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F1 Goes Ahead With Bonus Point for Fastest Lap

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Carlos Sainz Jr in the McLaren MCL34
Carlos Sainz Jr in the McLaren MCL34 during pre-season testing
Photo: Artes Max

Formula One will now officially reward drivers with a single championship point for setting the fastest lap of a race, after the new rule was approved by the F1 Commission and World Motor Sport Council.

In a way this is a throwback to a bygone era of F1: the rule had existed from the inaugural race in 1950 to the last race of 1959, though it had a much bigger impact then, as only the top five drivers earned points at all and the winner received eight, as opposed to the top 10 drivers today with 25 points awarded to the winner.

However, a new condition has been added to the rule: only drivers who classify in the top 10 at the end of the race will be eligible for the championship point. Nothing can stop a driver from setting the fastest lap of the race, but if a driver does so without finishing in the top 10, they simply won’t get a point; though this does mean they can deny a top 10 driver from getting it.

For example, if Lewis Hamilton is running in the top 10 and Sebastian Vettel is well outside of it, the latter could push to steal the fastest lap and prevent his rival from getting that extra point.

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This means that while a potential 21 extra points will be available throughout the course of the 2019 season, it will be unlikely that all 21 will be awarded.

Though the new rule could introduce some further excitement to the sport, it also has the potential of cheapening it. Should the above example take place, there’s very little risk for Hamilton to push for that fastest lap: he merely has to pit for fresh slicks and then it would practically be a guaranteed thing.

4Vettel couldn’t answer because losing time in the pits would likely lead to losing positions, and thus losing points — while Hamilton would have no points to risk while driving outside the top 10 anyway. The system would probably work better if points were awarded to all drivers like in IndyCar.

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Teams could also abuse the system at the cost of one of their drivers. For example, imagine a scenario in which Mercedes wins the constructor’s championship and the driver’s championship comes down to the last race between Hamilton and Vettel. Vettel is about the win the race and has the fastest lap, giving him just the points he needs to beat Hamilton, who is running second and doesn’t have the gap to cars behind to pit for fresh tires.

But that’s when Valtteri Bottas, who is due for a podium, gets a radio call from Mercedes: “Valtteri, this is James. Come in the pits, put on the hypersofts, and go out and set a fast lap to deny Vettel and save Hamilton’s championship. Too bad about your podium.”

This is the kind of gamesmanship the new rule makes possible, and it has the risk of cheapening the results of the championship. However, one could say that’s just a theoretical fringe case, and the kind of dramatic event that makes the sport interesting. We’ll have to see how it all turns out in practice.