Open Wheelin’ Blog: Changing History? How Double Points Would Have Altered Past F1 World Titles

Joel Sebastianelli Featured, Formula One, International, Joel Sebastianelli Blog, Sprints & Midgets, Staff Columns 0 Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Blog by Race Chaser Online Open Wheel Correspondent Joel Sebastianelli — Mark Thompson/Getty Images South America photo —

With ten victories and five additional podiums through 18 races, it seems clear that Lewis Hamilton deserves to win the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship.

However, with just 17 points separating Hamilton from Mercedes AMG Petronas teammate Nico Rosberg heading into the double points season finale in Abu Dhabi, it is quite unclear who will actually emerge as champion.

Rosberg’s resume is certainly worthy of respect. Winning five Grands Prix and finishing as the runner up in ten others, the son of 1982 champion Keke Rosberg has consistently run up front all season long. Yet, when you consider that the man Rosberg finished second to eight times is the current points leader and his own teammate, it’s tough to argue that he has been the better man of the dominant duo.

The gap of 17 points would still give Rosberg a chance to win the championship even without double points, but the new gimmick will make much easier for him to make up ground on Hamilton. If Rosberg wins next Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Hamilton must finish second to protect the title, whereas finishing sixth or higher would be enough under normal rules. While a shakeup in the standings would undoubtedly be dramatic, it could also be considered undeserved, and the 2014 season could be remembered in infamy if Hamilton is robbed of the championship.

As Martin Brundle said prior to this season, the contrived double points concept is “an answer to a question nobody was asking.” Although the idea is met with disdain now, that’s only because we’ve been conditioned to tradition in Formula One—anything that disrupts the sport’s status quo is generally met with negativity anyway (see: engines, sporting regulations, track modifications, schedule changes, etc.). Had double points in the final race been a longstanding rule, we wouldn’t be questioning its legitimacy.

If drivers were awarded double points in the finale dating back to the inaugural world championship season in 1950, how would the Formula One landscape differ from the present?

Since teams are given more leeway for instituting innovative ideas and the monetary divide between the top and the bottom is wider than any other racing league, it is not uncommon for a champion to assert himself over his competitors enough that the world championship would be disrupted less than you might guess. Only ten seasons would have been significantly altered by this modification to points, but those ten would still dramatically change not only the names in the record books, but also the way we perceive the legacies of multiple drivers.

In reverse chronological order, let’s take a look at how things would have shaken out with double points in those ten seasons where the championship was affected.

2012: Fernando Alonso takes third title from Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel entered the Brazilian Grand Prix with a 13 point lead over Fernando Alonso. Seeking a third consecutive F1 championship, Vettel qualified fourth and Alonso sat eighth on the grid, but an opening lap spin send Vettel all the way to the back. The German climbed through the field and finished sixth, doing just enough to earn the nod by three points in the final standings. However, with double points dished out, Alonso’s second place podium finish would have vaulted him ahead of Vettel by seven points for the championship.

Imagine the implications this result could have had. Reportedly signing with McLaren Honda for 2015, Alonso’s 2014 season has been frustrating. The Ferrari F14 T has struggled throughout the year and Alonso is eying one more title before he retires. Could winning the title in 2012 with Ferrari have changed the direction of both the driver and the constructor in the years that followed? Would Sebastian Vettel still sign with Ferrari for 2015? Of all the affected title seasons, this may be the most interesting to think about.

2008: Felipe Massa hangs on over Lewis Hamilton

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa won his home Grand Prix and appeared to have won the title as he crossed the finish line at Interlagos.  Rain began to intensify with under ten laps, setting the stage for one of the most thrilling finishes in F1 history. Timo Glock stayed on dry tires, and with little grip in pouring rain, Glock slowed in the final corners on the final lap, enabling Hamilton to move into fifth position, good enough to win the title by one point. If double points were awarded with a Massa, Hamilton would only have been able to win the title if he finished second. In this scenario, a points system designed to create drama would actually have robbed us of unthinkable excitement on the final lap.

2003: Kimi Raikkonen snaps Michael Schumacher’s streak

In 2003, the point scoring format was ten points for a victory, trickling down to a single point for eighth. After a victory at the penultimate round of the championship at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Schumacher led the championship by nine points heading into the final round of the season, the Japanese Grand Prix.

Kimi Raikkonen needed a victory and was within striking distance of Rubens Barrichello, but Schumacher’s Ferrari teammate held on by 11 seconds to take the victory and secure another championship for the German, who finished as the last car in the points in eighth.

Tallied with double points, the emphasis on finishing high up in the final race would have been enough for Raikkonen to take his first world championship with McLaren four years before he would eventually win for real in 2007 with Ferrari.

1988: Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost tie, but Senna still wins

Perhaps this should be considered an honorable mention. Senna won the title by 3 points over Prost, despite the fact that Prost was more consistent and actually scored more than Senna over the course of the entire year. However, the format for the championship chase dropped the three lowest results for each driver, rewarding Senna for the most amount of wins in the season.

