Formula 1’s ludicrous decision to proceed with doubling the points on offer in the final race of the season has been met with widespread criticism from the sport’s media, drivers, fans alike.
But this is hardly the first stupid decision that the sport’s rule-makers have undertaken – and it probably won’t be the last…
Alongside this gimmick, here are – in our humble opinion – nine other appalling ideas that have graced the sport since 1950.
10. A point for fastest lap
A relic rule from the early years of Formula 1 saw drivers awarded a bonus point if they set the fastest lap in the race.
With stopwatches unable to record times smaller than one-second intervals, the sport’s antiquated timing technology proved the rule’s undoing.
At the 1954 British Grand Prix, seven different drivers – Alberto Ascari, Jean Behra, Juan Manuel Fangio, Froilan Gonzalez, Mike Hawthorn, Onofre Marimon and Stirling Moss – were awarded the single point between for posting the fastest race lap of 1m50s. All earned 0.14 points!
The rule was sensibly dumped from 1958 onwards, where points have only been awarded based on the drivers’ finishing positions.
While there were some discussions last year about reviving the practice, it was thankfully – for now at least – kept on ice.
It doesn’t take a great deal of creative thinking to see how this bonus point could be taken advantage of. For example, a driver could need just one point to win the championship, and they’d simply have to treat the race as a sprint by draining the car of fuel and running a handful of laps on the softest tyres in order to easily set the quickest lap.
A similar scenario could apply for a bonus point for qualifying well, which is a scheme that just a few major championships – like the IndyCar Series and the World Touring Car Championship – have implemented with little actual benefit. Fans would hardly tune in to watch a race if the championship outcome has been decided in Saturday’s qualifying session.
This is another rule from a very bygone age, where drivers were allowed to take over a teammate’s car in the event that theirs broke down during a race.
Undoubtedly the most famous application of this rule came at the 1956 Italian Grand Prix when Peter Collins selflessly handed over his Lancia D50 to teammate Juan Manuel Fangio when the Argentine’s steering arm failed and their teammate Luigi Musso refused to hand over his own car.
Collins could mathematically have claimed the Drivers’ Championship title for himself if he’d won the race, set the fastest lap and Fangio had retired.
Fangio resumed the race and crossed the line second behind Stirling Moss, with the six points he and Collins earned (split three-apiece) guaranteeing he would claim his fourth Drivers’ Championship title.
Ironically, Fangio would still have won the title without Collins’ assistance (he’d have tied on points with Moss but beaten him on countback).
Mid-race car-swapping was banned in 1958, although it still technically existed up to the point where the teams’ spare cars were banned – a driver whose car had failed pre-race or in the event of an immediate red flag after the start could take over the spare car, even if it had previously been assigned to their teammate.
8. Dropped Scores
It took until 1991 before every race in a Formula 1 season actually counted towards the overall championship standings.
Prior to that, the regulations allowed the drivers’ lowest-scoring races to be dropped in a bid to curb the impact that high unreliability would have on their championship campaigns.
But it also made calculating the final championship result horribly complicated, as towards the end of the season the frontrunning teams had to go through the complex calculations of working out how many points their drivers would gain (or lose!) depending on where they finished.
There was even a period where the championship was split into two halves, where a driver had to drop a certain number of results in each.
7. Grooved Tyres
The 1998 season saw the introduction of narrow-track cars and the sport’s tyre suppliers – Goodyear and Bridgestone – were required to design dry-weather tyres to help curb the cars’ ever-increasing cornering speeds.
The solution was crude: three grooves running around the tyre, which was increased to four grooves the following year.
The logic behind this was to reduce the tyres’ overall contact patch with the tarmac, and therefore, the available grip.
The first race – the 1998 Australian Grand Prix – saw the lap record shattered, and the cars’ speeds continued to increase (despite further downforce trims that were quickly clawed back) courtesy of the ongoing ‘tyre war’ between Bridgestone, Goodyear and (later) Michelin.
Bridgestone’s return to being the sole tyre supplier in 2007 finally brought this under control, but the ugly and unpopular tyre grooves were quickly dropped in 2009.
Formula 1 has had several periods where in-race refuelling has been allowed, but its last period (between 1994-2009) was undoubtedly its most controversial.
The safety concerns were quickly proven with Jos Verstappen’s fireball pit stop at that year’s German Grand Prix, which saw the driver and several mechanics suffer minor burns.
Pit lane fires remained a – thankfully rare – occupational hazard over the remaining years, although each incident triggered the inevitable debate over why the practice was even being done at all.
The advent of refuelling and differing fuel loads did, however, introduce an added element of variation in pit strategies, but the later years saw less divergence in race strategies, which turned many a Grand Prix into a series of sprints where much of the overtaking was actually done by dint of a quicker pit stop. It was hardly thrilling stuff.
5. Fuel Credits
The last era of in-race refuelling certainly spawned some very odd – and quite awful – advents in the rule book in later years, not least of which occurred when the sport’s three-part qualifying system was introduced in 2006.
