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The Reuters global sports blog

New F1 rules risk two-tier championship


Formula One teams conducted a global audience survey over the European winter whose salient finding was that ‘F1 isn’t broken, so beware over-fixing it’.
They suggested nevertheless that the scoring system should be tweaked to increase the reward for winning races by offering 12 points for a victory instead of 10.
The governing FIA has ignored their proposal and decreed instead that this year’s title should be settled by race wins with points serving only as a tie-break and to decide the placings from second onwards as well as the constructors’ championship.
That may sound neat enough but it jettisons some of the sport’s more cherished principles such as the idea that the championship should also reward mechanical reliability, consistency and teamwork over the course of a season.
 In the past, if you had a car that expired in a haze of smoke more often than it won races then the chances were that the championship would be going elsewhere.

Now, a driver could in theory win five races and retire from all the rest and still end up as champion — five or six wins being the minimum requirement for the title over the past decade.
While Lewis Hamilton would not have been champion last year under the new system, since Ferrari’s Felipe Massa won more races, the McLaren driver could find the new system beneficial in the current circumstances with his team struggling to get their car up to speed.
Even if he is woefully off the pace and fails to score points in the opening long-haul races, all is not lost. If McLaren pull something out of the hat by mid-season, he could still win enough races to be in with a shot even if his points tally is nothing to shout about.
The downside of course is that the season could be over very quickly if a driver does as Nigel Mansell did in 1992 and Michael Schumacher in 2004 in winning the first five races in a row.
That is only going to make life more complicated for us reporters, who will now have to explain how it is that the man with most points is not necessarily leading the championship. Simply printing the points standings isn’t going to tell you who is actually on top.
An example: Massa was five points behind Hamilton after last year’s Japanese Grand Prix with just two races remaining. And yet under the new system, he would have been leading the standings on race wins 5-4.
Or how about this? BMW-Sauber’s Robert Kubica would have been only fourth on race wins after last year’s Canadian Grand Prix despite being ahead of everyone on points. And yet, because wins only count for the title calculation, he would have been second overall had the championship ended there and then. First, second, fourth? Confused?
One could argue that last year’s championship would still have gone down to the wire if the new format were to be applied retrospectively but it would have been a yawn rather than the nail-biting last lap thriller that we all remember.

Massa ran away with the race and it was only Hamilton’s last corner dive for fifth place and the title by a single point that makes it memorable.
In fact, the chances are that the title would have been settled earlier because teams would have changed their strategies.
Which brings us to team orders. These are of course banned and from a team’s perspective it has mattered little historically which of their drivers finishes first or second in a one-two in the early stages of the championship because the constructors’ points remain the same.
Now however, the pecking order within a team will be thrown into high relief as the championship progresses and there won’t be much matiness among the team mates.
Will it be each man for himself or will there be a clear top dog in every garage?
Imagine the hypothetical scenario where Massa is leading the championship on wins, his main rivals are either out of the race or well behind and Kimi Raikkonen is out front in a Ferrari one-two and heading for his first victory of the season.
Normally, Ferrari would be delighted for the Finn to win. They wouldn’t lose out either way. But what if that victory now makes all the difference in the final reckoning between Massa winning the title or not?

One final thought. Will we perhaps also see a two-tier championship split between those teams focusing on the constructors’ title while others go for the driver’s crown?
There are risks attached to going all out for victory and if a team, such as  BMW last year, knows its car is slightly down on pace but absolutely reliable it could play safe and still cash in.