Why three-car teams isn’t a great idea

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

  1. Chris said on 12th August 2009, 16:45

    I love the idea of 3 car teams, or even one car teams. I’d much rather see 3 Ferraris or McLarens up front than a Team USGP or Epsilon whatever at the back. Or why not allow a private entry of the 3rd car, running as a separate team? This would allow a different sponsor, and inject new money into the sport. Ferrari could run an “Alonso team”, backed with Spanish money, for example, and I doubt team orders would enter into it. Plus, It would be awesome to see Rossi, or Loeb, or Schumacher in F1, even occasionally. I think the rules should allow more flexibility for the entrants, not such a closed shop. If it pushes out the smaller teams, even constructors like Williams, too bad.

    • DGR-F1 said on 13th August 2009, 8:22

      I think this is the way to go – allow low budget teams with just one car, one driver, one pit crew. They can have support from the bigger teams, and even be a training place for drivers and engineers, especially if they are using the same engines……
      Of course, the other thing to do is open up GP2 to allow other engines as well as Renault, so that all the major teams can have bona fide ‘Junior’ teams for the same reason. Or is that the thinking behind the new FIA F2?

  2. If the FIA are serious about having such large grids, surely it would be better to allow the numerous teams that applied to take part?

    Why would you choose 13 teams of three cars over 19 teams of two?

    • Just thought I’d add a post a made on the forum a couple of weeks ago, a compromise solution to the third car proposal:
      ————–
      I was wondering about this… Is F1 trying to go all NASCAR?

      It would be pretty fun to have such a large grid but it would surely mean a complete re-writing of the points system, which would be a shame. There’d be less variety in which teams win races during a season too.

      Perhaps a better idea would be to allow the teams a ‘wildcard’ third car entry at selected events. Every team gets one race where they can do this, with the constructors champions getting first choice, then the second placed team second etc.

      So for instance, you might have a third Ferrari at Monza, a third McLaren at Silverstone, a third Toyota at Suzuka…

      Its a bit random I know, but for all my stupid ideas, I don’t think this is the worst. :)

      • mp4-19b said on 12th August 2009, 16:56

        So for instance, you might have a third Ferrari at Monza, a third McLaren at Silverstone, a third Toyota at Suzuka…

        what about teams like redbull,renault(no french gp this year) & force india(assuming they are indian). where would they field their third car?

        • Wherever they choose! It wouldn’t have to be nation-based – Monaco and Spa are great stages to put on a show, for example.

          Or say, for instance, Red Bull decide to give young Robert Wickens a run and pick Canada…

      • Bartholomew said on 12th August 2009, 22:57

        This is a good concept to work on. Maybe every team can have one “guest appearance” a year, with three drivers, they can choose where. It would be a good way to reward test drivers, or other local good drivers.
        The problem is that most teams will choose Monza, Spa, Monaco, the few good tracks.

  3. Muawiya Younus said on 12th August 2009, 16:59

    Luca is nuts…END OF CONVERSATION….
    XXXX————XXXX

  4. Antoine said on 12th August 2009, 17:09

    I think it’s a geat idea. A top dream will presumably have a top driver so there is another car mixing it up at the front rather than one languishing up at the rear (if it is at the expense of a smaller team).
    What makes more exciting racing? Seems obvious to me….

  5. Daffid said on 12th August 2009, 17:26

    I’m all in favour, always have been. I think 7 teams with 3 cars is a lot more realistic funding wise, than 12 teams with 2, with the worst 4 teams just blocking the road. I also think it would make team orders a lot harder to enact, and indeed enforce, and generally move us out of this period where one driver is favoured, one ignored. Ferrari, McLaren, Williams, a couple of wealthy independents like Red Bull, and a couple of constructors is all you need, especially if Pro-Drive/Aston Martin and Lotus make a return when Max is gone.

    • I think 7 teams with 3 cars is a lot more realistic funding wise, than 12 teams with 2, with the worst 4 teams just blocking the road.

      I have to admit, I expect that kind of comment from Luca, but its a sad thing to hear from a Formula 1 fan.

      One of the things that riles me in our sport is the opinion of some that those at the back are worthless and have little right to be on the grid. For me, a Grand Prix season is characterised by the fates and fortunes of all the teams and all the drivers, not just the winners.

      Furthermore, the days of bad teams are long gone. Last placed Force India are a little over a second off the pace at some circuits. A few years ago that would have meant points and the odd podium.

      • sato113 said on 13th August 2009, 0:33

        hear hear

      • Gman said on 13th August 2009, 3:22

        I agree 100%. And Daffid, I hope you’re aware the the people planning to bring Lotus back were just going to use the name….it wasen’t going to be the real Lotus company designing/building the car the way Ferrari/Toyota/etc.. operate theirs.

      • The days of bad teams will be back next year – Manor, Campos and USF1 are all going to be a waste of time and an embarassment to the sport.

        Having watched all the 80s and 90s season reviews lately I was reminded of all the no hoper teams and drivers that came and went adding nothing to F1.

        I prefer quality not quantity. Give me three car teams where only two drivers score constructors points but can all score drivers points.

