Do The FIA Really Not Know Their Own Rule Book?

Do The FIA Really Not Know Their Own Rule Book?

With a change in the technical regulations for the 2009 Formula One championship, it was mooted back in 2008 that the system used to decide on the world champion could also see a shakeup. Bernie Ecclestone made it known he wasn’t entirely happy with the current points-accrued way and suggested his own idea. Since then FOTA presented an idea to the FIA, which was promptly rejected at the WMSC meeting last week in favour of their own. And now it’s all-change again…

Since the sport’s inception in 1950, the points drivers earn at the official races during the season have counted towards a grand total, from which the world champion is decided after the final race of the year. It is a system that has worked for 59 years and although the details have changed over the half-century-plus of using it, the idea always remained. The most recent of changes came in 2003, when the 10-6-4-3-2-1 grades were altered to supposedly reflect the dominance of Michael Schumacher and the Ferrari team. In order to close up the championships, the points order was adjusted to the familiar 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1.

This system has worked well in the sense that the title races are much closer, and many of the championships have gone down the very last race of the season. In 2008, the driver’s title went down to the penultimate corner of the last lap of the last race; you can’t really get much closer than that. The sensation of the 2007 and 2008 championships have undoubtedly attracted many new fans and in terms of viewers, the sport has grown.

However, with the narrowing of the margin between first place and second, some felt that the idea of victory was diminished. Previous to 2003, ten points were netted by the race winner, while six were awarded to the driver who finished second. The difference being four. Post-2003 though, the difference was reduced to just two. Also, by adjusting the points order the top-eight finishers were now awarded points, allowing some of the lesser-budgeted squads a chance at scoring.

The 2005 campaign was the year that Michael Schumacher’s dominance came to an end. Through a lapse in reliability of the Ferrari car and a rise in performance from the Renault, Fernando Alonso was able to break the stranglehold and claim his first world championship. The season saw plenty of drama and overtaking, but it was Alonso’s maturity, at such a young age, that drew some criticism from the sport’s employees and fans alike.

Fernando Alonso appeared to be settling for second place on some occasions, apparently not risking an overtaking move and deciding that eight points were good enough to maintain a healthy lead over Schumacher in the championship. By going for a pass, Alonso could easily have been drawn into an accident and lose it all. My own opinion is that while Alonso did manage his championship well, keeping his head when all about him others were losing there’s, the Spaniard did also prove his abilities at racing, overtaking and deservedly so, becoming world champion.

After the 2008 season closed last November, Bernie Ecclestone decided to voice his idea, perhaps inspired after his visit to the Beijing Olympic Games in the summer. Ecclestone proposed that the driver with the most wins should be awarded the championship. Bernie suggested that the top-three should not receive points towards their championship, but instead they should receive medals; bronze, silver and gold. The driver who finishes the year with the most gold medals would be crowned world champion.

Upon initial reaction to the idea, it sounds okay. The driver who wins the most is obviously the fastest of all throughout the course of the season, so why shouldn’t he be awarded the title? Felipe Massa won six races last year, whereas Lewis Hamilton managed just five victories. Yet it was the Briton who walked away from Brazil with one extra point in the championship race, and the knowledge that he would be given the Number 1 for his McLaren for this year.

However, Bernie’s idea drew much criticism, no less from myself and readers of BlogF1. Ecclestone’s idea proved more complicated than initially thought, especially given that it was proposed that the constructor’s title would remain on the traditional points system. Having two ways of deciding the championships was overly complicated and completely unnecessary. Remembering back to my early days of following the sport, when all was relatively simple, I still found it complicated enough. Especially given that I was a young pre-teen child at the time – the market that Formula One is trying to appeal to.

Ecclestone presented his idea to the FIA and after discussion, it was decided that market research was needed to assess the idea and to get feedback from the fans. This market research was supposedly carried out, and Bernie even put a poll on the official Formula One website, which incidentally is controlled by his company. FOTA also discussed the idea of changing the points system and recently proposed that instead of making a radical change to the process, the points awarded should be adjusted slightly. FOTA suggested a change to 12-9-7-5-4-3-2-1. This would increase the margin between first place and second from two to three points, and still keep the top-eight finishers as scorers.

Little more said about the suggestion of changing the points system until last Tuesday when the WMSC met in Paris to discuss various proposals for this and next year’s world championship. In a statement issued after the meeting, it was announced that the system was changing. But instead of a simple realignment of the difference between the points, Bernie’s idea would be incorporated into the mash-up of points and wins.

The WMSC decided that the driver with the most victories at the end of the year would be awarded with the world championship. However, the drivers would still accrue points based on the current system 10-8-6… in case two or more drivers tied for the top position. All other positions in the championship would be decided by the points accrued. Not only does this make the whole process even more complicated, but it showed little respect to the fans, who, it is my opinion, generally felt that the points system was okay.

Cue backlash.

