The FIA ??analysis? of Ecclestone?s medals proposal is flawed and irrelevant

The FIA thought it worth mentioning that Ecclestone used to own Brabham

The FIA thought it worth mentioning that Ecclestone used to own Brabham

Bernie Ecclestone?s plan to replace the F1 points system with the awarding of ??medals? for winners has been widely received as a bad idea.

Today the FIA waded into the argument by publishing some research. Their effort shows much the same lack of care and consideration that Ecclestone put his idea forward with.

Titled ??The ??F1 medals? proposal ?ǣ a historical perspective??, it appears to be the product of about five minutes? work, is founded on an utterly spurious premise, and provides no little worthwhile contribution to the medals debate at all.

False premise

In a ten-page document the results of every F1 championship are laid out, and compared to what might have happened had Ecclestone?s scheme been in place (drivers are ranked in the championship in accordance with who has won the most races, then who has the most second places, and so on).

These are the report?s findings:

Only 22 of the 59 World Championships to date would have the same top 3. The other 37 World Championships would be different. The World Champion would be altered on 13 occasions. The medal system would create three ??new?? World Champions who did not win the title using the various points systems.

What does this tell us? Nothing.

The report is based on the assumption that the championship system has no bearing at all on how a driver approaches each race. This is clearly nonsense. Think of how often we hear drivers who have finished second or third in a race contenting themselves with thought that they?ve ??scored good points for the championship??

Ecclestone?s point is that drivers change their approach to championships depending on how the title is won. If they need to accumulate points, then they settle for safe second and third places. If they need wins, they take more risks. The FIA has missed the point by miles with this research.

Politically motivated?

There is something odd about the FIA choosing to respond to Ecclestone?s idea in such an inadequate fashion. And this quote suggests there is a degree of baiting going on:

Brabham under the ownership of Bernie Ecclestone would have won no Drivers? Championships.

The FIA’s notes make extensive references to the number of titles won or lost by different drivers. This is plainly designed to incite opposition to the idea among fans who will object to, say, Nelson Piquet being notionally stripped of his three world championships. Ecclestone’s idea means nothing of the sort, and intelligent F1 fans are quite capable of seeing that for themselves.

A good idea badly sold

I know well enough from reading the comments on the site that a lot of people aren?t convinced by the ??medals? system. Nonetheless I think that had it been thought out properly and presented to fans more clearly it would have been received better.

A championship scoring system that rewards drivers who get the most of the best results is, to me, the fair and correct one.

Ecclestone has made this concept terribly confused by only talking about ranking the top three finishers (when there is no need to exclude drivers who finish fourth or lower in this system), Olympic-style medals, and keeping the old points system for constructors. This is all needless complication.

But the core idea – ranking drivers in accordance with who has got the best results ?ǣ is utterly sound and much simpler than any arbitrary points system that promotes conservatism over the pursuit of victory. I argued for it on several occasions before the ‘medals’ argument blew up:

I still haven?t heard a convincing argument against ranking drivers in order of their best finishes to decide the championship. This laughably spurious statement from the FIA certainly isn?t it.

You can find ??The ??F1 medals? proposal ?ǣ a historical perspective?? on the F1Fanatic

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93 comments on The FIA ??analysis? of Ecclestone?s medals proposal is flawed and irrelevant

  1. Damon said on 31st January 2009, 12:02

    “points system that promotes conservatism over the pursuit of victory”

    – I wouldn’t be so sure that with the medal system it wouldn’t be that as well – and even to a greater degree.

    The advocates of the medal system claim that the drivers would always feel the urge to fight for the win in a race. Ok… but there are 20 drivers on the track, and the fight for the win is not the only thing happening on the track. In most races the leader leads by 20sec. and it is only the fight for the 2nd, the 5th or the 8th place that makes the show.

    Why would Massa or Alonso bother to fight for the third place in a season’s 14th race knowing that only a win can eventually give them the championship?
    It’d be “either you win or don’t bother racing at all”.

    That’s a lot worse kind of conservatism.

    • Why would Massa or Alonso bother to fight for the third place in a season’s 14th race knowing that only a win can eventually give them the championship?

      Because someone else with as many wins as them might sneak a 3rd at the next race, dropping them down the final standings if they don’t get that extra win. And because the team would be within their rights to sack them.

