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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 ;-) …..

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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…

    • 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

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