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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