Formula 1 paddock divided in third car debate

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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.

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Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

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“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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