        • This is exactly what I am talking about!!

          These three teams will be new and will have to take the first year as a settling in period, granted, but why on Earth does that make them an ’embarrassment to the sport’?? All teams have to start somewhere.

          Would you rather have some soulless manufacturer team that exists purely to sell road cars and then pulls out at the drop of a hat a few seasons later? Give me a team that exists purely to go racing any day.

  6. Jim N said on 12th August 2009, 17:34

    I agree with most comments here, three car teams are ridiculous when there is already a potentially full grid. In the past teams when teams have fielded three cars they have NEVER been able to field three competitive cars, and have generally struggled to field two equally competitive cars. That is still the case even for big teams, just look at the comments of Piquet on leaving about lack of a competitive car at Renault.

    Three cars just increases the tactical games that the big teams can play to try and ‘fix’ the championship and increases their revenue for little extra cost. Yes from Ferraris point of view it makes total sense, more control, more points, more money, more advertising space, more TV coverage etc. from everyone else’s point of view it would be a disaster.

  7. LewisC said on 12th August 2009, 18:12

    Le Mans already has 3-identical-car lineups, although a stipulation that only two can be run by the same management, if that makes sense. Audi-Sport and Joest-Audi run the R15s.

  8. mp4-19b said on 12th August 2009, 18:27

    What will poor codemasters do? They’ll have to re-write the entire AI program.

  9. Robert McKay said on 12th August 2009, 18:30

    Luca says Ferrari are “continuing to fight”. I suspect there’s more to it than just Schumacher.

    He needs to expand upon his reasoning for me, before I make up my mind. As it stands we’re supposed to have more cars next year, at least four and perhaps six if the tender process for a BMW replacement is successful (which itr could well be). So on the face of it what would three car teams be needed for?

    I can only think LdiM isn’t convinced about the new teams appearing, and/or worried about other manufacturers pulling out.

    I agree as it stands right now we don’t need third cars scoring points. Hard to see why you’d have them if they didn’t, other than out of necessity or basically to have team orders like DTM, as Keith says.

    So come on Luca, explain.

  10. amtrak said on 12th August 2009, 18:35

    The answer surely is to have 3 drivers.
    This way each team would have a ‘ready spare’ for situations like this, but more importantly, would keep all drivers competive.
    How many times do you here so & so is poorly, but still gets the race drive?
    My way would encourage experience for newcomers into F1.

  11. Aardvark said on 12th August 2009, 20:02

    Stupid idea, we wouldn’t see mighty racing because if any two of the 3 cars were in adjacent positions, Ferrari would call the race off long before the end, and they’d just cruise round to the finish.

  12. For 3 cars per team then why not change the point system too, for example they could give points to top 12 finishers, that way there’d still be at least four teams to score points every race weekend.

    Large scale of team orders? I don’t know, we will need many Barrichellos in F1.

  13. Since “press attention” is the name of the game for all car manufacturers and sponsors, it is clear to me that all that LdM is doing right now is milking the “Schumi cow” for every last drop. And the press plays along nicely … ( sorry Keith ;-) ).

    IMHO, it’s just hot air.

  14. BNK Racing said on 12th August 2009, 21:31

    i dont think there are enough quality drivers for any team to dominate the standings. maybe besides for ferrari with a line up of alonso, kimi n massa who else would be able to field a team with 3 strong drivers? with the likes of useless drivers such as piquet and bourdais, the 3rd and sometimes 2nd driver will be there merely to fill a role. i would have thought that teams would see it as a waste of money if only 1 driver was scoring points consistently (look at williams n renault) plus the added fact that the top teams will be taking all the points anyway, whats the incentive for smaller teams to field 3 cars?

    and can some1 explain how 3 cars is more cost effective than 2?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th August 2009, 22:59

      For a rough example, let’s say it takes X amount of money to design a car, and Y amount of money to build car. For a two car team your total costs are 2X + Y. For a three car team it’s 3X + Y.

      The total cost for a three car team is more. But the cost per car is going to be less:

      For a two car team: (2X + Y)/2 = X + Y/2

      For a three car team: (3X + Y)/3 = X + Y/3

      X + Y/3 is less than X + Y/2, therefore, it’s more cost effective.

      (This assumes X>0, i.e. you are not able to build your cars for free or somehow make money out of building them. In practice two car teams build more than two cars as some get damaged, but three car teams would build more than three for the same reasons.)

      • William Wilgus said on 12th August 2009, 23:52

        You swapped X and Y in your formulas. They should be:
        X + 2Y, and
        X + 3Y.

        • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 12th August 2009, 23:58

          Well that kind of screwed the entire explanation didn’t it? Let’s try again:

          …it takes X amount of money to design a car, and Y amount of money to build car. For a two car team your total costs are 2Y + X. For a three car team it’s 3Y + X.

          The total cost for a three car team is more. But the cost per car is going to be less:

          For a two car team: (2Y + X)/2 = Y + X/2

          For a three car team: (3Y + X)/3 = Y + X/3

          Y + X/3 is less than Y + X/2, therefore, it’s more cost effective.

