At last weekend's Italian Grand Prix, Bruno Senna became the 318th driver to score world championship points. But not all points are equal, and some would argue that awarding two for finishing ninth - a position that would once have been four slots away from earning a notch on the scoreboard - devalues the achievement.
Like all conventional wisdom, it's a widespread belief, but is it fair to say that points in 2011 are devalued?
A compelling observation is that, had points been awarded down to the 10th-placed finisher since the start of the world championship in 1950, a huge number of drivers would have got on the scoreboard. For example, Luca Badoer, who holds the record for most starts without a point (50), would have racked up a tally of 25 had he raced under the current rules. In fact, every single driver in the top 10 of the list of most-prolific pointless drivers would have scored, with Badoer's record passing to Anthony Davidson, whose best finish in 24 starts was 11th.
So, it seems, points are cheap. Or are they?
To get a more-accurate picture of whether or not this belief is well-founded, we need to look a little more deeply. The below list, generated with the help of the www.forix.com statistics database, lists the percentage of classified race finishers to score points each season.
For example, so far this season, there have been 13 races with a total of 250 classified finishers, and 130 instances of drivers scoring points. That equates to a 52 per cent chance of any given car/driver scoring if they finish. It's a crude statistic, but a valuable one that suggests the idea of easy points is not as clear-cut as it intuitively appears.
Highest percentages of finishers that score points over a given season* 1 79.4% (1966) Lowest percentages* 1 37.6% (1952)
2 74.2% (1968)
3 73.3% (1969)
4 72.3% (1967)
5 63.5% (1955)
6 62.6% (2003)
7 62.5% (1957)
8 60.6% (1958)
9 59.1% (1970)
10 58.3% (1956)
2 41.1% (1972)
3 42.1% (1953)
4 42.5% (1976)
5 42.9% (1961)
6 42.9% (1975)
7 43.1% (1974)
8 43.2% (1988)
9 43.2% (1991)
10 43.8% (1990)
Highest percentages of finishers that score points over a given season*
1 79.4% (1966)
1 37.6% (1952)
* Figures disregard the Indianapolis 500s from 1950-1960, which were part of the world championship.
Bruno Senna was the 318th person to score Formula 1 world championship points © LAT
That only one year in the past decade, 2003, appears in either list suggests that the balance is about right in the 21st century. The median average of the data set for each of the 62 campaigns in world championship history is 50.35 per cent, a figure that this year's 52 per cent is not significantly in excess of. What's more, your chances of scoring merely by surviving are significantly smaller than they were during the second half of the 1960s, when grid sizes were low. This is why the likes of Team Lotus, Virgin and HRT have not scored in their 18 months of F1.
The reasons are simple.
Firstly, reliability is better now than it has been at any other time in history. Secondly, it's harder for a driver error to put you out of the race, with asphalt run-off and fewer gravel traps to get beached in. This means that there have been no sustained changes in the probability of a given car scoring if they make the finish, beyond temporary fluctuations. Finishing rates have simply made it harder to make it into the number of points-paying positions through mere survival, even though there are now 10 opportunities to do so per race.
But this only tells half of the story. Even if the idea that you now score points simply by turning up is debunked by these numbers, they tell us little about the worth of, say, Senna's two points at Monza. Clearly, while 52 per cent of race finishes this year have been rewarded with points, things are more difficult to assess when you are talking about a specific driver.
Obviously, scoring points in a Red Bull is less of an achievement than doing so in a Williams or a Toro Rosso, but that's an argument for another day. What we are interested in is whether points really have been devalued.
In terms of the scarcity of points, while 2011 is very much a run-of-the-mill year, this cannot be said of the volume of points scored. Sebastian Vettel now has 665 career points to his name, the fifth-highest tally in world championship history. The fact that eight of the top 11 points-scorers of all time are currently active tells you a lot about how the value of individual points has reduced. So while the act of scoring points is of average difficulty in 2011, victories are now worth two and a half times what they were before 2010 thanks to the switch from 10 to 25 points for a victory.
All-time points scorers 1 Michael Schumacher, 1493
2 Fernando Alonso, 1001
3 Alain Prost, 798.5
4 Jenson Button, 708
5 Sebastian Vettel, 665
6 Rubens Barrichello, 658
7 Lewis Hamilton, 654
8 Ayrton Senna, 614
9 Kimi Raikkonen, 579
10 Mark Webber, 578.5
All-time points scorers
1 Michael Schumacher, 1493
Not that this devaluing of points had not already started. Back in 1950, when the world championship began, only the top five finishers were awarded points on an 8-6-4-3-2 basis, with an additional point for fastest lap. This created a curious anomaly during the 1954 season, with no fewer than seven drivers dividing that point between them for a share in the fastest lap at the British Grand Prix, which explains how Gordini driver Jean Behra managed to finish 26th in the championship with a tally of 0.14!
The point for fastest lap was dropped in 1960 and instead awarded to the sixth-placed finisher, and a year later the reward for victory rose to nine points. This system remained in place until the 1991 season, when 10 points for a win came in.
All of this distorted the relative points tallies a little, although the sheer number of world championship races staged did so to a greater extent, rising from seven in 1950 up to 17 in 2002, the last season when the 10-6-4-3-2-1 was used.
Michael Schumacher has scored more points than any driver in history © LAT
What happened in 2003 was a far-more-significant change. Points were awarded down to eighth place, which created an initial increase of 48.1 per cent of classified finishers finishing in the points up to 62.6 per cent. More important than the number of points-paying places was that, while the race winner still gained 10 points, the gap between first and second was halved.
It was from this season onwards that career points tallies started to accelerate disproportionately. Today's points system has merely completed that process and made comparisons of points scored over the decades utterly meaningless.
So are points devalued in 2011? The answer is yes and no. No, insofar as the chances of making the points merely by being a classified finisher are about the same as they ever were when you look at the average of the 62-year history of the world championship - you have to earn your points as much as you ever have. But in terms of volume, things are very different. Ten points are not what they once were.
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