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Analysis
WRC Rally Monte Carlo

Analysis: The big questions after the debut of the WRC’s new points system

The introduction of a new radical World Rally Championship scoring system was a hot topic at last weekend’s Monte Carlo season opener. Of course, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from one sample of data, but its first running in Monte Carlo raised some interesting discussion points

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

The World Rally Championship’s new points system, that is complicated upon first glance, has divided opinion in the service park and among fans. Several drivers voiced their criticism of the revamp in the lead up to the rally, with the most common gripes being that it is too complicated and devalues the victory. Both opinions are of course valid, but these could certainly change in time.

The new system effectively splits a WRC event into two, and is designed to create more excitement on the final day of rallies where drivers in the past have cruised persevering tyres for the Power Stage. Continuing from last year, a maximum of 30 points can be scored by a crew and the winner of the event is determined on overall time from start to finish.

What is new is the fact points are now distributed differently, with a scale of 18-15-13-10-8-6-4-3-2-1 awarded to the top 10 at the end of Saturday, but only to those crews who reach the finish on Sunday. Softly launched under the banner of ‘Super Sunday’ in Monte Carlo, the final day now offers up a separate points allocation [7-6-5-4-3-2-1] to the top seven fastest crews across Sunday’s stages. This is in addition to the 5-4-3-2-1 in play for the rally-ending Power Stage.

Did it have an impact in Monte Carlo?

The short answer is yes. But it didn’t have the negative impact some drivers were fearing. The winner of the rally, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, did leave the event with the most points.

PLUS: The new WRC highs Neuville reached to defeat Monte master Ogier

Under the new system, there is the prospect where the event winner could leave with less points than another driver. Autosport has applied the 2024 points system to last year’s rallies and this circumstance did not eventuate, but in Chile last year winner Ott Tanak and runner-up Neuville would have left the event with the same points.

In Monte Carlo, Neuville topped the standings both on Saturday and Sunday evening, as well as winning the Power Stage to achieve a perfect score. Interestingly, the prospect of Saturday points did play a part in Neuville pushing to achieve that top position on the day’s final stage.

Concerns that the rally winner might not score the most points were abated by Neuville's superb showing

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Concerns that the rally winner might not score the most points were abated by Neuville's superb showing

“Yeah for sure, it was in my mind,” he said. “The points you take are taken and nobody can take them away, so that is something we will always have to remember on the Saturday. For the lead it is three points different, so it is really important.”

In terms of the championship, the system has reduced the gaps between drivers. Neuville has a six-point lead over Sebastien Ogier and nine over Elfyn Evans heading into Sweden. If the old system was applied, Neuville would be leading Ogier by eight and Evans by 13 points.

A quirk of the system did eventuate in Monte Carlo as Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta finished the rally seventh behind Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen, but scored three more points than the Norwegian. Katsuta was one of the beneficiaries after losing five minutes on Friday to an off that put him well down the order. He picked up four points on Saturday, two on Sunday and three Power Stage points.

"We did have a bit of a depressing moment when we had our strategy meeting where we basically came to the conclusion that it was better off not going for the win" Cyril Abiteboul

It should be acknowledged however that the proviso for drivers to score more points despite finishing behind a rival already existed with the bonus points offered on the Power Stage.

M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster also left with a point which he claimed on Sunday, despite retiring from the rally on Saturday.

What was the verdict from teams and drivers?

The jury is very much still out and many are still to be convinced by the new points system. Evans has been among the most vocal sharing his displeasure, although in Monte Carlo he actually benefitted from it. The Welshman picked up 21 points after finishing Sunday second fastest, a performance which in 2023 would have yielded 17 points, but he’s still not a fan of the concept.

“I guess this time this new points system has been kind, but I’m sure there are some losers on the system as well. Less said about that the better,” Evans told Autosport.

Despite enjoying a reduced gap to Neuville than would have been the case under the old rules, Evans remains unconvinced

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Despite enjoying a reduced gap to Neuville than would have been the case under the old rules, Evans remains unconvinced

“You have to think about it. Because if we were not in the position we were and there are new points available, we would have gone around to get third and that would have been the case. But I guess someone has got their wish on that. You have to risk a lot.

When asked if it has solved the Sunday format, he added. “Possibly yes, but I think it could have been solved in an easier and more fair way.”

Winning Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul has been among those championing change across the WRC, but admitted that he still has concerns.

