By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One managing director Ross Brawn has defended a controversial algorithm-based fastest driver ranking as a fascinating exercise that stands up to scrutiny, despite some social media scorn.
The sport published a top 20 on Tuesday using machine learning technology from Formula One's official partner Amazon Web Services (AWS) and analysing 40 years' worth of data.
The late Brazilian great Ayrton Senna was declared the fastest based on single-lap performance when compared to team mates, with Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton second and third.
The top 10 also included lesser lights Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli.
"What we set out to do here was just to try and identify who we thought was the fastest driver -- a driver who has demonstrated his speed over one lap and not necessarily his racing prowess or his results," Brawn told reporters on a video call on Wednesday.
"There’s been one or two surprises but when you delve into it, there’s a certain amount of sense," added Brawn, who never worked with Trulli and Kovalainen.
"Someone who worked with Jarno who I know very well said that if grands prix were five laps long, he’d win every race because his speed was phenomenal over a very short period," added Brawn.
Former Ferrari race engineer Rob Smedley, who worked with Trulli at Jordan and helped AWS on the fastest driver project, agreed.
"He was incredibly quick. But not great on a Sunday," he said of the Italian, whose only win was in Monaco -- the slowest race on the calendar -- from pole position with Renault in 2004.
Smedley also revealed he had been contacted by about half the current field and a several ex-drivers.
"I’m popular in a few places but predominantly unpopular at the minute with most of the people on the grid," he added.
Brawn said any ranking would always be controversial because there was no definitive way to compare eras with different cars and tracks.
"We’ve extrapolated this and we’re quite proud of it and I think it stands scrutiny and it’s controversial and we will get lots of debate around it and maybe we will refine it," he said.
"I don’t think people are laughing at it. I think it’s caused plenty of debate. I think once you understand the methodology then people will start to understand."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond)