“Is handicapping right for a world championship?”
Is it right that the very top level of our sport is effectively a handicapped championship?
That’s the question I keep asking myself after weekends like the last one.
My answer will always be the same: absolutely not. That’s how I see the current running order regulations.
Punishing the championship leader by having him run first on the road for the first two days of competition is, as I see it, a handicapping system. I’ve always viewed handicap races as being for under-performers and amateurs. There’s no place for it at the top level of any sport.
It’s also mighty confusing for the casual viewer. The blindingly obvious system is for the championship standings to be reflected in the opening day’s order and then, surely, subsequent days should reflect rally order. It’s simple to understand and, above all, fair.
When we last employed this equitable system, it was much maligned because of the end-of-day tactics that left drivers slowing down to jockey for favourable road position on the following day. That’s a fair point and it was a good reason for dropping the system. But the lack of split times to the cars mean such tactics are no longer possible. So why not go back to the old system?
Our governing body doesn’t want to. They are very happy to see the best driver in the world start certain rallies with no chance of winning. I heard a senior figure stating their preferred option was to run all three days in championship order! The apparent reason for this is to increase the spectacle and entertainment, a view that’s held by many within the sport.
But aren’t these the very same people who derided and comprehensively destroyed Jost Capito’s shootout proposal? And what was Mr Capito trying to do? Oh yes, increase the spectacle and entertainment.
In my book, you just can’t have it both ways. We either look at the sport and stick with the DNA that made it great or we take comprehensive steps to address the lack of relevance that our sport is faced with, particularly in the eyes of a younger audience.
Seb Ogier’s frustration was mighty evident in Argentina and indeed spilled over in a very unseemly spat with the amiable Hayden Paddon on Saturday evening. Too many were too quick to castigate the behaviour of the Frenchman. Ogier is a brawler, a street fighter, a man with only one aim: to win. He uses, quite rightly, every means available to achieve his goal. He dominates Latvala, knows Mikkelsen is no threat, but Paddon is something new, a genuine contender. So he resorted to psychological warfare, and it very nearly worked!
Starting order regulations are the spark and the ammunition Ogier needs to have a go. If you really want to dampen his powder, the answer is very simple: change the rules.