Why three-car teams isn’t a great idea

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Three Lotuses in the top four places at Brands Hatch in 1968

Three Lotuses in the top four places at Brands Hatch in 1968

Unhappy at missing out on the opportunity to get Michael Schumacher back in one of his cars, Luca di Montezemolo is pushing for teams to be able to run three cars again:

We’re continuing to fight until every team has the right to start with three cars in the next season (and one I’d have handed over to Michael with pleasure).

The prospect of having Grands Prix with 39-car grids has obvious appeal – but there are problems with the three-car plan as well.

More cars equals better racing?

The FIA’s decision to try to attract new teams for 2010 may have been politically motivated and long overdue, but nonetheless it is a welcome development that should increase grids from the meagre 20-22 they’ve languished at since 1998.

Similarly, allowing teams to run three cars instead of two appears to be a good idea. It would put more cars on the track – and those most likely to run more cars will be the ones with the best kit, meaning greater competition at the front of the field.

Plus, F1 teams had been allowed to run more than two cars in years past.

That’s fine in principle, but how well it works in practice depends on how teams embrace the concept. If Ferrari brought three F2010s next year, all the the latest modifications at each race, for Felipe Massa, Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso, we’d see some mighty racing.

If Ferrari stuck one top-line driver in a car and gave him all the best parts, while the other two had to support him, we’d be back to the nadir of the Schumacher years.

Pushing out the smaller teams

The clue to the other problem with three-car teams is in this quote from Montezemolo:

I prefer three McLaren and three Renault to three “whatevers”.

This is a drum Ferrari has banged before. Back in May the team issued a press release saying:

Can a world championship with teams like [the 2010 applicants] – with due respect – can have the same value as today’s Formula 1, where Ferrari, the big car manufacturers and teams, who created the history of this sport, compete? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call it Formula GP3?

Three-car teams will shift the balance of power further towards the biggest teams with the greatest resources. Part of it is simple mathematics: with two-car squads at least four outfits have to score points every weekend – with three-car teams the top eight places could be filled by cars from just three teams, with one car to spare.

The argument in terms of costs is more complex. Although it would be more cost-effective to run three cars instead of two, it would increase the total costs of each team. This again would hit the smaller teams hardest.

In a worst-case scenario F1 might eventually turn into another DTM, with just two manufacturers filling half of the grid each, spoiling races by shuffling their cars around to put their favoured driver in the lead position. The occasional use of team orders we see in F1 today is tolerated (as with Ferrari at Shanghai last year), but if it was happening on a large scale every race weekend I think a lot of people would start to turn off.

To my mind, three-car teams looks like a seductively simple ‘quick-fix’ that would do more harm than good in the long term.

But you can always persuade me otherwise in the comments. Over to you…

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95 comments on “Why three-car teams isn’t a great idea”

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  1. I agree with the article that three-car teams are a bad idea. Personally I would only want three-car teams if the alternative was smaller grids due to teams withdrawing from F1.

    As the limit for 2010 onwards is set at 26 car grids I would prefer 13 teams with two cars each, even if some of the teams had no hope of ever winning a Grand Prix, rather than having the existing teams use up the extra grid spaces with third cars.

    1. I agree – it just seems totally unfair the Montezemolo way.

  2. The points aren’t a problem as WRC did for years..
    Only 2 cars are nominated to score point!

    In a way more top cars and drivers are cool… but it does indeed have negatives as pointed out.

    1. I would be OK with a system that only allowed 2 out of the 3 cars to score, but my inclination lies in having more teams out there running.

      And I want testing back.

      1. Bigbadderboom
        15th August 2009, 12:04

        But the teams would then use their 3rd non scoring car as a defensive moving chicane stop any potential threat. To run 3 cars with only 2 scoring would leave McLaren and Ferrari simply blocking out other point scoring positions, it my opionion it would be a nightmare with other 2 car teams complaining about tactical use of the 3rd car. The disadvantages far outweigh any advantages.

