Bernie Ecclestone is right: ‘Gold medals’ would make F1 more exciting

Lewis Hamilton would have a harder job at Interlagos if I was in charge...

Lewis Hamilton would have a harder job at Interlagos if I was in charge...

It’s that time of year when we look ahead to the final round try to figure out who needs to finish where to win which championship.

Long-time readers of this site know I don’t think very much of points systems and think they should be scrapped.

Bernie Ecclestone thinks so too, and when you look at how close this year’s championship would be if we did I think it’s hard not to agree.

Here’s the championship situation as it currently stands:

Lewis Hamilton 94
Felipe Massa 87

Explaining all the permutations by which the drivers’ title might be resolved next week is rather complicated. And if you want a real headache, try doing the same for the constructors’ championship. And when there’s more than two drivers or teams involved it gets quite painful.

Bernie Ecclestone recently repeated as suggestion of his (which he first brought up years ago) that the F1 championships should do away with points and mimic the Olympics’ medals leaderboard instead. So the drivers’ championship would instead look like this:

Driver First Second Third
Lewis Hamilton 5 2 3
Felipe Massa 5 2 2

Now that would make things a lot more straightforward: whichever driver wins the final race wins the title. Were Massa to finish third with Hamilton outside the top three, then fourth places could be used to determine the champion, then fifths and so on.

This isn’t as radical a proposal as you might think. In fact this exact system would be used to determine the champion were the two to end the year tied on points. So why not just dump points to begin with and make the whole thing easier?

One of the usual responses to this suggestion is that prioritising wins in this way would do too little to reward consistency.

But do we really want to reward consistency as much as we do now? I found watching Lewis Hamilton site behind David Coulthard for lap after lap at Singapore because he didn’t want to risk a safe six points rather tedious. In my scenario he’d have been 4-5 down to Massa on wins and I bet he’d have been pushing rather harder to pass Coulthard.

We need to give drivers the maximum incentive to push for wins. Simply boosting the winners’ points haul to 12 or more isn’t enough. Racing to win is the essence of F1 and the championship structure should reflected that.

That’s my opinion anyway, and I’ll continue to hold it until someone convinces me otherwise. Over to you…

Here are some earlier articles where I’ve made the same argument, with examples from past F1 seasons and other championships:

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72 comments on Bernie Ecclestone is right: ‘Gold medals’ would make F1 more exciting

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  1. schumi the greatest said on 22nd October 2008, 13:20

    would be intresting to see what the top 6 of the championship would be like if f1 used your system.

    presumably alonso would be ahead of kubica, and vettel ahead of heidfeld??

  2. Cameron aka. SkinBintin said on 22nd October 2008, 13:21

    I agree with you on this one. A medal tally, rather than points, would make things so much more interesting. Perhaps this really is something F1 management need to look into. Are/have there been any Motorsport championships that work with a medal style tally rather than points?

  3. George said on 22nd October 2008, 13:27

    The problem is that to alter the system so radically would represent a serious break with the history of the sport. Yes, the present system can be complex at times, especially at this time of the year, but the system proposed here would not really make it any simpler to the casual observer. F1 is a complex sport – and we should beware of dumbing it down too much. Whilst there is something about the simplicity of the ‘medal table’ concept that is appealing, it also devalues any position outside of the top three – which is not right. I actually do think that in these days of high reliability it was the right decision to aware points down to eighth place – it gives the smaller teams something to fight for and something ‘tangible’ to show for their efforts.

    I think that generally the right driver becomes champion, it would be hard to say that any driver who has won the championship is undeserving – though there are isolated cases (’58 and ’87 spring to mind) where a driver who genuinely deserved the title failed to secure it.

    Fact is, once again we have a close championship – being fought out at the last race of the season. I’m not complaining.

  4. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd October 2008, 13:32

    Once again we have a close championship – being fought out at the last race of the season. I’m not complaining.

    But is that because of or in spite of the current system? Under ’91-02 points Massa would only be five points behind Hamilton. I think the ‘gold medal’ system would keep some championship battles alive longer – it would have in ’05, for example – and be fairer.

  5. Journeyer said on 22nd October 2008, 13:36

    How will the Constructors Championship work in this case? I assume the points system in use now would still apply?

    The big issue here is rewarding drivers who don’t have cars that can contend for podiums, never mind wins. How do we reward good performances from them? While we can look at the number of 4ths, 5ths, 6ths, and so on, it’s much more difficult to look at it than a consolidated points system.

    Also, if a driver is dominant in the first half of the season and wins the first 9 out of 17 races, then the title race is over by round 9. But what if a completely different guy dominates and wins the next 8 races? It wouldn’t mean anything anymore: he can’t be champion because he can’t beat the other guy’s win total.

    I say: continue using a points system. Add more points for a win (from 10 to 12 in the current system), but that’s it, no other changes.

  6. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd October 2008, 13:38

    How will the Constructors Championship work in this case? I assume the points system in use now would still apply?

    No reason why it would have to – just use the same system.

