It's fair to say some of Bernie Ecclestone's ideas in F1 were a tad eccentric to say the least. Some of the wacky ideas such as shortcuts and sprinklers never made the track, however the double points finale made an appearance in the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The controversy was real, so much so that it was scrapped just months after its introduction. In 2014, however, it failed to interfere with the title fight, Hamilton beating Rosberg anyway en route to the title, even before Nico's reliability faltered and Hamilton had the title wrapped up.
Let's start with the reasons behind the introduction of double points. It was seen as a way of ensuring the championship leader hadn't built up an unassailable lead heading into the final race; to keep the drama and cinematic element of the sport there until the very end of the final lap.
Under the current system of all points scores counting (introduced in 1991), double points would have altered the title race on some occasions. Equally there would have been many a year where it would have made no change, if it did not diminish some of the spectacle. The dominance in the early 90s meant the title was wrapped up before the final race most seasons. In fact it wasn't until 1994 (the fourth season of the new points system) that the title went down to the finale. Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill were separated by one solitary point. Schumacher on 92 and Hill on 91. So you're probably thinking double points would have increased the spectacle and changed the result. By contrast, the drivers colliding and both retiring from the race meant that under both under single and double points, the fight would have been twice as controversial and equally disappointing compared to its hype and anticipation.
In fact it wasn't until 1996 that the title went back down to the wire. Williams teammates Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve had only 9 points separating them with 10 on the line. Villeneuve needed to get the win in Japan and hope his team mate retired. Unfortunately again for the double points system the race result was the exact opposite of what Villeneuve wanted, with Hill taking victory and the Canadian failing to reach the chequered flag after a wheel detached itself from the car on lap 37. This disappointing end for Villeneuve meant that Hill took his solitary crown and would have done so with an even wider margin had double points existed in the 90s.
It's not until 1997 things get interesting. Heading into the decider Michael Schumacher led Jacques Villeneuve by just one point. The 1997 decider at Jerez is famous for Schumacher and Villeneuve’s collision which took Michael out of the race (and following his subsequent disqualification out of the championship.) For Villeneuve however he continued on to take third place, a result which won him the championship outright even before Schumacher's disqualification. Now granted had the race run as it did with double points the outcome would have been no different, what we don't know is whether either drivers’ mindset would have altered significantly enough that the collision between the two never happened? I'd be inclined to believe not considering Schumacher's aggressive defending caused the issue, and had the points gap being double he would have been even more determined to beat Villeneuve and thus would have defended equally aggressively in order to protect what would have been in retrospect an even more slender margin.
So with double points yet to show any significant change to the F1 landscape, 1998 presented another one race showdown. The race, however, played out as a carbon copy of 1996 with Mika Hakkinen leading Micheal Schumacher heading into the race, winning the finale while his title rival failed to finish. Twelve months later it was Hakkinen and his McLaren up against a Ferrari yet again, this time Eddie Irvine as opposed to his teammate Schumacher. Once more it was a thrilling fight with Hakkinen winning a second successive Japanese Grand Prix and with it a second title. This meant however that once again double points would have failed to make any change to the overall standings again only amplifying the winning margin.
After a break of Ferrari dominance it wasn't until 2003 when we got a final race title fight. Kimi Raikkonen trailed the reigning champion Michael Schumacher by nine points. In the finale Kimi convincingly defeated Michael en route to second place while his German rival languished down in eighth place. So whereas the top-eight points scoring system meant Schumacher was a champion by two points, had the finale being under 2014 rules Kimi Raikkonen would have been crowned world champion. Instead of a two point margin for Schumacher the seven point swing would have created a five point victory for Kimi and secure him his first world title.
So 13 seasons in and we've finally seen double points make an impact. For 2004, however, normal service was resumed as the title was wrapped up before the final race weekend had even begun. When it did come round again in 2006 Fernando Alonso extended his lead over rival Michael Schumacher by beating him in the race, again rendering any double points useless as they once more changed nothing.
2007 was a strange season. A three man fight for the final round of the season - Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso. As like many times previously man who ended the year as champion (Raikkonen) finished higher in the finale than the runner up (Hamilton and Alonso) and thus wouldn't change a single thing in the title fight. What would have changed however is the order of the McLaren team mates. In real life Hamilton and Alonso were tied on 109 points with Lewis winning on countback. By way of 2014 regulations however the reigning double World Champion would have defeated his rookie team mate Hamilton and have finished the year as top McLaren.
It was the following season that we would again see a championship affected by double points. Felipe Massa won the finale in his homeland of Brazil while Lewis Hamilton made a pass on the final corner to secure fifth place, the key one he needed to seal the title by one point from his rival. Double points however would swing the result in Massa's favour and would have given the Brazilian the world title he wanted and unarguably deserved (remember Massa only lost due to an engine failure in Hungary with three laps to go, an outcome similar to last season where Hamilton's blowout in Malaysia cost him a third successive championship.
The next time we had a one-race shootout was 2010, as Vettel won the race and with it the title. He would have become 2010 champion regardless of if double points existed in 2010 or not. The solitary change would have been Lewis Hamilton jumping to second place ahead of both Alonso and Webber.
Vettel's rampant streak was similar to Schumacher's a decade earlier for a number of reasons, one of which being his 2011 and 2013 titles both being as dominant as Schumacher's 2002 title. Sandwiched in between these however was his 2012 battle with Alonso. The real system allowed Vettel in his superior Red Bull car to prevail, double points however meant Alonso's superior result in Brazil (Second place to Vettel's sixth) would have carried him to the title, turning a three point deficit into a 17 point advantage - something not too dissimilar to what would have likely happened if Romain Grosjean's infamous multi-car crash at the opening corner in Belgium never occurred.
So now we enter the V6 Hybrid era, the battle of the Mercedes team mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. As we know 2014 was the only season the FIA ran double points and it altered nothing By 2015 Hamilton had long wrapped up the title, for 2016 though it would have allowed Hamilton to recoup an extra seven points of his Malaysia engine failure and with it overhaul Rosberg's five point advantage to become only the fourth beneficiary of the controversial rule.
So should we have been happy to see the system scrapped after one solitary season? Granted it would be controversial to see a title won this way when over the course of the season the better driver could well lose. Despite these claims it is also a common belief that, Raikkonen would have won the title had his suspension not failed on the last lap in Germany; Massa would have claimed what he deserved following his engine failure in Hungary; Alonso would have gotten his reward for lugging a much less competitive Ferrari round the track as fast as the superior Red Bull, and Lewis Hamilton's reliability gremlins wouldn't have cost him the prize he earned on race pace.
So as harsh as this seems to Rosberg, Vettel, Schumacher and Hamilton himself is it any worse than the old systems of 11 best results counting? Or the top eight results with four being from the first seven and four from the last eight (yes F1 was once this complicated.) In fact nobody batted an eyelid when Prost scored 11 more points than team mate Senna in 1988 yet still lost the title.
Almost to the point where double points is a simple solution to rectify the harsh reality of poor reliability and bad luck, in fact as we've seen many times in history, the champion often prevails, so rather than a punishment could we instead view it as a check to make sure our champions are truly champions who deserve their crown? On a final note let us remember the F1 World Championship would have changed hands on four occasions in a whopping 26 seasons, only 15% of the time, is it really worth crying for such a small amount?
by Matthew Gannon