Chase For The F1 Championship

Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has been pushing hard to get a medal system implemented to determine the winner of the F1 World Championship. His proposed system has the driver winning the most race being named the champion. His proposal comes despite the fact that the last two seasons have seen the title decided in the final race of the year and by a single point each time. The points system changed back in 2003 to keep the championship race alive for longer. This system works but what if Bernie still wants to make a change? What if he was to borrow an American idea?

Admittedly, the idea of a playoff to determine a champion is American. Outside of some international competitions, there are several prestigious competitions that don’t use a playoff to determine a champion. Those ranks include the major soccer leagues. Motorsports in North America was one of the few places that didn’t use a playoff format to determine a champion. In an attempt to remain relevant during football season, NASCAR introduced the Chase playoff format to stretch the title race to the final race. That’s what Ecclestone says he wants to do with a change in the system F1 uses to determine a champion.

Of course, the real reason that Bernie wants to implement the medal system is because he saw it used in the 2008 Olympics. I guess when you’re 78 years old and you see something shiny…

Because the NASCAR Nextel/Sprint Cup season is over twice as long, has more than twice as many drivers, and a completely different points system than Formula One, some changes have to be made to the Chase format to make it work in a hypothetical scenario. There will be two different scenarios used based on the two different Chase formats that NASCAR has used.

Format 1
NASCAR: Top 10 in points qualify for Chase. Drivers separated by 5 points with first place at 5050 points.
F1 Adaptation: Top 5 in points qualify. Drivers separated by 2 points with first place at 110 points.

Format 2
NASCAR: Top 12 in points qualify for the Chase. Drivers enter Chase at 5000 points with 10 additional points per win.
F1: Top 5 drivers qualify. Drivers start with 100 points with 2 bonus points per win.

Going back to the most recent points system change in 2003, I’ve recalculated each championship using the two Chase formats and Bernie’s medal system.

2003
Original: M. Schumacher 93, Raikkonen 91 – Title decided in final race
Medals: M. Schumacher 6, three others 2 – Title clinched with 2 races to go

Chase Format 1: Qualifying – M. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Montoya, R. Schumacher, Barrichello
Results – Raikkonen 137, M. Schumacher 134 – Wins title with 7 point swing in final race

Chase Format 2: Qualifying – M. Schumacher 108, R. Schumacher 104, Raikkonen 102, Montoya 102, Barrichello 102
Results – M. Schumacher 132, Raikkonen 131, Montoya 129 – Title decided in final race

Bernie doesn’t look so smart here. The medal system gives us the shortest title hunt. Meanwhile, under Chase Format 1, Schumacher’s poor Japanese GP costs him the title and gives Raikkonen his first championship. Under Format 2, the Iceman will come up one position short in the final race allowing Schumacher to win his 6th world title.

2004
Original: M. Schumacher 148 – Title clinched with 4 races to go
Medals: M. Schumacher 13 – Title clinched with 8 races to go

Chase Format 1: Qualifying – M. Schumacher, Barrichello, Button, Trulli, Alonso
Results – Barrichello 140, M. Schumacher 138 – Wins title with 4 point swing in final race

Chase Format 2: Qualifying – M. Schumacher 124, Trulli 102, Barrichello 100, Button 100, Alonso 100
Results – M. Schumacher 152, Barrichello 132 -Title clinched with 1 race to go

Bernie might have forgotten the 2004 season when he came up with his medal system. Format 1 would give Rubens Barrichello his first world title. Mind you, given Schumacher’s dominance of the 2004 season, I think a riot would have broken out worldwide if he didn’t win that year. Format 2 is the only early clinch under any Chase format. When you consider how many bonus points that Schumacher would have piled up under this format, an early end to the title race is understandable.

2005
Original: Alonso 133, Raikkonen 112 – Title clinched with 2 races to go
Medals: Alonso 7, Raikkonen 7 – Alonso wins by virtue of having more 2nd place finishes

Chase Format 1: Qualifying – Alonso, Raikkonen, M. Schumacher, Montoya, Trulli
Results – Raikkonen 149, Alonso 148 – Title decided in final race

Chase Format 2: Qualifying – Alonso 112, Raikkonen 110, M. Schumacher 102, Montoya 102, Trulli 100
Results – Raikkonen 151, Alonso 150 – Title decided in final race

Bernie gets a win here. Alonso’s win in the final race of the year pushes him ahead of Raikkonen. In the two Chase Formats, Raikkonen proves his status as the Chase Master. He overtakes Alonso thanks to a slightly longer five race Chase in both scenarios. In each change new format, the title race goes down to the final race.

