How many teams does F1 need?

1992 German Grand Prix start, Hockenheimring, 470150

Following the disappointing news that Honda are about to give their pet dog Super Aguri the Old Yeller treatment it looks as though Formula 1 will have just 20 cars for the rest of the season.

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?? 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?

Chinese Grand Prix, Shanghai, start, 2004, 470313

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:

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?

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27 comments on How many teams does F1 need?

  1. cyanide said on 5th May 2008, 11:08

    Atleast 35. On a larger track, around 50. Madness would be the right word I think :D.

  2. Nathan said on 5th May 2008, 11:08

    With things the way they are at the moment, I think the only way to increase the number of teams is to allow customer teams. However, I do feel that customer teams should not be allowed to compete as part of the Constructors’ championship because they aren’t constructors. But they should be allowed to compete nonetheless.

  3. Customer teams would be OK provided there were strict limits to make sure they still had to do enough work themselves, and limits on the cost discount and sharing facilties.

    I would like to see a return to the percentage qualifying rules as well so cars that aren’t fast enough don’t get to race.

  4. right now the limit is 12 teams 24 cars but we already got used to having 10-11 teams. When it looked like 12 teams may finally make it (Toyota entry into F1) we lost Prost and Arrows and went down to 10 instead. We were supposed to see 12 teams year (Prodrive) we may end with 10 as early as this weekend if Super Aguri goes under …

    So, I think before we start asking question about how many cars we want on grid we inevitably have to back the question, why we can’t even have full 24 grid the current rules allow … and then we will be back to customer cars yes or no :-) viscious circle …

  5. How many do we have at the moment? Not enough.

    How many do we need? 30 is a good amount for me.

  6. Rob R. said on 5th May 2008, 13:49

    No new teams are coming to F1 because nobody wants to spend £500 million a year trying to master the arcane art of building upside-down light aircraft with tinny-sounding V8 engines, knowing full well that it’ll take at least 5 years to get it right. That’s why F1 is down to 10 teams, and thats why it could be even worse very soon – what if in 2009 Renault and Toyota both decided to pull the plug due to lack of results?

    The simple solution which no-one seems to have suggested yet, is to have a regulation that mandates a maximum total surface area for aerofoils on a car. It would be much more practical and convenient than Max’s ludicrous ideas of capping budgets, and sending in FIA 00-Agents to blow up wind tunnels with C4.

  7. I’d go for a minimum 24 (even Monaco should be able to take that many) and preferably more, with a 107% limit to keep out teams that more rightly belong in GP2. The transition from GP2 to F1 has to be looked at; the Super Aguri story now tells me that even customer cars won’t solve the immediate problem of sparse grids.

  8. the limit said on 5th May 2008, 14:26

    What if we just merge F1 with the teams from GP2, abit simular to what IRL and Champcar did? That may sound crazy, I know, but if some of the GP2 teams combined to give themselves extra clout money wise, atleast we would get a bigger grid.
    GP2 race the same circuits at the same time as F1, so
    if they wanted to, why not? If not the sport is going to be just four teams and six drivers.

  9. Daniel said on 5th May 2008, 16:44

    I think 26 cars would be fine and your idea of changeable grid sizes according to the track’s capacity is very good, but could backfire, especially against the old historical european venues that you long so much to preserve… by allowing 30 cars to run in Sepang, and 26 in Silverstone, i.e., there would be a strong pressure coming from the midfield and lower teams to move more and more races to new purpose-built Tilke-like billionaire tracks…

    And I think that more teams are necessary especially with the current pointscoring system, that awards points to the eight best finishers… when the 8th placed driver scores with a 20-car grid, almost anyone reliable and lucky enough will score in an unusual race, even if he is five or six seconds off-pace…

  10. Dave M said on 5th May 2008, 16:47

    Within the next ten years I can see F1 as we know it self-destructing. If one or two manufacturers pull out and the non-factory teams vanish, that’s not enough to build a sustainable championship.

    After a year or two of chaos a new series would rise from the ashes as some sort of ‘back to basics’ grand prix championship with larger grids, lower costs, and some form of compromise regulations.

  11. KB said on 5th May 2008, 16:56

    I would say another 2 teams or 4 cars would be a nice number, although I would like to see the likes of Audi have a team, with a proper budget, the front guys need more competition

  12. michael counsell said on 5th May 2008, 19:36

    How many car manufacturer teams were who owned teams then? Very few and generally not major manufacturers the cars that did compete would often be well off the pace and unreliable. For example Mansell was third on the grid 1.5 seconds off pole, Piquet was 8th on the grid,3 seconds of Senna on pole and only 11 cars finished with only the McLarens on the lead lap. Nowadays all teams are much much closer to the front and most of the time more cars finish the race. 39 was far too many and maybe they’d been better off running an F1 A race and an F1 B race in those days for non qualifiers.

  13. Robert McKay said on 5th May 2008, 19:39

    “Within the next ten years I can see F1 as we know it self-destructing. If one or two manufacturers pull out and the non-factory teams vanish, that’s not enough to build a sustainable championship.

    After a year or two of chaos a new series would rise from the ashes as some sort of ‘back to basics’ grand prix championship with larger grids, lower costs, and some form of compromise regulations.”

    Kind of think this might not be the worst thing in the world. There’s a need for a rethink of Formula 1 in general, in my view: a ground-up rebuild and not the continual tweaking of small things at the top that do nothing or very little overall.

    Customer cars *could* help, but they have their own problems. If we did have customer cars I’d prefer it if they ran their own championship, or create a third championship: drivers, constructors (only), and teams. Customer teams would not score constructors points (and the prize money would be awarded such that the lowest constructor still got more than the best non-constructor) but they would compete with everyone else in a World Team Championship which would be a bit less prestigious but at least be a measure of each team together. I think you have to have reasons to aspire to being full constructors and in F1 that generally means financial.

  14. Dave M said on 5th May 2008, 20:07

    I agree Robert, the three championship idea (drivers, constructors, and customer teams) is the best way out of the current situation.

  15. I think their should be customers cars in F1 but like le mans series they would run as production cars and the manufacturers should be classed as prototypes with two championships running at the same time.
    It would give a larger field, spread the cost for manufacturers and be another way of trying new drivers before stepping into a F1 car – speeds would be similar and safety similar – and anyone who cant drive around one of these cars shouldn’t be driving in F1

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