Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Circuit of the Americas, 2019

Why final-round title-deciders are happening less often

2019 United States Grand Prix stats and facts

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Lewis Hamilton’s sixth world championship victory – the details of which have partly been covered here earlier – also marked the third year in a row the F1 title has not been decided at the final round.

The excitement of a championship fight being decided at the last race of the season is hard to beat. But it seems to be happening less frequently. The last time F1 went three years without one was in 2000-02, when Michael Schumacher took a hat-trick of titles.

This is partly a question of perception. My generation of fans enjoyed a golden period of final-round title deciders in the late nineties. But earlier in the history of the championship they weren’t that common. During the seventies, for instance, the championship was only decided at the last race in two seasons.

But lately it seems final-round championship deciders are becoming less commonplace. There’s a few factors influencing this: Domination by a single team, changes to the points system and the growing length of the calendar.

Obviously, for the championship to keep going until the final race, you need one driver who can score points at roughly the same rate as the championship leader. If one team builds a dominant car, the championship is less likely to be close.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Yas Marina, 2014
Hamilton won his first two titles in the final race
Schumacher provides a great example of this: He won the 2002 title with six races to spare (a record), so F1 changed the points system in an attempt to close things up. The value of non-winning finishes was increased, but in 2004 he still managed to win the title with four races left.

The point system was changed again in 2010, and a win made worth more relative to second place, though not as much as in 2002. He haven’t seen as many last-race title-deciders since then, but this is not just down to the points system.

Mercedes’ performance is another part of the explanation. However even at their peak – in 2014 to 2016 when they took 51 wins and 56 pole positions from a possible 59 – F1 still had two final-round title-deciders (2014 would still have gone down to the final race even had it not been a one-off double points round).

But significantly, these were both fights between two Mercedes drivers. We haven’t had a final-round title decider between two drivers from different teams since 2012.

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The final contributing factor is the length of the calendar. The more races there are, the more opportunities there are for a driver to win the title before the last race. And with the 2020 F1 calendar expanding to a record 22 races, the chances of a final-round title-decider next year will be slightly slimmer again.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, McLaren, Circuit of the Americas, 2019
Sainz was one of three drivers to hit triple-digits
While Hamilton notched up his sixth title it’s worth noting how close he was to claiming six in a row – he was just five points away from beating Nico Rosberg to the title three years ago.

Aside from losing the championship, it was a good weekend for Valtteri Bottas. He took his 11th pole position and fifth of the year, which means he is the only driver who can tie with Charles Leclerc in the Pole Position Trophy contest.

The driver of car number 77 also took his seventh career win. Two other drivers on the grid also have seven wins each: Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. However the driver of car number seven has as many as those three put together, having scored his 21st in the race last year.

Verstappen was also one of three drivers who made their 100th race started last weekend. Carlos Sainz Jnr and Kevin Magnussen were the other two who reached their centuries.

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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65 comments on “Why final-round title-deciders are happening less often”

  1. Next to each having 7 race wins, Max & Daniel have also each 29 podiums now.

    Interestingly despite Sainz outscoring Kevin by nearly 100 points (251 vs 158), Kevin has a podium finish while Sainz does not.

    With Hulkenberg not competing in F1 in 2020 Sainz will be the most experienced active driver without a podium next year. Currently he is 5th on all time list behind Hulkenberg (177 races), Adrian Sutil (128 races), Pierluigi Martini (119 races) and Philippe Alliot (109 races). From those Hulkenberg and Sutil at least got a Pole and/or a FLAP.

    Other active drivers without a podium are Gasly & Albon, Norris, Giovinazzi and Russell.

  2. While Hamilton notched up his sixth title it’s worth noting how close he was to claiming six in a row – he was just five points away from beating Nico Rosberg to the title three years ago.

    And to think, just 2 more points in 2007 in addition to just 5 missed points in 2016 and he’d be going for his 9th WDC next year.

    1. Having said that, winning the title in 2007 could have triggered a different set of circumstances that wouldn’t have led him to Mercedes in 2013.

