Photography and in-car footage may be dramatic, but nothing shows the gripping intensity of this year’s epic F1 season like a chart showing points haul plotted against time. Especially when compared to previous years.

There has never been a season in the sixty year history of Formula One when four drivers arrived at the ultimate race with a chance to take the title and this chart shows why. It’s a simple plot of points versus Grands Prix and yet it looks not


unlike a weave of tweed as it twists and turns across the year. What it also shows is the most remarkable fact: no race was won by the driver currently in the lead—and the man who triumped at the end had never in his life led the championship.

The colors tell the story. The brief moment when Felipe Massa was leading the championship, only to have his campaign flatline over four races, prompting Ferrari to pull that despicable move at the German Grand Prix. The early momentum of Jenson Button, boosted by his two elegant wins in the rain then kept alive by his constant high-but-not-quite-enough performance, only for him to detach from the championship fight after his zero-point finish in Korea. The terrible mid-season of Fernando Alonso and his remarkable recovery, most of it coming not from intra-team favoritism but from his skills. The story of Lewis Hamilton’s incredible speed and incredible hot-headedness. The way Mark Webber falters at the end of the season. And of course the beautiful and capricious fight of Sebastian Vettel, who beat both a solid Webber and a very strong Alonso at the end.

Compare and contrast with last year’s very different chart, which shows a season all about people trying to and failing to catch up with Jenson Button:


Superficially 2009 was all about Button fending off Sebastian Vettel, but the greatest threat to his championship was actually Mark Webber’s mid-season performance, only to have it all fade away by Webber failing to score a single point over five crucial races.

And this is why you didn’t watch Formula One in 2002:


Photo Credit: Paul Gilham/Getty Images. Charts by the author.