The curtain has just drawn on the 71st Formula One World Championship, and despite a false start back in March and a very different looking calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as always the championship has provided fireworks on and off the track. Lewis Hamilton has further cemented his status as one of the best the world has seen, and the midfield battle was tense and exciting all the way to the final race in Abu Dhabi.
There were epic last laps – who can forget Lando Norris using “Scenario 7” to charge his way to the podium in Austria, or Lewis Hamilton limping around Silverstone with a blown tyre with Max Verstappen chasing him down. The Italian Grand Prix will be one that will be talked about for years to come; Pierre Gasly taking a historic maiden win at Alpha Tauris home race, with Carlos Sainz chasing him all the way to the line. Likewise George Russell’s superb Mercedes Debut in Sakhir, in a race where a rare Mercedes mistake opened the doors for Sergio Perez to take his maiden victory. There was also a very close midfield battle, with 13 different podium finishers and an ever changing battle for third, fourth and fifth and sixth in the constructors championship between Renault, McLaren, Racing Point and Ferrari.
But have you ever wondered what the championship would have looked like with a different points allocation. At pitbox.io we love data and crunching numbers, so we did just that and came up with a few alternate championship results.
As a reminder, the current points system rewards points for the top 10 finishers, heavily weighted towards the podium finishers. A bonus point is awarded for the fastest lap, if the driver who has the fastest lap of the race finishes in the top 10.
A note before we start – Racing Point were docked 15 Constructors points when they were found to be using rear brake ducts not principally designed by them (and rather by Mercedes). We don’t know what the points penalty would have been had the points structure been different, so we have assumed that it is the equivalent of a third place finish in each of the scenarios.
1. Prestigious Points
When the latest points system was introduced for the start of the 2010 season, many fans weren’t happy as they felt it took away the prestige that came with gaining world championship points. It also meant the record books would be turned upside down as so many more points were now available for the winner. What it did do however was incentivise drivers to take more risk for a podium or race win, as the points differential was so great. It also made sure that drivers who won the most races over the season were almost always going to be in championship contention.
What happens if we turn the clock back to 2009, and look at the points structure we had gotten used to for so many years.
In the World Drivers Championship there is very little notable change, with only Stroll and Gasly trading places. It is interesting to note that Valtteri Bottas and Max Verstappen would have only been separated by 3 points for 2nd place, a battle that would have been very close throughout the entire season.
Similarly in the World Constructors Championship there is very little change. While there is no change in the final standings, its notable that Renault were relatively further away from the battle for third, and the bottom three teams all scored zero points. However on countback of results it was still Alfa Romeo, Haas then Williams at the bottom of the table.
It can be argued then that the current and previous points scoring system are very similar, although now it is a little easier to say you are a Formula One points scorer.
2. Throwback to the 50’s
What if we went even further back in time – right back to the first ever world championship in the 1950’s. Points were only awarded to the top five finishers, with a bonus point for the fastest lap being the only similarity to today’s points score.
We will ignore the rule that only the best four races counted towards the championship in 1950, as in 2020 there were another 10 races, and in a normal Formula One Season there are more than three times the amount of races per year than in 1950.
In a points system that heavily favoured finishing near the front of the field on a regular basis, it is no surprise to see Hamilton, Bottas and Verstappen well clear of the rest of the field. Unbelievably the result that breaks the tie between Bottas and Verstappen is Valtteri’s 5th place in Monza compared to Max’s 6th place in Turkey – given they had the same number of wins, seconds and thirds, and neither had a fourth place finish.
There were a few changes in the midfield battle as well, with Charles Leclerc being rewarded for his early season podiums by leapfrogging Sainz and Albon and only being one more good finish away from fourth in the championship. A points structure like this makes the midfield battle that much harder to differentiate, and means that races such as Monza and Sakhir even more critical.
The World Constructors Championship sees very little difference, which is partly a reflection on the number of different drivers and teams we saw on the podium in 2020, balancing out the heavy weighting to top five finishes. It is notable that with Leclerc’s early season performance, Ferrari were closer to the battle for third in the constructors, and Renault were only one more good result away from third place.