      Great Scott!!

    2. Wasn’t that far away in 2010 either.

      1. 2012 too, thought he was off in the final points tally he drove brilliantly that season and its ridiculous the amount of points he lost to the car or McLaren failing. I was completely unsurprised he wanted to walk away from them at the end of that season.

  3. I was only thinking about this very point yesterday ie trying to remember a title decider in the last race between two different teams.

    It’s been widely documented that dominance by one team is bad for the sport. This is of course what we’ve had since the introduction of the new engines in 2014. I do think though that the points system is really not helping.

    There is in my opinion almost now too much of a premium on winning. The seven point gap between 1st and 2nd really does decrease the possibility of a points showdown at the season’s end. Even where you have two drivers who are performing pretty closely, in different teams or not. The gap between 2nd/3rd of course and 3rd/4th is only 3 points.

    I do wonder if the points spacing should be more even. Perhaps something like 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 5 down to 1. I have to think this would help and possibly give us more competitive season finales.

    1. Use the MotoGP point system (they had it for years) and it gives the top 15 points. (25, 20, 16, 13, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1)

      Also reduces chance of non scoring and therefore a team always being dead last being ranked higher because of 1x 12th place finish over a team continuously finishes 13th-15th.

      1. Pat Ruadh (@fullcoursecaution)
        4th November 2019, 15:39

        That system seems right on the money

      2. @phil-f1-21 The risk with a lesser reward for the win, is drivers/teams choosing not to risk going for it near the ends of races and just settling for the near-win-size points haul of second place, thus taking away from the excitement level of the races.

        I think one phenomenon surrounding this issue is that if one references one year’s results one might suggest a certain points system would have been better, but there are always trade-offs and one system might work one year and not as much the next.

        I think the current point system is fine and we should just see what happens in 2021 when theoretically more cars will have more chances of high points finishes and no one team should be as dominant as Mercedes has been in the hybrid era so far. I’m envisioning a see-saw battle amongst 6 or 8 drivers at least for the first half of seasons, with the cream eventually rising to the top, meaning three or four drivers still vying for the WDC in the last third of the seasons.

        1. @robbie Yes I realise this was the issue highlighted when the points gap was extended. It’s just my opinion though that this is robbing us of closer season finishes. I don’t think the current system is awful and hopefully, if we get closer racing between teams from 2021 onwards, this phenomenon will start to be less of an issue. It needs to be monitored though.

    2. I disagree – if anything I think the gap between 1st and 2nd should be increased from 28 percentage pts. to something like 35, with a similiar premium for podium finishes above 4th. At the end of the day it’s all about winning and should rightly be rewarded.

      1. This is a mad idea. In the current climate it would just mean the top 3 teams would be even more dominant. You would slowly start to lose other teams from the sport.

    3. @phil-f1-21 it works two ways. If the gap is smaller it also won’t be easier for a driver to catch up on a deficit.

  4. Remember back in Abu Dhabi 2017, the race was boring because the title is already decided and nothing to play for. In 2016, the race became tense when Hamilton ignored orders to prevent Rosberg winning the championship.

    1. that race in 2016 is the only one from Abu Dhabi that I sort of remember, and mostly because of how farcical it was: Hamilton was driving so slow to back Rosberg up into the pack but still the others couldn’t catch up.

    2. One reason why titles being decided early isn’t much of a loss is because the last race would be in Abu Dhabi anyway, so why bother whishing for a close championship?

  5. I think we just got too used to the title going down to the last race as it started happening so frequently from the mid 90’s onwards.

    Final race title deciders used to be relatively infrequent & as a result always felt like something really special when they happened. I remember in 1994 for example how big a deal it felt given how it hadn’t happened since 1986 & how all the media were really hyping up that last race precisely because it was something that didn’t happen often.

    As soon as the title started going down to the last race more often it started to feel more routine & less special, Something that was almost expected & something that they spoke of changing the points system to guarantee we kept getting.

