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. matt said on 13th August 2009, 1:07

    I think 26 cars is enough. I imagine that 39 cars would be hectic, as all the cars would be spaced out after a few laps, and the blue flag would be out so much for slower cars that they would be constantly passed with little chance of racing against similarly paced rivals. The faster cars would probably have their ‘flow’ spoiled as they have to find their way past an overly large number of backmarkers, again interrupting the real race. And probably contributing to many accidents and disputes.

    Also, when I heard that quote, I immediatedly thought DTM even before reading on, because if Renault pulled out, then it’s just McLaren and Ferrari with 3 cars. If Williams or any other team had not ‘deserved’ 3 cars in the eyes of Ferrari, then would they continue in a sport where they were penalised for being less successful by being denied a car?

    Also just saw this, and made me think a little of last year…
    http://www.topgear.com/uk/jeremy-clarkson/clarkson-f1-12-1997

    • Nirupam said on 13th August 2009, 11:06

      Good link.
      Why last year only, may be even the one before as well?

      • Nirupam said on 13th August 2009, 11:07

        oops, i meant “may be the year before as well” :P

        • I can’t think of any on-track penalties from 07, but things like the belgium penalty and bourdais being penalised, not massa in fuji made me think 08 was even more suspicious than I thought at the time.

  2. zeus_m3 said on 13th August 2009, 1:45

    From a driver’s perspective, teams dont matter and it’s better to have all equal cars, so 3 cars team is better than 2 cars team IMO.

  3. Steve K said on 13th August 2009, 3:07

    While I wish they did this anyway, but would be a must in my opinion if they expanded to three cars is to have three teams. Separate pits, separate mechanics, separate everything. Three competing teams (or two) that are under the same constructor but would be unbiased towards the other car since they wouldn’t work on the other car would almost eliminate team orders while making teammates battling more entertaining. While it would devalue the constructors championship, it would ratchet up the drivers championship.

  4. Gman said on 13th August 2009, 3:32

    The whole idea is absolutley terrible….

    First off, all of the cars on the track for an F1 race should be eligible to score WCC points, and all the drivers should be able to score WDC points. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them impact the race? What’s to stop a non-eligible car or driver from punting off a rival driver a la Schumi 1994/95?

    And if Ferrari all of a sudden wants 30 or more cars on the grid, why not camapign for a whole pile of the new F1 entries to get in? I alaways thought the reasons for only having 26 or os cars was garage/grid space at some of the older/smaller venues?

  5. m0tion said on 13th August 2009, 4:25

    I love the new “rule changes must be agreed by all” provision. Time for Ferrari to pack up and leave already because they have no common interest with the rest of the teams other than their thinking that a few brands should show up to provide the showcase for them. Little mummies boy Italian isn’t he?

    • Maksutov said on 13th August 2009, 9:18

      Ferrari or should I say Montezemolo is just talking , it wont happen. And yes finally someone sees that new Concorde agreement is great. Needs all teams to agree. So I think your post is somewhat contradictory! I dont think there is any necessity to throw punches at Ferrari since they completely agreed with implementation of that rule, and in fact they were a strong part in forcing to implement the Concorde agreement.

      If they say whatever doesnt mean its going to happen, it is as equally as important as whatever any other teams say or do.

  6. Dane said on 13th August 2009, 4:53

    If Mclaren wanted a 3 car team, it would be a brilliant-esque idea?

  7. wally said on 13th August 2009, 5:06

    why are there no 1 car teams?

    • HounslowBusGarage said on 14th August 2009, 7:54

      Not permitted under FIA rules.
      Used to be the way that many privateers entered the sport, but it was felt that this was not a ‘professional’ enough arrangement.

  8. top cat said on 13th August 2009, 5:18

    I remember the Yardley BRM team in the 70s with four cars or more. I think it would be great to have more competitive cars. Private entries of factory cars would be a way around things.
    What is wrong with customer cars? Williams started that way. Sure the hopeless ones will be further back but who cares about them. Get them to buy a good car. The main factories could make money selling cars so help their budget.

    • Moo Point: Like a cow's opinion, it's Moo!! said on 13th August 2009, 8:39

      I agree. I have no objection whatsoever to customer cars, and if a smaller team like Williams could make a small profit out of selling the cars on, then it would help them survive.

      I don’t understand the whole problem (some) people have with customer cars in F1 when it’s pretty common in other forms of motorsport (eg WRC).

  9. Jonathan said on 13th August 2009, 9:53

    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.

    This from the person who wants the championship to be decided by race wins only…

  10. Ronman said on 13th August 2009, 10:24

    I’m against it, but if it is to be pushed through, i have a solution to the dilemna.

    borrow a page from WRC, where by FP3, the team would have to select which 2 of the 3 cars are eligible for constructor points, whereas the Drivers get the driver’s points. cars that are not eligible will have their points taken by the next one that is. and completely ban team orders, that’s for sure.

    it would be complicated, but i can imagine the havoc at turn 1 if 33 cars took to the start…. WOW… would re-fuel the carbon fiber industry for a 100 years…

    but again i’m against the whole 3 car idea, i say bring in more private teams, have the major constructors that dont want to field a team supply engines, and one type of tyre…de-restrict technology and development, limit testing you know all that makes sense to put the Fizz back in F1, without the excess glitz and expenses

  11. DASMAN said on 13th August 2009, 12:46

    As someone else mentioned – just buy/create another sister team ala red Bull. Simples!

    And there is no rule I’m aware not allowing you to share your development with another team, stealing it yes, but not sharing.

  12. Icarus said on 13th August 2009, 13:52

    What’s with the samll team bashing? I for one would like to see more small teams, and I’m excited that we will be seeing new teams next year even if they won’t provide a stellar performance. Sure F1 needs it’s Ferrari’s and McLaren’s and they are very important to the sport, but IMO it also needs it’s Minardi’s, Arrows, Jordan’s etc.

  13. martinb said on 13th August 2009, 23:27

    I say allow 3-car teams, but only the first two cars past the post count for drivers’ and constructors’ points (to discourage teams racing negatively to block other teams). And allow 1-car teams. With pre-qualifying (the 7% rule) if necessary.

    I take the point someone made that you don’t want too much blue-flagging. Maybe a 5% rule and a maximum of 32 cars on the grid.

  14. JohnBt said on 16th August 2009, 9:43

    A consistent bullet train will be pleasant….but I’m afraid there will be massive derailment. By the 5th lap, backmarkers will pose many problems for the front runners. It seems F1 is running out of ideas and you can’t quantify a race with 39 cars without loosing quality. F1 is about FINESSE.

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