Formula One: introducing the "Docx bonus"

A radical new scoring system

July 15, 2015
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA -  APRIL 2: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this handout photo provided by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) cars leave the starting grid during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit on April 02, 2006 in
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 2: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) In this handout photo provided by the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) cars leave the starting grid during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit on April 02, 2006 in
Read Edward Docx on Formula One in full

This month in Prospect, Edward Docx muses on the beauty of Formula One—and his frustrations with this most impenetrable of sports. Here, in an extract from the piece, he lays out his radical new scoring system for races.

So, then, this is my proposal for the Grand Prix Drivers Association: as well as rewarding final finishing positions, I would add a bonus to reward overtaking. From 2016 onwards, drivers should be awarded 10 “bonus” points for making up 10 positions from their starting place on the grid—these in addition to the points they would ordinarily score for the final placing (see box opposite). This bonus would be added only for finishers in the top 10.

How would my overtaking bonus work in practice? Qualifying would be exactly the same—an hour with fastest lap time placed at the front and so on. But—and here is the big difference—the top 10 drivers would now be able to choose if they wanted to drop 10 places on the grid. The fastest driver—“pole”—would make the decision last in order to reward and strategically privilege his being quickest in qualifying. Any driver who thought (at any given circuit) that he might be able to make up 10 places could therefore elect to give himself a 10 place grid “penalty” that allowed him a shot at the 10 point bonus. Drivers who had qualified 11th to 20th would be promoted into the top 10 positions in ranking order, depending on how many of the front 10 elected to drop back behind them.

What this would mean is that where it is difficult to overtake (at tracks such as Monaco) we would get the same starts as we do now—since all the drivers would choose to be as far up the grid as their qualifying time allowed. Thus the balance of rewards over the season would still—rightly—be heavily weighted in favour of positions at the finish. The optimum strategy most of the time would be as it is now: to be fastest in qualifying, followed by a pole position start and a race day win. But it would no longer be quite the whole story. At the more open tracks where overtaking is possible, lots of exciting things would start to happen. There would now be another way for the challenger to close the gap on the leader—or at least lessen his advantage—by shooting for the 10 point bonus. And, now and then, the championship leader, might be obliged to defend his points lead by dropping down the grid himself in order to pick up the overtaking bonus points, too. Most of all, overtaking would now be overtly rewarded as an end in itself—all the way down the field.

Over the course of a season, when one car is pre-eminent (which it so often is because of the engineering differences), the race between the teammates for the championship would now involve a lot more overtaking. This year, for example, Nico Rosberg, the challenger seeking to take the championship from his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, might decide (if he qualified second fastest) that at several tracks his best bet would be to start the race 12th and finish second. Under the new system, he would now score his points for second place—18—plus his 10 extra bonus points (for making up 10 positions) which would be a total of 28. This would mean he would score three more points that the winner—usually Hamilton.

Meanwhile, let’s say Hamilton has qualified fastest. He now has a choice. He might decide either to stay at the head of the grid and just let Rosberg give it a go—since coming through the pack is inherently riskier, especially on those first few chaotic laps. Or he might decide to drop to 11th and “cover off” Rosberg’s potential bonus himself by assuming that he too can overtake 10 cars and still win and score the overtaking bonus, too. Either way, Hamilton can elect to ignore Rosberg’s bid for bonuses only for so long—because if Rosberg is repeatedly successful at overtaking 10 cars, he will start to close the gap in the championship and then pull ahead.

And this is only to deal with the leaders. Of course, all the way down the field, those drivers who believe they can make up 10 places can elect to drop down the grid at the start so as to score their bonus points. At circuits such as Silverstone or Spa Francochamps where overtaking is relatively easy, fans might well get the excellent prospect of the top 10 qualifiers starting in positions 11 to 20 on the grid—since all of them might fancy their chances.

There would be an additional benefit in that the tactical decision of where to start will become interesting on the Saturday. If, say, each driver has to announce his decision in one minute intervals, 10 minutes after qualifying has finished (with, remember, the fastest qualifier getting the strategic privilege of choosing last), then this provides an extra seam of speculation and interest.

Of course, this also promotes the slower teams into having more chances at running (now and then) in the top 10 and seeing what they can do to stave off the forward-charging frontrunners. Some might say that this is gimmicky; but surely no more so than several of the ideas already in play in the sport. And a 10 point bonus is at least earnable for worthy reasons as well as being clear to fans and—above all—a great incentive to promote overtaking. Wet weather races are already exciting. But one of the best dry races of the recent era was the 2005 Japanese. Why? Because the three best drivers that year started down the grid: Schumacher, Alonso and Räikkönen.

One more great attribute of this idea is that in seasons where the racing is close because the top of the grid is similar in performance, the overtaking bonus system will get used less because it will be harder to pass rivals during the race. But that’s fine. Because in seasons where it’s close… well, it’s already close. So my proposed overtaking bonus will tend automatically to come in to play only when its most needed—when the performance of the cars is uneven and one team is galloping away with the championship.