Sure you wouldn’t necessarily expect home drivers to win at home more often, but its not unreasonable to think that drivers would try harder in front of their home fans and finish a little better than average.
The key is in why teams have a home ground advantage in sport. The phenomenon has been studied many times by academics, punters and teams to find out what exactly gives home teams an advantage.
In their brilliant book Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won, Tobias Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim found the answer. And it is also the answer than many scholars have found.
Its not the travel, its not changing time zones, and its not sleeping in different beds. Study after study have found that players and team play no differently at home than they do away. Just like a Formula 1 driver they perform exactly the same.
The home ground advantage comes instead from a source that has little impact on the outcome of a grand prix; officials.
Referees and umpires of all sports are ever so slightly bias towards home teams. This isn’t because of anything underhanded, referees unknowingly submit to the social pressure placed on them by the home fans. The bigger the home crowd and the closer they are to the field, the greater the advantage to the home team.
From injury time in soccer, to strikes in baseball, various decisions made by officials influence matches over time just enough to provide a slight bias to the home team.
While officials can have an impact on the outcome of a Formula 1 race, the general running and flow of a grand prix is in no way influenced by officials. Additionally, all decisions made by officials are made well away from fans in an air-conditioned suite with time to watch replays and consider the decision. There are not heat of the moment 50/50 calls made in front of 100,000 fans baying for blood.
This doesn’t mean though that the home circuit of a driver can’t be used to find a betting edge.
Knowing that there isn’t a home track advantage can also prove profitable for an astute punter. The price of a home driver can potentially be lower than their true probability as local fans bet on their home town driver to win the race. This can provide opportunities elsewhere in the market that could potentially be exploited for a profit.