Last month’s column explored the butterfly effect of Michael Schumacher’s results getting the Tyrrell ’84 treatment when he was disqualified from the 1997 World Drivers Championship. Those of you who cast your minds over the question of what scenario I might spreadsheet next will not have taken long to come up with the other time that a team was disqualified from the World Championship: that being 2007, when McLaren-Mercedes got themselves embroiled in Spygate.
If that had been handled according to the precedent set by Tyrrell’s 1984 disqualification, which is of course the basis for this pair of articles, then McLaren would have been barred from all Grands Prix from Belgium onwards, and their prior results erased and reassigned to the cars who had finished behind them. This is almost opposite to how it was actually handled – with all McLaren results allowed to stand even as they were disqualified from the final standings – so we must first ask ourselves what the World Championships would have looked like:
And the corresponding table for the World Constructors Championship:
Quite surprisingly, there is a change in the Constructors pecking order: Honda, who in real life finished the season with only Jenson Button’s six points to their credit, inherited a further eleven to boost their tally enough to climb past Toro Rosso into seventh in the Championship. Given that Honda would withdraw from the sport at the end of the following season and that Toro Rosso had their bottomless funding from the their parent team, the top ten teams in this table are fundamentally unaffected. Indeed, the only one to experience a real, material change in circumstances is:
Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Actual results: DSQed from the WDC (166 points, 8 wins, 24 podiums)
Adjusted results: DSQed from the WDC (0 points, 0 wins, 0 podiums, missed four races)
Unlike in the Drivers Championship, the only team that suffers genuine consequences from this rewritten history is the one that prompted it. In real life, McLaren’s 2007 season is remembered for being the frontrunning team, whose hand-reared rookie driver took the fight not only to their reigning World Champion but to the sport as a whole. But for a sequence of events so improbable that one would doubt the validity of even their favourite YouTuber’s career mode playthrough, Hamilton would have been the sport’s only rookie World Champion.
In this timeline, that intrigue – and indeed the Championship battle – gets extinguished mere days after what had been a triumphant one-two in front of the Tifosi. At that point, Hamilton led the Championship by three points from his teammate, and a further 15 points from eventual Champion Kimi Raikkonen. From those heady heights, McLaren suddenly finds itself thrown from the Championship and stripped of its results.
The real impact would come from being barred from the last quarter of the season, denying their sponsors a significant amount of the exposure that may even have been enshrined into their contracts before the season started. Would Vodafone, Santander, Mobil-1 and the rest have stuck with a team that had earned plenty of bad press by association, and less TV time than they had signed up for?
For the most part, this altered Championship impacts the careers of the drivers who competed it. Starting, of course, with the World Champion:
Actual results: World Champion (110 points, 6 wins, 12 podiums)
Adjusted results: World Champion (130 points, 9 wins, 13 podiums)
Now here’s a fun one. We know that Kimi Raikkonen goes on an absolute tear in the second half of the season to take the closest World Drivers Championship battle in Formula One history as the rightful Champion. So from our perspective, Raikkonen inheriting a few extra wins and getting an extra 16 points on his Championship lead doesn’t seem like a big change.
This is not how it would seem to F1 fans in our universe where McLaren’s results are wiped off the table. To them, Kimi Raikkonen leaves Monza in third place in the WDC with an 18-point deficit to Hamilton. He arrives in Belgium without so much as another wheel being turned, the controversial owner of a World Championship lead of seven points, with his teammate now up to second place.
The McLarens aren’t allowed back on the track, and it looks to the fans as if the FIA has meddled directly in the Championship and handed him the win on a silver platter. This Championship would be more controversial than any other, including the conclusion of the 2021 Championship. Raikkonen’s title gains a huge asterisk that never goes away.
Actual results: 2nd in the WDC (109 points, 4 wins, 12 podiums)
Adjusted results: DSQed from the WDC (0 points, 0 wins, 0 podiums, missed four races)
The fairytale rookie Championship run was ended in this timeline not by a worn-down tyre at Shanghai or a work-down gearbox at Interlagos, but by a decision made at Place de la Concorde. Conventional wisdom is absolute: Hamilton was robbed of a Championship that was “rightfully” his. If anything, the disqualification here only serves to boost his legacy as his seven titles are instead viewed as seven “and a bit”.
Of course, all of this depends upon the fallout from 2007 not permanently break apart his relationship with the McLaren team. In such a situation, Christian Horner would happily dispense with either of Coulthard or Webber if the opportunity arose to sign Hamilton, who in this timeline would surely be both the most talented and most supported young driver in F1.
