Championship arithmetic

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, McLaren-Mercedes, 2007, 4 | Daimler ChryslerWhat does Lewis Hamilton have to do to win the championship this weekend?

And what do Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen have to do to stop him?

And not for the first time it seems the whole thing would be more interesting if they just got rid of championship points.

First up, here are the points for the top four drivers with two races left:

1. Lewis Hamilton 107
2. Fernando Alonso 95
3. Kimi Raikkonen 90
4. Felipe Massa 80
(points in full)

Massa is, of course, out of the championship race – I’ve left him in here for reasons that will become clear shortly.

Here’s what the three championship contenders must achieve in Shanghai to win the championship, or stay in the hunt.

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton will become champion this weekend if he wins the race, regardless of where his rivals finish. But even if he ends the race losing up to one point to Alonso and six points to Raikkonen, he will still be champion.

The odds are stacked in Hamilton’s favour. Ironically if Ferrari are strong at Shanghai it could serve his ends very well. A finishing order of Raikkonen-Massa-Alonso-Hamilton would make the Briton champion.

Fernando Alonso

Alonso must score at least two points more than Hamilton to keep his championship hopes alive. Prior to Fuji, where Alonso failed to finish, he had beaten Hamilton eight times out of 14 races.

However if Alonso finishes third or lower he needs Hamilton at least two places behind him, which will be difficult as the chasing pack have rarely split the McLarens and Ferraris this year in normal racing conditions. Nor can he expect that wet weather will make his job easier – it didn’t at Fuji (although Hamilton had a nightmare at the N??rburgring).

Of course it was in the penultimate race last year that Alonso’s championship rival Michael Schumacher suffered an extremely rare engine failure, giving Alonso a ten point lead going into the final round. If that happened to Hamilton and Alonso won, he would be just two points behind going into the finale.

And if he’s hoping Hamilton will be slowed by car trouble, the stats are against him there too. While neither driver has been put out of the race by car failure all year, Hamilton suffered a wheel failure at the N??rburgring in qualifying that left him tenth on the grid, and tyre failure during the race at Istanbul. If either of the drivers are due an inconvenient car problem, it must be Alonso…

Kimi Raikkonen

Raikkonen drove magnificently to third at Fuji but he needs a fair bit of luck to get into the championship battle. Even if both McLarens retire at Shanghai and he wins, he will still be seven points behind Hamilton going into the last round.

Unless Hamilton suffers a misfortune Raikkonen will most likely be out of the championship race after Shanghai. If Hamilton finishes in the top four, Raikkonen’s title hopes are finished. He’s only done that twice this year – at the N??rburgring, where he suffered a variety of misfortunes, and in Istanbul, where he was delayed by tyre failure.

If points didn’t matter

I’ve often written about why it would be better to have the championship decided not by points, but by which drivers gets the most best results. Ranking the top four drivers in this way gives the following championship table:

1. Lewis Hamilton – 4 wins, 5 seconds, 3 thirds, 1 fourth, 1 fifth etc…
2. Fernando Alonso – 4 wins, 3 seconds, 3 thirds, 1 fourth, 1 fifth etc…
3. Kimi Raikkonen – 4 wins, 2 seconds, 4 thirds, 1 fourth, 1 fifth etc…
4. Felipe Massa – 3 wins, 3 seconds, 2 thirds, 0 fourths, 2 fifths etc…

In this scenario any of the top four drivers could win the title, including Felipe Massa, if he won the final two races.

Under the current system Lewis Hamilton knows that nine points for a fourth and a fifth would be enough to make him champion. Under this system he wouldn’t have the option of settling for a lower position – he would need one more win to be sure of the title.

As it is it’s quite conceivable that Raikkonen and Alonso could win one of the last two races each and lose the title to Hamilton despite having won more races than him.

For more on the points vs places argument, take a look at the links below.

Photo: Daimler Chrysler

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