New Formula One Points System: Not Such a Bad Idea

Alex CowleyCorrespondent IMarch 17, 2009

The news came today that a new points system will be implemented from the start of the 2009 F1 season. While it will use the 10-8-6-etc. structure of the previous iteration, the raw number of wins of a driver will now decide the championship.

Initially, it seems that this idea is critically flawed, as it allows for a driver to be very inconsistent throughout a campaign, yet still walk away with the championship. However, further analysis proves it is not such an alarming change after all.

The idea almost certainly originates from Lewis Hamilton winning the 2008 championship despite winning just five events to Felipe Massa's six. That made it apparent that the old system didn't necessarily reward the fastest driver, but instead the most consistent racer or the team that was the most reliable.

Initially, Bernie Eccelstone wanted to introduce a "medal" system, which would only award points to the podium finishers. What we get with the new system is a hybrid of both the old 10-8-6-etc. system and a top-three system.

In effect, the driver who wins the most races will win the championship. While the points accumulated will decide the championship if a tie occurs, the system is based on outright victories, not so much on consistency.

Of course, the negative of this is that it leaves open the possibility of rather bizarre scenarios like a driver winning the championship by midseason, or someone being named champion despite having only participated in six or seven events (assuming he won them all).

But this criticism seems rather far-fetched and doesn't take into account the general trend of F1.

Generally, it is the driver who wins the most races that wins the championship. This is due to the fact that, usually, the driver who wins is the fastest or the most consistent. This is especially evident in modern F1, where reliability has become key.

Thus, a situation in which a driver only finishes a couple of races but takes the championship seems unlikely.

Having said that, consistency was important in the 1980s. Under the new system, seven out of 10 seasons during that decade would have had a different outcome. Prost would have been a five-time champion and Nigel Mansell a three-time best. Clearly, evaluating solely wins in that period would have led to a very different outcome.

But the 1980s were during the "Turbo Era," when circumstances were very different than those of today. One side of the field ran turbos on their engines, and they were much faster than the normal aspirated machines, but far more unreliable.

That meant that the turbo-using cars would often finish only a handful of races each season. In that way, the normally aspirated cars would benefit from their unreliability. But generally, they could earn the most points, because in races that they did finish, they typically took a high position.

But this situation does not persist. Ferrari was often criticized for their poor reliability last year, but they only had four mechanical failures on race day.

Compare that to the Renault team (that used turbos) in 1982: They had 14 mechanical failures. Under the new system, Alain Prost would have won the championship. Under the old system, he finished fourth.

So, while stats show the difference the new system would make, this is in the context of an F1 plagued by reliability issues. One thing that F1 is not nowadays is mechanically unreliable.

Another reason I support the new system is that it really has no affect on the midfield teams. At the end of the day, only two (or maybe three) teams will fight for the championship, and the importance now being placed on winning really won't have much impact on a team like Red Bull or Force India.

Deep down, they know they're not going to challenge for the championship. Essentially, the title is already decided by wins. Thus, the system really only affects the top spots and will still leave the door open for the midfield teams.

A by-product of the new system is that we will see each race "last the distance." Every event will be fought to the last lap and the last corner, as the F.I.A. stresses the new system will reward those who push to win and push all the time.

It's quite clear that a consistent race puts more emphasis on strategy through pit-stops, while a race based on winning involves overtaking and aggression—two things all F1 fans have been crying for for years.

The new system also opens the door for some new winners. With the increased pressure and reward for winning, the top drivers will inevitably make mistakes. That will allow the slower cars, who bide their time on track but also push to move up the leaderboard, to be rewarded.

In an odd twist, the consistent drivers will also potentially be rewarded under the new system. It will come down to driver ability.

Many argue that increased importance for winning will mean that we will see fewer comeback drives from the top teams, as coming through the field will be pointless if a rival is leading. Drives such as Hamilton's at Monza's could become a thing of the past, and we may see more of what happened in Singapore with Massa, who effectively gave up rather than risking an accident fighting his way through the pack.

With all respect, I say, "So what?" The new mode leaves the door open to the midfield drivers to grab a good result, and the top drivers will never really relax or give up when they can still put pressure on their competitors to force them into a mistake.

The new system rewards victory, but also demands consistent speed, precision, aggression, and overtaking ability. It's entirely up to a driver if he wants to give up on a result, but just as in the old system, it will be his call as to whether or not he can afford to do so.

The new F1 points system could encourage both skill and competition. A driver has to go all out for the win, but also must show the driving abilities in order to beat his peers.

Whatever your view on the system, it will make the upcoming season even more exciting.