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23 Dec 2008

Medal rush: Q&A with Bernie Ecclestone

Q: You have suggested gold medals should be introduced. How would that work?
Bernie Ecclestone:
My idea is that instead of points we should award medals to the drivers finishing first to third in a race, gold for the winner, silver for the second placed driver and bronze for the driver who comes third.

Q: So how will the drivers’ championship be decided?
The title will be awarded to the driver who wins the most gold medals in a season and if there were a tie, the number of silver medals won would be taken into account (and if still tied, it would be decided by bronze medals and so on).

Q: What is behind the idea?
Well, quite simply, it will make Formula One a much more exciting spectacle because it will incentivise drivers to race to win. We should see much more overtaking, drivers will take more chances and they will race each other all the way to the chequered flag. At the moment, quite often we see drivers settling for second, third or fourth position, and the race can be dull in the final stint after the last round of pit stops. The drivers aren’t to blame, they’re racers, but the scoring system forces them to be too conservative. As things are, if they want to take the title, it is better to settle for a few, safe points rather than chase down the guy in front and risk going home with no points.

But this is Formula One, the pinnacle of world motorsport, and only the best driver should win the title. Being a Formula One world champion is not about being a consistent and reliable runner-up. It’s about racing hard, taking chances and not settling for second best. Last year, Hamilton was leading the drivers’ championship before he had even secured his maiden win. Likewise, after Canada this year, Kubica led the drivers’ championship on points even though Hamilton, Massa and Raikkonen had all won more races. Lewis and Robert are both extremely talented, but I don’t think the system should produce that kind of result. It shouldn’t be possible for someone to be crowned world champion without winning a single race, but that really could happen unless we change the scoring system.

Q: Are you suggesting that the constructors’ championship be decided in the same way?
No, I think we should keep that as it is, awarding points for places 1 to 8 as we do now. For the teams, constructor points are purely a financial matter as they determine a team’s share of the annual prize fund. Fighting for a point or two really matters to the teams further down the grid and I don’t see any reason to change that. Back in 2003, we extended the points system down to eighth place which was great for the teams, especially the smaller ones, but it aggravated the problem with the drivers scoring system because by increasing the number of points for coming second from 6 to 8, we made the step from first to second place too shallow. That year, Michael (Schumacher) won the title from Kimi (Raikkonen) by only two points but Michael had won six races whereas Kimi had won just one race. Kimi is a great driver and a natural racer but I don’t think it would have been right had he won the title in that situation, however it nearly happened.

Q: It has been suggested in some parts of the media that you are unhappy that Lewis won the championship and that is behind the proposal…
Rubbish! Lewis is a worthy world champion and nobody was more delighted than I was that he won. He was destined to be a champion and it was just a question of when, not if, he would win. The only thing I was uncomfortable about was that under the current system Lewis needed to finish only fifth in the last race to win the title and I don’t think the fans go to races or switch on their TV to watch a great driver aim for fifth place. The want to see the best drivers in the world battling hard for a race win.

Q: Do you worry that with gold medals, the title could be all over by mid-season?
I think that can happen under any scoring system if one constructor dominates with a superior car, but actually I think it is less likely under the gold medal system. With four or five races to go a driver who is three or four gold medals down could still win the championship, which is far less likely now if the difference between winning and second place is only two points. In any case, the way to keep the championship wide-open and exciting is to reduce the cost that a team needs to incur to be competitive. I am very pleased that the teams have now seen sense on this issue and agreed meaningful proposals to cut their expenditure, as Max (Mosley) and I have been urging for some time now. I think they’ve all had a wake up call and have realised that their present levels of expenditure are simply not sustainable. What is more, the racing should get much closer too.

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Bernie Ecclestone (GBR).
Formula One World Championship, Rd 18, Brazilian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Interlagos, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, 31 October 2008
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