This season may produce a rare phenomenon in Formula One. The World Champion may not be the man who has taken the most race wins.
The last time that happened was in 1989 when Ayrton Senna won more races than Alain Prost but lost out on title glory to the Frenchman. There have only been nine other years in Grand Prix history when the World Champion has not won the most races
2007 may be another such season, and it may also be the very last time it occurs.
Formula One boss, Bernie Ecclestone, has suggested a change to the current points system where the World Championship is decided by the number of race victories instead of the number of points scored.
At the start of this year he said “To me, it should be all about winning. The driver who wins the most races in the season should be the world champion. It's as simple as that. Second places should only come into the reckoning if both drivers win the same amount of races”.
Bernie backed this up by suggesting he would do something about it. “I'd like to change it maybe for next season. As the president of the F1 Commission I shall be bringing it up."
If Ecclestone’s proposed system was in place this year we would have an even more exciting finale than the one awaiting us in Brazil. Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen would still be in contention for the title heading into the final Grand Prix, but each one of them would need to win to crowned Would Champion.
It would be a fantastic scenario to have each driver needing to win to take the title. None of them could settle for points or cruise to the flag because that would not be enough. All three drivers would be forced to give it everything to become champion and that is exactly how it should be.
Using the ‘Ecclestone system’ we would have had closer World Championships in the previous two years also. Alonso would still have won them both but his first title would have gone right down to the very last race. Fernando actually took the 2005 title with two races remaining, but if wins were all that mattered, Raikkonen would have started the final Grand Prix in China ahead of Alonso on the championship ladder. It would have been very exciting to watch Alonso come from behind to win the title at the last round.
In 2006 Schumacher and Alonso started the last race with the same number of wins, so it would have come down to a straight fight between them instead of Michael needing Alonso to DNF.
Bernie Ecclestone’s idea sounds great. We could have had some thrilling championships over the past few years with his suggestion in place.
Unfortunately it also comes with a downside.
All five of Schumacher’s Ferrari titles would have been wrapped up earlier than they were. Michael was dominant from 2000 onwards and the number of wins he took would have made it very difficult for anyone to stay near him in the championship standings. Ecclestone’s idea would have backfired dramatically in 2004 when Schumacher won 12 of the first 13 races and would have been crowned champion just after the halfway point.
The current points system is in place to prevent something like that happening, but maybe it goes too far.
Lewis Hamilton is leading the World Championship due to his consistency. He has failed to finish off the podium just five times this year so although he may not have been quick enough to win each race he has been able to score a healthy bundle of points.
Hamilton rightly deserves to be leading the title chase, but should the World Champion be the most consistent driver or the fastest?
The main issue with the current system is that second place receives too many points. It is worth eighty percent of a win and that is simply too much because a Grand Prix victory should have massive value over everything else. It also means there is less incentive to go for the win if you are sitting behind the leader.
In 2003 Kimi Raikkonen scored seven second places and only lost the title by two points to Schumacher who had taken an extra five wins than him.
The same thing has occurred again this year.
After round seven in June, Lewis Hamilton only needed to finish second to Raikkonen in every remaining Grand Prix to win the title. Raikkonen could win each of the final 10 races in a row but Lewis would only need eight second places and two thirds to take the championship.
It is not right that a driver could win the final ten races of a season but still fall short of the title. It may not seem fair but that is how the current points system works.
A win should be worth more than it currently is, but is making a win worth everything the right way to go?
No other major motorsport series uses that system so it is hard to tell.
The DTM, WTCC and World Rally Championships use exactly the same scoring method as F1, whilst Champ Car and Moto GP also use similar structures but on different scales.
NASCAR is the only major motorsport series that uses a radically different points scoring system.
Roughly two thirds into the Nextel Cup season the top twelve drivers have their points boosted so that no one below them can possibly win the title. Their points are also levelled out so that any one of the twelve can challenge for the championship. This is called the ‘Chase for the cup’ and it is kind of like having a finals series. The goal for most of the year is to make it into the top twelve, at which point you will be brought much closer to the leader. The NASCAR system always forces the title down to the wire.
Imagine if F1 used the same system. It would have meant that after the Hungarian Grand Prix, Hamilton, Alonso, Raikkonen, and Massa would have reset their scores so they had the same number of points with five races to go.
It would definitely be exciting but it may be manipulating the championship a little too much. NASCAR uses that system to increase their TV value during the NFL playoffs, and that is something that Formula One does not really need to worry about.
It is a far better procedure than the one briefly used by NASCAR in the mid 1970’s when their points system was possibly the most complicated in motorsport history. To determine how many points a driver scored at any particular race you had to add up the total of all the available prize money, multiply that figure by the number of races started, and divide that number by 1000. The system was so complicated that the championship leader was able to extend his lead by finishing at the back of the field.
Bernie Ecclestone is keen to avoid anything complex like that and replacing points with wins is the ultimate way to simplify the championship ladder.
Explaining the Brazilian Grand Prix scenario to a non Formula One fan is tricky. There are three drivers in contention for the title but it all depends where they all finish in relation to each other as to who becomes World Champion.
It would be much easier to say ‘the winner takes all’, and in the end, isn’t that what racing is all about?