A new rule offering double points at the last race of the year has provoked widespread criticism from Formula One fans.
It’s not the first folly F1 has undertaken – here are ten of the worst ideas ever to make it into the rule book.
Though we should consider ourselves fortunate none of them are quite as bad as Formula E’s ‘Vote to Pass’ rule. Except perhaps the last one…
During the 2000s Formula One seemed to change its qualifying rules once per season at least. Aggregate qualifying was the surely nadir of the various schemes that were devised.
It involved running two qualifying sessions where each driver did a single lap, the first with no fuel restriction and the second using the fuel load they would start the race with. These times were then added together to produce the grid.
If ever a rule looked like an answer to a question no-one asked, it was this. As well as being needlessly complicated, the fact that the second session was held on Sunday morning deprived the sport of the media value of deciding the grid on Saturday.
The only positive thing to be said about this episode was that the powers-that-be realised how bad an idea it was fairly quickly. It was used for just six races in 2005 before being dropped.
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Point for fastest lap
In the first years of the championship the driver who set the fastest lap at each race got a bonus point. The plan was dropped in 1958 and ever since drivers have only scored points based on where they finish in the race.
The simplicity of that approach is something F1 would do well to preserve. There were discussions last year about reviving the practice, but giving the bonus point to the pole sitter instead.
F1 should be very wary of tinkering with the points system in this way without thinking carefully about exactly what incentive it is giving to competitors. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see what farcical scenarios could unfold if rules like this were implemented.
For example if a driver needed only one point to win the championship and could do so by setting fastest lap in the race, they would be better off treating the race as a qualifying session, only leaving the pits for a few laps on soft tyres. Series which do give points for fastest lap, such as GP2, attempt to prevent that from happening with ever more complicated rules governing how a driver is eligible for the bonus point. All of which is needless complication for no real benefit.
As for granting a point for pole position, viewing figures for races would certainly not improve if millions tuned in one day to discover the championship had already been won 24 hours earlier thanks to the pole sitter taking a bonus point during qualifying. Besides which, starting the race ahead of everyone else is enough reward in itself.
It proved an unpopular move with many drivers who did not like the handling sensation given by the new tyres. Jacques Villeneuve strongly criticised FIA president Max Mosley’s plan before it was introduced.
However the stated aim of controlling cornering speeds was not successfully achieved. The ending of competition between tyre manufacturers in 2007 finally achieved that. The unpopular grooved tyres were now surplus to requirements, and were scrapped in the 2009 regulations.
Narrow track cars
It was a double-whammy of rubbish rules in 1998. As well as the unpleasant grooved tyres, car widths were reduced from 2000mm to 1800mm.
To my eye the cars just haven’t looked right ever since – too narrow and too tall. Design expert Adrian Newey thinks so too, and that’s good enough for me.
A relic from a bygone age. Drivers were once allowed to take over a team mate’s car if their own broke down.
The sport became instantly simpler in 1958 when drivers were only allowed to drive a single car during the race, meaning an end to complicated post-race totting up of which drivers had appeared in which cars and finished in which positions.
Perhaps not so much a bad idea as one which doesn’t really belong in the sport of today, and which had to go to allow Formula One to become what it is.
Its return to F1 in 1994 came over the objections of all the teams bar Ferrari, who believed their V12-engined car stood to gain the most from it. But even after they joined their rivals in using V10 engines from 1996 the practice remained.
Promises the equipment would not leak and fires would not be possible were quickly disproven. Jos Verstappen’s Benetton erupted in a major conflagration during the 1994 German Grand Prix, injuring him and several members of his pit crew. Fire remained an occupational hazard of the F1 pit lane until refuelling was finally outlawed again in 2009.
Refuelling did produce some surprising twists in the races during its first few years. But as teams quickly mastered the new variable it became less a source of strategic interest and more a cause for frustration as drivers would ‘wait for the refuelling stops’ when stuck behind a rival rather than risk an overtaking move.
F1 finally rid itself of refuelling at the end of 2009, though not before it spawned some undesirable offshoots in the rule book, such as the regulation forbidding drivers from pitting while the Safety Car was out. But even that wasn’t as bad as…
Fuel credit qualifying
Much as today’s Q3 drivers are handicapped by having to start the race on the tyres they qualified on, in 2006 they had to use their race fuel load in Q3. Making matters even more complicated, their race fuel load was fixed at the beginning of Q3, and for every lap they ran drivers were credited with a lap’s worth of fuel at the start of the race.
This led to the bizarre spectacle of every driver beginning Q3 by circulating the track at a steady pace to burn off as much fuel as possible before their flying lap, then having their tanks replenished before the start of the race.
Attempts to explain this particular piece of nonsense to the uninitiated invariably provoked confused expressions. The rule remained in force in 2007, when it was noted that Honda’s environmental awareness-raising ‘Earthdreams’ car was not above joining in the practice of burning fuel to satisfy this grossly ill-conceived regulation.
Sometimes good intentions yield bad ideas. Allowing a driver to drop their lowest scores from a particular number of races promised to reduce the effect of unreliability on their season.
But it made for very complicated calculations at the end of championships, which involved working out how many points each driver would lose and gain based on each possible finishing position.
Making life even more difficult, for a period the championship was split into two halves, in each of which a driver could drop a certain number of results. That arrangement was scrapped in 1980 and ten years later the practice of dropping scores also ended. Since then every race result has counted towards the championship – a satisfyingly simple and logical arrangement.
“That’s OK, I have a solution: we’ll make overtaking so easy no one cares when it happens any more!”
“Great idea! Every race will be like that brilliant grand prix at Dijon in 1979 where Rene Arnoux blasted past Gilles Villeneuve on a straight and then quickly pulled away from him.”
“That’s settled, then. Now, what shall we do about the points system…”
Double points at the last race
Tinkering with the points system is what those in charge of F1 do when they can’t face up to tackling the sport’s real problems. And so instead of addressing F1′s runaway costs and growing shortage of competitors, they decided to double points for the last race of the season this year.
This was a panicky response to the drop-off in television viewers at the end of last season, when Sebastian Vettel wrapped up the title with three races to go.
Presumably those who supported the move forgot how often the previous, fairer points systems produced thrilling last-race title showdowns (most recently in 2012, 2010, 2008, 2007 and 2006) and failed to appreciate how sport can only produce these moments of pure drama when the spectacle is genuine, rather than artificial.
Over 90% of F1 Fanatic readers oppose the plan. Rarely have I seen opinion among fans so strong and so near to unanimous on any topic.
This presents those in charge with a glaring contradiction: they are trying to make F1 more appealing to people by introducing a rule the vast majority do not want. Hopefully that obvious point will become clear to them in the coming weeks and the rule can be scrapped before the season begins.
Then they can refocus their attention on fixing the things that are broken with the sport instead of those that aren’t.
Over to you
What do you think belongs on a list of the worst rules ever seen in F1? Have your say in the comments.
F1 top tens
- Top ten: Longest Formula One grand prix circuits
- Top ten: Ridiculous rules F1 doesn’t have (yet)
- Top ten: Worst world championship title defences
- Top ten: Most competitive F1 championships
- Top ten: Youngest F1 point-scorers
Read more top tens
Images © Toyota, Renault/LAT, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Honda, Daimler/Hoch Zwei