3. Consistency is Key
The current points system very much favours the race winner, who receives a whopping eight more points than the driver next to them on the podium. That is the same as the difference between fifth and ninth places! What if the points system was made to reward consistency, instead of race wins. To do this, points could be awarded on a sliding scale of 20 to 1, with all non-finishers receiving zero points.
The upside is likely a closer and more long lasting championship fight, and intense battles right the way through the field. The downside is that drivers may not take as many risks to win a race as in the past.
This points scoring system creates the biggest shake up in finishing order yet, with the most noticeable driver benefitting being Daniel Ricciardo. He only had one retirement compared to Verstappen’s five, and his strong performances with seven top five finishes including two podiums ensured he would have taken third overall in the championship. Alex Albon and Lando Norris also benefited from consistent results and only one retirement each, while Lance Strolls up and down season of five retirements and a missed race resulted in him dropping three spots to the bottom of the midfield drivers, despite two visits to the podium.
Another interesting point of difference about this scoring system is that it paints a better picture of the teammate battle at the tailend of the field. As the season finished, both Kimi Raikkonen and Antonio Giovinazzi scored four points. However when we look at this points table, Raikkonen is rewarded for his consistent finishing ahead of Giovinazzi, with the points gap substantial.. It is a similar situation at Haas, where Kevin Magnussen’s whopping six retirements place him well behind his teammate Romain Grosjean, a pairing that when they both finished often saw Magnussen in front.
There was a shake up in the World Constructors Championship as well, with two notable position changes. Ferrari dropped down to seventh, further enhancing their worst championship result since 1980 where they finished 10th in the Constructors Championship. Alpha Tauri benefitted from two less retirements, and many consistent results in and around the top 10.
Just as significantly, Williams shows that despite having arguably the slowest race car, reliability still counts, and just lifted themselves above Haas due to their far superior finishing record.
Also note how close McLaren were to finishing second in the constructors championship – had things played out slightly differently it would have been very conceivable that McLaren finished second only to Mercedes.
4. British Touring Cars
It is not uncommon to see the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) come down to the final race weekend of the season, or even the final race. This is in part due to their points score rewarding consistency, while still incentivising drivers racing hard to pick up the extra points on offer for a race win.
This could be a good hybrid between rewarding every driver and team on a sliding scale, and offering a lot more points for a win. Due to the nature of pit stops in Formula One, we have not included the point for leading a lap as this can often be dictated by strategy. However it would make for an intriguing prospect in the race as drivers go off strategy to gain an extra point for leading the race, or conversely hold on to the lead for longer to stop their rivals from gaining the extra point.
The most noticeable change compared to the previous consistency based scoring system we looked at is that Max Verstappen comfortably holds on to his third place in the Drivers Championship. Despite his retirements, his 11 podiums including two wins more than makes up for the number of retirements. Ricciardo still takes fourth in the Championship courtesy of Sergio Perez’s late season retirements, and again Alex Albon and Lando Norris’ consistent showings benefit them. Lance Stroll isn’t so affected by his retirements, again thanks to his two podium finishes, and Raikkonen still outshines Giovinazzi at the tail of the field.
Significantly Renault overtake Racing Point in the constructors championship, with Ocon’s podium in Sakhir on a double retirement day for Racing Point swinging the Constructors Championship battle even further than it did in reality. Williams were agonisingly close to finishing in front of Haas, a battle made more intriguing by the top 15 receiving points, meaning there often would have been a battle between the Alfa’s, Haas’ and Williams’ to steal the final, and still valuable, World Championship Points.
It is interesting to see just how much effect the points score has on both the final season standings, but also how it can potentially tighten the championship up and mean every race is that much more critical. It would be interesting to see how a vastly different points score, something similar to what is used in the BTCC, would play out across the season. Race strategies would be different, and given the close nature of the Constructors Championship teams would likely develop their cars for longer into the season, making the trade off between current and future seasons development even more critical.
What points score would you like to see in Formula One?