  3. I agree Keith, it would result in too much domination by the big teams. Also, one of the things that makes F1 more enjoyable to me compared to the open wheel racing here in the States is that the teams/drivers are very clear and easy to understand. Having 2 cars that look identical, no more, no less, makes it more of a ‘team’ sport. When I watch IRL, Indy, CART, or whatever they decide to call it, it is harder to feel any team loyalty and it does get a bit confusing (annoying).
    I really don’t see why there is this constant need to change everything in the sport.

    1. I really don’t see why there is this constant need to change everything in the sport.

      Agreed. I think F1 wants to hold the record on (pointless) rule changes. I wonder how many fans are driven away by this nonsense.

    2. Well, now that you mention it, American Racing Fans don’t really support the teams or constructors: They support the drivers. I believe its more of an European thing to support the teams as much (or sometimes even more) as the drivers.

      On the main topic, the points system would have to be completely revamped, or eitherwise the constructors championship would wrap up pretty quickly.. just imagine if Brawn had 3 cars this season.

      1. thats because of the nature of the sport.

  4. I feel that an expanded grid is much better served by increasing the number of teams, not the number of cars per team. Keith has summed it up very well.

    I’d much rather see 15 teams of two cars each. Thirty cars would fill up the tracks very nicely, and make for some spectacular racing, I’d think.

    Now, if only we could get FiA to stop turning F1 into a “spec” series. Tech rules have to be more guideline and less rule, if ever we are going to see true innovation in the sport again.

    And with the cost reductions now firmly ensconsed in the new Concorde Agreement, new teams could be innovativly competitive, were the details of the rules relaxed a bit.

  5. It would be trouble with a capital T. I could just imagine all of the whining from a number of drivers.

  6. another bad point in 3 teams is you will need larger garages, which means tracks might refuse to edit there pits to meet the regulations for 3 cars.

    maybe they should think of an EXTREMELY cost effective rule change to allow every team even teams with less resources to run 3 cars without any problems eg less restrictions

  7. I was just telling on twitter earlier how I think it is a bad idea. I would prefer more to see more teams with 2 cars then 3-car teams. It could lead to 1-2-3 finishes and focus would come even more to big teams while smaller ones will scrape for points even more then they do now. I don’t see how it is cost-effective, building 3 chasis and paying 3 drivers would for sure be more expensive and we see how teams ”struggle” now to get updates ready for both cars.

    I think I would prefer more b teams before 3-car teams again…

  8. This is absolutely a ridiculous idea. It is very obvious that di Montezemolo is suggesting this idea just to accommodate schumacher. Schumi’s time is over!! i just dunno why people can’t accept that fact. We’ve seen great drivers come & go, some even die, but to change a rule just to accommodate this one man is just unfair. Luca is nuts & needs to consult a physiotherapist just as he did in 1999.

    1. oops i meant psychotherapist.

    2. I think LDM is saying this out of frustration with his current lineup: remember that many believe it was LDM himself who pushed Schumi to retire to make way for Kimi. Kimi may have won a title, but he’s not exactly been as successful as Schumacher was.

      LDM wants Schumi back to
      1. relieve his conscience of what he may have done in 2006, and to
      2. motivate the team to win the titles (whether it be with him or whoever his teammate is)

      1. but haven’t they won enough titles? after all it was during the schumacher era in 05 & 06 they lost both titles. people seem to be forgetting the fact that ferrari are the current world constructor champion(Dubious) but still. They are doing well without schumi.He’s 40+ & i dunno what’s he gotta prove to anyone? he has all the records in the book, however controversial they may seem. the only thing schumi will be doing by returning to ferrari is to wreak his team-mate’s career. do we want that to happen?

      2. And bringing Schumi back would be a huge boost to earnings. Valencia sold more tickets, betting companies saw a surge in orders, and I bet Ferrari has sold a bunch more hats and shirts the past couple of weeks.

    3. If Lou comes up with some idea, you can be sure that it would benefit Ferrari, not the world of F1.
      I agree with Keith : no 3-car teams.

  9. I would be all for 3-car teams if the grid would have decreased to less than, say, 7 teams. But now, with 9 + 3 + 1 teams on the cards, there’s simply no need.

