“Three-Car Teams” Are Not The Answer
The old proposition that rears its ugly head every once in a while.
In a bid to increase the number of cars on the grid and give more opportunities for drivers, the idea of allowing the teams to run a third car on for races (unsurprisingly made by the big teams with big pockets), has been floated numerous times.
This time it comes off the back of Mercedes looking for a seat for its up and coming drivers.
With Force India now under new ownership and wanting to bring in its own drivers. Mercedes is struggling to find Esteban Ocon and George Russell seats for 2019.
Toto Wolff’s “simple” suggestion is to make teams run a third car the must run a young driver for a maximum of two years. More cars equal more action. Problem solved.
Only it’s not “simple”, and just goes to just how out-of-touch the big teams are with Formula 1.
I get that producing parts is cheaper once the R&D required to design them is out of the way. But we’re in a time, in Formula 1, where teams are struggling to get two cars ready for race weekends. Mercedes wants to put even more stress on those teams. More resources, more materials, more logistics, more staff.
Teams are fighting just to survive. Hell, we just had a team who’s finished 4th in the constructors’ in the last two seasons (probably the best result a team of its size/resources can achieve) go into administration. What hope do other teams have?
Mercedes are either blind or impudent. And it seems clear it’s not the first.
They know full well smaller teams have it rough. Its just not their concern.
Mercedes are there to win races, and spend enough money to do so. As long as they’re above everyone else, then no-one else matters.
So how would the three-car team idea look on track?
We’d see more cars on the grid with more drivers represented. So that’s good. Only now the big teams have an even bigger physical presence at the front, while the lower teams have to race harder for less. If you’re struggling to watch Williams at the back of a pack of 20 cars; imagine them at the back of 30. That, of course, assumes all the current teams can afford to run in Formula 1 with more cars. If not, do we see teams disappear from the grid? If so, how many? And how will Formula 1 respond, given the rising costs of starting a new team?
During races, more cars mean more control over track position. If you think its unsporting to hold up a rival to give your teammate an edge, imagine two cars holding up a rival driver. That’s dangerously close to DTM tactics, with lower running teammates acting as gatekeepers. Formula 1 might end up having to introduce “Pit Windows” in a bid to mitigate any skulduggery.
As for results, we could end up with podium lock-outs. If three-car teams were allowed during the peak of Mercedes’ dominance, we could well have seen Mercedes take all three podium steps race after race. With no real representation of any other teams on the podium only emphasising how untouchable Mercedes were. And with more “top” cars in the field, the chances of surprise results for smaller teams is reduced.
Outside races, big teams will gain more power:
With three-car teams, threats to leave the series puts more drivers and staff members on the line, giving more weight to big teams when it comes to the political side of Formula 1, with rule sets and negotiations. Running an extra car also benefits big teams for data collecting and testing new parts. Helping to increase the performance gulf between them and the mid-field.
Just a though (among many): What happens after a driver’s two years are up?
If there’s no space in the top two seats, is the driver left on the wayside again?
Esteban Ocon (Mercedes’ example of a driver possibly without a seat) is in his second season driving for Force India, and isn’t getting a Mercedes drive.
So that’s it, right? His two years are up? He’s done? Adios? Good luck in your future endeavours?
THE PROBLEM STILL HAS NOT BEEN SOLVED!
Now, it could be argued that spending the two years in the top team would allow young drivers to be directly assessed against the main drivers, so they have a better opportunity to compare their results to their teammates. Right?
I don’t quite see it.
A spare car would just be a pawn. It wouldn’t be the focal point of a race strategy. It wouldn’t be allowed to impede its teammates. Its just there as an afterthought. It’s there to make up the numbers, and be a nuisance to other teams.
And that’s the big red flag about all this.
This isn’t about “simply” getting more drivers on the grid. This is consolidating a position of power.
Not that this is anything new. We hear it all the time with the two-faced fashion of the big teams.
Teams like Mercedes are happy to claiming they want to see more competition and a healthier Formula 1 for the fans. All whilst wielding an iron fist, to thump any plans that would impede them in favour of a better Formula 1.
“We’d love to see more competition and want to see other/privateer teams on the grid doing well…
…but we want take all the prize money and use it (with our funds pit) to outspend them to the point of their bankruptcy, all for the sake of our ego. Screw them.”
Instead of asking for 3-car teams to help with getting more seats for drivers; why don’t the big teams (*cough* Mercedes *cough*) embrace the call for budget limits.
Then they can use the spare money, they are no longer spending, on funding a sister team. I’m sure a new team would chomp at the bit to have a link with Mercedes.
That’s TWO extra seats for your young drivers to cut their teeth in. You can have full control of how the drivers are run. And all those staff members you were worried about losing jobs can be put into the sister team and stay employed.
Plus, you could use it as a front to get extra development for the primary team. Fancy that.
Only that’s not what teams, like Mercedes, want.
Big teams don't want Formula 1 to become cheaper and more competitive. If they wanted that, they wouldn't spend so much in the first place.
They love the disparity between them and the smaller teams. They're in Formula 1 for PR, and it looks good when they dominate over others because they can flaunt it in their marketing. They don’t want their brand to be a part Formula 1; they want Formula 1 to be a part of their brand (while its convenient anyway).
They want to keep the ability to outspend everyone else and maintain the gulf to the competition.
They enjoy the look of being the titanic, superior, company that lords over the rest of the grid. With everyone else having to bow down towards them.
If things became more equal, they know it would dilute their mystique.
"Heavens forbid. Could you imagine if one of those privateer riff-raff teams were to look on terms with our glorious empire. That will simply not do.”
“What struggling teams? As far as we can see, business is good for us. So, what's the problem?”
“Wait! What do you mean there's no seats for our drivers?! Oh well, I guess we'll just have to expand our team, and gain yet more power over everyone else. But who cares about them? We're the real attraction. Everyone is here to see us, and our magnificence!”
This may come off as very cynical. But I firmly believe three-car teams is not the answer, and would be detrimental to Formula 1 in the long term.
Formula 1 is not in a healthy state for smaller teams. And a plan has to be made, not just with the aim to allow teams to compete, but to create an environment where new teams want to join.
Three-car teams only exacerbates the issue for struggling teams, while handing more control of Formula 1 to the big teams.
Especially as big teams can be fickle and use their advantages against Formula 1.