    If you look at something like NASCAR which has a title format designed to ensure the title is decided at the last race it just feels contrived, routine & lacks that special feeling & hype build that you get when it’s something that doesn’t happen all the time. I think we need to look at & think about that before those in F1 start to talk about trying to guarantee the same.

  6. Can’t just change the points system because someone is more consistent than everyone else.

    If the grid was competitive (and by this i mean the challenger has to be there week in week out) we would get a battle going down to the wire. History shows this.

    Same goes for Motogp, a rider wins a race and next 4 races he is miles away from the podium. Then he wins again. In that time Marquez just keeps coming first or 2nd.

    1. Same goes for Motogp, a rider wins a race and next 4 races he is miles away from the podium. Then he wins again. In that time Marquez just keeps coming first or 2nd.

      I’ve just wrote below the comment that they are not happening because Alonso is not there anymore. :)
      And this perfectly describes his tenaciousness.
      Guy was in the last-race-showdown more often than not, considering the competitiveness of his cars.

      1. very true.

        Like Motogp despite what we are told the grid isn’t brilliant. There is huge potential but some yet to be delivering or not been delivering for years (Seb)

  7. It was the first time as two different Finnish drivers had won the same event in consecutive years.
    Previously achieved by following countries:
    Italy in French GP 1951-52 (Fagioli and Ascari)
    Great Britain in British GP 1957-58 (Moss/Brooks and Collins)
    USA in Mexican GP 1964-65 (Gurney and Ginther), ignoring Indy 500 1950-60
    Brazil in Brazilian GP 1974-75 (Fittipaldi and Pace)
    France in Brazilian GP 1979-80 (Laffite and Arnoux)
    Germany in French GP 1998-99 (M Schumacher and Frentzen)

    On the other note, it was the first time three drivers celebrated a century of starts – three times previously there had been two: 1968 Canada (Brabham and G.Hill), Canada 1978 (Lauda and Reutemann) and Australia 1985 (Jones and Tambay). Starts counted as StatsF1 does.

  8. Stephen Higgins
    4th November 2019, 17:37

    Shows how much of a fluke Rosberg’s title was.

      1. @georgeod Yeah, it wasn’t a fluke. It was simply a whole lot of technical issues for Hamilton. Too much for even the dominance of Hamilton over Rosberg to overcome the gap over and over.

        1. Which of course is a perfect explanation of why it was a fluke.

        2. If only he hadn’t botched those 5 starts at the beginning of the season eh

          1. @hollidog
            Although Rosberg botched as many starts & lost more points through botched starts than Hamilton

    1. @georgeod
      @f1osaurus

      I don’t think it was a fluke at all. Rosberg kept it close enough a DNF could change the outcome.

      My guess is if Rosberg vs Hamilton went for 10 years the WDC would stay about 3/10 Rosberg.

      1. @slotopen With perfect reliability I’d say 0-10.

      2. I don’t think it was a fluke at all. Rosberg kept it close enough a DNF could change the outcome.

        @slotopen mate, Mercedes won every race that season bar 2. It would be difficult NOT to keep it close enough in a 2-car championship like that.

      3. @slotopen The only reason Rosberg stayed close to begin with was because Hamilton kept having technical issues or was hit.

        In Bahrain Hamilton got punted off by Bottas at turn 1. Dropped back to P9 and made it back to P3
        An ERS failure at the start of qualifying in China, relegating him to 22nd on the grid. He finished seventh.
        An ERS failure during Q3 in Russia, restricting the Mercedes driver to 10th on the grid. He finished second.
        An engine mode issue during the European GP. He finished fifth having started in 10th following a crash in qualifying.
        Hamilton had used all 5 of his season engine allocation by the mid way point Race 12 Spa, forcing him to start from 22nd on the grid, finished 3rd
        A hydraulics fault during Practice Two in Singapore which was cited as a critical factor in his defeat to Rosberg. He finished third.
        An engine blow-out in Malaysia which cost him an almost-certain victory.

