How many points for seventh place, again?

Maybe this should have been part of one of the introductory posts, but today we’re going to learn about the Formula One points scoring system. It’s not as simple as it was a few years ago, but it is definitely simpler than some of the systems used during the early years of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships.

The 1990s were the golden age for Formula One scoring systems: every race counted, a race victory was well-valued, and only the top six drivers each race scored points (i.e. you actually had to have a good race – not just an OK one – to collect points).

That system, used from 1991-2002, was as follows:

Position

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th-last

Points

10

6

4

3

2

1

0

Then, in 2003, everything changed. In response to Michael Schumacher and Ferrari’s dominant 2002 season, the point-scoring positions were extended down to eighth place. Not only that, a win was also devalued.

Under the previous system (from 1991-2002), a win was worth 38.5% of the total available points in each race (10/26) and the 10 points for a win were equal to what the second and third place drivers received, combined. With the 2003 system, a win was only worth 25.6% of the total points (10/39) and having two cars finish second and third was much more valuable than having just the winning car (14 points vs. 10).

That system lasted only seven seasons before it was replaced with the current one. In 2010, again, the number of point-scoring positions was expanded to include the entire top-10. Indeed, with only 22 cars on the grid and an average of three retirements per race so far in the 2013 season, more than half of the finishers in any given race can expect to score points.

The current points scoring system is as follows:

Position

1st

2nd

3rd

4th

5th

6th

7th

8th

9th

10th

11th-last

Points

25

18

15

12

10

8

6

4

2

1

0

Therefore, a race victory has once again been devalued, slightly, relative to the total number of points (now just 24.8% of the total – 25/101).

You might think that the reason points are now awarded down to 10th place is because there are more cars on the grid than in the past, but, in fact, the opposite is true. From 1950 to 1959, only the top five drivers scored points (plus one point for whoever had the fastest lap) and from 1960 to 2002, the top six drivers scored (no points for fastest lap). Taking a couple of years at random (I promise…I just clicked on two random seasons from this page) as an example, we will see that more cars cannot be the reason for adding more point-scoring positions.

In 1972, there were 28 drivers who started at least five races (at that time, many drivers would only enter a few races each season) and in 1962, there were 18 (although there were only nine races total in the championship that season – another nine drivers started at least three races).  Again, there are only 22 drivers on the grid in 2013.  In other words, there are many more points available to fewer drivers under the current system.

So why do the number of point-scoring positions keep increasing (along with the number of points available)? Well, a few reasons:

  • Fans like to see their teams score points. More point-scoring positions means more fans still interested later into each race, as more teams are still fighting for points (and later in each season, as it is less likely one driver will run away with the championship mid-way through the year).
  • Sponsors like to see their teams score, as well – although for different reasons. It’s much easier for a team to sell themselves to a sponsor if they can say, “We scored 12 points last season” (which isn’t very much, anymore), instead of, “We finished 16th in one race last season.”
  • There is a trend in most sports to continually expand the number of teams rewarded for their efforts – e.g. the FIFA World Cup and European Football Championships have expanded over time, as well as the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament in the United States. These moves are often met with opposition at the beginning but, in the end, everyone is happy when their team is rewarded.

But there are downsides. We’ve already looked at the devaluation of grand prix victories. At the end of a driver’s career, even if he only won one race (recently: Jean Alesi and Olivier Panis), he is remembered as a grand prix winner. No one cares how many podium or point-scoring finishes he had. Now, though, those victories are not worth quite as much in terms of the Drivers’ and Constructors’ championships.

Also, especially if you were a fan of a mid-field or back-of-the-pack team, it used to be a very special occasion when your team scored a point or two (e.g. Mark Webber, in his first grand prix, at home, for Minardi in 2002). Now, unless you are cheering for Caterham or Marussia (or Sauber, so far this season), that thrill is gone.

Finally, the new points system makes it impossible to compare drivers from different eras. With so many more points available at each grand prix and a many more races on the calendar each season, any comparison between today’s drivers and those from the first five decades of F1, at least based on their point totals, is impossible.

For example, nine of the top 10 drivers on the all-time points list have raced at least one season under the current points system, but only three of the top 10 on the all-time wins list have done so.  That tells us that a lot of drivers with a lot of grand prix victories have tumbled down the career points standings lately, falling behind guys with fewer wins but lots of points from seventh-place finishes.

One further note: Before 1980, only a certain number of a driver’s results could count towards his total for the season, and this was often split between the first and the second half (e.g. in 1967 you could count your five best results from the first six races and your four best results from the last five). This system made things very complicated and is irrelevant to the way the Championships are scored today. It would just confuse everybody (us included) to have a further discussion now.

But hey, at least F1’s scoring system isn’t as messed-up as NASCAR’s!

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3 comments

  1. […] is dominating in the championship. Under the current scoring system, with the value of a victory so diluted, winning does not matter as much as finishing […]

  2. […] is dominating in the championship. Under the current scoring system, with the value of a victory so diluted, winning does not matter as much as finishing […]

  3. […] is dominating in the championship. Under the current scoring system, with the value of a victory so diluted, winning does not matter as much as finishing […]

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