Top ten: Worst rules ever seen in F1

Top Ten

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…

Aggregate qualifying

Jarno Trulli, Toyota, Monaco, 2005A classic example of bad F1 rule-making: an excessively elaborate approach which failed to solve a fairly simple problem.

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.

Grooved tyres

Fernando Alonso, Renault R28, Hockenheimring, 2008From 1998 F1′s tyre manufacturers were required to produce tyres with circumferential grooves in them, in an attempt to reduce the contact patch on the ground and therefore reduce cornering speeds.

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.

Shared drives

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.

Refuelling

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Singapore, 2008In-race refuelling has been allowed at several points in the history of Formula One, but its last introduction was by far the most controversial.

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

Jenson Button, Honda, Monaco, 2007F1′s three-part qualifying system was a change for the better when it was introduced in 2006, though it wasn’t without one honking great flaw.

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.

Dropped scores

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.

DRS

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Spa-Francorchamps, 2013“People say there’s not enough overtaking in Formula One.”

“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.

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Images © Toyota, Renault/LAT, Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Honda, Daimler/Hoch Zwei

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157 comments on Top ten: Worst rules ever seen in F1

  1. GT Racer (@gt-racer) said on 6th January 2014, 18:46

    The interesting thing about the narrow track cars is that now most open wheel categories have gone the same way.

    When F1 1st narrowed the cars in ’98 they looked really odd as everything else still featured wider cars, However over time as other categories have gone to a narrower track I don’t really notice it anymore apart from when watching some archive footage featuring the wider cars.

    Regarding the aggregate qualifying, That was a horrid idea but the thing that always confused me was the fact that the Sunday qualifying ended up as unpopular as it was.
    When we were forced to have Sunday qualifying at Suzuka in 2004 after the threat of a Typhoon at Saturday the idea of Sunday qualifying at every race was a pretty popular idea & was discussed a lot over the final race weekend in Brazil with most supporting the idea.

    Yet when it was put into the rules some of the same people who had spoken in favor of it in late-2004 were suddenly madly opposed to it. For example several TV broadcasters who initially favored the idea when asked about it (ITV included) then refused to televise the session & came out in opposition to it asking for it to return to 1 session on Saturday.

  2. Whatever rule was introduced to allow Valencia and Abu Dhabi host a grand prix.

  3. krtekf1 (@krtekf1) said on 6th January 2014, 20:35

    Hm, I wanna know what was the argument of FIA to make cars narrower in 1998? Was it to make more space on track for possible overtaking?

  4. Racer (@racer) said on 6th January 2014, 20:37

    The “pit closed under safety car” rule deserves a mention in its own right, turned safety car periods into a total lottery. And although it was never actually put into effect, Bernie’s gold medals system deserves a (dis)honourable mention. Hopefully double points will meet the same fate.

  5. Firmin said on 6th January 2014, 21:16

    I always thought the “let the backmarkers unlap themselves during the safety car period” was one of the dumbest rules ever it dragged the safety car period on endlessly and was completely pointless.

  6. Bobby (@f1bobby) said on 6th January 2014, 21:36

    Bring back the wide cars!! :)

  7. Andrew said on 6th January 2014, 22:07

    I kind of agree with the DRS issue. For me the problem is that it actually aids you for being slower. If you are behind a driver due to your lack of speed then you get an artificial boost when within 1 second. We saw it last season with the Ferrari’s in that they were a little off the pace and never really challenged for the top 3 during qualifying, however during the race they benefited from 0.5sec a lap in some races due to following quicker cars and using DRS. The biggest flaw with this rule for me was in 2012 when Kimi overtook Alonso just before the DRS detection zone with a great move (think it was India)… so Alonso was just behind once they hit the detection zone and Alonso was then gifted the place back on the straight through DRS. Still a great sport though!

  8. icemangrins (@icemangrins) said on 6th January 2014, 22:22

    Attempts to explain this particular piece of nonsense to the uninitiated invariably provoked confused expressions.