For sure it’s an incentive to always go for the win, but it seems risky too – after nine races, we could find ourselves with a driver that has already won the title and can stand still eating ice cream, while the guy in second in the standings is just 18 points behind. Jenson Button.

I don’t understand the need to change the rules of the sport constantly. I think this kind of decisions can only confuse the fans. Formula 1 has existed for over 50 years thanks to the teams, the sponsors, the drivers and, above all, the fans from all over the world, and none of them have been able to express their views in front of the FIA. Fernando Alonso.

Robert Kubica would have been nowhere near the championship last year, and do you want that? Robert drove awesome last year and he would have been nowhere near the title hunt with these regulations. You could have the world champion making more mistakes than the guy who is second. Mark Webber.

I cannot imagine those changes to help F1, especially regarding the new system to find the champion. I cannot see how it makes sense to eventually have a world champion who has less points than the driver coming in second, even if I also think it is a good move to try to strengthen the winner’s position. Michael Schumacher.

I think it’s a shame what’s happening to Formula 1. It’s hard to believe that these recent decisions will improve things for the trackside spectators and TV viewers, who should always be our number-one priority, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Whatever the points system, I know that all Formula 1 drivers will always race our hearts out.

For the first time in recent years we have the teams, drivers, sponsors and fans all working together for the good of our sport – now we just need the governing bodies to listen to us and help us. Lewis Hamilton.

I really think it’s absurd, severe and dangerous that one week before the first grand prix, Formula 1 is in such a situation, which is very bad for its credibility, its security, the teams, the car manufacturers, the fans, the journalists and the sponsors who invest. Luca di Montezemolo.

FOTA then realised that the FIA had perhaps broken their own rules – well, it wouldn’t be the first time – and issued a statement explaining that changing the rules with only a week to go before the first race of the year was against the FIA International Sporting Code. FOTA pointed out that without the unanimous agreement of all teams, rules cannot be changed this close to the season start.

The amendment to the sporting regulations proposed by the World Motorsport Council was not performed in accordance with the procedure provided for by Appendix 5 of the Sporting Regulations and, as per the provisions of the article 199 of the FIA International Sporting Code, it is too late for FIA to impose a change for the 2009 season that has not obtained the unanimous agreement of all the competitors properly entered into the 2009 Formula 1 Championship. FOTA Statement.

For 2010, FOTA have said they will work with the FIA at introducing such a change, but also reiterated that their proposal was after much research and discussion.

FOTA had made a proposal that was carefully based on the results of a Global Audience Survey, which allowed listening to preferences of the public, and all the Teams firmly believe that these indications should be properly taken into account. FOTA Statement.

So the FIA were tripped up by their own regulations and FOTA called them on it. FIA president Max Mosley then stated that he had been informed by Bernie Ecclestone that the teams were happy with such a change. According to Mosley, Bernie had said that he had spoken with all the teams.

I was led to believe they all agreed. The World Council was under the impression that they had all agreed. Max Mosley.

Perhaps Max should have spoken to the teams himself – after all, Ecclestone does have his own agenda here, his own idea. Without wanting to sound slanderous, perhaps Ecclestone shouldn’t have been entirely trusted on this. But whether or not someone lied is completely beside the point (and something that will never change). What should have happened is a meeting held between Mosley (or someone appointed to attend by Mosley), Ecclestone and FOTA. Ideas should have been passed around and thoughts taken into account. This could have then been presented to the WMSC along with the market research and global survey for a final decision.

Of course, Formula One doesn’t work like that.

The winner takes all system has been postponed and the previous points order of 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 remains. The 2009 world champion will be decided by points earned, as will the constructors. Undoubtedly this isn’t the last we are going hear about points, as the idea is now set for 2010 introduction, although clearly the postponement is just so FOTA can have some time to try and push their idea through instead.

The only medals worth rewarding here are not for winning, but instead for speaking out. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both deserve a gold medal for pointing out the flaws in the FIA’s process and implementation of the changes. They said it like it is and spoke common sense. The issue isn’t really about how the world champion is decided, it is about how the FIA go about making and implementing these changes.


  • To my mind, part of the problem is that Max and the WMSC are used to getting their own way so they probably just thought that they would get away with it. I very much doubt that they were unaware that they were breaking their own rules .. I’m sure they did it deliberately with the aim of appeasing the fans who thought that Massa should have won last year (cue conspiracy theories) and assumed that FOTA would just accede to the new ruling.

    Max has already come out today and suggested that FOTA are weak, you just can’t get away with showing any weakness with that man as he will just continue to stamp his authority.

    The decent thing to do would be to publish the results of the public survey (where everyone can get them online for free) the one on which he based his assumptions re the winner takes all system. Then, when all is out in the open, formal discussions on which FOTA and the FIA all agree should begin … cant see it happening though.

