Listen Up, FIA: A Points System Change That Will Work

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Listen Up, FIA: A Points System Change That Will Work
(Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Much has been made of Bernie Ecclestone's proposal to toss the current points-based system to determine the Formula One champion and replace it with a championship-by-wins system.

The idea that the driver who wins the most races should win the championship seems quite intuitive and straight-forward. However, consistency of performance is also a very relevant factor to consider.

A driver and team who win the most races but have technical failures or driver errors in a significant number of races more than their opponents probably shouldn't be considered champions over those who show up to nearly every race with a quick and reliable car and bring home good finishes. 

All in all, Ecclestone's proposal seems rather like a solution in search of a problem. Only 13 of the 59 champions in the series' history claimed the title while not winning the most races in a season. The proposal makes it seem as though Ecclestone's priorities are rubbish. 

So the current points system is dandy, right? 


The system does a great job of determining F1 champions. That, I will not dispute. It is championship positions further down the grid that it does a poor job of determining. 

Hypothetically speaking, take the example of two teammates on a marginal team—a team that would likely struggle for points in most races. In this scenario, one teammate routinely outperforms the other in qualifying, finishes ahead of him in the vast majority of the races, and even gets two or three low-points finishes.

However, due to freak circumstances in one or two races, the dominated driver is put into high points-scoring positions and accumulates more points in a season than his teammate. This driver proceeds to finish ahead of his better teammate in the championship standings. 

The analysis can be extended to a scenario of multiple marginal teams competing against each other. How would the resultant ranking compose an accurate reflection of the level of performance of non-championship contenders?

It's as if Ecclestone's proposal is already in place for these drivers. 

This may seem to be a minor issue to address, but as a racing purist, I still see it as a problem. Thankfully, there is a system that can address this problem while still maintaining the spirit of the current system in determining the championship. As it turns out, the system is already in place in another form of racing: 


The cycling community has a very novel idea: winners should be determined by who finishes the race distance in the least amount of time, and the field should be ranked further based upon finishing times. Sensible, yes? 

The Formula One season is a very analogous concept to the Tour de France: It is a championship determined by aggregate participant performances over a number of stages. The TDF winner is that cyclist who completes the entire distance of the course in the least amount of time, with each stage time aggregated to a total time. 

There's no reason why Formula One cannot, or should not, adopt a system based on this concept. There are, though, two factors to account for present in F1 racing that aren't an issue in cycling. 

The first obvious component is lapped drivers. Because cycling is (usually) not performed over a circuit, a cycling event does not produce lapped cyclists, which doesn't present the challenge in determining a championship based on event times that would be present in Formula One. 

The second obvious factor to consider for is retirements. A driver who retires from a Grand Prix technically doesn't achieve a finishing time, so something must be done to account for this. 

Fortunately, I've sorted both of these issues in dreaming up this new championship system whilst on the crapper last night before bedtime. Here is my radical, revolutionary new proposal for determining the Formula One World Driving Championship: 

  • Final driver standings are determined by each driver's aggregate finishing times across all Grand Prixs in a season. The driver with the lowest aggregate finishing time is deemed the World Driving Championship. 
  • A retiring driver from a Grand Prix shall be awarded a finishing time equal to the Grand Prix time limit of two hours. In the event that a Grand Prix extends to the two-hour limit, a retired driver shall be awarded a finishing time of two hours and 30 minutes. 
  • A driver who finishes a Grand Prix multiple laps down to the leader shall have a time equal to the average of his previous five lap times multiplied by the number of laps he finishes down to the leader added to the time in the race he crosses the line. This shall form his finishing time. 

This is a simple, straight-forward system that indisputably awards the championship quite literally to the quickest driver in the series and sorts the field according real performance. 


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