      One point I haven’t read here yet is that the main argument against medals is the potential skewing of Championship position due to a “lucky” result. Rosberg and Piquet’s podiums, for example. But with any points system, this is already the case. If a driver consistently finishes 9th, but never gets a point for the season, he could be pipped in the Championship standings by a Force India (eg.) driver who scores 1 point due to a safety car or weather, but finishes every other race in 20th. The case being made against medals is a case against points, too.

    • patrickl said on 2nd February 2009, 10:22

      The case being made against medals is a case against points, too.

      Sure with points there will be skewed results, but not to the same extent as with medals.

      If someone scores a lucky win and doesn’t perform the rest of the year, the result in the standings will marginally different. With medals the driver can easily win 4 or 5 places.

  2. Bernie’s central argument for the medals system is that the driver who wins the most races should also win the world championship, i.e. that drivers who go all out to win races should be rewarded over those who cruise and collect.

    So, is the cruise and collect model of winning world championships actually a worthwhile one for the likes of Hamilton, Massa or Kubica to pursue in the absence of a medal system? It may seem so, but I don’t think it is.

    One useful thing the FIA analysis does show is the number of races won by the champion and runners up. Since 1990, only one world title has been won by a driver who won fewer races than the runner up – Lewis Hamilton in 2008, who won five races compared to Felipe Massa’s six. And even that is contentious given the Spa row. Discount that, and the previous champion who won fewer races than the runner up was Alain Prost beating Ayrton Senna in 1989.

    So, in every year except one since Prost’s 1989 title the driver who has won the most races has also won the title. Where is the incentive to cruise and collect? Bernie has come up with an interesting solution but I think the problem is more perceived than actual.

    I disagree with the idea of a medals system because I don’t agree that there’s a problem that needs to be solved. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    My other concern is season where a single driver/car combination dominates utterly – Mansell/Williams in 1992, Schumacher/Ferrari in 2002 and 2004 – the medals system makes the title easier to wrap up by half way. The gap between first and second was reduced for that very reason.

  3. Daniel said on 31st January 2009, 12:54

    Lets not forget that the last pointscoring system change was motivated mostly by the superiority of Schumacher-Ferrari, because otherwise the championships would be over by july or august…

    So, pointscoring will change everytime the circunstances suggest a change is needed. There’s no ideal system. I think that, for the present circunstances, we clearly need to institute a bigger difference between first and second places, but not necessarly with the ranking system. Talking about extremes, those absurd wins like Fisichella in Brazil 2003 and Panis in Monaco 1996 would place them much
    higher in the championship standings than they deserved.

    And about the drivers at the back of the grid, correct me if I’m wrong, but they’re already classified by the ranking system, if they score no points, or if they’re tied in points…

  4. Diacho said on 31st January 2009, 13:05

    Now listen, the ranking system is already in place, from 9th downwards, and has been for decades!
    The reason why, from 8th (6th, and 5th before that) to 1st, the ranking positions receive points is indeed a mathematical way to devalue the best positions: instead of 8th place meaning 1/[infinite] of 7th, it means 1/2. It INCREASES the value of 8th place, and every position above except first.
    Now, in my opinion, it WAS a very clever way to emphasize the importance of finishing 2nd-8th, without taking too much from the Great Prize (got it?) of victory.
    Our current problems are two: lack of overtaking incentive and the possibility of, as Keith put it, a driver being champion in a 9x2nd vs. 7x1st situation. Which, of course, are related, but not necessarily always together.
    The 2nd problem is promptly fixed by the ranking system, but it definitely messes up the competition from 2nd-8th, because the positions LOOSE so much value that going one better gets exponentially difficult.
    My solution? The old systems: 10-6-4…; 9-6-4…; 8-5-3… anyone would do. If a car is so competitive it can wrap the title in this system by mid-year, then he will win with the points system anyway. If there is a lot of competition, as in 2008, 1989, and many times before, then I can’t say the medals system would’ve been fairer. The FIA study makes you think that, in the possibility of another WDC like 1986, for example, where it was fair that Prost won, we’d have a different kind of winner.
    My conclusion: rankings system could artificially spice up the show, at the cost of fairness.
    thanks for reading so far :)

  5. Diacho said on 31st January 2009, 13:06

    Why did my post go up in the middle of the others??

