Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Marek
Now that the dust has settled on another championship victory for Lewis Hamilton, we can afford to do a little unbiased soul-searching.
What is the meaning of winning – or to put it more concisely, what performance do we want from our champion – a win or bust hare or a consistent tortoise?
Lewis’ command over the 2015 proceedings mean the points system employed was pretty irrelevant. You would be hard pressed to draw up a point scheme which would have resulted in anyone other than Hamilton cruising to a deserved 3rd title.
However, cast your mind back to 2014. With the changes to the regulations, Mercedes were in a dominant position above the rest of the field (the more things change the more they stay the same). So much so that their 2 pilots would easily finish 1st and 2nd every week barring misfortune.
Nico surprised many (if not all) by actually taking the (literally) pointless inaugural pole position trophy, taking 11 poles to Lewis 7. But no points are awarded on Saturdays (more on that later), and Lewis comfortably had the upper hand when it mattered on Sundays, winning 11 races to Nico’s 5.
A series of niggly events right from the start of the season where Lewis retired from pole position at the opener in Australia with mechanical trouble meant that, unbelievably, the title was up for grabs heading into the final round of the season (even without the controversial double points on offer in 2014s season finale the championship would still not have been decided before the final race).
Mercedes were clearly worried about the effect to their reputation should the title be decided due to a mechanical problem on one of their cars rather than by the driving out on track. At the last race a mechanical problem did indeed occur on one of the cars from Brackley, but fortunately for Mercedes it occurred on the right car. Nico’s ERS failed, and with it hopes of an unlikely title disappeared. Mercedes got the champion who deserved the title. Rosberg got sympathy for insisting on carrying on vainly to the end.
All was right with the F1 world.
But what if the wrong Mercedes had developed a problem? Nico would most certainly have taken the title. Lewis would be left to wonder how the title had slipped away from him after having the edge over Nico all season. And F1 fans would have to question – is the points system in place fit for purpose? Is having a system designed to keep the championship race going as long as possible worth the risk of the ‘wrong’ driver winning?
Finding the right formula for balancing risk with reward in the points system seems to be an elusive target.
From F1’s early days, when cars were significantly less reliable, only the best ‘x’ results of a season were counted to prevent a ‘worthy’ winning driver losing out on a title due to reliability (or contact) issues. This famously resulted in Ayrton Senna winning his first title in 1988 with less ‘points’ than his then team-mate Alain Prost (note – in my humble opinion a win for the system, but I’m sure Prost fans would not agree).
When this system of excluding results was ditched the points system was modified to a 10-6-4-3-2-1 system (giving an extra point to the win from previous 9 to compensate for allowing all races points count).
This gave a healthy premium for winning races, and meant that after 2.5 wins (half races have been known to happen) a driver could have a mechanical/contact related zero pointed and still lead the championship on win countback regardless if another driver is constantly hoovering up the next best placing, as is the trend in these Mercedes dominated times.
The difference between a first and a second place was the points awarded for taking the last podium place. A very healthy incentive to win a race!
In comparison todays system means the difference between first and second (7 points) is the same as that awarded to the driver who comes home in the magical 6 and a half place. And from a reliability perspective means that after one non-scoring finish 3 successive wins is not enough to guarantee getting back on top. This was the conundrum facing Lewis throughout 2014.
However, this magic 10-6-4-3-2-1 formula with its heavy reward for race winners came with an in-built problem for promoters, as a successful driver could wrap the title up early and consign a number of races to virtual ‘non-championship’ status for the promoters. Michael Schumacher in particular must have caused despair for promoters with his annoying habit of winning, and winning a lot. In fact in 2002 he had the cheek to seal the title in mid July, consigning a third of the season to ‘meaningless’ races.
Whilst some would simply think this would force people to maybe work harder and stop dangling things in pools, those of a non-Germanic disposition thought of a quicker solution to the problem.
Simply change the rules!
The reward for race victories was cut, with the points system altered to a 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 system. This system did not afford race winners with a significant bonus as before – just a 7th place the difference between 1st and 2nd. This could see a driver winning 16 out of 20 races fail to be crowned champion if they failed to finish in the other 4 and had a Dyson-like number 2 touring around behind them. What madness!
Fortunately for Schumi it didn’t stop him from winning the title again in 2003, but it did ensure that the title was alive heading into the final race in Japan (mathematically at least).
Had the old 10-6-4-3-2-1 system been in effect Schumi would have wrapped up the title in the previous race – consigning the last race to a party rather than a title decider. As a fan I could have lived with that outcome.
For 2014, the low reward for winning 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 system would have seen Lewis arrive at the last round with a slender 1 point lead ahead of Nico 136-135 (how’d that happen we’d all have said). All smiles for promoters there, a thrilling winner takes all showdown where 1 place would make all the difference, no need to rely on a Massa type to split the Mercs to upset the odds as Nico was hoping for in Abu Dhabi.
Whereas the good old winner takes all 10-6-4-3-2-1 system would have seen a relaxed Lewis with the tile secured in Brazil with one round to spare by 126-113 – would that have been so bad? To the victor go the spoils so the saying goes – so the question is how do we as fans want to see wins rewarded?
And how far are we willing to risk the ‘wrong’ driver picking up a championship due to one non-scoring race at the critical moment for the faster man of the day just so we can have a title showdown at the end of the season?
I always love to see a new driver win the title, but had Rosberg won in 2014 I would have thought, no, not like this. If someone is to win the Formula One World Drivers Championship they should be the best and beat the rest in my humble opinion.
2014 was too close a call in that regard.
And what of points for pole position, fastest lap etc?
In my humble opinion pole position is worthy of points. Fastest lap is for me a meaningless stat (unless you’re a not to be named 4-time champion). Chasing a fast lap at the end of the race for the record books has to my mind nothing to do with winning a race. Win as slowly as possible, without stressing the car (or your team principle). I have a fond memory of a fastest lap from Gachot in the beautiful Jordan 191, and newly named non-prime Haas driver Gutierrez even has one to his name.
But pole position is a shoot-out to show who is the fastest. Surely a driver deserves some reward for being the fastest in qualifying when everyone is going for it? Especially when come Sunday they can end up with nothing to show for it – between 2012 and 2014 pole was converted just half the time (29 out of 58 races).
So what do we think? Should pole be rewarded with points? Should there be greater incentive to win races or a greater incentive for steady reliability? Who should win the championship – the tortoise or the hare?