Much has been made of the FIA survey’s revelation that – shock, horror – F1 fans want to see more overtaking. But one crucial aspect of the survey has gone without sufficient comment – the need for more teams.
The FIA survey revealed that 69% of Formula One fans think that there are not enough teams in the sport at present.
There are currently ten teams in Formula One, each fielding two drivers, giving twenty cars. For comparison’s sake, 23 drivers competed in the IRL’s Indy 200 at Nashville and 18 were in the Champ Car race at Edmonton this weekend.
Given this, you might be forgiven for thinking that 20 cars in Formula Is not out of the ordinary. But a regular field of twenty cars is actually the smallest typical field size in decades.
(There have, of course, been one-off instances of very small fields due to mitigating circumstances. The most norotious of which was this year’s United States Grand Prix, which featured just six runners due to a problem with Michelin tyres. Prior to that, only 14 cars started the San Marino Grand Prix in 1982 due to a row over the disqualification of several other cars from an earlier race.)
This is remarkable as Formula One entry sizes peaked only 16 years ago – 19 cars attempted to qualifying for the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix, representing 20 teams.
Of those 39 only 26 could take that start of a race, and so qualifying and pre-qualifying sessions were used as much to weed out the uncompetitive runners as decide the starting positions – amazingly, one-third of the entrant wouldn’t even start the race. Entries were similarly high in 1990, but slowly began to diminish in the following years.
By 1995 the entrant was down to 13 teams, giving exactly enough teams to fill the grid. However the economic pressures that had forced many teams out of F1 continued to pluck teams from the grid. Simtek departed halfway through 1995, in only their second season. Pacific fared little better, disappearing in the off-season before 1996.
1995′s sole new team, Forti, made it through the year but went bust after the British Grand Prix in 1996. Thus, at that year’s German Grand Prix, only 20 cars took the start, a situation which has persisted more or less ever since.
In spite of increased interest in the sport from major manufacturers the sheer cost of entering a team in Formula One remains prohibitively high. This is not a solely economic concern – it is part of the FIA regulations.
Point 44 of the FIA sporting regulations for Formula One stipulates that, â€œany applicant which did not take place in the championship for the previous year must deposit USD $48,000,000.â€ Although this vast amount is repaid, plus interest, over the course of a new team’s first year, it is so great an amount that it has discouraged many teams from entering the series.
F1′s small grids, therefore, are by design. But the reasoning for that decision is somewhat flawed. F1 commercial boss Bernie Ecclestone has often bemoaned the quality of many of the teams that entered F1 when entry sizes were huge. And certainly some of them – Andrea Moda, Coloni, EuroBrun – were complete embarassments.
But, crucially, of those 20 teams that entered in 1989, 15 scored points – and this was in the days when only the top six scored.
Sadly, when entry sizes went down a lot of the wheat went with the chaff. Great names like Lotus and Brabham went along with plucky upstarts like Leyton House and Arrows. A larger entry for Grand Prix races would create more interest at a stroke – more drivers (and more nationalities to market the sport to) and a greater opportunity for racing on the track.
Formula One is so expensive now that we’re unlikely to see the likes of Andrea Moda again – perhaps it’s time to get rid of the entry bond rule? All those F1 fans can’t be wrongâ€¦