          • Hakka said on 13th August 2009, 6:19

            You’re right that it is more cost-effective per car.

            But the goal for the smaller teams is to reduce total costs, not make the team more cost-effective per car – because I doubt sponsorship for the team will grow by 50% (or even close to that) when a 3rd car is introduced.

            Looking at Brawn’s lack of sponsorship so far, it is quite clear that even today’s sponsorship inventory can’t be sold completely. If and when the good times return and there is a surplus of companies looking to buy sponsorship inventory, running a 3rd car may well prove to be more profitable.

          • Hakka said on 13th August 2009, 6:23

            Forgot to add this:

            The total cash-flow going from FOM into each team will not change simply by adding a 3rd car from each team. Unless we think it’ll improve the show by a significant amount.

            So, while it may be more cost-effective per car, adding a 3rd car will not offset the increase in absolute cost for the team by bringing in enough new money to the team. Though some day it could if enough money starts flowing again.

          • DomPrez said on 13th August 2009, 19:36

            lets put some $ to that to show the affects over an entire grid.(examples only)

            COMMON FIGURES:
            design cost 2$
            car cost 1$

            2 car teams (13 teams, 26 cars)
            (2$ + 1$ + 1$) x 13 = 52$

            3 car teams (8 teams, 24 cars)
            (2$ + 1$ + 1$ + 1$) x 8 = 40$
            [you can still add 4$ that 1 team running 2 cars would have to get a new total of a considerably less 44$]

            so the logic it there. for my the problem is not in the bottom line, but in the sportin, as mentioned several times above. so im not for it.

  15. Gusto said on 12th August 2009, 22:44

    It`s only a publicity stunt, but perhaps the future will herald a seven team lineup with three cars each?.

    • Maksutov said on 13th August 2009, 9:05

      This is very possible. In fact I believe in some years to come the new teams will fall out once again and Formula 1 will be left with those teams who can afford it the most.

      I do not believe that cost capping is going to work very effectively. The very nature of the sport, competition, technical evolution, growth and for that matter financial growth means that teams will find a way to make their developments more effective and more efficient if they have more money.

      In saying that, it is very possible indeed that in some time to come F1 will be left with 7-8 teams, and very possible that 3cars per team will be introduced.

      As it stands now, having 3 cars per team would be too much.

  16. Maybe Formula 1 would be better off without Ferrari. Maybe without Ferrari, each team could run three cars, and we’d have some good competition against teams that actually respect the rules, as opposed to Ferrari, who always seems to demand a rule change when it’s going to suit them.

    Ferrari is wrecking Formula 1 more than each team running three cars ever could. Sure Ferrari are historic in Formula 1, but they are just bad sports.

  17. William Wilgus said on 12th August 2009, 23:55

    I’ve always thought that the manufacturers should just build the cars—not campaign them—and sell them to independent teams to campaign. That way, both championships, Driver’s and Manufacturers, would be more meaningful.

  18. Jim N said on 13th August 2009, 0:01

    If Ferrari genuinely want to run more cars why don’t they run a four car team like Red Bull/Torro Rosso…. they don’t need rule changes for that…. and because of bmw there seems to be a spare place for two cars at the moment ;-) …..

  19. sato113 said on 13th August 2009, 0:30

    i think one point we may be missing is that some circuits don’t actually have enough garage to support 39 cars!

  20. Prisoner Monkeys said on 13th August 2009, 0:33

    I largely fail to see how expanding a team complies with the much-lauded cost-cutting measures. And how exactly would it work? Teams like Ferrari and McLaren may be able to field a third car, but smaller outfits like Brawn and Force India will not. Perhaps the third car should not be eligible for constructor points; otherwise, it’s going to be impossible for privateers to challenge, and constructors will see little point in staying in the field.

    Perhaps if the FIA opened up the grid to twenty-eight or thirty cars and we re-introduced a form of pre-qualifying for third cars. Third cars would be for young driver development; otherwise, teams like Ferrari will just stack their lineups with the best drivers. On the Friday, there would be an additional qualifying session or a qualifying race for third cars to sort out which of them will compete for the extra places in qualifying proper.

    In order to make things easy, the numbering would have to be such that third cars can easily be identified. Say Brawn win this year and decide to field a third car for 2010. Rather than running the numbers 1, 2 and 3, they would run the number 1, 2 and the third driver would get 28 (as 27 will be the last of the teams), kind of like the way they did it with third cars.

    I do think it’s incredibly arrogant of Ferrari to say that new teams shouldn’t be allowed into the sport simply because they don’t have the history associated with their names that Ferrari does. I think they’re feeling a little surly given that last year the Brawns (as Honda) were nowhere, but now they’re everywhere.

    • TMFOX said on 13th August 2009, 10:30

      Thats true. And teams have to start from somewhere. Ferrari, along with other big names at the turn of the last century were “whatevers” too.

      • ajokay said on 13th August 2009, 12:11

        And with their constant bad attitude, Ferrari are forever ‘whatevers’ in my eyes. I’d much rather an F1 without them.

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