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. I like 26 as a goal, too, though frankly, I’ve enjoyed races with only 16 and 18 cars running; it’s quality, not quantity.

    That having been said, the real over-the-top measure of success is to run as many cars as FIA deem safe for each venue. (That is, there should be enough cars that not everyone can make the grids, again.)

    Somewhere else, I suggested that since movement seems to be towards smaller engines and what not, why not simply make a true global F3, and heavily promote it? Would it be successful?

    That way, we’d have more environmentally friendly, smaller, cheaper cars, we’d have customer cars allowed, and we’d have larger grids.

  2. How about we run 200~300 cars, like nascrap does and see what happens?

    On the other hand you could all stop complaining. If there were 26 cars you would think 22 is bettter. If 23.8 were the norm then you’ll scream for 19.7.

    The thing is, you are never satisfied with nothing. I don’t even have a race in my country and you don’t see me “oh let’s add 6 cars to the grid, plus the GP2, customer F1’s and a couple of turismos there”… ;)

  3. Green Flag said on 6th May 2008, 1:07

    Let’s go for quality over quantity. Many uncompetitive cars don’t make for better racing. Currently there are only 3 or 4 teams that have a chance of winning a race, the rest make up the numbers and form a sort of moving chicane for the aforementioned top 6 to 8 cars. I’d rather have 12 to 14 highly competitive, reliable cars driven by the world’s best drivers, than 20 or 24 cars simply to meet Bernie’s contractual obligations.

  4. Steve K said on 6th May 2008, 1:15

    What F1 first needs is to revamp the points system. Give points to all competitors so the smaller teams are actually competing for something (why would anyone want to finance a team that cant score one measly point?). Plus, there also is a huge difference between finishing 9th and 20th in a race, yet F1 rules says their isn’t.

  5. Journeyer said on 6th May 2008, 1:45

    “I’d rather have 12 to 14 highly competitive, reliable cars driven by the world’s best drivers, than 20 or 24 cars simply to meet Bernie’s contractual obligations.”

    Bang on the money, Green Flag! :)

  6. In five years we’ll see a common chassis-engine series similar to what Indy car racing has become in America. Chassis and engines provided by……Ferrari, of course.
    It’s why they plan on building cars for A1GP, practice for when all the other manufacturers bail out of F1. With Jean Le Toad Todt as FIA president all will be well in the world of Maranello, and Ferrari, the factory team, will never lose another F1 race.

    Good God, I just made myself ill! :):)

  7. the limit said on 6th May 2008, 3:49

    Your not the only one George K. Although I respect Greenflags opinion, I am of the belief that there must be a cut off point for the number of teams in F1.
    We are getting very close to not meeting that point, and the omens do not look good. Earlier this year, Toyota were told by their bosses back in Japan that they would be given two more years to turn the team around, after spending $3 billion and not recording a single win, or the team would be scrapped.
    Also, there are serious doubts over the future of Toro Rosso. Sure, in a perfect world, it would be great to see a Kimi or a Fernando driving for every team, but that simply is not possible, and never has been.
    The point being, is that more cars leads to more action, more incidents, and increases the chances of driver errors. Fast cars will always lead, but the others would have to be lapped, which in itself will add some drama.
    The nightmare scenario, which few have mentioned, is a repeat of Indianapolis 2005, and for the sport to be exposed in all its folly due to political rangling and pure greed and stupidity.
    It interests me how entertaining some of the GP2 races are, before the main F1 races, and how often they overshadow F1 races for pure entertainment. F1’s trouble is that there are too many pampered egos, to many inflated individuals, who cannot agree on the colour of piss, and that is what troubles me the most.

  8. Whewbacca the Cookie said on 6th May 2008, 8:35

    Quality over quantity is one point of view. Personally I would go for quantity and increase the number of cars to about 30. The number of teams on the other hand should be limited to 12, simply because there is not enough pit space in most of the traditional F1 venues. The top six teams could be allowed to race two cars each, whereas the other six to field three cars per team. I agree with SteveK as well regarding the point scoring system. There should be a reward for smaller teams for finishing races even if they fail to end up in the top eight. Perhaps even a bonus point for the fastest lap…

  9. DG said on 6th May 2008, 8:36

    Yes, I think there should be more teams in F1, and there should be a definiete ‘Smaller’ category. If we went the way that was talked about a while ago, where both Drivers in a Team could have separate Pit Boxes, and the Drivers raced each other, similar to NASCAR, then you could bring in ‘F1 Junior’ teams at the back of the grid with only one car to race, which at the moment would allow for about six more teams.
    They would be set a much smaller, workable budget, they would be allowed to use ‘Customer Cars’ as part of keeping the costs down, they would have a separate ‘Junior’ Championship, and would probably help the ‘Rookie’ drivers get a foothold. Perhaps the more successful teams would eventually get bigger and run two cars, but that is very much what happens in Touring Car and GT Racing at the moment!
    Also, by allowing the two car teams to race their drivers against each other, it would mean the two cars could carry different colours and sponsors, making it a more colourful grid, and maybe even more international!
    And if you pay attention to GP2, you will realise that a lot of those teams already have connections with the F1 teams – the most obvious being FMS and Force India, but also Ardent and McLaren, and which ever one Jean Todt’s son manages! I think an ‘F1 Junior’ would be a good link between the two, especially with ‘Customer Cars’!
    I put ‘Customer Cars’ in this way because although its a dirty word these days, there have always been ‘Customers’ and even now, since even the bigger teams are using each other’s engines, I don’t really see that there can be any argument against buying a complete package. Actually, I want a team to have a fixed budget and to be allowed to buy the chassis, engine, tyres, electronics and fuel from whoever they want, as long as it meets the F1 requirements.

  10. Chalky said on 6th May 2008, 9:20

    I personally think somewhere around 26 cars is the limit. I know there where plenty of teams tending for the 12th team place, that has yet to happen. Maybe the customer cars argument has knocked this on he head.
    I do not think F1 should go down the customer car route as vast amount of money is spent on aero work. Force India mentioned that they have 3 wind tunnels.
    Now my opinion is that there is too much aero in F1. I would like the FIA to reduce the wing area on F1 cars. By doing so it should reduce cornering speed and hopefully increase the chances of a following car getting closer in the corners.
    Reducing the size of the wings year on year should remove the benefit of spending such vast sums on aero \ wind tunnel work. This in turn should make F1 more affordable \ competitive allowing more independent teams to join the series, pushing the number of cars up.
    We’d still need a 107% rule if the numbers got to 24 cars.

  11. Whewbacca the Cookie said on 6th May 2008, 9:29

    Yeah and just as we speak Super Aguri team announced that they withdraw from F1 effective immediately :(

  12. al said on 6th May 2008, 16:23

    I think 28 cars would do fine.

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