        (quotes copied here and there)

        You might look at the score board and argue that on Q3 performance it was only 12-9 for Hamilton. Which seems rather equal indeed. Rosberg was keeping close! However if you take into account that Hamilton didn’t compete in Q3 for three of those events and only barely in Monaco, it would be fair to say that it was 12-5.

        Then keep in mind that overtaking was almost impossible. So qualifying behind would also mean that Hamilton would lose points to Rosberg. When both their cars worked, Hamilton would finish ahead 3 out of 4 races. 6 of the 9 races that Rosberg finished ahead of Hamilton were massively affected by technical issues or being hit. So there were only 3 races over that whole season which Rosberg finished ahead of Hamilton! on merit

        That’s not Rosberg “keeping close”, that’s Rosberg being being annihilated when the game is going and then scoring goals when Hamilton was “away”.

  9. The longer they make the calendar the less likely it is for the last race to be a title decider

  10. They are not happening as often, because Alonso is not in a competitive car, nor in F1 anymore.
    You need a driver who knows how to get the maximum out of every little chance, who knows how to make things happen for himself.
    Other than Hamilton, I don’t really think there are any top drivers in the F1 at the moment.
    There are some awesome fast ones like Verstappen, or tenacious like Ricciardo, but that will only take you so far. They are not even remotely complete package in the sense that Hamilton and Alonso have set.
    You need a complete package, and then some.
    And F1 allowed itself to lose the best ones too easily, as if guys like Hamilton and Alonso grow on trees. Just because some driver is fast or exciting, it doesn’t mean who knows how to take it down to the wire.
    In the last 40 years there were less than 10 drivers of that caliber. Lauda, Prost, Senna, Schumacher, Alonso, Hamilton, and early on, Kimi, but he is a spectacular case of degradation, instead of growth.

    1. This is true to a certain extent.

      I’m reasonably sure that Ferrari would have mounted a more decent challenge on Mercedes if they had Alonso, or an equally relentless driver. Ferrari have made a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

      1. @jaymenon10 ALO & Ferrari together had 5 seasons and 2 different regs to build something decent and failed together. I don’t see why it would be different now.

    2. Yeah, right. First WDC, best package, settled early. 2006, MSC was the one who carried till the last race. 2007, it was RAI, racking up 3 wins in the last 4 races. Same happened at 2010, when VET carried the fight and won with both ALO and WEB fluking pathetically at 7th and 8th respectively. Only in 2012 ALO effectively carried the fight till the end.

      I swear, this folkloric cult regarding Nando is laughable.

      All the drivers above knew how to take it down to the wire, that’s why they are all champions. Now, the real references for that matter are, coincidentally, both Brazilian: Emerson and Nelson. The rest comes behind, most having had the upper hand in their top class campaigns, not their fault anyway. In the end, all worthy.

    3. When did Hamilton ever take it to the wire when he wasnt in the best car. Alonso for sure we all saw that, but when did Hamilton do that? I saw him lose a title he had in the bag 2007, i saw him fail to take it to the wire despite having a car capable of doing so in 2010 and 2012 (when alonso did it), i saw him lose a 2 car championship in 2016, never seen lewis take it to the wire where the car didnt do it for him. Kind of like the guy you purposely left off your list (Vettel). Also how do you have a noticeable slump every season (it happens every season w lewis, so much that journalists make jokes about it now) but you still get called a “complete package” and now the GOAT, its baffling.

      1. “When did Hamilton ever take it to the wire when he wasnt in the best car. Alonso for sure we all saw that, but when did Hamilton do that?

        2010

      2. I saw him lose a title he had in the bag 2007

        He made one mistake of consequence in the penultimate race, born from inexperience and driving on ruined tyres on a damp track. But his car was no better than the Ferrari, and he had got into that position by making fewer mistakes than anyone else up to that point.

        i saw him fail to take it to the wire despite having a car capable of doing so in 2010 and 2012

        This frankly looks like a windup. The 2010 McLaren was nowhere near as good as that year’s Red Bull. It was similarly fast but less reliable than the Ferrari. Despire this, and despite suffering two mechanical DNFs, Hamilton was still in mathematical contention until the final race. By far and away the best car that year was the Red Bull, and Vettel could have had it sewn up before the final race if not for his own driving errors.

