List of the week – Gold, silver and bronze

November 20, 2008

The 2008 World Championship was the first time in nearly twenty years that the driver who won the most races during the season did not also win the World Title. This was a common occurrence in the early part of the 1980s, but that was a very different age. Formula 1 noughties-style is a monolithic media animal, constantly striving to reach new markets. As such, Bernie Ecclestone is championing a major change to the way World Championships are decided from 2009. Taking its cue from the Olympics, the top three drivers will be awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals on the podium instead of trophies and points. Come the end of the year, the driver with the most gold medals will be the World Champion.

I have taken this system and applied it to every season in the World Championship’s history to see what effects it has. In each case, the champion is the one who had accumulated the most gold medals. In the event of a tie, the decider will be number of silver, then number of bronze medals. In the event of it still being a tie, best ‘other’ finish decides the winner. Champions listed in bold type are changes from the historical record.

1950 Guiseppe Farina (I) Alfa Romeo
1951 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Alfa Romeo
1952 Alberto Ascari (I) Ferrari
1953 Alberto Ascari (I) Ferrari
1954 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Maserati/Mercedes-Benz
1955 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Mercedes-Benz
1956 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Lancia-Ferrari
1957 Juan Manuel Fangio (RA) Maserati
1958 Stirling Moss (GB) Vanwall
1959 Jack Brabham (AUS) Cooper Climax
1960 Jack Brabham (AUS) Cooper Climax
1961 Phil Hill (USA) Ferrari
1962 Graham Hill (GB) BRM
1963 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1964 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1965 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus Climax
1966 Jack Brabham (AUS) Brabham Repco
1967 Jim Clark (GB) Lotus BRM/Lotus Climax/Lotus Ford
1968 Graham Hill (GB) Lotus Ford
1969 Jackie Stewart (GB) Matra Ford
1970 Jochen Rindt (A) Lotus Ford
1971 Jackie Stewart (GB) Tyrrell Ford
1972 Emerson Fittipaldi (BR) Lotus Ford
1973 Jackie Steward (GB) Tyrrell Ford
1974 Emerson Fittipaldi (BR) McLaren Ford
1975 Niki Lauda (A) Ferrari
1976 James Hunt (GB) McLaren Ford
1977 Mario Andretti (USA) Lotus Ford
1978 Mario Andretti (USA) Lotus Ford
1979 Alan Jones (AUS) Williams Ford
1980 Alan Jones (AUS) Williams Ford
1981 Alain Prost (F) Renault
1982 Didier Pironi (F) Ferrari
1983 Alain Prost (F) Renault
1984 Alain Prost (F) McLaren TAG-Porsche

1985 Alain Prost (F) McLaren TAG-Porsche
1986 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Honda
1987 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Honda

1988 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1989 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1990 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren Honda
1991 Ayrton Senna (BR) McLaren MP4/6 Honda
1992 Nigel Mansell (GB) Williams Renault
1993 Alain Prost (F) Williams Renault
1994 Michael Schumacher (D) Benetton Ford
1995 Michael Schumacher (D) Benetton Renault
1996 Damon Hill (GB) Williams Renault
1997 Jacques Villeneuve (CDN) Williams Renault
1998 Mika Häkkinen (SF) McLaren Mercedes
1999 Mika Häkkinen (SF) McLaren Mercedes
2000 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2001 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2002 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2003 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2004 Michael Schumacher (D) Ferrari
2005 Fernando Alonso (E) Renault
2006 Fernando Alonso (E) Renault
2007 Kimi Räikkönen (SF) Ferrari
2008 Felipe Massa (BR) Ferrari

Under this system, Alain Prost would have been a 5-time World Champion to equal Juan-Manuel Fangio, whilst Nigel Mansell would have won 3. Both Jim Clark and Ayrton Senna win four, Senna taking consecutive titles in the late-1980s and early-1990s. Meanwhile, one-time winners Mario Andretti and Alan Jones both double up in the late 1970s. But the real winners are Stirling Moss, Didier Pironi and Felipe Massa, each man scoring a world crown which in actuality eluded them (or has so far eluded them). This in turn would mean no titles for Mike Hawthorn (1958), John Surtees (1964), Denny Hulme (1967 – also removing New Zealand’s sole world title), Jody Scheckter (1979), Keke Rosberg (1982) or the reigning World Champion, Lewis Hamilton. Most severe of the all, however, would be Nelson Piquet, the 3-time World Champion losing all of his titles (1981, 1983 and 1987). Ironically enough, the first two of these were secured driving for the Brabham team owned by… Bernie Ecclestone. Another of Ecclestone’s former drivers, Niki Lauda, fares little better. Under the Gold-Silver-Bronze framework, Lauda – an all-time great of the sport – retains just one of his three world titles.

