Red Bull driver Max Verstappen has gained the biggest point haul through setting the fastest race laps so far in 2019. As the sport has been spending its well-deserved summer break, we reflect on how the change to the Sporting Regulation affected the championship battle.
Formula One reintroduced the rule which awards one championship point to the driver who achieves the fastest lap in a race, provided that the driver is also classified in the top 10. A point will also be given to the constructor of the driver setting the fastest lap. The decision to bring this rule back into the sport marked a return to the past, with a point having gone to the fastest lap setter from 1950 until 1959. Ahead of the opening race, many asked how important the additional points will prove to be at the end of the campaign.
Before the season kicked off, Ross Brawn, Managing Director of Motorsports at Formula 1 was delighted with the re-introduction of the additional point for the fastest lap as he was sure that it would make the end of races more spectacular.
"Together with the FIA we have been committed to evaluating ideas and solutions that can improve the show whilst maintaining the integrity of our sport,” he said.
“We felt that the reintroduction, after sixty years, of a point for the driver of the fastest lap in the race goes in this direction. We have been considering this solution - which represents a response to detailed research carried out with thousands of our fans around the world – for a number of months,” he was quoted as saying before the season.
Only the top teams
Previously, setting the fastest lap was a matter of prestige or record, but with the chance of gaining a point, drivers have a concrete motivation to record the best lap time of a race. When analysing the effect of the new rule, one has to confess that it has not triggered sweeping changes to the approach of teams or drivers. In fact, the sport’s leading three outfits have been the only ones to be able to record the fastest race lap and grabbing an additional point for that.
Max Verstappen has been the most successful driver in the field so far. The Dutchman has collected a total of 181 championship points so far with scoring three of them by setting the fastest race lap. Valtteri Bottas, Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and Lewis Hamilton have all claimed the prestigious and from this season on important point on two occasions. One point was fished up by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
When it comes to the constructors, Red Bull have gained five, Mercedes four points while Ferrari gained three point through the new rule. Ahead of the season, many suggested that teams would be more aggressive during their battles for this additional point, probably even using their connections with midfield teams to snatch points away from their rival. However, the huge performance gaps in the pecking order make it impossible for teams other than the top teams to be in the hunt for the extra point.
If the sport finally experiences some kind of performance convergence, the intensity of the battle for the fastest lap can gear up, more teams may be involved in the hunt and more tactics can be applied, but at the moment it doesn't prove to be vital.
The potential winners of the past
Except the period between 1950 and 1959, the fight for the fastest lap has been only prestigious. Although Formula One’s logistics partner DHL has defined a new standard of speed with the 'DHL Fastest Lap Award' in 2007, it did not have any formal, official effect on the outcome of the championship. One driver sets the fastest lap at each race - the award will go to the man who sets the most over the season.
When analysing the period between 2007 and 2018, it is quite evident that the actual dominant teams were the winners of the fastest lap competition. Interestingly, Mercedes, the utterly dominant force of the hybrid era was the outfit to dominate the battle for the fastest laps in the last five years.