Beyond Sebastian Vettel’s record-equalling ninth successive win, last month’s Brazilian Grand Prix, the closing round of the 2013 season, was a forgettable affair.
For good reason, really.
There was nothing was at stake in terms of the big picture. Vettel and Red Bull Racing had wrapped up the season’s top prizes a month earlier.
As the laps wound down at Sao Paulo, TV commentators Ben Edwards and David Coulthard did their best to sell the drama of how Lewis Hamilton’s puncture could hurt Mercedes-GP’s hopes of holding onto second place in the constructors’ championship.
It was hardly edge-of-the-seat stuff and summed up a disappointing season in terms of the championship battle.
Somebody heard the yawns.
Clearly, Formula One’s bigwigs want both the cars and pulses to be racing in 2014, judging by the controversial plans announced to make the final event a double-points race.
The Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix will make history on November 23 when it becomes the first race to put 50 points on the table for the winner, rather than 25 at every other venue.
In fact, every driver in the top 10 will see their points yield doubled at Yas Marina Circuit.
The F1 Strategy Group and the Formula One Commission came up with the idea on Monday in a bid to ensure that the championship fight goes down to the wire more often in the future.
In essence, anyone within 49 points of the championship leader, or 50 if they have more race wins, will have a chance at the title when they line up on the grid at Yas Island.
Abu Dhabi already holds the record for most drivers in title contention when heading into a finale. In 2010, Vettel, Hamilton, Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber all had chances at the points crown. There is a good chance, if the season is more competitive in 2014, that figure could be matched or even surpassed.
Then again, the move would have had no impact on 2013’s title fight, such was Vettel’s level of dominance. Not even quadrupling the points would have given anyone hope against the German this year.
The ’13 calendar marked the 17th time in 27 years that the world title was decided ahead of the final round, and it is not good for F1’s business.
A sporting event, rightly or wrongly, often is judged by its finale. There is an anticlimactic feel, no matter how well they have played, if a golfer is well clear going into the final round. The same is true when a tennis grand slam’s final is a one-sided affair.
What is bad for television ratings is bad for sporting organisations, because tension and spontaneity are part of the viewer equation. So F1 has acted, making one race more valuable than the 18 others.
It may not be purely organic, but then, F1 already stepped away from that notion, having introduced the Drag Reduction System in 2011 to help increase overtaking after years of processional racing where, if it did not rain, changes of position mainly happened in the pit lane.
It may be a bitter pill for the man leading the title race by 49 points over drivers he repeated beat over 18 previous races, but that was sacrificed for entertainment and 11th-hour excitement.
There is an adage in sport that a league table over a season never lies, but it could be a case that next season’s F1 drivers’ standings are misleading, thanks to someone getting double the reward for winning one race.
In trading a meritocracy for entertainment, F1 is in danger of selling its seasonal soul.
It can be argued that after 18 races, drivers not within 25 points of the lead do not deserve a mathematical shot at becoming champion. The reason the finishes in 2012, 2010, 2008 and 1994 were so memorable is because they came naturally – there was no double-points double jeopardy attached at the end.
There is, of course, no guarantee the re-jiggered points structure will be an issue, anyway. The other teams firstly must step up and challenge Vettel, and actually make it a fight for the title.
But certainly, still 11 months from race day, the anticipation for the sixth grand prix in Abu Dhabi has gone up a notch.
It might even have doubled.
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