  6. Seedy001 said on 31st January 2009, 13:24

    I think the problem here seems to be getting the right balance of winning v. consistency: 10, 8, 6 etc rewards consistency too much whereas the medals seems to ignore it too much in favour of ‘just’ winning. Neither seems to reward those further down the order.

    So why not try and find some middle ground? With that in mind I’d like to suggest a system used in Indycars. Here, the whole field would get points in the following order:

    50, 40, 35, 32, 30, 28, 26, 24, 22, 20, 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 12, (3 bonus points for leading most laps – change to pole?)

    Whats good about it? I think the 10 point difference for winning is a decent reward for the win – its 25% more than 2nd place whilst at the same time the amounts for 2nd – 5th do allow for someone with consistant results to stay contention – though not for the whole season. It also allows points for those further down.

    Any thoughts on this alternative? It’d be nice to hear if anyone else likes it.

    • patrickl said on 31st January 2009, 14:17

      50-40-35 for the first three places is the same as 10-8-7 (simply divide everything by 5). That’s even worse (more in favoring of conservatism) than the current scores in formula 1.

    • Seedy001 said on 31st January 2009, 16:16

      Hmmm… the ratio is the same when divided by 5, yes, but you don’t – therefore when two people are nose-to-tail in 1st and 2nd the driver in 2nd sees a 20 point swing if he overtakes (gain 10 over other driver rather than lose 10) rather than a 4 point swing and that should provide the incentive, at least thats the way I view it.

      Anyways, it seems to do a good job in the IRL Indycars…

    • patrickl said on 31st January 2009, 17:35

      Since everyone gets 5 times as many points, the points are in reality only worth a fifth of what they are worth in F1. It’s all relative. getting 10 points more when a win is 50 gets you only 20% closer. That’s how it works.

      It’s not the absolute number of points, but the realtive value that matters.

  7. Senor Paz said on 31st January 2009, 13:27

    The medal system is a great idea.

    The FIA publication is undoubtedly moronic, and I don’t understand why so many people would be upset that under such system past results would have been different. Of course they would.

    Keith’s point is precisely that such a system would reward more the drivers willing to take bigger risks, try more daring strategies and, dear lord, overtake more often. Hence it is pointless and silly to say stuff like ‘Piquet would not have been a champion’… He was a pretty smart fellow, I think we can assume he (and every other driver, for that matter) would have driven differently under a different point system…

    That’s the whole idea: to get drivers to go for gold! :)

  8. the fact is the 10-6-4-3-2-1 system worked (an almost perfect systme in my view), the new system is stupid because it only gives the winner 2 more points than the winner (we all know that..). but then our sport is run by cretins… we should go back to the old system – i have to point out there is a historical perspective here as well, in that the world championship has always been decided by a roughly similar points system and i think it’d be a short-sighted mistake to throw that away! if they have to award points for positions lower than 6th then how about a 20-15-12-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 for the construtors championship and 10-6-4-3-2-1 for the drivers championship…

  9. One vote for the “medals” system here.

    Is it fair that a nondescript, mediocre drive to 4th place in a very strong car will put you half a GP win ahead of someone who drove a heroic race only to be let down by his engine?

    In the medals system, both misfortune and mediocrity would increase your chances of winning a championship by the same amount: zero.

    Lackluster performances shouldn’t help any driver edge closer to being acknowledged as the best of the best — but points systems (no matter how they are weighted) allow just that.

    • patrickl said on 31st January 2009, 14:28

      What’s unfair about that? What does the quality of the car have to do with fair? The scores reflect both the quality of the driver and that of the car (team). hence they are used in both championships. It would be virtually impossible to separate those two. You’d need a set of jurors awarding points for “performance, style and panache” or something.

      What makes it fair is that a lackluster performance is better than an even crappier one. Something the medals system will not take into account. Or that a lucky high classification (Vettel, Piquet and Rosberg) will put drivers much further up the ranking than they should be.

      Besides how is a second place a lackluster performance?

      What makes giving points for a 4th place good for overtaking is that a top driver when finding himself at the back of the grid, will at least try to go for 4th place. If the no 1 spot is the only useful position for the championship contenders, why even bother racing? Better just cruise to the end with a detuned engine and hope for better the next race?

      So the point really is that these heroic battles from last to 4th (etc) would no longe occur with medal ranking.

