Formula One’s points thought bubble misses the point

Michael Lamonato Columnist

By Michael Lamonato, Michael Lamonato is a Roar Expert


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    Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing speaks with members of the media. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images).

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    Formula One’s new management is slowly trying to re-model the sport in its own image, but it’s not all smooth sailing.

    The world’s premier motorsport category is fraught with division and political intrigue, and finding agreement among the relevant stakeholders is notoriously difficult.

    Liberty Media, the company at the wheel for the last 18 months, has learnt this the hard way. Coming to the sport with an ambitious agenda, change has been gradual and mostly around the edges.

    The implementation of new – and at times ostentatious – television graphics, improved at-track fan experiences and new digital offerings have all been big ticks, but substantive alterations to the product itself have been few and far between.

    But slowly the sport is lining up its ducks, and as it does so it reveals glimpses of its vision for the sport from 2021, when the technical, sporting and commercial framework must be renewed.

    Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel celebrate on the 2017 Monaco Grand Prix podium. (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

    (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

    As is the case with all changes in Formula One, its latest proposal is divisive.

    °They’re considering whether the points system should go all the way down to 20 [positions],” said Force India team principal Vijay Mallya at Silverstone. “Every car scores a point if they finish the race; the bottom starts with one point and it then goes up.”

    Mallya said extending the points-paying places down to 15th was also being considered alongside a full points-paying classification.

    The points system in Formula One has been revised many times. Only the top five drivers earnt points early in the championship’s history, and before 1960 the fastest lap also paid points.

    From 1960 until 2002 points were paid down to sixth place, though the sport experimented with a variety of confusing dropped-score rules according to which only a certain number of races could count towards the final points total. This notably cost Alain Prost the championship in 1988 when he outscored Ayrton Senna by 11 points but was deducted 18 points because only a driver’s 11 best results counted in the 16-race season.

    For seven seasons from 2003 the points were paid to eighth in the familiar 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 format, but since 2010 Formula One has awarded points down to 10th in an expanded 25-18-15-10-8-6-4-3-2-1 format designed to create greater gaps between places as an incentive to race for minor points-paying positions.

    It was a change not without criticism, the most significant of which was that it is too significant a break from the past. Total scores today now bear little resemblance and therefore are of little use in comparative terms to those scored 20 years ago – though the relatively recent rapid growth in the calendar has also blurred this comparison.

    This criticism would also ring true for the revision to the points structure currently under consideration, but the proposed changes would have broader consequences than just the historical perspective – it would eliminate completely an important part of the challenge of being a Formula One driver.

    Scoring points isn’t supposed to be easy. Even today, when half the grid can score, actually finishing in a points-paying place is an achievement, and scoring one’s first Formula One championship point is an important milestone in a driver’s career.

    “I think Formula One has been always quite difficult to get points,” said two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. “Elite guys take points, and it was kind of a reward, a big moment, when you score even two points.

    “I remember now Jules [Bianchi], when he scored a ninth position in Monaco it was some kind of a miracle, and that was a big moment for the sport.

    “If everyone is scoring points now, maybe we lose that unique thing in Formula One that other categories do not have.”

    In all facets Formula One is supposed to be difficult, so to reward drivers and teams for effectively just turning up would do a disservice to a sport that is supposed to be founded on the pursuit of excellence.

    Sebastian Vettel's Formula One visits the Ferrari pit lane at Austria's Grand Prix.

    What does the future hold for Formula One? (GEPA Pictures/Red Bull Content Pool).

    But not only would it dilute history and achievement, a dramatically expanded system would risk confusing what has up to now been a relatively straightforward formula divided by simple intervals.

    The worst-case scenario would be to end up with a more complicated points format. The points system used by the Supercars, for example, is not only incalculable without having access to the full table of points but also reads like a hyperinflated currency compared to models widespread in Europe. IndyCar points are similarly inflated, and NASCAR’s system is too convoluted to explain within my word limit.

    To use the Supercars example, having the first, second and third-placed drivers score 300, 276 and 258 points and having championships decided by hundreds or thousands of points would be no improvement for a sport already criticised for being too complicated to understand, and the idea of having a car take the chequered flag two laps down in 20th place and still collect 90 points feels contrary to the spirit with which the sport has been conducted for decades.

    Formula One should not fear review and change, but in this case F1’s points system is motorsport best practice. For the sake of history, challenge, and simplicity it should be left alone.

    Michael Lamonato
    Michael Lamonato

    Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem more interested in the time he was sick in a kart - but don't ask about that, follow him on Twitter instead @MichaelLamonato.

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    The Crowd Says (3)

    • Roar Guru

      July 12th 2018 @ 9:53am
      Dogs Of War said | July 12th 2018 @ 9:53am | ! Report

      Well said.

    • July 12th 2018 @ 11:20am
      Matty said | July 12th 2018 @ 11:20am | ! Report

      I think the last change to F1 points struck a great balance between an increasing scale, being easy-to-understand, and it values getting a point / win. I would not like to see a change at the moment unless there was an introduction for >2 car teams.

      You are spot-on about Indycar and Supercars points being ‘hyper inflated’ but I would argue that the new NASCAR points structure has generated a new sense of intrigue. Whilst it remains best-suited to the unique style of stockcar racing, it rewards multiple facets of performance;
      – winning
      – gaining the next position
      – consistent results
      – timing (increases competition mid-race and end of season).

      Although, I reckon Liberty need to settle into the sport a little longer before they completely shake-up sporting elements unless they want to alienate fans further.

    • Roar Rookie

      July 16th 2018 @ 8:57pm
      Chancho said | July 16th 2018 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

      I personally don’t think they need to change the points system – i think it works well enough and like you say, isn’t overly confusing like the Supercars is.

      The one thing I’d like to see implemented is some kind of mechanism that allows qualifying to be approached strategically in a way to get some of the lower teams up higher in the starting grid. At the moment the tyres used in your Q2 time are what you start on if you make it into the top 10 and through to Q3. The intended purpose was that cars 11 down can benefit from fresh rubber and might be able to do something in the race – the problem with this is that teams have the tyres relatively figured out so there’s no real advantage any more, from what I can see at least. What would work better is if you can have something where the middle teams can qualify higher and race with the top 3 teams?

      For example, Q3 has the top 15 cars from Q2, however cars 9-15 are free to use DRS or aggressive quali modes and cars 1-8 cannot? Something like that? The issue is that top teams might try in Q2 to place in that lower range… you’d have to do something to safeguard against that

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