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

  1. Yusuf said on 22nd October 2008, 17:34

    This medal table would be ideal for next year when presumably all vehicles are suppose to be running with similar engines.

    This points system was favoured because of the wild cards it produces esp those with inferior vehicles.

  2. Tarry said on 22nd October 2008, 17:41

    I think it would be interesting to see how the metal system would have played out over the last 5-10 years in a points vs. medals chart of some type. Drivers actual racing for the WIN that’s a concept I can really appreciate. I for one am tried of seeing mediocrity rewarded day after day. Brazil has the potential to be a truly boring race where Hamilton can ride around the track listening to his ipod for 70 odd laps and take the title home. Assuming he doesn’t get punted off the track.

  3. i dont think there will ever be a points system that caters to all the aspects in racing without being overly confusing.

    i think this system is ok maybe they should add points for qualifying although some may argue that championships should not be won through qualifying points.

    very hard to please everyone. this current system is ok

  4. Tarry said on 22nd October 2008, 17:47

    – bananaman’s system sounds interesting as well and would in theory promote more action on track as well.

  5. Pete Walker said on 22nd October 2008, 18:06

    12-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 sounds fine to me. And possibly a point for fastest lap, as in the 50s.

    I think a four point advantage for the winner, as used to be the case, is enough of an incentive to go for victory.

    Formula 1 fans – perhaps more than fans of any other sport – love statistics, comparing drivers/teams from different eras using a points system that has changed little in the 58 years of the championship. I think it would be a real shame to see any drastic changes to the championship system.

  6. donwatters said on 22nd October 2008, 18:21

    “The problem is that to alter the system so radically would represent a serious break with the history of the sport.”

    Like dumping the Canadian GP? Or showing obvious favortisim towards Ferrari? Or playing “who bids the most” for events? Or fining a team 100M without actually proving wrongdoing?

    Please.

  7. I usually agree with your ideas (banning re-fuelling etc.), but this doesn’t look like a good one to me, mainly because it would completely disregard anyone outside the top 3. Just looking of it from the perspective of someone who’s a fan of several drivers who haven’t had many chances to be on the podium this year, rewarding only first, second and third would seriously take the the joy out of watching what goes on beyond that. Of course there can be exciting battle outside the points as well, but where would be the motivation for drivers to fight for 5th instead of 9th let’s say, if neither position would give them any points?

  8. bananaman said on 22nd October 2008, 19:11

    Keith’s system would not disregard anyone outside the top three. Drivers would be ranked in terms of their best finish – whatever that might be. If two drivers have the same best finishing position, then the number of times they finish in that finishing position would be the differentiator. If both finished in that position the same number of times, the second-best finishes of each driver would be used.

    So someone whose best finish in the year was fifth would rank ahead of all those who failed to finish fifth or better. So that fifth place would be worth something.

  9. Pedro Andrade said on 22nd October 2008, 20:02

    Bananaman:

    So someone whose best finish in the year was fifth would rank ahead of all those who failed to finish fifth or better. So that fifth place would be worth something.

    So, in this year, Coulthard (who’s having what’s probably his worst season ever) would be ahead of Webber, or Piquet ahead of Alonso, had Singapore and Japan not occured. Or in last year Wurz would be ahead of Rosberg. It awards fluke results.

  10. It would be handy to compare the actual tables with a medals system table for each season to see how it would have changed things.

    I’m warming to the idea myself. One of my reservations was the “what if someone wins the first 9?” question, but in history when has this happening not meant the championship was over half way through the season albeit not officially? In the cases where there has been one driver dominating, how far into the season were they officially confirmed as champions? And when would they have been if you ignored their team mates points (Patrese in 92, or Barrichello)? Latterly, I’d suspect not too much after the half way point.

    Also, I don’t see why the lower place finishers are being left out. How about if you only rank 1-8 finishes and anyone outside of that are considered level? Hence 8th would be something worth fighting for.

    Why does it matter that if X fluked a result then he’d finish 6th above Y even though Y had 3 more 8th places? When do we ever remember who finished outside the top 2 or 3 in the championship?

    The points allocation has changed many times over the years. I don’t see how doing it this way would mess around with the ‘history’ of F1.

  11. Paolo said on 22nd October 2008, 20:32

    I think that “exciting” is a different thing from “fair”.

    This year’s championship will be decided in the last race, and I find it really exciting, compared to the schumacher era, when the last five or six races where completely insignificant.

    Hence I think this point system is fine, as a way to produce the outcome in an exciting way.

    If it produces a “fair” outcome (based on merit, talent, bravery, etc.) is an entirely subjective matter, and based on personal taste on driving style a different point system may suite the purpose.

  12. Personally, I prefer keeping some sort of points system, although one that only gives points to the top six is probably preferable as that would inevitably mean a greater difference between the points given to first and second. The old system of 10 for a win, 6 for 2nd, etc, etc had its merits.

    Sticking with the ‘medals’ idea for a minute though, a quick trawl through the archives has brought up some interesting information with regard to what would’ve happened if F1 had used this to determine the championship in the past. For example, Mike Hawthorn and John Surtees would never have been crowned champion – in 1958, Stirling Moss won four GPs to Hawthorn’s one, whereas in 1964 Jim Clark (three wins) would have beaten Surtees (two). Clark would’ve won it in 1967 as well. Plus, Nigel Mansell would’ve been a triple world champion – winning the title in 1986 and 1987 as well as 1992.