2006
Original: Alonso 134, M. Schumacher 121 – Title decided in final race
Medals: Alonso 7, M. Schumacher 7 – Alonso wins by virtue of having more 2nd place finishes

Chase Format 1: Qualifying – Alonso, M. Schumacher, Massa, Fisichella, Raikkonen
Results – Alonso 144, M. Schumacher 139 – Title decided in final race

Chase Format 2: Qualifying – Alonso 112, M. Schumacher 110, Fisichella 102, Massa 100, Raikkonen 100
Results – Alonso 146, M. Schumacher 141 – Title decided in final race

Absolutely no changes under this scenario except that Schumacher had a better chance of winning the title under the new, hypothetical formats. It seems as though the Chase doesn’t not favour Michael the same way that the record books have.

2007
Original: Raikkonen 110, Alonso 109, Hamilton 109 – Title decided in final race
Medals: Raikkonen 6, Alonso 4, Hamilton 4 – Title decided in final race

Chase Format 1: Qualifying – Hamilton, Alonso, Massa, Raikkonen, Heidfeld
Results – Raikkonen 146, Alonso 138, Hamilton 135 – Title decided in final race

Chase Format 2: Qualifying – Hamilton 106, Alonso 106, Massa 106, Raikkonen 106, Heidfeld 100
Results – Raikkonen 148, Alonso 136 – Title decided in final race

One of the greatest title races in the history of Formula One would have been ruined under any new format. Whether F1 is run by Bernie Ecclestone or Brian France, the points system kept everyone in the title race until the last lap.

2008
Original: Hamilton 98, Massa 97 – Title decided in final race
Medals: Massa 6, Hamilton 5 – Title decided in final race

Chase Format 1: Qualifying – Hamilton, Massa, Kubica, Raikkonen, Heidfeld
Results – Hamilton 132, Massa 131 – Title decided in final race

Chase Format 2: Qualifying – Massa 110, Hamilton 108, Raikkonen 104, Kubica 102, Heidfeld 100
Results – Massa 133, Hamilton 130 – Wins title with 6 point swing in final race

In all title deciding systems, the title went down to the final race. However, the medal format and Chase Format 2 both had the race fairly well decided by the midpoint of the race. The original points system and Chase Format 1 both saw the title decided in the final corner of the season.

2009
Original: Button 80, Barrichello 66, Vettel 54, Webber 51.5, Raikkonen 40 – After Italian GP
Medals: Button 6, Barrichello 2, Vettel 2 – After Italian GP

Chase Format 1: Qualifying – Button, Barrichello, Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen
Results – Button 118, Barrichello 118, Raikkonen 108, Vettel 107, Webber 104 – After Italian GP

Chase Format 2: Qualifying – Button 112, Vettel 104, Barrichello 102, Webber 102, Raikkonen 102
Results – Button 120, Barrichello 112, Raikkonen 108, Vettel 105, Webber 102 – After Italian GP

We won’t be able to declare the effectiveness of a Chase format in making the Championship more exciting until the season is over. However, both Chase formats would have shrunk the gap in the top five. Bernie’s medal system, however, would likely see three meaningless races starting in Japan.

So what have we learned from this hypothetical experiment? Well, Chase Format 1 sees the championship go to the final race each time with a different champion in each of the first three years. Chase Format 2 makes the title chase go at least as long as the points system would make the title race go with only two different title winners over the six year study period.

Still, despite all the time I put into trying to figure out Chase playoff formats, I think the points system that F1 is using now is still the way to go. Even if we’re guaranteed a closer finish to the Drivers’ Championship, I would rather see a championship awarded based on performance over a whole season rather than who is the best over the final five. As Jimmie Johnson’s three straight NASCAR Sprint Cup titles have shown, all you need to do is get the setup right at those final tracks and the title is yours.

3 thoughts on “Chase For The F1 Championship

  1. Interesting blog. It seems strange that a driver like Jenson Button, who has been in pretty average form for months, can still be top of the leaderboard going into the final few races. Can’t deny that his start to the season was electric, but he’s been extremely lucky that so many different drivers have shared the podium in between.

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  2. nice work, since nascar makes the chase format i start to think if it would work for formula 1, or even indycar. in a really long 36 races season like nascar a 10 races chase is well fit, but shorter championships likes F1 and Indy wiyh 16 to 18 races, a chase with only 5 races is a very bad idea.

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