A new answer to the points argument

Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Start, 2006It’s easy to whinge about the Formula One points system – but it’s a lot harder to come up with a viable alternative that’s a bit more persuasive than just ?????ǣlet’s go back to how it was.??????

But what if we did away with points altogether? Why not just give the championship title to the driver who wins the most races? It’s a deceptively simple idea that could work very well – potentially improving the quality of racing and guaranteeing a worthy champion.
Michael Schumacher & Fernando Alonso, Imola, 2006 Going into the fourth round of this year’s championship at San Marino, Fernando Alonso was telling the press he was happy to settle for second. And, sure enough, that was exactly what he delivered.

Only four rounds into an 18-race season, the defending champion was already ‘playing the percentages.’ Aware that second place, often denigrated as ‘first among the losers’, is in fact 80% as good as a victory in the eyes of the rule makers, Alonso didn’t risk a lunge at winner Michael Schumacher and stayed safe.

You can’t fault Alonso’s logic or make any reasonable argument that he’s not trying to win the title. But you can fault the logic of a championship points system that rewards consistency over wins.

The recent change to points distribution has only worsened a trend that has persisted since Formula One began in 1950.

In 1958 Mika Hawthorn was champion with one win and 42 points, ahead of Stirling Moss with four wins and 41 points.

In 1985 Alain Prost won seven times to team-mate Niki Lauda’s five. But, partly thanks to the curtailed Monaco Grand Prix where half points were awarded, Lauda was champion by half a point.

Then in 2003 the points system was tweaked to its present form: First place still gave ten championship points, but second gave eight instead of six, and third gave six instead of four.

As a result Kimi Raikkonen, with one win, very nearly beat Michael Schumacher, with six, to the title.

This has lead many commentators, journalists and, indeed, bloggers to suggest further changes to the points system. Perhaps give 12 points for a win? Or go back to 10-6-4-3-2-1 as in 2002?

All points system stand on the flimsy concept that a second or a third place finish can be given a proportional value relative to a win. This begins to cause problems when fast driver in an unreliable car loses ground to a slower driver in a reliable car.Today, for wins are worth five second places. But there isn’t a driver on the grid who wouldn’t value those four victories twice as high. And spectators want to see drivers fighting tooth and nail for every win.

Ayrton Senna, McLaren-Honda, Spa-Francorchamps, 1989So why not do away with championship points altogether? Let’s say that the champion should simply be the driver who wins the most races in a season.

But what if two drivers have the same number of wins? This happened last year: Alonso and Raikkonen had seven each. Under such circumstances simply see who has the most second places, then thirds, and so on. This is already used to separate two drivers on equal championship points.

Considering the example of the 2005 championship we can see how the system could improve Formula One. Raikkonen never really seemed in the hunt for the championship because of Alonso’s car reliability, the size of his championship lead and large number of points he could pick up in second or third behind Raikkonen.

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren-Mercedes, Suzuka, 2005But under the ‘most wins’ system Raikkonen could have beaten Alonso simply by winning more races. Renault would have been forced to push the car harder and the end of the season would have been a thrilling climax. With the championship in the balance, Raikkonen’s Japanese Grand Prix could have been the most thrilling race ever.

Applied to past championships the ‘most wins’ system does make some changes to the record books – especially in the 1980s. Some notable changes are as follows:

Year Real champion ‘Most wins’ champion
1989 Alain Prost Ayrton Senna
1987 Nelson Piquet Nigel Mansell
1986 Alain Prost Nigel Mansell
1984 Niki Lauda Alain Prost
1983 Nelson Piquet Alain Prost
1982 Keke Rosberg Didier Pironi (counting back to third places)
1958 Mike Hawthorn Stirling Moss

Nigel Mansell, Williams-Honda, Silverstone, 1987This is not to suggest that these ‘alternative’ champions are the rightful champions – and, of course, had the ‘most wins’ system been used in these times different decisions would have been taken and races would have had different results.

A final case in favour of dropping championship points is that it would make Formula One that bit more accessible to new fans. F1 fans today would talk about Alonso having a useful 15-point lead: to a NASCAR fan, where points go into the thousands, it would be nothing. It would give races more meaning.

It would be nice to see the governing body embrace this kind of radical thinking. The points system is by no means the greatest of F1’s many ills, but there is something to be gained by dropping it.

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2 comments on A new answer to the points argument

  1. Yosi (@yoshif8tures) said on 21st November 2013, 13:48

    @keithcollantine I think this is worth reposting, or bringing back up again. Very interesting, though I doubt it’d happen.

  2. @keithcollantine I’d be very interested in this topic being brought up again please.

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