    HA HA Good one Kieth. I totally agree.. Like every rule, the FIA takes out of the hat randomly, this one was so convoluted to the fans. The race to burn more fuel often saw gaining Michael and Fernando battling it out for track positions.. and it got nastier on some occasions like France 2006

  9. montreal95 (@montreal95) said on 6th January 2014, 22:44

    awesomely disgusting list Keith! Totally agree with your top 10 this time even if some stupid rules were left out I don’t think any one of them deserves to be in the top 10.

    Now, someone should show this monumental tribute to human stupidity to F1 bosses so they can see in what distinguished company they’d put themselves in with the double-points race nonsense!

  10. Arrrang (@arrrang) said on 6th January 2014, 23:06

    Am I the only one here who actually misses the Refuelling and Fuel credit qualifying?? In my opinion this model of racing actually promoted (what I like most in motorsport) driving on the limit and still giving teams some credit of tactical windows at the same time.
    I also think that DRS gets criticised (that much) mainly because of the constant regulation changes and the supplied tires. If we had Bridgestone era durability and current technical reliability it would mean a one MANDATORY pitstop and cruise within delta lap time to finishing line, in other words a BOREFEST…

    • ken (@whatevz) said on 7th January 2014, 1:42

      I miss mid race refueling. Liked the cars getting to low fuel loads getting faster and faster. Different fueling strategies affecting pace. The pit stop times that’s not just about mechanic’s hand skills but having connection to different strategies.

      But fuel credit qualifying? The sight of cars cruising around just burning fuel was rather disgraceful.

  11. mrgrieves (@mrgrieves) said on 6th January 2014, 23:30

    I’d much rather add the unpredictability and imbalance of cars through refueling making races more interesting than the joke that is DRS!

    Another part of the refueling ban is how races become a procession until the person in front has to switch tyres Which makes the first 15-25 laps boring as we wait for cars to pit.

    In my 20 years of watching F1 my personal favorite season was 97 which i felt had a perfect mix of tyre’s and refueling influence in way the races panned out which makes it frustrating to see the current system in my opinion fail to offer good racing.

    Despite this i can see the other side of the argument on refueling as a friend pointed out on a Indycar race in the 90’s where Al Unser was the fastest guy all weekend, overtook Andretti 3 times in the race but still finished behind him meaning despite being the fastest driver and overtaking his nearest rival he still lost, arguably robbed by refueling which open another debate on the whether the (fastest driver & car deserves to win) Vs (More entertaining races through variables)

    • Dizzy said on 7th January 2014, 2:09

      Another part of the refueling ban is how races become a procession

      They were more of a procession when we had refueling though.

      Stats show that from race #1 of refueling been allowed (Brazil 1994) the levels of on track overtaking plummeted & we began to see more passing in the pits than on the track. This trend continued throughout the refueling-era as fuel strategy & pit-passing took priority over on-track racing/overtaking.

      Refueling was banned in 2010 & the levels of on-track overtaking shot back to pre-refueling figures & the 2010 season featured more on-track overtaking than any season since 1989.

      I hated refueling, I hated what it did to the racing & how it destroyed good racing battles for position & took away potential on-track overtakes.

      The example from the 1st race it was allowed again the ’94 Brazilian Gp. A great fight for the lead between Senna/Schumacher, Fuel strategy kicks in & Schumacher ends up ahead & then drives away to a dominant win. Go back a year & with no refueling with no guarantee that Senna would be making a pit stop (Since No-stop races were common) Schumacher would have had to try & overtake Senna on the track & we would have got a much better race.

      Go forward 10 years to the 2004 French Gp. A great fight for the lead between Alonso/Schumacher. Fuel strategy kicks in with Schumacher going for a 4-stop strategy & from the 1st stops on you have the 2 guys fighting for the win nowhere near one another on track with Schumacher eventually taking the lead via fuel strategy having been 10+ seconds behind Alonso for most of the race after the initial stops.

      What we had before refueling with completely open tyre strategy with drivers able to determine strategy & opt to change it mid-race was far better than anything we’ve had since be it refueling or the current mandated tyre stops to run both compounds.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 7th January 2014, 11:57

      Another part of the refueling ban is how races become a procession until the person in front has to switch tyres Which makes the first 15-25 laps boring as we wait for cars to pit.

      yeah, sure. A very big downturn in excitement from waiting for the guy in front to stop for fuel and hope you come out of the pits before he passes the pits when you stop later on, right (and before you mention saving tyres – we have seen saving fuel a lot too to eke out a stop)?