    • Arthur954 said on 31st January 2009, 14:57

      In support of a modified point system, that drive to 4 th. place could be the result of the race leader having a misfortune at the pits or being knocked out of the track by another driver, going back to 8th. place and then driving heroically up to 4th.

      Another problem I see, and this has been pointed out previously, is that with having to save your engine for future races, if you are in say 5th. place and a contender for the WDC, why continue driving ? just go into the pits and go home and save the engine for some other day.

  10. Weasel Chops said on 31st January 2009, 14:51

    The simplest solution I’ve seen, and one which makes most sense to me, is to simply boost the points tally for a win from 10 to 12 pts.
    That may we get a bigger differential between 1st and 2nd, plus we keep all the current points for 2nd to 8th for the other teams to hoover up.

  11. I appreciate the discussion and the sentiment but I’m still not won over by the medals idea.

    I wonder what fans will think if we have another dominant team, like Schumacher and Ferrari, running away with wins. This raises a further question as to whether viewers be more inclined to tune out because a team has technically taken the most golds and won the championship earlier in the season, or will viewers hang in there if others drivers still have a mathematical chance of attaining the championship? I suspect that if a runaway gold medal championship was won to early in the season, the gold medal idea would be promptly scrapped.

    Until a better idea surfaces, I think we should stick with the ‘best of the worst’ as they say for now…

  12. Has no one noticed what an insult it is to suggest that those who had to fight hardest for their championships (Surtees, Piquet, Rosberg) did not try their utmost to win every race? There is too little difference in the points gap between first and second under the present system, agreed, but that is easily fixed by awarding a couple more points to the winner. If Bernie thinks that F1 drivers do not strive to finish every race as high as possible, it is only the sort of crass and idiotic thinking that is typical of the man.

  13. Clare said on 31st January 2009, 18:10

    So Bernie wants wins rewarded over consistency.

    Which is what the old 12-6-4-3-2-1 system did, except Schumacher won too many races and won the title too early – so the system was changed to reward consistency and make it so it wasnt necessarily the guy with most wins who took the title.

    Now the guys who are scoring consistently are actually fighting for the title, a la Kubica, or winning the title without the most number of wins ie Hamilton, the system apparantly isnt good enough, despite it going down quite literally to the last lap of the season. You couldnt have had a more exciting championship finish this year, and last years wasnt so bad either, so i really would love someone who developed this silly medals idea to tell me exactly what was wrong with the way the titles have gone when consistency has been rewarded.

    There is nothing wrong with Hamilton winning the title without the most number of wins, its hardly like he had heaps less than Massa, he was only one behind! Plus I personally like the idea of consistency being rewarded. Maybe a higher gap between win and second – make the points 12-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 – that way chances are the guy with the most wins will take the title, BUT you wont get someone who happens to win a few but retire from the rest beating someone who finishes every race high up.

    If Kubica had beaten to odds and taken the title this year it would have been fantastic for F1, and a brilliant spur for the midfield teams to show that you dont have to be in a Mclaren or Ferrari to win, that there is the ability to push the team to the front like BMW – that hardly would have been a bad thing for the sport – which is what Bernie is suggesting with these medals. He is essentially saying that Kubica should never have been allowed near the title fight so close to the end with only one win – never mind how many other good results he had, never mind he made the podium just as many times as the two guys in front of him – yet i beleive Kubica would have been just as deserving, if not more so. Massa and Hamilton made so many mistakes really this year, in comparison to Kubica anyways, so why would Kubica be any less deserving, yet Bernie would have had a fit if a guy with one win had taken it

    That FIA report shows that there would have been a positive difference of only one when it comes to final race showdowns, yet 6 more championships would have been finished earlier under the medals – is that what he really wants – championships being decided stupidly early – wasnt Schumacher winning it in France the other year the reason the whole points system was changed! In fact half of the championships in the last twenty years would have finished earlier than they did.

  14. Clare said on 31st January 2009, 18:13

    Hmmm, my comment jumped up a bit there! I say comment it was more of an essay! I do get carried away on occasion! Apologies!

    Just a point concerning what would have happened when applying the medal system to previous years – Ralf Schumacher would have finished runner up in 2001, third in 2002 and fourth in 2003 – all large improvements, (especially 2001!) and results which i certainly wouldnt have complained about at the time ;)

  15. Massif Todjer said on 31st January 2009, 18:16

    I think the headline should read, ‘…is flawed but relevant’

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