How will 18 cars change proceedings at the US GP?

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The financial difficulties being faced by both Caterham and Marussia mean that next weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin is set to be contested by just nine teams fielding 18 cars.

On Friday, Caterham confirmed that it had been taken over by administrators who are now looking for a new buyer. Until such a date, it will not be racing, meaning that it will be absent from the next two grands prix in the USA and Brazil.

Marussia has not yet officially confirmed that it will be missing the United States GP at the Circuit of The Americas, but F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone claims that its financial problems have also become so grave that it cannot race in Austin.

So we’re now left with our lowest F1 field since the 2005 Monaco Grand Prix. The regular field was 20 cars from 10 teams, but BAR was banned after running below the minimum weight during the San Marino Grand Prix.

Technically, it will be lowest number of cars to start a race (that is, actually pull away from the grid when the red lights go out) since the 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, where 14 cars pulled into the pits after the parade lap to withdraw on safety grounds. Just six cars took part in the race, with Michael Schumacher winning for Ferrari.

It is worth stressing that this is not a repeat of Indy ’05. Admittedly, this problem has been caused by the selfish agendas of those at the top of F1, but a six-car field is very different to an 18-car field. Here are a few ways in which the reduced field will affect running in Austin.

Less cars = better chance of points

Theoretically, this works into the favor of both Lotus and Sauber, who have been languishing on the fringes of the top ten all season long. Although both Marussia and Caterham were usually behind them, without this competition, there is no chance of being outqualified by them, nor being denied points.

Jules Bianchi’s run to ninth in Monaco came out of the blue, with many expecting Sauber to break its duck long before Marussia. The Swiss team is now propping up the grid, with both Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez desperate to score some points.

In reality, the actual race itself won’t be too different from the stands. It’ll be like a reduced field – often caused by retirements under normal circumstances – running from the start. It’s not great, no, but you’ll still get a show at the front of the field.

No Marussia means no Alexander Rossi

This is hypothetical, given that Marussia had not confirmed whether it planned to run two cars in Austin. Following Jules Bianchi’s accident in Japan, the team chose to run just one car in Russia, leaving the Frenchman’s fully ready to race in the garage, waiting for its driver.

Rossi had been named as the team’s substitute for the race, though, and would have been the choice in Austin once again. Had the team elected to race with his car, the American would have been in line to make his long-awaited full F1 debut on home soil.

The lack of an American driver in Austin will certainly take some of the sheen off for some fans.

Qualifying should change to take absences into account

With 22 cars, it works as follows: six cars are eliminated at the end of Q1, another six are eliminated at the end of Q2, leaving the remaining ten to fight it out for pole position.

So with just 18 racing, does that mean only two will be knocked out in Q1? Don’t count on it.

The most likely solution will be to amend the running so that four cars drop out in each of the sessions to still leave 10 to fight it out in Q3. When Super Aguri pulled out after four races in 2008, qualifying was changed so five cars dropped out in each session (half of the field outside the top ten). Given that the regulations are written for a 26-car grid, it is likely that this will be the course of action.

With Sebastian Vettel already saying that he will sit out qualifying to take a whole new engine, there will be just three cars dropping out at the end of Q1. Expect Sauber and Lotus to share those positions.

At the front, little will change

It’s a brutal truth, but the big teams won’t miss Caterham and Marussia. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg will still be duking it out at the very front of the field. Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Fernando Alonso will most probably be fighting for the final podium position. Everyone else will continue with business as usual. Big questions will be asked of the top powers in F1, evasive answers will be given.

Formula 1 will ultimately continue on like it always has in Austin. Let’s just hope that 18 cars isn’t going to become the norm for 2015.