You don’t have to be Piquet, Lauda or Lewis Hamilton to argue that the Gold-Silver-Bronze system also has its shortcomings. From a contemporary point of view, it is widely accepted that Lewis Hamilton deserved his world crown on the balance of his stellar entry into Formula 1. Indeed, it is difficult to argue a case for any of the drivers who lose out being a particularly fair reflection on the sport’s history. And that is what the scoring system should be all about. Under the Gold-Silver-Bronze system, it is clear that there are some major oversights. Not only would Nelson Piquet lose his place in the record books –ridiculous considering that Piquet was one of the sport’s superstar drivers for an entire decade and won 23 Grand Prix races – but Alain Prost’s fierce battle with Ayrton Senna throughout the late-1980s would see the Frenchman emerge completely under-represented. Under the proposed system, Prost would have won one more title than he actually did, but he wouldn’t have deserved any of them nearly as much as the ones he grappled his way to in 1986 and 1989, against the most ferocious competition. And whilst it would be a hard man to say that Didier Pironi or Stirling Moss would not deserve their crowns, on balance there are now more drivers who have undeservedly missed out than there were before. This is not a particularly acceptable state of affairs.

This is all moot, of course. It is disingenuous to retroactively apply a new set of rules and then claim they would not work in the future. Had each of these seasons been raced under the Gold-Silver-Bronze paradigm, they would have ended differently than the above list – different choices made, different strategies employed, different motivations and calculations. If 2009 is to see this radical overhaul, it will be the first real test of the framework. Whether or not it will produce a true enough reflection of the season, and whether or not it will actually intensify and improve the racing, we can only wait and see. But in a choice between taking the risk or sticking to the old system – itself so fraught with potential problems that I earnestly believe that, in time, a driver could win the title without winning a single Grand Prix during the season – shaking things up is by far the more desirable option.

However, Formula 1 is rather different to an Olympic event. The 100 metres sprint final has only 3 medalists, but the five other finalists who leave empty handed aren’t designed and built from scratch, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Furthermore, the Formula 1 World Championship is not a one-off race, but a series of events. It would, I believe, be unfair for the final table to see a driver who lucked into a third place finish just once finish ahead of a rival who had finished in fourth position seventeen times out of seventeen. The solution to this problem that I came up with is a supplementary points system – 3 points for 4th place, 2 for 5th and one for 6th, plus another 1 for pole position and one for fastest race lap. Points could then be exchanged for medals – a bronze for every 5, say, and a silver for every 10. Points would, however, never trump medals, and in the case of a tie, medals won for podium finishes would always prevail over bought medals. This is a neat and elegant solution to the problem of just three awards at the end of a multi-million pound twenty car race. And as such, expect it to be completely ignored.

For more Formula 1-inspired autism, remember to check the List of the week tab regularly.

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4 Responses to “List of the week – Gold, silver and bronze”

  1. Surprisingly, this makes sense.

  2. poots said

    What effect would this have on the teams outside the top two or three, and drivers in less competitive cars. Are there to be only three “points” paying positions?

    From an internal political position inside the credit crunched car companies F1 is an expensive thing to be involved in, unless the F1 divisions can show some kind of points haul to persuade their paymasters they’re making progress, a number of teams will likely pull out of the sport.

  3. ed said

    This is a good point, Poots. I believe Ferrari, even, are more in favour of a return to the old 10-6-4-3-2-1 points system, which is a pretty solid indication of how the teams who aren’t likely to ever reach the podium must be feeling.

  4. […] The reaction to this, a rather half-hearted application of Bernie Ecclestone’s Olympic-style medal system proposed last autumn, has been decidedly mixed.  Thirteen times in the 59-history of the […]

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