“I will be biased in my answer as the ultimate outcome worked out for us, but it is true that we did have a bit of a depressing moment when we had our strategy meeting where we basically came to the conclusion that it was better off not going for the win,” Abiteboul told Autosport.

“When a driver like Thierry in the car that he had and our group of people all come to that conclusion, it does say that there is something that is not exactly right. Again, the principle is good and we had very good action on Sunday not just for the two leading cars and I think that is good. But the prospect you can be better off not winning a rally does say that it is not exactly right. I think the good news is it is not necessarily a big thing to fix.”

Toyota boss Jari-Matti Latvala felt the points system worked acceptably in Monte Carlo, but is reserving judgement until more events have been run.

“I think it has been working quite okay at this event,” said Latvala. “But when the rally finishes you can’t calculate everything in your head. Other than that, I think it has been working okay.”

Latvala believes more rallies need to be completed to build a fuller picture of how the rules changes will impact things

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Latvala believes more rallies need to be completed to build a fuller picture of how the rules changes will impact things

Could changes be made to it in the future?

Following the release of the new points system, the FIA issued a statement in December last year confirming that “the impact of the changes to the points system will be reviewed and monitored over the course of the upcoming season to allow for adjustments wherever necessary”.

In theory changes could happen, but it would require a unanimous decision among stakeholders. According to FIA deputy president Robert Reid, tweaks would only be made if the system proves to be a “complete disaster”.

“The World Motor Sport Council got the proposal from the WRC Commission and the world council questioned the complexity and were told that was what the commission and the manufacturers wanted, so the world council said ‘okay the experts, the commission, says that will make a difference’, so we were happy to go with that,” Reid told Autosport at the Monte Carlo ceremonial start.

"This went through a system of a lot of stakeholders and everyone was allowed to analyse it and that's now up to us, all of us, to give it a chance. Let's see what happens" Simon Larkin

“We can at any point [make changes] but I don’t think it is particularly fair to change the rules halfway through the competition. If it is a complete disaster then for sure, but it is a bit frustrating when the FIA gets criticised for something they had no part in other than ratifying what the experts said was needed.”

What needs to happen to make the most of the system?

There is a strong case that the new points system will improve the action on Sundays. Monte Carlo offered a small taste of what could happen this year, and the prospect of a much tighter all-round championship battle. There are of course some loopholes that could arise where action may need to be taken.

Ultimately the success of this points system will come down to how the WRC can educate its current audience and engage a new fanbase. To be fair to the WRC and the several media outlets covering the championship, there have been huge strides made to inform and educate.

While the WRC TV commentators did an excellent job to explain the system, the television coverage could have benefitted from graphics and a live points tracker on Sunday to help fans understand and create a bit more intrigue and excitement from this ‘Super Sunday’ format. The WRC Promoter is fully aware that it needs to educate its audience, but stands by its decision to implement the format in the first place.

WRC Promoter is standing by its logic for introducing the new rules that allowed Munster to collect a point for his pace on Sunday

Photo by: M-Sport

WRC Promoter is standing by its logic for introducing the new rules that allowed Munster to collect a point for his pace on Sunday

“This is the regulation, we will push it and we will educate with everything we can to make the fans come on side with it. That's our job,” said WRC event director Simon Larkin.

“This went through a system of a lot of stakeholders and everyone was allowed to analyse it and that's now up to us, all of us, to give it a chance. Let's see what happens.

“There were a lot of simulations done by teams, us, even the FIA themselves. Is it likely to affect the outcome of the championship? Probably not. Can it impact on the story that can be told on an event-by-event-by-event basis? Absolutely. There has been a lot of talk if it impacts on the credibility of the sport. We don't think so.”

Change was needed to improve the WRC event format, so the powers that be deserve credit for making a brave decision to attempt to improve the championship. Only time will tell how successful this one will be.

What this Super Sunday format has created is a platform that could engage with a new audience, but the problem is making it visible. Currently, for the most part WRC coverage is behind the paywall and services the already initiated. It’s easier said than done, but investing in the product by streaming the Sunday action for free on social media for 12 months could pay dividends for the future.

Turning Sunday effectively into a sprint rally makes it easy for casual fans to understand and digest. It will also most likely be action-packed. It could convince a casual fan to join the dedicated WRC fanbase, which is perhaps more important in the current climate than endless debates over the merits of its bold switch up.

Does more need to be done to leverage the Super Sunday format to increase eyes on the WRC?

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Does more need to be done to leverage the Super Sunday format to increase eyes on the WRC?

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