Missing the points

Changing the number of points that are given for finishing positions in Grands Prix could revolutionise how drivers approach races and fundamentally alter the meaning of the Driver’s Championship. It is something the governing body should very seriously consider.

The Formula One rules have been in a state of flux since 2002. Not a year, or even a few races, can pass without the FIA make some changes arguably in the name of safety, costs or competitiveness. The 2003 change to the scoring system (sharing points 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1) extended the points-paying positions down to eighth place for the first time and reduced the points difference between 1st and 2nd from four to two.

The intention was to better reward smaller teams who struggle to reach the top six (and, therefore, find it more difficult to get sponsorship) and to reduce the likelihood of the championship being decided well in advance of the last race of the year.

The former goal was not achieved, in that perennial backmarkers Minardi have only scored one point since the end of 2002, and it is doubtful whether they have secured further sponsorship as a result of that.

Although the 2003 championship was decided at the final round there was much concern that the title protagonists, Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen, had scored significantly differing numbers of race wins: Schumacher six, Raikkonen one. It did not seem fair that Raikkonen had remained in the championship hunt for so long by repeatedly finishing second. But, on the face of it, had the 2002 points system (10-6-4-3-2-1) been used in 2003 Schumacher would still have been champion, albeit one race earlier (figure 1).

The following year Schumacher stunned the motorsport world with the extent of his dominance, winning all but one of the first thirteen races. Yet the title was still not his until round 14. Under the 2002 points system, it would have happened two races earlier (figure 2). But it’s doubtful whether either points system could do anything to make such a poor season’s racing more memorable.

It also raised the question once again as to whether the ’03 points system over-rewards a second place and under-values a win.

It betrays the convention that the driver who wins the most races in a season usually becomes champion. This was once reinforced by a rule that stated that a driver could only count his 11 best results (from a calendar of 16 races) towards the championship. In 1988 the consequence of this was that Ayrton Senna won the championship with 90 points counting out of his 94, with eight wins, ahead of Alain Prost with 87 points counting from 103, with seven wins.

The ?????ǣbest eleven scores?????? rule was rightly deemed over-complicated and dropped after the 1990 season, at the same time that the value of a win was increased from nine to ten points.

That the 2003 points system has reduced the relative value of a win is proven when you consider the outcome of the 1994 driver’s championship had it been run under the 2003 points system. Instead of Michael Schumacher, with eight wins, clinching the driver’s title by one point, Damon Hill, with six wins, would have won the championship by eight (figure 3). If we put to one side the controversial conclusion to the 1994 season it is clear that, on pure results alone, Schumacher was the just victor in 1994 and the fact that the existing points system would have awarded the title to Hill proves that there is something wrong with it.

There is, of course, an argument that says that all drivers will adapt their attempts to win the championship to take into consideration how points are awarded for races. But the fault of the current system is as much that it over-rewards second and third placed finishes, as that it penalises misfortune far too harshly. The introduction of the new points system in 2003 increased the available points at each round by 50% – from 26 to 39. Therefore, any driver who fails to finish due to problems with his car or being hit by another driver, will lose far more ground to his rivals in the championship race than before.

As reactionary as it may sound, the previous points system was clearly better than the current one. Granted it could, on occasion, conclude the championship battle earlier than it might. But the present system could very easily create a less deserving champion. And besides, if the championship is to go down to the wire it should be because the two drivers fighting for it are closely matched, and not because the points system under-rewards victory.

Had Kimi Raikkonen won the 2003 championship with five fewer victories to his name than Michael Schumacher, the sport would have looked rather unfair.

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