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Steve Slater on F1: New double-points system-entertainment or embarrassment?

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Contrary to popular belief Bernie Ecclestone does not make the rules which govern Formula One. Ecclestone heads Formula One Management (FoM) which governs the lucrative finances of the race franchises, advertising and TV rights, while rules are set by motor sport’s global ruling body, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), both in the form of “sporting regulations” which govern the way that the races are run and “technical regulations” which govern the design and development of the cars.

Newly re-elected for his second term as the president of the FIA, Jean Todt has wasted little time on stamping his authority on Formula One. In addition to the new V6 turbo ‘eco-friendly’ engine design previously advocated by Todt, a raft of new rule changes will now be introduced for next season.

The new regulations, announced in Paris on Monday, were devised by the FIA’s F1 Strategy Group, formed by the FIA President to focus on Formula One. The Group is made up of team representatives, FoM and the FIA, but the final line of the official announcement makes clear that this is a personal
power-play. “These changes are immediately applicable, given the mandate assigned to the FIA President”. Jean Todt is reminding the world that he is the boss.

The headline-grabber has been the announcement that the final race of the 2014 Championship in Abu Dhabi will be accorded double world championship points. It is clear that, frustrated by Red Bull’s domination and worried by falling TV audiences, this is a bid to give added unpredictability to the late-season title chase.

It has led to howls of derision from many in the sport, who see this as the next step, after KERS and DRS wing ‘push-to-pass’ buttons, in devaluing the sport still further. It is not even guaranteed to add an entertainment factor.

Awarding 48 points for victory would not have made any difference to Sebastian Vettel, nor anyone else this year. Vettel would still have clinched his title in India, four races before the end of the season.

Nor would it necessarily have spiced up recent seasons either. In fact the opposite might even be true. True, had the new rule been in place in 2012, it would have meant that Fernando Alonso’s victory in Brazil in the final race of the season would have given the Spaniard, rather than Vettel, that year’s title.

It was Vettel though, who provided the excitement in that race. After spinning on the opening lap, he threw caution to the winds and charged back through the field to finish sixth and claim the title by three points. Had Alonso been cruising with an unassailable points lead, one doubts that Vettel’s charge might even have been noticed.

In 2011 and 2010, it would have made no difference, as Vettel would have claimed his first two titles anyway. Nor would it have changed things in 2009, when Jenson Button’s domination with the “double diffuser” Brawn car, gave him the title with races to spare.

Worse still, had the ‘double points’ rule been in place in 2008, it might even have robbed us of the most dramatic title finale ever.

That was when Lewis Hamilton, after an early race delay, fought back to take fifth place, snatching the title from race winner Felipe Massa by a single point, on the last corner of the last lap of the season. Had the new rule been in place, Massa would merely have coasted home with a five-point
advantage.

In short, the rule has little to do with sport. It could even mean that a driver who has legitimately led for most of the season could be robbed of the title by an engine failure or by being forced off the track by a blind back-marker. It will be interesting to see as the 2014 season runs its course, whether this rather daft idea will lead to entertainment for us, or embarrassment for the FIA.

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