        And 2012, well again, no driver on the face of the planet could have got near the title at McLaren that year. A car that was quick at some circuits but well off the pace at others (they finished 8th and 10th at Silverstone on pure pace with no issues or incidents), but broke down far too often, comprimising at least five race weekends. And a team that made blunder after blunder, numerous botched pitstops, forgetting to put fuel in his car for qualifying etc. The Ferrari by contrast, was never the class of the field, but also didn’t sink as low as the McLaren, was perfectly reliable, run by an organizationally competent team totally committed to Alonso at the expense of Massa.

        i saw him lose a 2 car championship in 2016

        A two-car championship in which he had four race weekends comrimised by technical failures and his team-mate had none, and he still came within 5 points.

    4. COTD Biggsy, well said.

      1. @Biggsy Of course as we know it takes a WCC car to win WDC(s) and we know the car is anywhere from 80% to 95% of the equation by most peoples opinion. So before you speculate that DR or Max aren’t the complete package let’s judge them by the same standard as you have with the actual WDCs you have cited. Let’s give Max a WCC car, let alone a WCC car that fits him like a glove season after season for a good long run, and then I predict we’d see that Max likely indeed will be the complete package you claim he is not. We have known for decades that a driver is coloured by his car. A WCC car affords a driver the opportunity to show all his stuff…a distant third place car in the WCC does not.

  11. GtisBetter (@passingisoverrated)
    4th November 2019, 19:59

    Maybe we should award double points for the last race or something?

  12. But it seems to be happening less frequently.

    But lately it seems final-round championship deciders are becoming less commonplace.

    @keithcollantine Based on what?

    That chart also clearly shows no correlation whatsoever of the number of “races left” with the number of races per season, neither the scoring system or “domination” (btw the domination chart does not show “domination”)

    That chart really shows that it’s pretty much a random distribution with the last race title deciders distributed quite evenly over the years/decades.

    My generation of fans enjoyed a golden period of final-round title deciders in the late nineties

    Which was preceded by 7 seasons where this didn’t occur! Plus three seasons after. While we had the same type of “golden period” from 2006 to 2008.

    Sure, one might assume that having only 7 or 8 races makes it more likely for a title to go to the wire, but in fact the number of races going to the wire per decade has been quite steady.

    Personally I would think that striking the worst race results over a season might have an effect of bringing the results closer (and therefore make last race finals more likely). More so than any of the parameters attempted in the article, but that probably only compensated for the technical DNF’s otherwise pulling the scores apart.

    Either way, looking at the actual data, a season finale in the last race has happened 29 times over the last 70 years. So on average 4.14 last race finales per 10 years. We had 15 of those in the first 35 years and 14 in the last 35 years. Hardly a significant difference.

    We actually recently had a highest density of “last race finales” over at least a decade span. From 2006 to 2016 we had 7 of those over 11 seasons. Which means 64% of those seasons had the finale in the last race. OK that’s a rather arbitrary example, but still.

    1. @f1osaurus, you hit a rather good nail on the head there by asking the pertinent question of “is it actually that different”? I agree that, when you look at it, it’s not actually that unusual compared to historical trends – such as the period from 1969 to 1980 having just two title deciders at the final round in that period – such that it looks like it’s actually pretty normal.

  13. Improved safety also reduces last race title deciders by reducing the chances a major point scorer will miss races.

  14. Truth is, even Fate avoids Yas Marina.

  15. Except there was no “dominance” from Hamilton in 2016. Saying he had too many technical issues to overcome is also dishonest, he had some true, but not more than half the races which you would need to make your excuse valid. He had 20 odd races to cement the championship and lost, even with Rosberg handing him the last 4 poles/wins. It was a 2 car championship and he lost by not being fast enough, get it? He could have wrapped up the championship early, he could have gotten more poles, had better starts, and won more races, but he didnt. Revising history doesnt change that. If you are saying he only lost races in 2016 from technical issues and that he would have won every race otherwise, then thats delusional cause that didnt happen.

