Commentary

Awarding a championship on wins alone? Oh, the blasphemy!

What is Bernie Ecclestone thinking? The czar of Formula One wanting to award the world championship on wins and not points? As absurd as it might sound, the idea isn't so far-fetched, writes Ed Hinton.

Updated: December 4, 2008, 1:27 PM ET
By Ed Hinton | ESPN.com

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
-- John Lennon

Second place is just the first loser.
-- Dale Earnhardt

It is often difficult to take Bernie Ecclestone, the slippery czar of Formula One, seriously.

This is especially true during the offseason, when he tends to say outrageous things to keep F1 a hot topic in the European media.

But this time he has outdone himself; detonated his masterpiece bombshell.

He has decreed that -- horror of horrors -- the 2009 world F1 champion will be the driver who wins the most races.

Excuse me?

Winning?

A driving championship should be determined by winning?

Oh, the absurdity! Oh, the outrage! Oh, the injustice!

Oh, the blasphemy against the globally accepted welfare system for all motor racing teams, universally known as "the points."

"Winning" was just the title of an old Paul Newman movie and the theme of some other foolish films about racing, featuring the likes of Steve McQueen and James Garner.

Nobody in real racing believes the romantic nonsense that winning should be everything.

Winning is just a faded folk tale told by the likes of A.J. Foyt, Richard Petty, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart …

Winning is but a flight of fancy of the masses, who think they know what they want in a racing champion. They don't understand the hard economic necessities of riding around on the corporate dole.

Racing accepts only half of what Vince Lombardi said. In racing, winning isn't everything. It isn't even much.

The F1 welfare system Ecclestone is trying to shatter -- if he's serious -- awards 10 points to a race winner, eight points to second place. By percentage, NASCAR is even more socialistic, awarding 185 points to the winner, 170 to second place.

And so for a diminutive czar across the pond, at the age of 78, seeking to stir up headlines in the London tabloids for his racing realm during the holidays, to suggest that winning should be paramount is …

[+] EnlargeJimmie Johnson/Carl Edwards
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeJimmie Johnson, left, won the Cup title, but Carl Edwards won nine races to Johnson's seven.

"Nonsense," former team owner Eddie Jordan told the BBC.

"Rubbish," wrote a respondent to The Times of London.

"Idiocy," according to a comment on the ESPN Conversation, over on the open-wheel page of ESPN.com.

"Senile," charged another comment.

"Bernie is a moron," said another.

The ruling Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) will have none of this winning-only nonsense, The Times forecast last week. Teams won't hear of it, either.

This though Ecclestone has said the opposite -- that both the FIA and the teams are for it.

We'll know soon enough, when the FIA meets in Monaco on Dec. 12.

And, with Ecclestone, there is always the question of whether he really means it or simply wants to create a stir.

But hard as it is to take him seriously at times, it is always wise.

The little man rarely has gotten less than his way during his 30-year reign over F1. So if the supremo, as he is called in Europe, really wants it, he will get it.

Ecclestone does come to the brink of silliness when he suggests an Olympic-style medal system -- gold, silver, bronze -- for first, second and third. At the bottom line, his notion would award the championship to the driver with the most gold medals, or wins.

Why not say what I've said for decades now, for every form of motor racing: One win, one point?

"Our sport is different," I have heard, ad nauseam, down through the decades. "It isn't one-to-one competition with a winner and a loser."

But it was the late Dale Earnhardt himself who said "Second place is just the first loser." This, in all candor, from NASCAR's greatest beneficiary of points ever (he won seven championships but only 76 races).

By Earnhardt's measure, NASCAR has one winner and 42 losers on any given Sunday. Yet the first nine losers, almost invariably, try to portray themselves as winners as they speak of points collected for top-10 finishes.

If Brian France, NASCAR's chairman, were to say in New York this week at the awards banquet what Ecclestone said in London last week, there is little doubt that team owners and drivers would howl.

No reward for riding around in 10th place all day? What vile, cruel madness! What teams could operate like that? They're long addicted to the payoff system, the dole.

But I doubt you, the public, would call France "a moron," or "senile." If anything, you'd probably think he might just be coming to his senses at last.

Winning is what the public comes to see. Diluting victories with high points rewards for also-rans demeans the accomplishment of winning. Second place? Fifth place? Seventh place? Those matter only to the drivers who finish there to bolster their positions in the corporate food chain.

Point systems began as a promoter's tactic to keep cars coming back, and/or to get teams to show up at tracks they otherwise would ignore. But point systems by their very nature invite many teams interested only in dancing in the chorus line being passed by the real winners.

Without points, by giving championships to the driver with the most wins, you'd attract only the drivers and teams who believe they're actually capable of winning the race. (They all tell you they're capable of winning now, for PR purposes, but this way they'd have to mean it.)

Would they lay back, play cat-and-mouse until the end? Probably. But back when winning mattered more than championships in NASCAR, Petty and David Pearson played that game virtually every race, and their finishes were memorable.

If you want to assure that the show goes on all race, award two points for a win. Then award one point for leading the most laps, regardless of where -- or even whether -- you finish.

That would keep 'em hustling, all out, all race.

Will it ever happen? Certainly not in NASCAR, and probably not even in F1.

But it is the holiday season, a time for flights of fancy. Maybe that's what's got Bernie spouting this explosive notion that winning should be everything.

At least we're allowed to do what the late John Lennon suggested: "Imagine …"

Ed Hinton is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at edward.t.hinton@espn3.com.

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