Prost won the Australian Grand Prix and Senna finished second, giving the title to Senna by three points. With double points, the two would tie on their final point total, but Senna’s eight wins to Prost’s seven would have been the tiebreaker and Senna would have won anyway.

1984: Alain Prost wins Portugal and takes the championship from Niki Lauda

Alain Prost and Niki Lauda engaged in a back and forth battle all season, clearly the class of the competition throughout 1984 in the McLaren MP4/2. Heading into the Portuguese Grand Prix Lauda held a 3.5 point lead in the championship. Although Prost did all he could by crossing the line first at Estoril, he finish 0.5 points shy of Lauda in the season standings and the Austrian legend claimed his third and final world championship.

Double points would have gifted the title to Prost, theoretically bringing his career total to five.

1981: Alan Jones wins wild Caesars Palace Grand Prix, steals title from Nelson Piquet

Entering the finale in Las Vegas, three drivers were mathematically eligible for the title. Carlos Reutemann carried 49 points into the event, winning two races in his Williams. He was trailed by Nelson Piquet, who had three victories with Brabham but trailed Reutemann’s lead by a single digit. Fresh off a win in Canada, Jacques Laffite was alive in his Ligier, but only had 43 points and was not a factor in the Grand Prix.

The Caesars Palace street circuit was more of a parking lot circuit and ran in a counter-clockwise direction, unlike the majority of tracks on the F1 calendar. Combined with the heat of the desert, the race was one not only about machine endurance, but also about physical endurance. Piquet became sick during practice and on race day, his head visibly rolled around in the cockpit on the verge of complete physical exhaustion. Still, as Reutemann suffered without fourth gear, Piquet was able to hold onto fifth position and secure the championship by one point over the Argentinian and by 4 points over race winner Alan Jones.

Factoring in double points, Alan Jones’ race victory would have vaulted him ahead of Piquet and company for the World Championship, which would have been his second title winning season in a row. For Piquet, the 1981 campaign was his first of three eventual world titles.

1979: Gilles Villeneuve jumps Jody Scheckter at Watkins Glen

Points in 1979 were decided in a rather odd format. Only the four best results in the first half of the season and the four best in the second half would be counted toward the title. Double points would make this even more complicated, but it would have been enough for Canada’s Gilles Villeneuve to earn what would have been the only championship of his fatally short career.

South Africa’s Scheckter left the Canadian Grand Prix one week prior with a seven point lead in the championship, a margin that shrunk slightly thanks to Villeneuve’s second place finish at his home Grand Prix.

In wet conditions, Villeneuve stole the show all weekend long with brilliant displays of driving in inclement weather. The Canadian coasted home to a 48.787 second victory, while Scheckter retired after 48 laps. However, the race did not count towards Scheckter’s total in the second half of the year and Villeneuve’s win only replaced a second place finish. Scheckter won the title with 51 points over Villeneueve’s 47, but Villeneuve could have jumped his Ferrari teammate with double points.

1970: Jacky Ickx celebrates somber Grand Prix and Championship victory in Mexico

The 1970 F1 season functions as a common trivia answer in modern times, but back then, the season was a biting reminder of the occasional cruelty of motorsports.

Jochen Rindt had a large lead in the championship heading into the Italian Grand Prix, but was killed in qualifying for the event at the 28. Although his death cut his season short by four races, he still won the title by five points. Rindt holds the distinction of being the only posthumous champion in Formula One history, a record that will hopefully never be matched.

By winning the season finale at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, Ickx would have been declared champion with double points.

As it stands, Rindt’s 1970 championship with Lotus was the only one in his career. Ickx never won a title, but did pick up eight Grand Prix victories and 25 podiums in 12 seasons on the grid in F1.

1956/1958: Sir Stirling Moss strikes twice

The legendary Stirling Moss is often regarded as the greatest driver never to win a championship. With double points altering things retroactively, Moss would have triumphed not once, but twice.

In 1956, Moss finished three points shy of Juan Manuel Fangio, who won his third championship in a row and fourth of five in his illustrious career. After retiring his own car at the Italian Grand Prix, Fangio famously took over the car of teammate Peter Collins to finish second, take half of the points at the position, and secure the title for himself.

Finishing first that day in his own car by a narrow margin of 5.7 seconds was Moss, who would have been given the edge on double points.

In 1958, a victory in the final round of the season wasn’t enough to take the championship from Mike Hawthorne, who won the title by a single point with a second place finish behind Moss at Moroccan Grand Prix. Double points would have rewarded the man on the top step of the podium again, giving him what could have been his second championship.

Instead, Stirling Moss holds no titles and may indeed be the best that never broke through.

2014?

Next weekend’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will decide the World Championship between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. If Rosberg manages to pull off the upset, fans may forever wonder what could have (or should have) been for Lewis Hamilton.

Thankfully for the champions of seasons past, their validity will never be questioned.

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