What’s not to like about three-car teams? Bernie Ecclestone’s quite forceful suggestion that the way forward in F1 is three-car teams has been dismissed by the purists, but it would certainly tighten up the racing.
Three-car teams would immediately ramp up the stakes in the first period of Qualifying. These days there’s only a proper sense of jeopardy when there’s a major time difference between the two tyres that Pirelli provide. This happened in Singapore where even Lewis Hamilton in P1 felt his time wasn’t safe. It’s only very rarely that Marussia and Caterham struggle out of Q1 and then only if it’s a wet/drying track where they can take a gamble. With 24 cars capable of getting out of Q1 the stakes will be much higher.
Let’s face it, all the cars at the back end of the grid have done since they arrived in 2010 is provide lapped cars and back-markers for the leaders to get angry with. The fact that it has taken five years for one of the ‘new teams’ to get into the top ten on a single occasion is evidence that they are purely making up the numbers.
This consistent lack of success has had an impact on the ownership of the teams. Team Lotus/Caterham has been sold after the owner became more interested in his football team. The incoming owners have already lost a CEO in a matter of weeks and continue to sell ‘F1 driving experiences’ in Friday’s FP1. Virgin changed to Marussia Virgin and then to Marussia after Sir Richard Branson dropped his F1 team quicker than he dropped his high-profile role in the Keep Britain Tidy offshoot ‘Clean Up Britain in the late 1980s (anyone remember that?). HRT went bust. USF1 never even got started.
Three-car teams would immediately give F1 what the largest section of fans want. Another Ferrari on the grid. It would allow teams to run development drivers because they can’t afford, as Luca Montezemolo rightly pointed out, to put an inexperienced driver in 50% of their machinery. Jules Bianchi could immediately step up to the main team.
With in-season testing limited, three cars would give the teams the chance to run new parts and experiment at GP weekends. Right now, one practice session lost due to an outlap failure or a last-minute gearbox change, is a major blow to a team’s set-up programme. An extra car would keep them (literally) on track.
The points structure could be adjusted so that if all three cars finish in the points, only the first two count. This could add to the late-season drama if teams are running three cars in the points and they need to get their third-scoring driver in front of the second-scoring one.
Concentrating more money on the top eight will allow teams, such as Force India and Williams, to get even closer to the front. Williams are currently embarrassing Ferrari, while Force India are sticking two friendly fingers up to McLaren in the Constructors’ Championship. Both outfits are operating at something like half the cost of their opponents.
There have been cries that reducing the grid would limit the innovation and the unique character of F1 cars and that 11 designs are better than 8. With the exception of the pug ugly noses on the cars, they look very much the same. It is the restrictions in the technical regulations that stifle innovative design, the key reason that the best designer, Adrian Newey, has distanced himself from the sport.
Based on historical levels of achievement in F1 it would be Sauber who stayed and Toro Rosso who left. The excuse that Red Bull need a staircase of talent has been disproven by the fact that they just signed Max Verstappen out of the blue and have immediately given him a drive in their F1 team. Kvyat could move straight to Red Bull to be their third driver. Verstappen was being courted by Mercedes, he could put in his apprenticeship there.
Three-car teams would put 24 fast cars on the grid instead of 18, plus 4 that fight it out amongst themselves. Max Chilton could move his sponsorship money to Force India, Marcus-the-Milepost could move his cash to Lotus. Williams and McLaren would have the chance to bring on more new talent, as they have done successfully in the past.
(Sutton photo is from a 2004 demonstration day at Monza with Rubens, Schumi and Luca Badoer)