Thursday 26 April 2018

Championship decided by double points would hurt F1

New rule has potential to leave the sport a laughing stock

The Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff joked that one of his drivers will be in need of 'psychological treatment' should double points play a decisive role in the F1 Championship. Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images
The Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff joked that one of his drivers will be in need of 'psychological treatment' should double points play a decisive role in the F1 Championship. Mathias Kniepeiss/Getty Images

Daniel Johnson

Way back in January, in the midst of the first pre-season test in Jerez, southern Spain, Lewis Hamilton was asked for his view on the campaign's climax in Abu Dhabi being worth double points.

"I haven't really given it too much thought to be honest," he said.

Showing his propensity to be remarkably apathetic on subjects as controversial as this, Hamilton did not seem to register what all the fuss was about. Nico Rosberg was markedly more strident. Turning to Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team boss, he apologised for disagreeing with his paymaster before condemning the sport's bigwigs for their latest brainwave. Wolff, in his typically lurid English, admitted no one had been expecting the "s***storm" from loyal followers of the sport.

The irony is that Rosberg may be the chief beneficiary of the 50 points on offer in Marina Bay on November 23, when a fascinating championship duel reaches its conclusion. As that date approaches, and with two races before then - in the US next Sunday and Brazil the following week - Hamilton has shaken off his disinterest, although refusing to let negative thoughts get the better of him.

"Whatever will be, will be," he said in Sochi earlier this month. It is difficult to imagine the 29-year-old remaining so calm if he loses a second title he richly deserves.

It would forever be the championship with an asterisk against it and the chorus of condemnation from fellow drivers, fans and pundits would reach deafening levels. The man whose idea it was in the first place, Bernie Ecclestone, would also be roundly criticised for having so blatantly interfered in the normal rules of sporting engagement, although it is unlikely that he will care. Indeed, Formula One's impresario would be broadly satisfied. This is what he wanted after all: a race with almost unparalleled attention and controversy surrounding it.

Let us consider the argument for the defence of double points. In normal circumstances, it is difficult to see this tussle between the Mercedes pair going to the wire. With three races remaining, Hamilton is 17 points clear and firmly in the ascendancy. Wins in Austin and Sao Paulo, F1's final back-to-back races of the season, would give him an unassailable advantage.

Abu Dhabi would be given the non-finale its stultifying racetrack merits.

Wolff struck to the heart of the matter for the rationale behind double points.

"I would be very surprised if the audiences weren't larger than they would normally be," the Austrian said. More worryingly, he joked that one of his drivers will be in need of "psychological treatment" should double points play a decisive role.

Ecclestone will have no problem forking out for the shrink's bill if it delivers the drama he wants. In some senses, the raison d'etre for double points is playing out perfectly. For a while it appeared to keep Daniel Ricciardo in the hunt, even though he is driving a Red Bull miles off the Mercedes pace. Rosberg, who has looked like a man psychologically under the cosh since the fallout from his crash with Hamilton in Belgium, is likely to remain within striking distance at the final race.

Television figures may spike, making the organisers in Abu Dhabi a happy bunch, but any gain from the controversy will be short-lived. Say, for example, Hamilton comes into the race leading Rosberg by 40 points but is run off the track by a driver from the back of the grid. Rosberg could then breeze through to take the win, and the title, leaving Hamilton empty-handed. The sport would be rendered a laughing stock.

The effects will not just be felt at the front of the grid. Marussia's well-earned ninth place in the constructors' championship could be blown away if Sauber make it into the points for the first time all year and see their efforts doubled. A resurgent Williams, who have had the better of Ferrari all season, could lose a deserved third spot. For these more modestly-financed teams, it is not about the glory of titles but the loss of millions of vital pounds.

This may not resonate so widely with the public. However, any distortion of the championship fight will have a lasting effect. If Hamilton sees a second championship slip through his fingers, he will be far more exercised than he was before this season began.


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