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Pointless points

Maurice Hamilton October 18, 2013
Juan Manuel Fangio (22) got eight points for winning at Pedralbes in 1951 © Getty Images
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Writing headlines about Fernando Alonso scoring more championship points than any other driver in the history of the sport is like me saying I've earned more money than my Dad.

Of course I have! That's not to put the Old Man down in any way; it's merely a reflection on his earnings as a builder at a time when he would have paid 10p for a pint of Guinness to get over the shock of petrol rising to the equivalent of 6p a litre.

And I'm not getting at Alonso either; he has been the first to recognise that points distribution has changed dramatically enough over the decades to skewer meaningful comparison.

Fernando's win at the Circuit de Cataluña last May brought him almost three times the number of points earned by Juan Manuel Fangio just down the road at Pedralbes when he won the 1951 Spain Grand Prix. In those days, it was eight points for a win, dropping to 2 points for fifth place, plus an extra point for fastest lap (a nice touch which ought to be revived to add interest to the final laps of processional races we see from time to time).

The allocation of points crept up very slowly initially, nine going to the winner from 1961 to 1990 (with sixth place finally being recognised by a single point), and 10 points becoming the victor's reward from 1991. It began to get a bit out of hand in 2003 when the points spread reached eighth place but then it became silly in 2010 with the spraying of points across half the field.

Times change, of course. Had they offered points down to 10th place a couple of decades ago, mechanical failures were so wide-spread that the FIA President would have been personally roaming the paddock and handing out points to deserving cases. Indeed, reliability has reached such an incredible pitch and mid-field competitive so strong these days that teams really do have to work their socks off to finish tenth.

Nonetheless, I find it difficult to join a celebration for claiming a point after finishing a minute and a half behind the winner. It's a bit like the Dodo Bird's verdict in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: 'Everybody has won and all must have prizes.'

The exception, I guess, would be seeing the joy at Caterham or Marussia in the final four races if a driver grabs a point that could be worth a couple of million quid. Speaking of these back-markers and the huge sum of money at stake, there is actually a case for applying the Dodo Bird Verdict and awarding points to 22nd place.

When it comes to the handing out of subsidies, 10th place in the Constructors' Championship is the cut-off point between having a shiny seat to your pants and actually being on the bones of your arithmetic arse. If we take a look at the current table, Marussia are in 10th place courtesy of Jules Bianchi finishing 13th in a decimated field (by today's standards) in Malaysia.

But if points had been awarded across the board, a more accurate summary of the season would be presented because Caterham would be comfortably ahead and, literally, in the Pound seats. But that's for the teams to sort out with the man who holds the purse strings.

In the meantime the championship, as David Coulthard would say, is what it is. Fine; no problem. As a matter of interest in 2010, I kept a note of the championship as if the previous 10-point system had been employed. Apart from Mark Webber and Lewis Hamilton swapping third and fourth places, Kamui Kobayashi and Vitaly Petrov switching 12th and 13th and Sebastien Buemi and Pedro de la Rosa sweating over who should be 16th and 17th, it made no difference worth bothering about.

As a tool to determine who is World Champion, the current system works well. But let's not extrapolate it with the days when points and the means of earning them were as though in an alternative world seen through Alice and her looking-glass.

Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.

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A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live
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Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1. A veteran journalist in the paddock, Maurice Hamilton has been part of the Formula One scene since 1977 and was the Observer's motor racing correspondent for 20 years. He has written several books as well as commentating on Formula One for BBC Radio 5 Live