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.


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.


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. Nick (@npf1) said on 6th January 2014, 17:35

    I have to say the overly complicated qualifying system of early 2005 would be my personal worst rule. People I know who watched F1 kept asking me ‘why isn’t the fastest guy from Saturday on pole?’ and I think we even had a few incidents with Sunday weather making sure Schumacher and Barrichello went off on Saturday all of the sudden.

    Grooved tyres completely missed the point as well, since cars kept going faster (the F2004 breaking the FW14’s lap records proves that) and the tyre war meant constant tyre upgrades (and thus faster lap times) as well.

    In general, the struggle with finding the right gimmick for tyres and fuel has cost F1 a lot of time and money. Frankly, I fell asleep when I was watching the 1997 Argentine GP online once, but some of the races this season were carbon copies of those late 90s races with little overtaking. Apart from the drivers now having battles on the final 10 laps once they know their tyres will hold up.

  2. Slr (@slr) said on 6th January 2014, 17:41

    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.

    To be fair, Honda barely made any Q3 appearances in 2007.

  3. tvm (@) said on 6th January 2014, 17:41

    The grooved tires was a lot better than the on-purpose-rubbish tires from Pirelli, it still allowed the drivers to go all out instead of just doing tire preserving through the entire race.

    • JerseyF1 (@jerseyf1) said on 6th January 2014, 18:30

      I agree, the grooved tyres was very strange at first but after a while they grew on me and by the time they were scrapped it almost looked funny seeing the cars on slicks again! The main thing is that they didn’t really interfere with the racing but did provide an engineering challenge (though it could be argued that solving that puzzle didn’t really help the world move on much!). Keith’s point about not controlling cornering speeds I also think is wrong, whilst they might not have brought the speeds down as much as the single supplier, there can be little doubt that cornering speeds were lower than they would otherwise have been without the grooves – given the lower surface area and the harder compounds which the tyre makers had to use to make the tyres work.

    • HoHum (@hohum) said on 6th January 2014, 21:32

      Agreed, the grooves were pointless but they allowed the drivers to race.

    • Steven (@steevkay) said on 7th January 2014, 22:46

      Hah! I started watching F1 in the era of the grooved tyres, so slicks were weird to me, too.

      You’re right, though, Bridgestone made a tyre that you could really push on, and I thought that they had a good balance in the prime/option compounds they brought to each race. Any boring races certainly didn’t come down to the tyres. Aero on the other hand…

  4. Chris (@ukphillie) said on 6th January 2014, 18:11

    What gets me is….People will watch a 90 minute football match with 3 goals and rave about how great the game was.

    Yet the same people will watch a 90 minute race with 3 overtakes and say it’s boring.

    At what point between watching the two sports does the mindset change?

    I’m just speculating here, but I reckon the casual, newer generations of F1 fan tune in to see a load of risky overtakes that look cool, as many crashes as possible, and the thought of Carbon Fibre littering the track is what makes them tune in in the first place. That is the only explanation I can think of to explain this change in attitude between watching different sports.

    I may be wrong, if anyone has a better explanation please put it to me. I absolutely do not understand it.

    • Nick (@npf1) said on 6th January 2014, 18:46

      That’s the same what people said to me when I was 7 and started watching F1. The way to inclusion and showing people how great something you like is, isn’t through the slander of their generation.

      Despite the low scores, football does provide more spectacle. People are visibly performing and ‘nearly scoring a goal’ looks better than ‘nearly overtaking a car’.

      • Chris (@ukphillie) said on 6th January 2014, 18:51

        Not if you truly appreciate what happening.

        • Nick (@npf1) said on 6th January 2014, 20:55

          But that’s the thing; the vast majority doesn’t care. My parents used to be avid fans, but ever since Schumacher first retired in 2006 they never really cared as much. Two days after the Korean GP they remembered Kimi’s pass on Grosjean, but not how Hulkenberg held off Hamilton.

          Passes are more memorable for the masses. DRS is not the solution; but it’s not like the masses of potential European F1 audiences are watching demolition derbies or lower NASCAR series right now. Heck, Maldonado is universally loathed, while he’s the king of crashes. Wouldn’t he be a lot more popular with casual fans if they really only cared for crashes?

    • spoutnik (@spoutnik) said on 6th January 2014, 19:33

      @ukphillie imagine now the football players not changing their position during 90 minutes :)

    • Robbie said on 7th January 2014, 18:38

      Now that I see more context to this COTD, I question why it became COTD. If you are only talking about new generation F1 fans that you speculate theoretically need to see mayhem on the track, then yeah I guess they’d be bored with 3 overtakes in a race.

      But now that I see the full commentary I reject the whole premise. Footballers are footballers and have always understood the nuances of that sport, and F1ers are F1ers who also understand that passing in F1 has always leaned toward being rare and difficult, until they brought in DRS of course, and even then it is the non-DRS passes that get a mention…nobody cares about the DRS passes.

      I think it is an incorrect assumption, not to mention you are making a blanket statement, to suggest what footballers and F1 fans are looking for, so I don’t think any explanation is needed nor do I think there is any change in attitude of any significance.

      • Steven (@steevkay) said on 7th January 2014, 22:57

        Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

        I find golf pretty tedious. What if we put each green on a slow tilt-and-whirl machine; trying to get it on the green would be hilarious, let alone putting!

        Football: when a team runs away with it, sometimes I hear that the field must be tilted one way. Why does it only have to be a metaphor? Let’s literally tilt the field!

        Baseball: there should be a random bat that explodes in each, uh, pile of bats. Maybe the 7th inning can be the “double point” inning, for some reason.

        Cricket: uh… lets just make it baseball!

        Basketball: well, teams already score 100+ points in a game, lets just leave that one alone. No wait, let’s just add a random game of H-O-R-S-E which determines the winner at the end of the game.

        American Football: just throw in a few more ads, no one will notice

        Basically, I know what you’re getting at. As far as F1 goes… let’s just cut to the chase and get the F1 drivers together to play a few televised rounds of Mario Kart.

  5. mrgrieves (@mrgrieves) said on 6th January 2014, 18:26

    I was talking with friends last night and reading through old season review books and we strongly agreed that F1 was better with refueling. The prime example being 1998 Hungry where Schumacher drove a full race flat out and beat the McLarens.

    The only time refueling was spoiled was when it was used to add a twist to qualifying. That was pathetic!

    The Refueling rules in the 90’s was the best and i think the quality of races has suffered with it as well as the fastest drivers. I hate Hamilton but he’s proabably the fastest driver in the sport but since refueling was removed he’s never looked as dominant again. Next up Schumacher, Alonso same story. Not saying its 100% because of refuling but can you pick out “Legacy” defining races they’ve had with the refueling ban?

    If i could have the call i’d bring refueling back and sack DRS. A fair exchange that would improve the racing and the impression of f1. No?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 6th January 2014, 20:23

      @mrgrieves So that’s one race out of 272 in 16 years that offers a case for having refuelling?

      I do think that particular race has been mythologised somewhat. Whenever it’s brought up no one ever mentions that Hakkinen had a broken front anti-roll bar which slowed him down and in turn held Coulthard up, aiding Schumacher’s cause to the extent that he was even able to go off the track at one point and still leave the pits ahead.

      I’m not saying Schumacher’s didn’t drive well, I just don’t think it’s the shining example of the wonders of refuelling some people make it out to be.

      • mrgrieves (@mrgrieves) said on 6th January 2014, 23:33

        We could pick out many more over the 16 years, Thats the one that stands out and takes more notice than pointing out every race

        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)

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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?

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

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

    Bring back the wide cars!! :)

  12. 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!

  13. 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

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

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