Drafting the Circuits

Formula 1 Report

F1 Should Move Toward a NASCAR Chase Style Playoff Ending In Abu Dhabi 

By Steve Aibel/Drafting The Circuits/F1Racing Plus


3-time champion Lewis Hamilton brought an international presence to the NASCAR finale in Miami last weekend. Hamilton visited Jeff Gordon during the pitwalk and driver introductions. He was clearly enjoying the fact that the Formula 1 championship battle has been settled for the last month. With the Abu Dhabi finale this week, it is obvious that Hamilton is able to enjoy some things other than the upcoming season ending event.

Lewis Hamilton And Jeff Gordon in the Miami Homestead Chase Finale

Lewis Hamilton And Jeff Gordon in the Miami Homestead Chase Finale

Seeing Hamilton at the NASCAR finale got me thinking.

What if Formula 1 took the NASCAR playoff approach to the World Championship? What if Lewis Hamilton’s third championship was not in the bag and was to be decided this week in Abu Dhabi in a one race takes all, NASCAR chase type format? Hamilton might not be the F1 champ this year!

Scandalous right?

Now traditionalists are probably shivering in their boots for two reasons. First, I am sure that comparing NASCAR to F1 is something that bristles the F1 elite. Second, and this has been discussed with NASCAR when the format was created, the tradition of all races counting equally is a hard medicine to swallow for those of you pining for the days of yesteryear which in the mind are always better.

I disagree. The Chase format works!

From an excitement standpoint and frankly speaking, the final three races of the current F1 season have been somewhat anticlimactic since the championship was settled in Austin. Race sponsors, promoters and fans would benefit from knowing that the championship and subsequent eliminations would be happening throughout the final races. This would instantly bring heightened attention and an increasing level of excitement as the season builds to conclusion.

So how would this format work in F1?

NASCAR has 36 points paying races. 10 of these races make up the playoff system called The Chase for the Sprint Cup. Simply put, during the first 72% of the season, the teams are acquiring points to see who qualifies for the season ending playoff.

Formula 1 will race 19 times this year. If 72% of the first races are used to qualify for a playoff, then the first 14 races would be used as qualifiers and the final 5 races would be an ends of season, F1 playoff, a la the Chase.

The F1 playoff would consist of the races in Russia, USA, Mexico, Brazil and the crowning event in Abu Dhabi. For simplicity, the season would look something like this.

F1 Chase races would include Circuit of the Americas

F1 Chase races would include Circuit of the Americas

14 Races to Qualify for the F1 Playoff

Australia, Malaysia, China, Bahrain, Spain, Monaco, Canada, Austria, Britain, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan.

5 Race Playoff for F1 Championship

Russia, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Abu Dhabi

So now that we have a new format, how many drivers would qualify. Qualification for the playoff would be based on acquiring points using the current point system and be decided based on season points after the Grand Prix in Suzuka. Points would then reset with all playoff drivers starting from scratch.

Again, using NASCAR as a potential model, 16 drivers make the NASCAR chase from a field of approximately 43 drivers. That’s 37% of the field. Applying this same statistic to F1, your playoff field would involve 8 drivers.

Formula 1’s elite 8!

The elite 8 would be reduced every two races. The number eliminated in each round would depend on how many drivers the FIA decided they wanted to be eligible for the championship in the final race in Abu Dhabi. The following scenario was based on having four drivers eligible for the title in Abu Dhabi.

Russia               8 drivers

USA                   8 Drivers (2 drivers eliminated)

Mexico               6 drivers

Brazil                 6 drivers (2 drivers eliminated)

Abu Dhabi         4 drivers to compete for the F1 World Championship.

Using this format, here is how one potential scenario would playout. Based on points earned through Suzuka, the following drivers would have championship hopes as the elimination playoff started in Russia.

Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, Valtteri Bottas, Felipe Massa, Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat.

Drivers would accumulate points during the Russian Grand Prix and US Grand Prix and the first reduction would occur after Austin.

Russia                USA          Total

Lewis Hamilton         25                       25              50

Sebastian Vettel       18                       15              33

Nico Rosberg            4                         18              22

Daniil Kvyat              12                        10              22

Felipe Massa            15                         6               21

Daniel Riciardo           6                         12             18


Kimi Raikkonen        10                       8                18

Valtteri Bottas            8                         4                12

And there you have it. After the US Grand Prix, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas are eliminated from championship contention. Since Raikkonen and Ricciardo tie in the two elimination race a tiebreaker would decide who moves forward. The tie breaker could be based on who finishes higher during the two elimination races. In this case, Raikkonen is eliminated as Ricciardo had a higher finishing position of 4th in the US while Raikkonen’s best position was 5th in Russia. Right off the bat, we have excitement during the first elimination and perhaps some controversy.

The points would reset and two more drivers would be eliminated after the race in Brazil. This year the points would fall like this…

Mexico              Brazil        Total

Nico Rosberg            25                       25              50

Lewis Hamilton         18                       18              36

Daniil Kvyat               15                       12              27

Sebastian Vettel          8                       15              23


Daniel Riciardo          12                       10              22

Felipe Massa             10                          –              10

Daniel Ricciardo and Felipe Massa are eliminated here setting up a season finale where Rosberg, Hamilton, Kvyat and Vettel have a one race, winner takes all dash for the championship in Abu Dhabi.

Daniil Kyat would join Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton as a championship contender under this new format

Daniil Kyat would join Vettel, Rosberg and Hamilton as a championship contender under this new format

Imagine that, final race of the season and the title is up for grabs. Red Bull would have a chance! Ferrari would have a chance and Mercedes would have a battle grande right down to the wire.

The excitement level would be through the roof and Formula 1 would be reborn with a huge, global level of excitement and an increase in fan excitement. Mid season attention to the series would be more relevant as teams and drivers jockey to position their drivers into the playoff slots. This format would commit teams to developing their cars further into the season. Red Bull might have been kinder to their relationship with Renault had they known they have a chance at a championship with this new format.

All in all, this approach could work wonders. Bernie, feel free to send me a note of appreciation and Happy Holidays!