We’ve fallen a long way since 1989 when there were 20 different constructors in the F1 World Championship. Twenty!
No problem then for any driver possessing half-decent talent to find a seat and very different to now when we have the likes of Esteban Ocon and George Russell all dressed up in their finest flameproof with nowhere to go.
The current situation is what it is because of huge costs and excessively complex cars and power units. Steps are (hopefully) being taken to sort that out but, in the short term, the option of a third entry by the teams has been suggested – and, this being F1, objected to.
The smaller outfits, cash-strapped and a development step or three behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull, do not want to see their already slim point-scoring chances diminished further. Certainly, Ocon would be on the leading pace fairly quickly but, given the searing competitiveness at the head of the so-called ‘Division 2’, it’s fair to suggest that a novice would not necessarily be guaranteed an easy ride to the fringes of the front.
One solution is to deny the third car constructors’ points, thus addressing the unspoken nub of the issue – which, of course, is money. Anyway, what divine right does Haas or anyone else in the midfield have to expect the status quo to remain? It’s competition, and sometimes that gets even more difficult than it already is.
I only mention Haas because Guenther Steiner has been quoted as saying a third car would be ‘confusing’ for the fans and difficult to understand. Putting aside the implication that spectators are not the brightest coins in the F1 money box, Guenther then says if someone offered to pay for a third car, Haas would consider it. No shit, Steinlock.
The financial consequence of a third car can work both ways, depending on your position in the championship pecking order. Yes, it would be expensive for all teams – but the costs associated with bringing a third chassis would be comparatively low in the overall spend for the likes of the top three. Others such as Force India and Sauber could make it a source of income, particularly given the number of young hopefuls and the paucity of seats on the grid. Pay drives are nothing new; the upside is we get to fill out the field and give young blood a chance to perform.
There have been the inevitable insinuations that a third driver with a top team could influence the outcome of the championship – basically by getting in the way. Without getting into the blue flag debate (worth a column in itself), the chances of blatant blocking have to be as slim as they would be unwise. In any case, I’m struggling to think of a moment back in the day when a third driver was watching his mirrors with menace rather than doing his damnedest to focus front while having an opportunity in such elevated company.
The last time we had a three-car entry was 1985 when Renault fielded cars for Derek Warwick, Patrick Tambay and Francois Hesnault in the German Grand Prix. Seven years before that, there were five McLarens (admittedly, not all works entries) in the Italian Grand Prix.
An additional car meant a van and a trailer, a couple more mechanics and the boss’s wife/girlfriend buying an extra loaf of bread for the lunchtime sandwiches. F1 may have been totally different then but the worthy principle behind enhancing the spectacle and giving novices a chance remains exactly the same.
I’ve extracted the statistics above from the painstaking work of David Hayhoe. In his remarkably detailed book ‘Formula 1 The Knowledge’, Hayhoe also notes that Ferrari filled the first four places (from 21 starters) in the 1961 Belgian Grand Prix. Three were works cars, the fourth having been ‘loaned’ to Belgium’s Olivier Gendebien. It may have been painted yellow (the Belgian national racing colour), but it was a Ferrari under the skin and Gendebien, having won Le Mans, was no slouch. Not a word was said.
You can imagine the COTA paddock going ballistic in a couple of weeks if two blue and white Ferraris turned up for Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden. Nice thought, nonetheless.