      Personally I don’t see that much difference, apart from that the tyres worked well when drivers and teams were not exactly sure what to expect.

  12. JMLabareda (@jmlabareda) said on 6th January 2014, 23:32

    Great article
    I also liked the 2005 rule that gave no penalty for an engine change when a car retired from the race… Leading to both BAR Hondas retiring from the Australian GP on purpose during the last lap!

    The other thing I remember being pretty confusing when I started watching F1 was the old red flag / safety car rule of considering two separate race segments and adding the times… Pretty tough to follow!

  13. matt90 (@matt90) said on 7th January 2014, 0:31

    I would include the single-race application of disallowing all cutting of corners for Senna in Suzuka 1989.

  14. Now that’s a nice list! I agree with 9,5 of 10. And that half belongs to DRS. 3 years on I can’t still make up my mind about it! I don’t know maybe I have watched too many processions the last 25 years that I dread to get back there! My main concern is that since DRS and Pirelli have always co-existed together we can’t say just how much affects overtaking each one individually. In reality tyres get you in range and DRS makes it easier than it should be, but still you must be in range.
    I believe the root of all evil is in the freezing of engine development, back in the day different engines meant different power, driveability, reliability, fuel consumption. Now the last 3 years we have 3 similar units and therefore a gimmick had to be invented for some straight line action. Perhaps the new units will have inherent differenties that will render the DRS redundant. I read many comments about the build up to an overtake to be equally as important as the passing itself and I totally disagree. People don’t you forget that certain tracks featured virtually zero overtaking and yes we knew about it so there was no build up whatsoever.

  15. Nathan said on 7th January 2014, 2:59

    add 1 = allowing Traction Control in 2001.
    changing the rules each year hasn’t made the sport more or less interesting at all. it only serves to complicate things and confuse the non die hard fan.
    i still would prefer the 1 session = 1 hour Qualifying system. even if it was set to 40mins to eradicate the 1st 20mins of the 1 hour session when not much happened. but that only led to a crazy last 15mins anyways with times changing by the lap. damn i miss the good old days of F1.

  16. smifaye (@smifaye) said on 7th January 2014, 8:17

    I really thought this was going to be a troll post. 1. Double points for last race 2. Double points for last race 3. Double points for last race…….

  17. Prof Kirk (@prof-kirk) said on 7th January 2014, 8:57

    To my eye the cars just haven’t looked right ever since

    The appearance debate of F1 cars is very very tiring. They are what they are, it’s the story they tell that make them beautiful.

  18. regulus (@regulus) said on 7th January 2014, 12:17

    I couldn’t agree more with you. Specially this:
    1. Narrow track cars – the cars were never so ugly. May be I change my opinion after seeing the 2014 cars….
    2. Refueling – I always hated this rule. In some tracks, the only overtaking point was the Pit Lane.
    3. DSR – this is too artificial. A number of Push to Pass would work better.
    4. Double point in the last race – remembers 1991 when Balestre changed points for first place from 9 to 10 trying to make the victory more important

    I would add the discarded points system used during the 80’s

  19. Andrew said on 7th January 2014, 14:08

    I would love to see double points for some races. Especially those that are very difficult to pass on. Double points for monaco would make drivers keener to overtake than settle for a comfortable points haul.

  20. Two rule changes in recent history stand out as glaringly stupid to me. First, engine homo-ligation. Rarely are the engines discussed for their differences anymore. I thought the sport was much more interesting when really the only rule was how many liters your engine could be. Some had V8s, V10s or V12s. The racing was fantastic when two competitors had different advantages: This engine has better top speed while this other one has better grunt out of the corners; or this team has the best engine but it is far less reliable….
    Second is this stupid notion that they now intentionally make rapidly degrading tyres. Tyre competition sometimes gave an advantage, but it was to half of the field and it changed from race to race and season to season. Sometimes you would see the top ten all on one tyre except somehow a particular driver managed a podium on a different tyre. That reveled true driving talent when now it is only down to who has the best aerodynamicist.
    Wake up F1. You are slowly turning yourself into my worst nightmare: NASCAR.

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