While the top-ten qualifiers are still handicapped today by having to start their race on the same tyre set they used to post their quickest lap in Q3, in 2006 these runners had to qualify with their first stint of race fuel on board.
For every lap a driver ran in Q3, they were credited with a lap’s worth of fuel before the race.
This led to the odd spectacle of the drivers trying to drive as many laps while burning as little fuel as possible, before going all out at the end with their final flying lap – all to get their tanks replenished with what was effectively a ‘bonus’ amount of fuel.
Trying to even explain this rule to the everyday fan – let alone an expert on the sport – was laughably difficult, not to mention flying in the race of the increased pressure being placed on the sport to become more environmentally friendly.
4. Split and Aggregated Qualifying Sessions
This was a classic example of bad decision-making: introduce an overly complicated gimmick that does nothing to solve a problem that didn’t really exist.
The last decade-and-a-bit saw the sport change its qualifying rules with seemingly gay abandon, but the worst of the series of rules changes occurred between 2003-5.
As distinct from qualifying in the 1980s and 1990s – the fastest lap over two separate one-hour sessions formed the grid – the first of the ‘new’ era of split sessions in 2003 saw a pointless Friday session featuring a single flying lap to determine the running order for Saturday’s single-lap qualifying session.
With the Friday sessions attracting poor TV audience figures, 2004 saw the two sessions scheduled back-to-back on Saturday. A number of drivers used the first low-fuel session to manipulate their running order for the second (particularly if bad weather was feared), and we saw the laughable spectacle of deliberate spins and slow running at several Grands Prix.
By far and away, the nadir came in 2005, where the sessions were split into Saturday and Sunday, with single-lap running on low and race-starting fuel loads respectively. This time, the times from each session were combined to determine the starting order.
The provisional grid orders barely changed from the first session to the next, and – with TV audiences shunning the Sunday sessions and the press complaining about there being a Sunday session at all – the concept was mercifully dumped after half a dozen races.
3. Compulsory use of tyre compounds / Mandatory pit stops
The last era of refuelling also introduced another scourge on Formula 1: the ‘mandatory’ pit stop. No team was ever going to design a car with a fuel tank large enough to run a race non-stop (although Tyrrell once freakishly managed this at a soaked Monaco Grand Prix in 1997), and so it changed the structure of races ever since.
Gone were the days when the teams could pick the dry-weather tyre compound they’d like to run at each race, and also killed was the strategic variance of some teams trying to run a race non-stop. If you car didn’t quite have frontrunning pace, you could choose to bolt on a set of harder tyres and gain track position as your rivals pitted. It made tyre management another skill to master and produced some great finishes to many races.
Fast-forward to today, and we have another bad rule. While refuelling was outlawed after 2009, visits to the pits still remained because the of another rule: each car had to run both the designated ‘prime’ and ‘option’ tyre compound in the race if it ran rain-free.
So we have a sameness in many teams’ race strategies, with the only variance coming in which order the teams choose to switch to the other compound. Throw in big performance gaps between the tyre compounds themselves – and a spoonful of DRS to boot – and you have an abundance of very easy overtaking. It’s hardly what we’d call thrilling…
Speaking of which, this was yet another solution developed by the Formula 1 boffins to cure an apparent problem: not enough overtaking in Formula 1.
Moveable aerodynamic devices had been experimented with many years ago before quickly being outlawed.
The complexities of aerodynamics in modern Formula 1 had made the art of overtaking a challenge, but one could debate whether the challenge was any greater than in the decades before.
Yet someone decided that this was something that needed to be fixed to improve ‘the show’.
And so in came an ill-conceived ‘movable aerodynamic device’ that has so diminished the skill of overtaking into something akin to a power-up in a video game. The chasing driver is given a massive straight-line boost completely denied to the car in front.
Mid-race battles now have such a sense of inevitability to them: there’s so little tension and scarcely a battle before the chasing car is ahead. This is not proper motor racing.
The FIA’s decision to increase the number of DRS zones at most circuits last year has had a correspondingly poorer effect on the racing.
The only greater offence the FIA could have done was to tinker with the points’ system – oh, they’ve just done that…
1. Double Points at the final Grand Prix
Building more artifice into any sport is what the leaders do when they can’t face up to tackling its bigger problems. Whether its ‘power plays’ in cricket (or in fact, the entire notion of ‘Twenty20 cricket’) or late time-outs in basketball, it’s an issue that’s systemic across a number of disciplines.
All of this smacked of panic over the fact that Sebastian Vettel wrapped up the Drivers’ Championship title with three races to go last year.
It also ignored the fact that this was just the third season in the last ten that didn’t see the championship battle resolved in the final (or penultimate) race.
Sport produces proper edge-of-the-seat drama when the spectacle is genuine. Doubling the points on offer for what is one of the dullest races on the schedule couldn’t make Formula 1 more artificial if it tried.
Yet the FIA has confirmed that it will proceed with a concept that the overwhelming majority of fans and drivers do not want.
Images via final Gear, Lotus F1 Team, Honda F1 Team, Sutton Images, Telegraph, The Times
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