Last year, I did a hypothetical experiment that looked at what would happen to the F1 title chase if Bernie Ecclestone insisted upon adopting NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup format. With Fernando Alonso coming up one race short of winning the title and Sebastian Vettel coming from third place in the standings to win his first title. So how would this year’s epic World Championship turn out under the NASCAR Chase for the Cup playoff format? I take a look at the 2010 championship, as well as every season dating back to 2003, after the jump.
Because the NASCAR 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 since it was introduced in 2004.
NASCAR: Top 10 in points qualify for Chase. Drivers separated by 5 points with first place at 5050 points.
F1 2003-2009: Top 5 in points qualify. Drivers separated by 2 points with first place at 110 points.
F1 2010: Top 6 in points qualify. Drivers separated by 5 points with first place at 350 points.
NASCAR: Top 12 in points qualify for the Chase. Drivers enter Chase at 5000 points with 10 additional points per win.
F1 2003-2009: Top 5 drivers qualify. Drivers start with 100 points with 2 bonus points per win.
F1 2010: Top 6 drivers qualify. Drivers start with 350 points with 5 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. Let’s start with the most recent championship and then go back through the championships starting with 2003.
Original: Vettel 256, Alonso 252, Webber 242 – Title decided in final race
Medals: Vettel 5, Alonso 5, Webber 4 – Title decided in final race, Vettel wins by virtue of having more 4th place finishes
Chase Format 1: Qualifying – Webber 350, Hamilton 345, Alonso 340, Button 335, Vettel 330, Massa 325
Results – Alonso 426, Vettel 423 – Title decided in final race
Chase Format 2: Qualifying – Webber 370, Hamilton 365, Alonso 365, Button 360, Vettel 360, Massa 350
Results – Vettel 453, Alonso 451 – Wins title with 19 point swing in final race
The medal system never really had a tiebreaker past second and third place finishes fleshed out by Bernie so I’m taking a guess here. Under Bernie’s medal system, Vettel wins by having two 4th place finishes to Alonso’s one. But given how the race played out, it wasn’t that exciting a finish. In format one, Alonso was able to hold onto the title after leading heading into Abu Dhabi thanks to Vettel’s engine failure in Korea providing a cushion. In format two, things turn out as at well for Fernando as it did in the championship proper but the gap is closer at the top of the table.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Original: Button 95, Vettel 84, Barrichello 77, Webber 69.5, Hamilton 49 – Title clinched with 1 race to go
Medals: Button 6, Vettel 4 – Title clinched with 3 races to go
Chase Format 1: Qualifying – Button, Barrichello, Vettel, Webber, Raikkonen
Results – Vettel 137, Button 133, Barrichello 129 – Title decided in final race
Chase Format 2: Qualifying – Button 112, Vettel 104, Barrichello 102, Webber 102, Raikkonen 102
Results – Button 135, Vettel 135 – Button wins title on tiebreaker
Format 1 would have made Abu Dhabi compelling TV as the championship would have been tied with one race to go. Well, it would have been compelling right until the start of the race when Vettel stormed away Button. Format 2 would have made the race a compelling drama for most of the 55 laps. Vettel gained 4 points on Button but strategy would have given him enough points for the tie. Those six wins at the start of the season really bailed Button out in that second format. If you’re interested, Vettel outscored Button by 8 points over the last five races.
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 and five different champions over the eight years studied here. 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 eight 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 five 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. That has nothing to do with the skill and resolve required to compete for a whole season. The Chase just isn’t proper racing.