This weekend should be an interesting one in sporting terms: the Six Nations Rugby Union competition reaches its finale with a match between Wales and Ireland which will determine who wins – and whether Wales (playing on home turf) can prevent Ireland from taking the Grand Slam.
And Formula One coverage returns to the BBC after its sojourn on commercial broadcast [Oops. Small correction: this doesn’t happen until the 29th]. As usual, there is no shortage of controversy as the new F1 season kicks off, much of it prompted by the announcement that this year’s winner will be chosen on the number of races won, not on the current points system. Only if two drivers finish with the same number of race wins will points be used to decide between them.
I can see a number of problems with this approach – not the least of which is that Formula One is not, and has not been for decades, a sport where individual skill and endeavour is the main factor in whether someone becomes champion or not. It is a team sport… and in several senses –
- the driver is only at the wheel by the grace of the army of designers, engineers, test drivers and support crew without whom they would be able to do nothing;
- while blatant moves to ‘arrange’ the points tally have ostensibly been banned (cf. Ferrari – Austria 2002, China 2008), there’s no doubt, for instance, that a driver’s team-mate can often play a vital role in keeping a chasing rival penned in for as long as possible.
That being the case, the biggest issue with the proposed change is simply this: it opens up the possibility that half a dozen different drivers might win some races during a season (but fail to maintain a consistently high performance level) , while one driver consistently comes second. Under the current points system, the consistency of that driver and team’s efforts would stand a chance of being recognised, while the intermittent success of the others, rightly, would not.
The other problem, of course, is one of a number of points made in Andrew Benson’s excellent blog post here: since 1991, the only season in which the new system would have changed the championship outcome was last year’s down-to-the-wire nail-biter. On that basis, why bother?
Well, who can say what ultimately motivates the decisions of F1’s ultimate bosses, Bernie Ecclestone and Max Mosley? Much of what they do seems mostly to be a driven by a desire to ensure that the F1 franchise is so complex that it can never be disentangled and made in any way transparent. As I’ve said in previous F1 rants, I think it’s a terrible shame. The commitment, bravery and skill of the drivers – and the innovation and dedication of their supporting teams – provide all the ingredients needed for a genuinely thrilling contest, if only some of the other stakeholders were less Machiavellian.
Will I be watching this year? Perhaps occasionally, but in general, no. I’ve given up F1 for Lent, and will be reclaiming my Sunday afternoons for something more constructive, like mowing the lawn.