If you want someone to predict the finishing order of the 2009 Formula One World Championship, their job just got a lot tougher.
The FIA, F1’s sanctioning body, has changed the method of determining the World Champion from the 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 points system that has been in use since 2003 to one where the driver with the most wins over the season is the champion. If there is a tie for most wins, the title goes to the driver that scored the most points under the old system. Additionally, only the champion is determined by most wins. All other places in the championship will be determined by points.
The FIA marched to the beat of their own drum in coming up with this solution. F1’s commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, inspired by the 2008 Olympics, thought that a medal system was the best solution. The world champion would be the man with the most gold medals with silvers then bronzes breaking any ties. The Formula One Teams Association proposed a modified point system which gave more emphasis on winning with a 12-9-7-5-4-3-2-1 system. I don’t know how the FIA came up with this solution or how they figured that this was a good idea.
The main problem with this new championship solution is that it doesn’t change anything regarding the championship. Sure it means the more you win, the better chance you have of winning the title. But will it really encourage drivers to fight to the end of a race. I don’t actually believe that drivers don’t already fight to the end of the race and push for every tenth of a second they can wring out of their car. They do eventually back off but that’s only when there’s nothing left to fight for.
What this will do is put more emphasis on fuel strategy and qualifying. While this year’s changes to the rules and cars should help with overtaking, it’s no guarantee that it’ll make that big of a difference. Therefore, it will be up to the teams not to screw up strategies and pit stops. Similarly, if you can qualify on pole or near the front, you have the best chance to pick up the win. (I’ll admit, that one is pretty obvious.) Drivers that realize that their only good chance to win a race is to be in the top two or three after the first turn will likely also try some banzai maneuvers to get ahead (not just at the start but throughout the race) which is going to lead to a lot of small fields by the end of the race.
The final big problem is that it will just confuse everyone. As simple as it seems to crown the man with the most wins as champion, every position below that will help to confound fans. Who is really second in the standing during the season? Is it the guy with four wins and 47 points or the one with two wins and 52 points? And what happens if Ricky Bobby wins the championship with 7 wins and 70 points to the second place guy’s 5 wins and 94 points? Can F1 legitimately be the top level of motorsports if that happens?
I think the FIA made a hasty decision in switching to making the champion the man who won the most races. One race is about who did the best over the course of the race while a season is about the man who did the best over the whole season. The FIA got caught up in thinking that the Olympic system was the best one without thinking what that even meant for racing. Here’s hoping that we’re not debating some other stupid points system this time next year.