As the possibility of teams having to run a third car in Formula 1 continues to increase following the demise of both Caterham and Marussia in the past few weeks, the issue has been a divisive one in the paddock ahead of the United States Grand Prix weekend.
Earlier this year, former Williams chairman Adam Parr caused a stir when he said that this season would be “the last year of F1 as we know it. In 2015 eight teams will contest the championship, with several teams entering three cars.”
Although it was dismissed at the time, the collapse of Caterham and Marussia has prompted many to ask whether it could be a sincere possibility for next season, given that Sauber is also known to be struggling financially.
In the drivers’ press conference ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, many were supportive of the idea, believing that it could tighten the grid up.
“I think from our position it’s something, if we’re requested to have a third car, I think we’ll definitely look into it and try to make it happen,” Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo said. “I wouldn’t see any downside from a driver’s point of view.”
World championship leader Lewis Hamilton feels that it could help the sport to nurture more young drivers and open up more jobs.
“Perhaps they will come along a lot more than they ever have in the past,” he said. “When I think about the two teams that have dropped out, my biggest concern really is just for all the employees in those teams that have to provide for their families that perhaps don’t have a job now. If we do this perhaps they still have space in other teams.”
“I think it will definitely help the opportunities of the drivers,” said Force India’s Sergio Perez, who would have remained with McLaren for 2015 had the team been able to run three cars. “Obviously there will be a bit more of a chance. Formula One is really limited. The spaces where you can go and where you can actually win during a year, so it can create a bit more opportunity to the drivers, as a driver point of view.
“I think it’s also sad to not have so many people set out from Marussia and Caterham – so hopefully they can be in a better position for the future and, if it’s good for the sport, why not? I think we should all help this sport to get better.”
However, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff feels that there are alternatives to third cars, and that a larger number of teams running two drivers is healthier for the sport.
“I’m not a big fan of third cars,” Wolff said. “I think if there is money left over, it should be distributed to the smaller teams to secure the grid. That’s my personal opinion.
“If a third car is needed, because the level of cars on the grid drops to a critical number, now we could discuss what the critical number is, and the big teams are being asked to fill in a third car then we should make it exciting and the ideas which have been discussed is giving it to a young driver like you say, to somebody who hasn’t had an awful lot of experience in Formula 1.
“It would be exciting to see how he performs against the superstars. Definitely some interesting ideas around that, making it a rookie championship.”
The idea of guest drivers was also supported by American racing legend Mario Andretti, who believes that it could be particularly successful in selling the sport to the American market.
“What if say Mercedes, which obviously has the best car today, would invite a guest driver?” Andretti contemplated. “Obviously do a bit of testing and so forth, but pick an IndyCar driver for instance to be at this race, like I did when I started.
“You can say ‘oh well things have changed’. You know what, as much as things change, they stay the same. A decent driver, an IndyCar driver, in a car like a Mercedes might surprise you with how well they do. That might be an interesting factor all around from everything. Every newspaper in the country would write about it.”
The peril of third cars is that the DNA of modern Formula 1 would change dramatically. Teams traditionally have had two drivers and two cars, unlike endurance racing where three cars are very common. Although it may create more opportunities, it would also further the disparity of power that exists in the sport. The rich would get richer and the poor would get poorer – if the poor still existed, that is.
McLaren team boss Eric Boullier said earlier this year that teams would need six months’ notice to be able to implement third cars, and with the beginning of the 2015 season now just four months away, a decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.