Wednesday 23 April 2014

Making your points

Lewis Hamilton has won the last three Grands Prix, making it three triumphs from four rounds this campaign. Indeed, he's barely been headed in this time, and in two of these victories he's had the place to himself pretty much.

The 2014 Formula One World Championship so far has been a lot about him in other words. Yet - in an outcome that strikes as incongruous - he's not leading the drivers' table.

Lewis Hamilton, despite recent dominance, isn't yet
leading the drivers' table
Photo: Octane Photography
This can be explained mainly by that with our current system of 25 points for a win, a massive increase on the points available per race compared with any system that had gone before in F1 history, that the non-finish with its resultant nil points is really punished. Lewis of course had one of these in the year-opener at Melbourne, and his stable mate Nico Rosberg cleaned up in his absence. Lewis has spent the time since clawing it back, but such is the Mercedes dominance that second place is the least that can reasonably be excepted from either pilot, meaning the points difference on offer per race effectively is but seven. And assuming that no one's going to be heading a Mercedes any time soon Lewis even after his triple-crown still needs yet one more win before he heads Nico in the standings. To me there seems something a bit wrong about that.

Perhaps just as one is prone to think that the drivers you grew up supporting will never be equalled ('there will never be another Ayrton, another Michael, another Jimmy...'), possibly it's also tempting to be attached to the points system that was around when you were first introduced to the sport. But for me the sport came closest to getting it right with the 10-6-4-3-2-1 system that prevailed between 1991 and 2002, around the time of my first flush of youth as an F1 acolyte. But I'd like to think it's not just down to this, I prefer it mainly because of the large gap between the reward for winning and the reward for coming second, which seemed apt in a sport wherein the desire to win should be paramount, wherein we want those who prevail to fight at the front rather than cruise and collect.

And were that system still in place in 2014 then Lewis would have taken the championship lead after his Shanghai victory, claiming a two-point advantage over Rosberg. In apparent testament of this system, that somehow feels right, like a genuine refection of what's happened on track in the opening four rounds.

However the system was abandoned after the 2002 campaign, wherein Michael Schumacher in a season of insulting Ferrari (and Schumi) dominance taped up the drivers' title mathematically in July. Instead, for the next season the points gap between winning and finishing next up was halved to just two - with ten points staying for the win and second place now getting eight - while points for the first time were awarded down to eighth place (in the system that preceded it had been down to sixth). The latter part turned out probably to be a good move on balance; in the era of ultra-reliability restricting points to just the top six would have ensured scoring was to an overwhelming extent a carve-up for the top four or even three teams. But the former part, of greatly diminishing the premium on winning, was less welcome.

Kimi Raikkonen nearly won the 2003 title with just one win
Credit: Mathieu Felten / CC
And the first year of using the system demonstrated a lot of the vices. Well as Kimi Raikkonen drove in 2003, he came within two points of the title with but one win to his name compared with the champion Schumi's six (but crucially seven second places to Schumi's none). Williams' Frank Dernie spoke for a few when he stated 'the new system is rubbish - a massive step backwards. You've now got a situation where you could quite easily win the championship without any race wins at all.'

But Schumi benefited too, in that having established a clear lead in the table by around the half-season mark, he then as the year proceeded suddenly found himself off the pace of the McLaren and Williams, but the points system ensured that the task of hauling in his lead was a snail's pace activity.

Perhaps we should be grateful to some extent for what we have now - had the system of then been in place today then Lewis's current winning run would have had to stretch all the way to Monaco in order to just draw level with Rosberg (that is, as before, assuming his team mate was second everywhere); over two months of uninterrupted victory to make up for one failure. At least now it would only in this scenario take Lewis three-and-a-bit races to get on terms rather than five.

It is a moot point as to why the 2003 system was brought in in the first place. Stretching the points down to eighth place apparently was at the behest of the middling teams who sought to benefit from scoring for seventh and eighth places. FIA President of the time Max Mosley insisted that increasing the score for second to eight was a more fitting reflection for the achievement of placing runner-up in a race. Cynics - and there were plenty - reckoned however it simply was a wheeze to keep the championship mathematically alive for longer (as mentioned, in the previous year it was done and dusted before most of us had even gone off on our summer holidays).

Indeed, we continue to wrestle with the prospect of double points on offer in this year's final round, but perhaps we shouldn't have been too surprised by it; seeking to artificially close up the championship with the points system ain't unprecedented. Moreover going further back, the system of dropping points wherein only x of your best scores of the season would count towards your total, and which somehow prevailed in one form or another all the way from 1950 when the championship started until 1990, often had a similar effect.

The 2003 points system though somehow blundered on to 2010, wherein it was remedied partially to what we have now. But even though it's not the worst, and if we must award points further down than we used to for the reason mentioned, I'd like there to be proportionately more of a gap between the reward for winning and the reward for being but first of the losers.


  1. I say:

  2. I think if it's going to change we should award points for all finishers, would make the Caterham / marussia battle understandable for fans rather than most 12th place finishes etc, also it rewards those who keep the car on the track rather than retiring as there's nothing left to gain.

    1. Yes, but then the points table would have to change every time teams are added or dropped. At the back of the field that happens with regularity.

    2. Agree Paul it'd help the Caterham/Marussia battle, as the countback for them can be very distortive (e.g. a single P12 trumps any number of P13s). But have to say otherwise I don't like the idea of giving all finishers points - I don't think scoring F1 points should be too easy; giving all finishers points is a bit too close to giving a prize for effort, or a prize for turning up :)