When I first started watching F1 in 1989 the series had just set an all-time record for the largest number of cars trying to qualify for a Grand Prix: 39.
So how many cars should be on an F1 grid? Is it a problem if there are more cars than there are places on the grid?
The era of mega-grids
The entry list for the 1989 San Marino Grand Prix dwarfed modern F1 entries:
Honda Marlboro McLaren – Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost
Tyrrell Racing Organisation – Jonathan Palmer and Michele Alboreto
Canon Williams Team – Thierry Boutsen and Riccardo Patrese
Motor Racing Developments (Brabham) – Martin Brundle and Stefano Modena
Arrows Grand Prix International – Derek Warwick and Eddie Cheever
Camel Team Lotus – Nelson Piquet and Satoru Nakajima
Leyton House March Racing Team – Mauricio Gugelmin and Ivan Capelli
Osella Squadra Corse – Nicola Larini and Piercarlo Ghinzani
Benetton Formula – Alessandro Nannini and Johnny Herbert
Scuderia Italia (Dallara) – Alex Caffi and Andrea de Cesaris
Minardi Team – Pierluigi Martini and Luis Perez-Sala
Ligier Loto – Ren?ā?® Arnoux and Olivier Grouillard
Scuderia Ferrari SpA SEFAC – Nigel Mansell and Gerhard Berger
Equipe Larrousse – Yannick Dalmas and Philippe Alliot
Coloni SpA – Roberto Moreno and Pierre-Henri Raphanel
Euro Brun Racing – Gregor Foitek and Bernd Schneider
West Zakspeed Racing – Aguri Suzuki
Moneytron Onyx Formula One – Stefan Johansson and Bertrand Gachot
Rial Racing – Christian Danner and Volker Weidler
Automobiles Gonfaronaise Sportive – Gabriele Tarquini and Joachim Winkelhock
Of those 39 entries, one-third would not even start the race. “Pre-qualifying” (which ain’t been seen in these parts since 1992) would involve a group of the teams that had scored the fewest championship points in the previous year.
At Imola in 1989, nine drivers were out of the Grand Prix before qualifying proper had even begun: Weidler, Schneider, Suzuki, Raphanel, Winkelhock, Johansson, Ghinzani, Foitek and Gachot. A further four were knocked out in qualifying (Moreno, Danner, Arnoux and Alboreto), leaving 26 cars to start the race.
Thinning out their numbers
Why are there so fewer teams today? Largely because the cost of competing has rocketed, pushed up by the ever-increasing cost of buying success (wind tunnels, supercomputing systems for computational fluid dynamics research, etc…).
The FIA also placed a significant hurdle to entry for new teams in the form of a $48m bond that had to be lodged with them. The purpose was to keep out the undesirables – notorious marques like Andrea Moda and the later owners of Brabham whose dubious business practices harmed F1’s reputation.
How well these measures have worked is open to debate. The F1 field today boasts several major car manufacturers, while in 1989 there were only a few and they only operated as engine suppliers (Ferrari being the exception as usual).
But it is also very small and the future of some of these teams is in doubt – not only Super Aguri but also Toro Rosso, and we must not forget that the team that is presently Force India has had a different name in each of the last three years.
How many teams does F1 need?
Exactly what the FIA should do to increase the number of teams has been discussed here in a series of other posts about customer cars:
- Poll: Allow customer teams in F1?
- The FIA owe Prodrive an apology
- The FIA must solve the customers cars problem
What I want to know today is: how large do you think an F1 field should be?
Formula 1 races at some of the largest motor racing circuits in the world: Sepang and Shanghai are gigantic places, and F1’s 22-car grids look feeble when assembled together opposite the sprawling stands for the start of a race.
The FIA has strict limits on how many cars may be allowed on a track of a certain size, for safety reasons. But I think larger numbers of cars should be allowed at bigger tracks like, say, Shanghai, that can comfortably accommodate them. At somewhere like Monaco, on the other hand, the number of entries clearly needs to be smaller.
I think a 26 car grid should be F1’s minimum target. At tracks like Shangahi, Sepang, Bahrain and F1’s future venues in Abu Dhabi and India, surely 30 car grids or even larger should be possible?
To me the argument is simple: more cars in F1 equals more action on the track. And a lot of fans think the same – one of the widely-overlooked findings of the FIA’s surveys on Formula 1 (which they now seem to have lost interest in) was that 69% of fans want more teams in F1.
So let’s have some more teams. What do you think?