But assuming no change to his future career trajectory, this does lead to some changes in the record books. Hamilton overtakes Michael Schumacher’s 91-win tally at the season opener of the 2021 season at Sakhir. And his win tally, at time of writing, would be stuck on a poetic 99.
Actual results: 5th in the WDC (61 points, 2 podiums)
Adjusted results: 3rd in the WDC (86 points, 1 win, 8 podiums)
Formula One’s greatest modern winless driver does, in this timeline at least, get his win. And he gets it in the most Nick Heidfeld way possible: awarded three months later, thanks to a decision made on another continent regarding a controversy between two other (faster) teams. And in true Heidfeld fashion, it came at a race that would be remembered far more for the spectacular crash endured by his teammate (even for the heroics of the Super Aguri drivers) than it would for Heidfeld’s own performance.
But Nick Heidfeld would have become a race winner. Come 2010 though, one hopes he would have had more luck finding a drive – perhaps at Renault, Force India or Sauber (from Bahrain, not just Singapore) at the very least.
And much like Raikkonen with his World Championship, nobody would have been able to take Heidfeld’s win away from him. One hopes his trophy could take pride of place somewhere in his home.
Actual results: 7th in the WDC (30 points, 1 podium)
Adjusted results: 5th in the WDC (54 points, 1 win, 3 podiums)
In my opinion one of the most underappreciated Formula One drivers from the years I’ve been watching, Heikki Kovalainen is arguably the biggest beneficiary of the whole kerfuffle. Unlike Nick Heidfeld, whose win came retrospectively via the FIA boardroom, Heikki Kovalainen’s triumph comes on the racetrack. After qualifying in 10th (12th in real life, behind both McLarens), the young Finn mastered the chaos of wet weather and safety cars to inherit the race lead from Mark Webber after he gets crashed out of the race by the young Sebastian Vettel.
He then put in a masterclass of defensive driving in challenging conditions to hold off his compatriot, Champion Elect Raikkonen. Kovalainen secures his first ever win, at the head of the sport’s (so far) only-ever Finnish one-two. With the McLarens gone, Kovalainen is the only driver to beat Raikkonen on-track in the last eleven races in a car other than a Ferrari.
After a maiden win earned by a performance like that, Kovalainen’s stock in the paddock would be absolutely stratospheric. Alas, his middling 2008-09 seasons with McLaren (assuming that Hamilton stays alongside him to be a brutal measuring stick), and thus the doomed decision to sign for Malaysian Lotus in 2010, would likely ensure that even with this stellar rookie season, his career plays out virtually unchanged.
Actual results: 18th in the WDC (3 points)
Adjusted results: 16th in the WDC (5 points)
The final driver we shall mention here is one whose 2007 season barely changes at all. An awful start to the season means that by the time McLaren get barred from the last four races, his season points tally still stands at a perfect zero – even with the disqualifications. Across those last four races, much in real life, he scrapes together a few points to move ahead of Sutil, Barrichello, Scott Speed and Anthony Davidson in the World Championship. So far, nothing of note has changed.
Except of course that this is an article written for GPRejects.com, and for us the term “Reject” has an objective, rather than subjective definition. To qualify as a Reject, one must finish their F1 careers with results no better than a single fifth place, or two sixth places.
Vitantonio Liuzzi finished his real-life career with two sixth places as his best results. However, his drive at Shanghai is enough for fifth place in this world without any McLarens on the grid. That means that when, in October 2010, Liuzzi piloted the Force India VJM03 to sixth place at Yeongam, Vitantonio Liuzzi would have successfully unrejectified himself.
Even compared to last month’s article, the train of thought explored in this article changes very little in real time. It is, effectively, disqualifying a team that is already disqualified. And yet, there are a variety of ripples that hint at the possibility of an intriguing alternate history.
What if Christian Horner had managed to poach a scorned Lewis Hamilton away from the disgraced McLaren? By 2009, he and Vettel could form a fascinating super-team at Red Bull. Would Heikki Kovalainen, in only his sophomore year but with a win to his name, be trusted to lead McLaren? And would they have to pair him with Pedro de la Rosa for yet another stint in Formula One?
So many questions, and so many things to think about – all of them stemming from the very tiny question of “What if the FIA disqualified McLaren a bit harder?”
And this concludes Missing The Points’ duology of fictional World Championship tables. Coming next month, a table based upon real and unchanged Formula One results. What a thrill that will be!