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F1's Constant Changing of Rules is Confusing to Bettors...By Hartley Henderson

Heading into the 2009 season there was a lot of excitement in the F1 world. Everyone assumed Ferrari and McLaren would be competitive as usual, but the emergence of Robert Kubica and Sebastien Vettel last year, as well as the rebirth of Fernando Alonso, made all experts suspect that this would be a highly competitive year for the title. Things became even more intriguing when Brawn GP bought out Honda and created a satellite Mercedes team. In testing Jenson Button and Rubens Barichello were consistently the fastest, while Lewis Hamilton was one of the slowest. It was doubtful that either Button or Barichello would win many races, but almost certainly they would be competitive in the points. As a result of the testing sessions there was a big bunch up in the odds at all books. At Betfair Lewis Hamilton's odds went up considerably after the testing session, while Jenson Button's and Ruben Barichello's odds plummeted. In fact both drivers were available at over 100/1 before the testing, but fell to 12/1 and 20/1, respectively, right after the last testing session.

Things indeed looked interesting until out of nowhere FIA announced that they were changing the scoring system so that the driver's championship would be awarded to the driver with the most wins. The move was illogical and had teams and bettors up in arms. Many on the posting boards at Betfair were calling it "the Ferrari rule," since Ferrari would have won almost every championship the last decade under this rule. When the new rule was announced many books and players started offering higher odds on Button and Barichello, while dropping the price on the Ferraris as well as Lewis Hamilton. While the McLaren team appears to be at a disadvantage currently, the team believes the car will be very competitive again within a few weeks. And under this system Hamilton could have a great late run and win the championship, even if he gets off to a slow start. Needless to say all the F1 teams started complaining vehemently about this new rule, particularly those whose drivers really have little chance for the wins. It also raised concerns that the rule change would result in reckless driving by those who would be more worried about wins than finishing races.

Then on March 20, F1 once again changed the rules when the teams unanimously voted against FIA's plan, thereby deferring the rule change to 2010. "I can't stand this," a good friend of mine who writes about F1 and bets on it religiously said, "I never have issues with any other sport I bet on, but F1 changes their rules more than porn stars change partners. I bet on this sport based on one set of rules and then have to backtrack and then have to backtrack again. As an F1 fan and not just a bettor I think it's time for Ecclestone and the other boneheads to leave."

Indeed F1 does like to change the rules. In 2 years the series tried 4 different qualifying methods before finally settling on the one they have currently. For some reason they deemed the qualifying rule that was accepted for decades (an hour to post the best time) as inadequate and eventually settled on the knock out qualifying that they currently use (although many teams are unhappy with that method also). They also tweaked the points system numerous times and installed a rule to disallow team orders (i.e. one team member moves over to allow the other one to pass), although everyone knows that teams have a way of getting around that stipulation. Furthermore, in 2005 the series fiddled with pit strategies when it told teams they had to run an entire race on the same set of tires. And then later they changed the rules to allow for tire changes, but required teams to use both soft and hard tires at some point during a race. These rule changes have had everyone scratching their heads as they seem to benefit no one, least of all the teams. Bettors just want consistency in the rules.

F1 also announced a new rule to take place in 2010 that will install a "voluntary cap" to try and cut down on costs. At the same time, they are also prepared to throw out rules that were put in place to make the sport more equitable and will allow teams to do whatever is necessary to win. Needless to say the larger teams are delighted as they have better technology which will allow them to get that edge over their rivals, while the smaller teams will always be a step behind. While other sports are doing what they can to try and even things up, F1 seems determined to create as much discrepancy as possible between the elite teams and the smaller teams.

Controversy is nothing new to F1. In 2005 during qualifying at the United States Grand Prix, the Michelin tires on several cars were falling apart during practice and qualifying. Michelin informed teams using its tires that they weren't safe to race on and attempted to send new sets to teams that were more adept on the track, but FIA wouldn't allow it. Teams also suggested that putting a chicane on a corner at the fastest part of the track would help slow cars down to create a safer situation, but again FIA disallowed it. And teams asked for the right to at least change tires in the race to make it safer, but again F1 refused with the ironic argument that "rules are rules" and it wasn't up to them to make changes prior to a race. When the race began all cars, except the Ferraris and the 2 worst teams, pulled off the track, resulting in a sham of a race where fans tossed cans and garbage on the track. It also was the beginning of the end of F1 racing in the United States. And most bookmakers lost a ton of money to bettors who were willing to take a chance that the teams on Michelin tires wouldn't race.

As well, in 2007 Ferrari complained that McLaren were spying on them, although investigations by F1 proved inconclusive. Nevertheless McLaren were stripped of any chance to win the constructor's championship (which they were almost certain to win) and were fined about US$100million. And earlier this year F1 chief Bernie Ecclestone showed his bias to Ferrari by announcing that he believed Massa deserved the title last year and would do what he could to help the team. His exact comments were as follows:

"I [had] hoped that Felipe would do something last year so let's hope he does it this year," Ecclestone said on visit to Ferrari's ski retreat. It hasn't gone unnoticed that most decisions benefit Ferrari.

Of course nothing should be too surprising when it comes to F1. This is the same organization whose chief, Max Mosley was found on a sex tape barking orders in German as he whipped two hookers dressed in striped uniforms while 2 other hookers in Nazi uniforms looked on. In any other league the guy would have been chastised and seen as an embarrassment to the sport and shown the door. But for some reason in F1 it seems to have been swept under the rug as just an unfortunate incident.

What should have been one of the best F1 seasons in quite some time has turned in to a big mess, thanks to the incompetence and bias of those in charge of the series. And bettors and bookmakers are just forced to look on in confusion and amazement.

Hartley Henderson

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