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Button’s Lead Bulletproof?

Running totals of top 4 drivers in points standings

Running totals of top 4 drivers in points standings

It has often been noted that the current point system in Formula 1 favors consistency.  More than that, it favors a driver who attains an early lead.  The the current system was adopted largely as a foil to Michael Schumacher, who, in his most successful years at Ferrari, was seen as sewing up the championships too quickly, thus eliminating much of the drama for the balance of each season.

Prior to the current system, which was adopted in 2003, the gap between first and second place was 4 points.  Now it is only 2. Since a winning driver accrues a points lead in smaller increments, the title battle will tend to be be prolonged. That’s the theory, at any rate, and it seems to be true.  We have witnessed some nail-biting season finales in recent years.

However, if a driver is able to build an early lead, it becomes statistically unlikely that he will be overtaken during the latter portion of the season, even if his performance levels falls off.  This, again, is a function of small incremental point differentials.

The table at left illustrates this.  Jenson Button front-loaded his points tally this season with a series of 5 wins in the first 6 races. He seemed to be bullet-proof.  His performance level fell off dramatically at midpoint in the season, however, and has yet to recover.  His best finish over the past 8 races has been a second place podium, and he has had one retirement. These results have not been of a championship caliber.  Nevertheless, he still retains a commanding lead.

Point slopes of the top 4 scoring drivers

Point slopes of the top 4 scoring drivers

The chart at right is perhaps a better illustration of this.  Button enjoyed a steep points curve early in the season, in relation to his rivals.  Since Silverstone, the slope has been shallow, and at times nearly flat.  Although Webber has obviously been flat-lining for several races, both Barrichello and Vettel have shown a steady upward slope in the latter half of the season – and yet they remain substantially behind.

So that, yes, consistency is certainly rewarded in the current system, early leads are rewarded even more so.

Graphic illustrations by Craig Scott.

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