    The big issue here is rewarding drivers who don’t have cars that can contend for podiums, never mind wins. How do we reward good performances from them?

    The current system doesn’t do that very well either – look at the Force India drivers for example.

  7. Journeyer said on 22nd October 2008, 13:46

    The current system doesn’t do that very well either – look at the Force India drivers for example.

    But at least the current system rewards the Williamses and Hondas (and before their recent renaissance, the Toro Rossos) of the world; the gold medal system wouldn’t do that anywhere near as well.

    Which also explains why a WCC will not work with a medal system. If, as has happened in 2000, only Ferrari and McLaren win, it would be pretty hard to track who’s 3rd on down in the WCC.

  8. George said on 22nd October 2008, 13:46

    I guess to work that out we’d have to go back through the results of previous seasons and work out how the championships would have wound up! While I’d have loved to see the ’05 championship go on for longer, Kimi and McLaren did conspire to throw away an awful lot of big points – for which the championship standings punished them. I’m not sure that’s unfair. What I do think is unfair at the present moment is that without a ridiculous penalty at Spa Massa wouldn’t be going into the last race with a sniff of the title. Lewis would be 11 points clear – with six wins to Massa’s five. And all of this would be academic.

    I normally agree with you Keith – so I’m not being difficult for the sake of it! I just think of all the things that need addressing in F1 this is probably one of the last on the list. I also think that in the last few years we have enjoyed some fantastically exciting races and championships and that all of this talk over a lack of entertainment is rather overblown.

  9. mattclinch said on 22nd October 2008, 13:47

    the medal table system is surely a much better and clearer way of settling the upper echelons of the championship, however it does little to encourage the lower teams for whom picking up a point or two from 7th or 8th is a big deal – was this not the reason that post-’02 the points sytem was changed to include 7th and 8th?
    if you extend the ‘medals’ table down to 8th to counter this you simply end up re-complicating your system with the added factor of working out who has what 6ths/7ths/8ths etc.

    it also opens a whole kettle of fish regarding the constructors championship which is a measure of reliabilty and consistency as well as all out pace.

    i have to say, i think the current system is working well for the sport.

  10. MacademiaNut said on 22nd October 2008, 13:54

    Why is this not a points system?

    If you consider only 3 places (assuming no more than 9 races in the reason).

    1. First place gets 100 points.
    2. Second place gets 10 points.
    3. Third place gets 1 point.

    If you consider up to 20 places.
    1. First place gets 10^20 points (10^20 is 10 to the power 20).
    2. Second place gets 10^19 points
    ..
    20. Last place gets 1 point.

    They are all points system. The question is how you distribute the points.

  11. ajokay said on 22nd October 2008, 14:06

    I think it should be like golf.

    Come the end of the year, you add up your race-finishing positions.

    Lowest score wins.

  12. I like the idea, it definitely gives more incentive for a driver to push for the win. However at the moment only 3 or 4 teams are actually able to win races on a regular basis so as others have said, it seems a little unfair on the lower teams.
    If next years regs make it easier to over-take (which would give the lower-down teams a more realistic chance of getting near the front) then your medal system could work, but if it’s the same as this year then it would only work for the top teams.

  13. keepF1technical said on 22nd October 2008, 14:30

    it would be easy enough, and still simply to follow, to have a table with top 8 places. Medals for the top three… peanuts for 4th-8th but atleast they are on the table (a top 8 place currently is only relevant to get your transport costs paid for by FOM i belive).
    Also i think Bernie has shown previously that it wouldnt change any of the recent champions. I would love to see the retrospective medals table… Keith, one for your stats pages…
    The last driver to settle for consistent 2nds was Alain ‘the professor’ Prost because he didnt want to risk anything. Meanwhile Mansell went kamikaze for everything and was amazing to watch.
    I know which i prefer… so bring on the medals and lets see no-holds-barred racing.

  14. It’s a very neat idea Keith. Would certainly remove any tendency among top drivers and teams to play the numbers game….but….

    In the harsh economic situation we are heading into at the moment ( and today’s news is even more scary ! ) many of the current teams will be operating on the edge of a financial abyss over the next several years. Some are not going to be able to avoid falling to destruction. It’s going to get very nasty out there.

    And to remove even the slim rewards of an occasional win or podium finish from these vital components of what F1 is supposed to be about will often be just enough to tip some very worthwhile and potential first-class teams over the edge. Like refusing dried crusts to a starving man.

    It’s a very dangerous premise in late 2008.

  15. Aj, as I’m bored I worked out what the championship would look like with the “golf” scoring from the results on Wikipedia. With a retirement being 20th position. Here’s the top 5 (as long as I haven’t made any mistakes):

    1.Hamilton 90
    2.Heidfeld 107
    3.Kubica 107
    4.Massa 116
    5.Alonso 141

    That would mean Hamilton would have pretty much wrapped up the championship, only having to finish 18th or higher to take it.
    Kubica is below Heidfeld because he’s had more retirements.

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