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Official F1 study names Senna as fastest driver of all time

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An official Formula One study that used "machine learning" and "cloud technology" has ranked Ayrton Senna as the fastest driver of all time ahead of Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton.

The study aims to compare drivers across four decades to name the fastest based on pure qualifying speed alone. F1 used technology from sponsor Amazon Web Services (AWS) to reach the conclusion and claims to rank all drivers since 1983 while removing the relative performance of the car from the equation.

AWS, which also provides the in-race tyre updates that are often mocked by fans on social media, claims to have used machine learning to create "a cross-era, objective, complex, data-driven ranking of driver speed".

Controversially, the top-10 list does not feature world champions from the era, including Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen, but does feature Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, who spent large proportions of their careers at midfield teams. Based on the data, it also gives a time differential between drivers as if they were taking part in a qualifying session.

1. Ayrton Senna - 0.000
2. Michael Schumacher - +0.114
3. Lewis Hamilton - +0.275
4. Max Verstappen - +0.280
5. Fernando Alonso - +0.309
6. Nico Rosberg - +0.374
7. Charles Leclerc - +0.376
8. Heikki Kovalainen - +0.378
9. Jarno Trulli - +0.409
10. Sebastian Vettel - +0.435

Exact details of how the results were reached are not provided by F1, but the system claims to use a matrix of data to compare teammates against each other through the era and then link that to other teammates during a driver's career.

"By comparing teammates in qualifying sessions, the machine learning-based tool focuses on a driver's performance output, building a network of teammates across the time-range, all interlinked, and therefore comparable," an F1 press release said. "By comparing laptimes between teammates only, the Fastest Driver algorithm effectively normalises for car and the team performance.

"Overall, this builds up a picture of how drivers from different generations compare, by analysing the purest indication of raw speed -- the qualifying lap."

Former Ferrari and Williams engineer Rob Smedley, who now works for F1, said teams use similar studies when deciding who to sign as a driver.

"Within the team environment this type of modelling is used to make key decisions on driver choices," Smedley said. "As drivers are more often than not the most expensive asset of the team it is important that the selection process is as robust as possible.

"A process such as this therefore would be deployed by the F1 team's strategists in order to present the most objective and evidence-based selection possible. Fastest Driver enables us to build up a picture of how the drivers compare, by analysing the purest indication of raw speed, the qualifying lap -- and it's important to note this pure speed is the only element of the vast driver armoury we are analysing here, to showcase the quickest drivers ever, which is very exciting."