    1. Absolute rubbish. 9 technical failures across the race and qualifying against a fast but inferior teammate in a 2-car race absolutely handed the championship to Rosberg. By a mere 5 points no less.

      The only thing he contended with that year was a single 5 place grid penalty.

      Your assessment is a blinkered joke.

      1. And when I say 2 car race, I mean the 2 Mercedes cars which between them won every single race bar 2. TWO! That season.

    2. It’s worse when the cars are so dominant (2 car championship) because it means only the sister car has the speed/car to capitalise when reliability strikes the other sister car. Mercs were expected to get 1-2s. So, to make up for a DNF (25 points) normally took 3-4 races.

  16. Posted this in the Giovinazzi thread (which turned into a Hulkenberg thread) but I guess it kind of belongs here too…

    Since 2014 (ie the hybrid era) there have been 118 races to date. That means 354 opportunities for a podium.

    20 podiums have been taken by a team outside of Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull in this time. This means, on average, the entire midfield has a 5.6% chance of scoring a podium on any given race day. There are 14 drivers outside the big three (the ‘midfield’) hence an INDIVIDUAL midfield driver has a 0.3% chance, each race, of a podium on average.

    Williams account for 12 of the 20 midfield podium places in the hybrid era, 10 of which came between 2014 and 2015. So if you weren’t driving a Williams in these two years your chances drop to 0.15% per race.

    In the last three years, there have been 59 races, or 177 podium positions. Only 3 drivers outside the big three have managed a podium, which equals a 1.7% for the entire midfield, or a 0.1% chance for a individual driver on average.

    Using the number of podiums scored to judge the quality of a midfield driver is completely meaningless in my opinion.

    1. Thank you @aussierod for bringing this article back to its core, – STATS rather than points/excitement discussion @keithcollantine (not the best title).

  17. Because Ferrari havn’t been good enough. They have the team, the drivers and speed. Somethings just not right

    1. @paulipedia They don’t have the drivers either though. Way too many errors. Especially vettel, but to some extent also Leclerc. Like when he was destined for pole in Baku and then he ends in the wall etc etc etc

  18. They could do a double points final round, that would increase the chances of a final round decider….

    Sorry, I’ll stop trolling now! :)

    Personally, I don’t care whether the championship is decided in the final round or half way through. It won’t stop the real racers fighting for the best position they can get in each race. Look at the race we just had: If the finishing championship position made such a difference to Hamilton, for instance, he would not have fought Bottas so hard trying to keep the win. He could have just let him past, knowing he had the WDC in the bag.

    1. yes but you could argue that if Hamilton had to be 1st to win the championship, he would have fought Bottas much harder (even more so if they were any close in the points standings).

      you could say the same thing for Brazil 2007, Brazil 2008, Abu Dhabi 2016… all would be far less memorable if it hadn’t been for the title fight.

      1. @nickthegreek Good point. I really adds to the pressure and therefore the excitement of the race when it’s the last chance to score those much needed points.

  19. I don’t think that Final rounds should be title deciders at all.

    I mean – if they happen to be title deciders, it’s ok, but in ideal scenario – they shouldn’t be.
    Because when the title is decided a race or several races earlier – there can be no doubts or regrets about the winner – they were that much better.

    When this doesn’t happen, we then have endless claims like “X was a Champion for Y seconds” or permanent talks (sometimes rightfully so) that the “other” guy won only because of some luck\cheating\etc. – Senna’s, Prost’s and Schumacher’s title-deciding crashes are vivid examples of that.

    1. @dallein Maybe, but it’s exactly the races with that added drama that we remember forever.

      Well everybody but Keith apparently, because he seems to think we have less final round title deciders when that’s clearly not the case at all.

  20. O Bernie getting extra bucks if it goes down to the wire.

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