Formula One: Three Car Teams and Budget Caps

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Formula One 2018 is delivering everything and anything a fan of the sport could imagine. From the #FightForFive, to a Hollywood worthy #SillySeason, to midseason team takeovers, new logos, fonts, and of course the epic theme music from Brian Tyler. Yet bubbling just below the surface political games, regulation frustration, and the adage of money talks, continue to put into question how the sport will evolve in the near future.

Two such pressing topics to explore are the number of seats on the grid heading into 2019, and the evaluation of budget caps with the objective of equalising performance. On the face of it there is no simple solution to either issue. On the topic of budget caps, figures in the region of €200-€250M per season with a soft launch in 2019 followed by a regulated implementation from 2020 onwards have been touted by Ross Brawn and fellow F1 management.  Top flight teams have baulked at the prospect of cutting annual expenditure in half and categorically stated that without significant job cuts the target is not achievable. More efficient teams see the cut as insufficient as the spending to the budget cap would still represent more than double their existing spending capability.

That being said, there is a general acceptance Budget Caps are coming and that they will be good for motorsport in general. Top teams are taking steps to prepare for this more regulated future, as referenced on this site a number of months ago. Taking this preparation one step further, could a budget cap combined with a third car allowance be a solution?

Major costs associated with operating a manufacturer supported Formula One team take the form of fixed costs, these include factors such as facilities & employees. The manufacturing of additional race cars would not have a significant impact on the team’s operating budget. In fact, in many cases, top teams will have 3-4 fully operational race prepared cars before the start of a new F1 season. If top teams committed to operating a third car with no increase in the overall operating budget of the team in essence redirecting development budget to operating a third car, therefore reducing the performance gap to the midfield, F1 could solve the pressing issue of a too many high quality drivers and not enough seats and address the B Class championship regularly referenced when drivers in midfield teams discuss the sport.

In order to reduce the prospect of a single team dominating podium proceedings, restrictions, such as the number of races completed, or championship points scored, could be put in place regarding the experience of a team’s third driver. In addition, a team’s third car could be operated from a separate garage space with an alternative livery to ensure a vibrant look to the grid.

Formula One could mandate the that the top 4 teams in the WCC could be eligible to run a third car with the option to sell this provision should they deem the opportunity not relevant to their operating model. i.e. Should Haas or Racing Point finish 4th in the WCC they could sell their 3rd car allocation to McLaren. Or should Red Bull Racing see their existing model with Toro Rosso to better suit the way in which they go racing they could sell the space to another team.

If Formula One were to explore this route, Ferrari could continue to maintain it’s line up of Kimi Räikkonen & Sebastian Vettel, with Charles Leclerc taking the third car. Mercedes could bring George Russell into the team, Red Bull Racing could not offer Fernando Alonso a seat again, and Renault could bring Esteban Ocon on board alongside Ricciardo and Hulkenberg.

Timed with a budget cap which should limit in-season development for teams running third drivers, the performance gap to the two car teams could be minimised bringing the entire field closer together and sustaining the credibility of young driver development programmes.

Toto Wolff has intimidated Formula One should seriously explore regulations around three car teams, with Liberty becoming the promoter of Formula 2 and the soon to be reborn Formula 3, three car teams may be required to ensure participation remains relevant to the next generation of drivers.

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Formula One: Should Red Bull Racing rest Ricciardo?

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With Daniel Ricciardo having announced his decision to leave the Red Bull Racing family at the end of this season, rumours surrounding the security of position with the team for the remainder of the season have started to gather momentum.

Adding fuel to fire, Red Bull junior team, Scuderia Toro Rosso, yesterday posted images of Red Bull development driver Sébastien Buemi completing a seat fitting with the team, leading many to suggest he may take the place of Pierre Gasly in the coming races. With Red Bull Racing having confirmed Gasly will replace Ricciardo in 2019, there would be a clear logic to promoting him now to maximise his time within a new team environment.

Red Bull Racing have all but secured third position in the World Constructors Championship with an advantage of more than 160 points over their nearest rival Renault. In fact, with the FIA applying 2019 entry fees based on points scored in 2018, the team from a financial perspective would do well to reduce the number of points scored between now and the end of the season.

Since Daniel Ricciardo’s contract with Red Bull stems from his time as a Red Bull junior, there is likely to be a certain level of flexibility within the agreement to change his status to development driver. Moving him to Toro Rosso would be less than palatable for Honda as he would gain knowledge of their power unit before moving to the works Renault team in 2019. As such bringing Buemi back into the STR fold for the remainder of 2018 and possibly beyond makes strategic sense.

Taking the logic of Red Bull Racing having nothing more to gain in 2018 in terms of constructor’s championship position and subsequent prize funds, a yet more bold move from the Red Bull Empire would be to move Max Verstappen over to Toro Rosso for the remainder of the season.

In so doing Verstappen would have the opportunity to familiarise himself with Honda power ahead of 2019, and as Red Bull’s leading driver best equip the team in their challenge constructors battle with Racing Point Force India (who in only 2 races have amassed a points tally greater than Toro Rosso has over the entire season)

Alongside the talk of resting Ricciardo, and bringing back Buemi, another increasingly likely piece of the Red Bull 2019 jigsaw is Daniil Kyvat. After a year spent with the Scuderia in a development driver capacity, Red Bull look likely to welcome the Russian back into the fold with open arms.  From Honda’s perspective, the sooner he returns with any knowledge of Ferrari’s trick power unit, the sooner they can interrogate him for their 2019 plans.

The Singapore Grand Prix on paper represents Red Bull Racing’s last opportunity to win a race in 2018. The sporting side of Red Bull will likely leave the line-up unchanged until after this race. The business & strategic planning side should then kick in and make the following changes for the remainder of the season:

Red Bull Racing –

Pierre Gasly

Sébastien Buemi

Scuderia Toro Rosso –

Max Verstappen

Daniil Kyvat

From a personal perspective, I am a huge fan of Ricciardo and what he brings to Formula One, but Red Bull have little to gain from keeping him in his seat for the remainder of this season. There is an opportunity to take a competitive advantage with the suggested driver changes. A team looking to challenge for championships in the next 24 months must take every opportunity presented to them.

Be Bold Red Bull! Be Bold!