  10. Heikki Kulta, a Finnish insider who is very influent, seems to know something about the Concord Agreement and the clause about the third car is in place:

    — At least 20 cars in grid guaranteed

    If needed, a 3rd car without points for drivers and constructors

    If a 3rd car finishes in top 8, it takes points away from the cars behind it

    Teams using 3rd car are drawn. They get 20% bigger budget for that race

    — Cheaper superlicenses: 1609 € + 440 €/point

    — No alternative series until end of 2012

    —Less power for FIA president: all regulations through FOTA technical workgroup and F1 commission.

    — Simple majority between teams will change rules

    — Only Ferrari will have a veto (They will keep this nonsense??)
    LINK: http://www.ts.fi/f1/uutiset/65878.html

  11. Isn’t the picture at the top of the article including the non-works Lotus of Rob Walker? Should a non-works team be held up as an example and be included in this discussion?

  12. I’m in favour provided that each team nominates two drivers at the start of the season who can score WCC points. All three would compete in the WDC of course.

    Why not? It would increase the competition and make it more likely that top drivers could compete in equal machinery.

  13. Or it could be that Ferrari are trying to accomodate Alonso with Kimi and Massa for next year as both Kimi and Massa have contracts next year…

  14. We already have a team with more than two cars. And it has used this structure to provide research and production scale, to evaluate drivers, to claim income from revenue sharing, and (until this year) prop up it’s lead drivers’ grid positions. Do we really want a series where the top teams are running test cars with, as it were, clipped wings?

  15. Hey, why doesn’t Luca just field 20 cars and no other teams compete, then Ferrari would be guaranteed to win.

    1. Good idea. A1GP anyone? ;)

  16. Three cars would be a disaster. Frankly I dont think it will ever happen. It is a silly idea at this stage specially for the current tracks. Just imagine 39 cars in Monaco? the race would be over before it even begins. The chance given for the safety car to come out will increase by factor of 50%. The race will turn into a dull train race. Chances that cars may crash out increases, chances that the front runners will hit traffic increases.

    Basically until the technical rules are adjusted so that overtaking is made possible, increasing the number of cars under current conditions would be catastrophic.

  17. Moo Point: Like a cow's opinion, it's Moo!!
    12th August 2009, 16:33

    Dear Luca,

    I have come up with a clever system that will allow you to run 4 Ferrari’s without the need to change the current rules.

    All you need to do is enter an “independent” team under the name of another of the Fiat Group brands and enter into a “support agreement” then you will have 4 cars. I mean if the designer from the new team (let’s call them Masseratti F1) happens to see the designs for the new Ferrari while hes having a factory tour then I don’t think anyone would be able to complain…

    Anyway, just a thought.

    1. Hush!!! Don’t give him anymore ideas!!! Monte will end up fielding Lancia, Abarth, Alfa-Romeo AND Maserati teams!!!

      He’ll be running out of TV sets to smash if it happens…

      1. LOL now Lou has Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, so that makes, adding FIAT, nine teams.
        9 times 3 equal 27 — they have the whole grid covered.

  18. Kind of runs at odds with cost-cutting as well.

    Maybe Luca would like to see enough cars that they can all line up end-to-tail so that the fans on the tracks don’t have a moment without seeing cars on the track. Then we can also trust the FIA to checker-flag the wrong part of the worm and we’d have a whole new type of controversy to argue about.

    1. then we can also trust the FIA to checker-flag the wrong part of the worm and we’d have a whole new type of controversy to argue about

      ROFLMAO!!! di Montezemolo will make sure there is a ferrari at the tail-end of the snake :)
      Luca Badoer’s future looks very secure if thats the case :)

  19. Why can’t we just have 22 cars painted in red with the prancing horse logos on it? Luca?

  20. I agree with you 100% Keith. I suspect LdM is just stirring really, this can’t be a particularly serious plan. It does smack of desperate measures for desperate times…

    However I would not object to teams being allowed to use a third car for a third (young) driver to use on Friday practice if in-season testing remains to be banned; if they are worried about the costs surely they could use the spare car for this purpose on Friday, before reverting to the same format as now for Saturday and Sunday.

    Or perhaps as an off-the-wall idea, allow teams to run a third (young) driver on the Friday and the one who sets the fastest lap is allowed a wildcard entry into the qualifying/race proper? They could be exempt from WCC points but still count for the WDC.

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