  • The decent thing to do would be to publish the results of the public survey (where everyone can get them online for free) the one on which he based his assumptions re the winner takes all system. Then, when all is out in the open, formal discussions on which FOTA and the FIA all agree should begin … cant see it happening though.

    You are absolutely right. For an open, honest and thorough discussion on the new rules, as well as providing interesting information for the fans, is to publish these survey results. For free. And in a universally recognised format.

    Unfortunately, and while I do not know, I suspect that if the results were published in this manner, it would be very clear that they were largely ignored. Why else would the results be kept away under lock and key, only available to the highest bidder, so to speak. It’s just my thoughts, and I have nothing to base them on other than my feelings. Hence why I was pleased with what Alonso said on his website and quoted in the article above.

    I also see Clive has had his first rant of the day on F1 Insight. Basically, Clive isn’t quite as diplomatic as me when discussing Max Mosley and pretty much says in a blunt fashion what I was hinting at in this post. Worth a read, and found here: F1 Insight: Mosley on FOTA, Diffusers and Mosley.

  • The only medals worth rewarding here are not for winning, but instead for speaking out. Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton both deserve a gold medal for pointing out the flaws in the FIA’s process and implementation of the changes.

    Well said.

    I must confess, it’s been very entertaining to see Mosley’s vindictiveness towards FOTA skewered by a fundamental political mistake of his own doing.

    I’d like to think it would leave him chastened and more open to compromise and consensus in the future, but I very much doubt it.

    While talking some nonsense about spygate to the Daily Telegraph yesterday he said:

    Young adults now have a completely different view. I get this feeling that the zeitgeist – I shouldn’t use German words, I will get into trouble – is with us.

    I have another German word for him: schadenfreude.

  • I have another German word for him: schadenfreude.

    Well said yourself. 🙂

    I too would like to think that this episode, along with others, will put Mosley in a troubled position for re-election later this year. But I know it won’t. I fully expect Mosley to run again, and further still, win again.

    I was pleased to read on F1Fanatic that while you are all for a winner-takes-title type system, that it was recognised what had happened was not of benefit to the sport.

    I’ve read elsewhere that this is just another example of poor management from the FIA. Whether they had done this on purpose to try and destabilise FOTA, or whether it was a genuine mistake is neither here nor there. The fact that this happened is detrimental to the sport. And it isn’t the first time an FIA decision has had this kind of impact.

  • Ah, the Katzenjammer* following power-drunkenness is terrible to behold! The FIA are being given a hard lesson, which it needs to learn if it is ever to have leadership that will respect the boundaries of what it can do and work with them rather than pretending that the entire universe is its oyster.

    * – Literally means “the racket of mating cats”, but is actually German for “monumental hangover”. That’s my German word for this situation…

  • Katzenjammer

    I like your chosen word! 🙂

    The FIA are being given a hard lesson, which it needs to learn if it is ever to have leadership that will respect the boundaries of what it can do and work with them rather than pretending that the entire universe is its oyster.

    As much as I would love for the FIA to learn from this, or more to the point, Max to learn from this, I somehow doubt anything will change. Call me pessimistic, but this has happened before and little was seen in way of changes made. It’s a shame for the sport and the fans, but this is Formula One; great competition, dire management. 🙁

  • This should be another in a long list of embarrassing moments for the FIA but will eventually be forgotten as Ollie says or swept under the carpet.

    I cannot believe this was an intentional ‘gaf’. No matter what angle I look at it, intentionally making myself look bad in the eyes of fans doesn’t work for me.

    I especially like that the drivers stood up and spoke harshly. Finally

  • It’s not German, but here’s a word(s) that tends to crop up in my mind when referring to the FIA(L) – Keystone Cops.

    Another one I like is EPIC FIAL.

    In fact, I might get a stamp made up with that on it !

  • The problem is that Max thinks the rules are something he applies to others and doesnn’t believe they should ever be applied to him.

    His comment that Bernie told him the teams were in favour apart from showing how pathetically inadequte the FIA’s procedures are means either the teams lied to Bernie or Bernie is a liar or Max is a liar.

    The one thing that puzzles me in this whole thing is why has it taken Bernie until his 77th year to find out how prizes are awarded at the Olympics. I know he only thinks about money but you would have thought that he would have noticed Olympic medals some time between the 1930s and and the end of the century.

  • For the record, I used the word Katzenjammer at work today.

    Manager: “What’s that noise? It’s coming from [this machine].”

    Ollie: “Dunno, but it sure sounds like Katzenjammer. I’ll get on the blower to [the manufacturer].”

    Oddly enough, I was asked for an explanation for the word “blower” rather than the word “Katzenjammer”. 😀

  • Increase the point differential between a first and second place finish, make it worthy of the effort to simply win. 12 to 9 or 10 to 7, the number really doesn’t matter. While they are at it, give a point for pole posistion and a point for fastest race lap. The extra effort to get those points will make a better show…isn’t that what Bernie really wants??

Follow BlogF1