Send in the clowns

No, the calendar didn’t say April 1 after all. It said December 10, and that was when it dawned on me: December 10, 2013 will go down as the date when Formula One crossed the line between sport and complete stupidity. In the raft of changes pushed through by the F1 Strategy Group and the Formula One Commission on Monday – some procedural, some sensible, others as vague as vague can be – came the bombshell that the final race of the 2014 season will be granted double-points status, making an absolute mockery of the rest of the season and edging what was once a sport ever-closer to WWE. To have 18 races run under one set of rules and one run under another is completely insane; it compromises the integrity of the season, the 64-year history of the category and potentially the legitimacy of the world champion.

Let’s say, for example, that the fifth and deciding set of next year’s men’s final at Wimbledon decided to award double points where the previous four sets, or 80 per cent of the maximum length of a match, had been played to a different scoring system. Ace, 30-0. Ace, Game Djokovic. Tough luck, Rafa. Reckon the tennis community might be up in arms? Or, for those footballers in the Australian media masquerading as ‘journalists’, let’s change the rules at three-quarter time of the AFL grand final to make all goals worth 12 points rather than six for the finale of the season (insert your own scoring values if you’re a league/union/soccer fan). How would that be received?

In recent years, we’ve had DRS, KERS, grooved tyres, slick tyres, tyres that fall apart, any other number of initiatives to spice up the ‘show’ in F1, as if a category featuring the world’s fastest cars and (mostly) the best drivers needs to be spiced up. Some innovations have worked, some haven’t. It happens. Yes, some seasons are more exciting than others; so go the ebbs and flows of professional sport. For every 2008 or 2010 in F1, you need a 2004 or 2011 to appreciate a thrilling sporting spectacle that grips us to its conclusion. But this is different. DRS, KERS etc – every driver, every team and every car (besides Mark Webber and KERS, which is another topic altogether) had them at every race. Changing the rules for one race when other rules have governed the other 18? Cue the laugh track.

Actually, 2004 might provide some context as to why this change has been shoe-horned through with so little thought to the impact it has on the credibility of the sport. Michael Schumacher won 12 of the first 13 races that year, only a crash at Monaco denying him a baker’s dozen, and after casual fans spent their Sundays yawning on the couch, the response was to insert a regulation for 2005 where one set of tyres had to last for qualifying and the race. Yes, the rule change came in during a year where Fernando Alonso finally broke Schumacher’s five-year red reign at Ferrari in ‘05, but it was a gimmick and didn’t last into 2006.

In 2014, Sebastian Vettel will enter the first race of the season in Australia having won four titles in succession and the past nine Grands Prix on the bounce, and some competition for the German and Red Bull Racing would be welcomed. With a whole new formula set for next season, we had the catalysts for potential change already, and the early days of the new campaign will undoubtedly be dramatic as teams get used to new engines, energy recovery systems, tyres, fuel loads, and for Lotus, an extra shipping container for Pastor Maldonado’s spare parts. There’ll be enough chaos at the start of the season as it is, meaning there’s no need to ruin the end of it with the nonsense that came to light yesterday.

And of all the races to be awarded the “prestige” of double-points … In five previous runnings of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, we’ve had two kinds of races: dull and duller. Yes, 2010 was exciting simply because we had four drivers in with a shot of the title, and being in the pit lane that night just before the start was as tense an experience at a sporting event as I’ve ever had. But the race itself was a snore-fest. As for the rest, you can’t make a case for a single memorable race at the Yas Marina Circuit, which is undeniably pretty under lights but proves the old saying that while you can put lipstick on a pig, it’s a still a pig. How can winning at a track described by Webber as akin to driving around a supermarket car park be worth twice as much as a victory at Monaco, Spa, Suzuka, Monza, Silverstone … other than Bahrain, it’s hard to imagine a circuit layout less deserving of double-points status if we’re having to resort to such a rubbish rule.

While we’re on season finales, is it wrong to wonder if the organisers in Abu Dhabi had been made aware of the implementation of the double-points gimmick and all of the attention it will undoubtedly receive when they negotiated to have the last race come back to Yas Marina after the last two championships wrapped up in Brazil at Interlagos? As a means to extract more cash from a country where it isn’t in short supply, it’s a good one. Should the location of the final race of the season come down to who has the deepest pockets and who is prepared to pay the most to host, Abu Dhabi wins every time.

Yes, December 10 will be forever known as the date Formula One went too far. All that’s left now is for circus music to replace the national anthems on the podium next year for the season finale. Red noses optional.



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