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. Maksutov said on 12th August 2009, 16:27

    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.

  2. Moo Point: Like a cow's opinion, it's Moo!! said on 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.

    • Kherubim said on 13th August 2009, 4:40

      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…

      • Bartholomew said on 13th August 2009, 17:45

        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.

  3. Hakka said on 12th August 2009, 16:35

    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.

    • mp4-19b said on 12th August 2009, 16:50

      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 :)

  4. mp4-19b said on 12th August 2009, 16:41

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

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

    Luca is nuts…END OF CONVERSATION….

  9. 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….

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

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

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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

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