Is the perfect start crucial to a driver’s race?

Hamilton Rosberg Mercedes Bahrain

Drivers strive for the perfect start in F1. But is it actually a crucial element and does it really hinder a driver’s race if they have a poor getaway?

Using examples from the 2014 season, we can see how the start has affected several drivers' races.

At the opening grand prix in Australia, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes had an awful start and he went on to retire from the race only a few laps later. On the other hand his team-mate Nico Rosberg got a fantastic getaway, which enabled him to pull in front of the ailing Hamilton and go on to take win.

But in Bahrain, Hamilton beat pole-sitter Rosberg off the line thanks to a brilliant start and went on to secure victory. On this occasion, his excellent getaway was vital to the Briton’s success.

A few of races later in Austria the start proved crucial for many of the drivers. Hamilton’s qualifying issues left him starting ninth on the gird and, after a wonderful start, he quickly moved up to fifth, finishing the race in a damage-limiting second. If it wasn’t for his great launch there is a high chance Hamilton wouldn’t have finished quite so well. However, over at Williams both cars had strong starts but, being no match for the Mercedes, dropped away during the race.

At Spa Hamilton made another great getaway to lead from pole-sitter Rosberg, but the German’s attempted overtake on his team-mate failed, destroying Hamilton’s race. In this case, Lewis’ perfect start could not have helped in any way; in fact, it placed him in a position to be hit by Rosberg. Sometimes, perfect start or not, racing incidents affect the race more than a driver’s strategy or performance.

Monza enforced this point. Hamilton made a dreadful start, but this didn’t stop him from taking the win after hunting down and passing Rosberg. Clearly, if a driver has a bad start then overtaking is needed to ensure they are able to regain lost places. As such, the perfect start is more vital for some drivers than others.

Staying with Monza, McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen had a great start in Italy and moved into second place, but at the chequered flag he was classified 10th, having lost battles in the middle of the grand prix because of poor strategy and a post-race penalty. Meanwhile Valtteri Bottas of Williams had an awful start, slipping from third down to 10th, having been compromised by Hamilton’s poor getaway. Bottas managed to finish in fourth, an extraordinary effort following his disastrous start.

Studying the results and starts of the drivers over the 2014 season certainly suggests that the perfect launch can be important for a driver’s chances of going on to win the race. A poor start can negatively affect their chances, but with some exceptional overtaking both Hamilton and Bottas have been able to regain places - even after the most awful of starts.

So is the perfect start crucial to a driver’s race? The answer is dependent on the type of driver. If they struggle with overtaking then a perfect start can increase their chances but if, like Hamilton, Bottas or Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, they can overtake, then a poor start shouldn’t prove too much of a hinderance during the race.