  13. David Watkins said on 22nd October 2008, 21:40

    Top four in 2007:

    RAI 6 2 4 (110 points)
    HAM 4 5 3 (109 points)
    ALO 4 4 4 (109 points)
    MAS 3 4 3 (94 points)

    No Change

    Raikkonen would have led coming in to the final race with both Hamilton and Alonso each knowing that only a victory could secure them the title on countback. How would Ron have played that situation?!

    Ferrari would probably have been able to prevent that from happening thanks to Massa’s liking of Interlagos.

  14. David Watkins said on 22nd October 2008, 21:48

    In 2006 only a victory in Brazil could have won the title for Michael since they were tied for wins but Fernando had Michael well covered for second places.

    Fernando’s only objective would have been to prevent Michael winning.

  15. Top Gear said on 22nd October 2008, 22:25

    I’ve thought a lot about this (well…aside from working, and doing other things, such as yard work, reading books, watching football, ALMS & NASCAR, tending my stocks (ouch), etc.) and I believe Bernie is right.

    The point system has seen five different iterations (this being the fifth) since its inception in 1950. Increasing the points for first place and adding points for seventh and eight, while reducing the gap between points, as I recall, was to spread the wealth and reward consistency and reliability. That was adopted in 2003. This was brought about as much because of the Concorde Agreement as anything else, and the way that teams would share money at the end of the year.

    Before that, only the first six finishers were given points. First place won 9 points. That was used from 1960 to 1966, and then put in use again in 81. Between those periods, from 1967 to 1980, first to sixth were awarded points, with first winning 9 points, but ‘the worst’ finish from the first and second half of the season were tossed. And in the beginning, from ’50 to ’59, first to fifth were awarded points, with another point awarded for fastest lap. First place was rewarded 8 points.

    Formula 1 is supposed to be the pinnacle of speed and technology, human and machine dancing together as fast as possible in an all out two hour drama. A win becomes more meaningful and failure becomes more significant. It does punish failure to finish; if you don’t finish, you don’t win.

    Formula 1 drivers strike me as hugely competitive. Are they as competitive, as driven, as Olympic athletes? Probably. A win is a win; that’s what they seek in every race, until they start playing it safe, ‘racing for the championship’.

    As far as points for lower finishes go, the system for the Constructor’s Championship should continue as it is. Thus, a driver can still get fifth place and win points for his team, even if he can’t achieve the gold medal awarded on the podium’s top step.

    Cheers

  16. I don’t like the idea of medal system for the drivers. I do like the idea for the Constructor’s Championship, though. This in itself would have teams analysing and pushing their drivers more than they perhaps do now, and might increase the turnover of drivers in top cars, giving more guys an opportunity to shine or flop.

    I guess my main problems at the moment with something like a medal system for drivers are the current safety car rules, aero rules and probably the qualifying format, or should I say, the sensitivity of tyres, cars and drivers to the current qualifying format.

  17. George said on 23rd October 2008, 8:33

    46 – Donwatters – which is precisely what I went on to say… in the context of the actual problems inherent in F1 now, this would be a needless attempt to fix one of the few bits of it that isn’t broken!

  18. I’m not sure I go along with your opinion just yet. Furthermore I think there are issues to consider for example the money distribution is tied into the points. Out of curiosity, how would this be resolved?

  19. Andrea said on 23rd October 2008, 10:00

    I like the idea very much. I don’t understand the claim that 4th o 5th place would not be rewarded. It’s exactly the opposite. With this system every position, even 19th over 20th, would count. With the current system instead you get 0 points either you are 9th or 20th. And in the same way a driver knows that a win is better than 10 second places, he knows that a 11th is better than 10 12th, he will be always encouraged to fight with the guy in front, be it for the lead or for 15th. There would be a great reduction of cruising home for safe points and a DNF wuold not be a disaster any more.

  20. Alianora La Canta said on 23rd October 2008, 11:17

    I’m a little uneasy about the idea of making the championship a medal system, even though it has the benefit of making victory considerably more attractive to a championship-fighting team. Less because of the risk of teams getting unfair positions (though I would cite Jordan in 2003*) but because of the reasoning implied by the resulting tables.

    Should Ferrari have finished 3rd in 2005 because they had consistency all season, or because they happened to come 1-2 in the US Grand Prix due to 14 of their competitors ending their races before they started them?

    Should McLaren have come second in the same season because their cars kept breaking down, or won because when Raikkonen had a functional car he was virtually unbeatable?

    This year, should Alonso have Heidfeld separating him from Raikkonen because of his (and his car’s) greater inconsistency or should Alonso and Raikkonen be regarded as more-or-less equal because they both have two wins? And for that matter, should Kubica be above both because he has attained several skilful podiums whereas neither Alonso nor Raikkonen has done much on the podium apart from their wins?

    It’s worth noting that Andrea’s theory that it will encourage more attempts at overtaking will work if – and only if – the probability of a driver making an overtake stick without losing the place again (either through being overtaken again or breaking his car in the attempt to overtake) is at least 50%. Otherwise the opposite effect will happen (at least among the sort of drivers who are influenced by the points/medal system).

    But mostly this is irrelevant until the FIA get their act together and actually judge races properly. Until then every scoring system is going to be largely arbitrary.

    * – Jordan in 2003 had 15 retirements out of 32 starts, and only scored points on three occasions. Two of these were a seventh and an eighth. As a result they were given ninth place, with only Minardi (who scored no points at all) behind them. However, Jordan would have been 5th under the medal system – because the other point score was a win…

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