What’s the point? ~ by Mark Hallam

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Gold Medal
You have to be in it to win it. That’s the old saying, right? Not any more. Now, you just have to win it.

After winning 7 of the first 10 races of the 2009 season in the all-conquering Williams, Nico Rosberg will be able to sit on his (possibly manicured) hands and cheer, giving Nico Hulkenberg a chance to have a crack at the big league in the final rounds of the season.

OK, this example is more than fanciful, but for any driver, or team, the principle is sound: Win plenty of races – with your teammate (poor, unfortunate soul that he will be under this new system) winning a few alongside you if you retire – and the F1 drivers’ championship could be wrapped up very quickly indeed.

Just in case I have the honour of explaining why to you, it’s because of F1’s new scoring system – if we can really call it that. This season, the Formula One Champion will be the driver who wins the most races, irrespective of how many points he has actually scored in the course of the season. The second place finisher in any race is now officially the first loser – this result is absolutely meaningless in his personal Championship charge. Surely getting on the podium in the world’s premiere racing series should be worth something on an individual level?

Look at the 2008 season: Ferrari’s wet weather woes; Hamilton’s collision in Canada; events like these essentially become non-factors in a Championship race. Missing out on the win is all that matters. Personally, I think that “recovery drives” – picking up some points in the face of adversity – are as much the sign of a champion as waltzing to victory from the front row.

Bernie Ecclestone would probably dismiss this evolving rant as an idiot fan spouting drivel. He’d point out that most F1 championships would have had EXACTLY THE SAME RESULT under his medals system as they did in reality. And, retroactively, he’d be exactly right.

But there’s a problem with this retroactive analysis. It ignores how the scoring system would have changed the races as they happened. Let’s start with team orders: Yes, I know, they’re banned. But that rule doesn’t mean much now, and when the light turns green in Melbourne the supposed ban on team orders will be a thing of the past… And it was Bernie Ecclestone who pointed out why:

“Ecclestone pointed out that Jenson Button could have a shot at the 2009 WDC if Brawn GP start the year strongly…” The basic premise was that if Button wins the first three races and the rest of the season is competitive between a few other teams, then it could be difficult for anybody to catch him up.

But hang on: Honda’s top driver in 2008 – at least in terms of results – was Rubens Barrichello, and the team battle was usually fierce. So why would Button win all of the first three races even if Brawn GP were strong? Wouldn’t Rubens be in with a shot at the top step of the podium, too?

Not any more. Teams are going to have to decide which driver will challenge for the title. Under such an unforgiving system where second place is completely worthless, inter-team championship battles will be a thing of the past. If your car is good enough for a one-two finish, then you will simply have to fly in formation. Brawn GP would be crazy to let Rubens and Jenson battle it out for the first four races, perhaps winning two apiece. Imagine if Ferrari then get their act together in the second half of the year, and Kimi Raikonnen wins the title with three wins. Then, Brawn GP would feel like they had thrown away the big prize. Surely no team will be prepared to take this risk.

But less specifically, the mere concept of a driver with 50 points winning the Championship, despite three others scoring over 80, seems completely absurd. Why have the points at all?

The number of wins is the perfect F1 tie-breaker. If multiple drivers have the same number of points, the win tally is an ideal way to split the pair. But using number of wins as the be all and end all threatens to destroy what, for me, is the fundamental premise of racing – to finish first, first you have to finish. Especially towards the end of a season, finishing first becomes the only real prize for an individual driver involved in the Championship race. Are we going to see a higher car failure rate as drivers and teams go for broke? Might we even see some horrific accidents or ill advised overtaking attempts?

And there are many other risks, this could completely skew the constructor’s championship, or detract from the import of midfield battles during a race. (That last one could even hurt viewing figures in races where the winner is streets ahead, especially if we fans are as simple minded as the surveys generally suggest.)

Finally, do you remember why Ecclestone wanted medals in the first place? It was to make F1 more like the Olympics. So let’s look at the flagship Olypic event athletics: In the 100m or the javelin everyone is going for gold. Winning is the only goal. And it’s incredible to watch. But these events are single events, they are not championships. The only Olympic events I can think of which directly compare to the format of F1 are multi-discipline events like the heptathlon and decathlon. Just ask a decathlete what their chances of Olympic gold would be if they were to win six disciplines, but not show up for the other four.

[ed. note]- Our heartfelt thank you to Mark Hallam for providing us with this story. His insight and analysis encapsulates the very essence of our concern as F1 fans and the potential for the drastic degradation of a superior sport. We are grateful for Mark’s professionalism and skill and look forward to spotlighting many more stories from this talented journalist.

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