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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 October 2018

Toto Wolff's idea of three-car teams in F1 is not the answer. Here's why

Giving the top three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull an extra car would make it almost impossible for the rest of the grid to get near the podium

There were 20 cars on the grid for Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix. Adding another 10 with three-car teams will not help the sport. Getty Images
There were 20 cars on the grid for Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix. Adding another 10 with three-car teams will not help the sport. Getty Images

There was some surprise earlier this month when it was confirmed that 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen would be joining Sauber for next season.

After five years and no wins during his second stint with Ferrari, it was no surprise the Italian team announced last week they will replace Raikkonen with Charles Leclerc, a graduate of the Ferrari Driver Academy, in 2019.

You might have thought that Raikkonen, who turns 38 in October, would walk away from F1. But Sauber, who are having their best season since 2015, may well have brought the Finn in for a different reason.

His Australian Grand Prix victory in March 2013 for Lotus is the last time a race was won by a car that was not a Red Bull Racing, Ferrari or Mercedes-GP.

That was 112 races ago and the chances of that streak ending anytime soon are slim, with the top three in the constructors' championship as dominant as ever.

A look further down the grid further highlights just what an achievement that was for Raikkonen. Sergio Perez did not exactly cover himself in glory in Sunday's Singapore Grand Prix after colliding with Force India teammate Esteban Ocon and the Williams of Sergey Sirotkin. But the Mexican remains the only driver outside the top three teams to have finished on the podium this season. Even that was fortuitous; Perez's third-place finish coming after the Red Bulls crashed into each other and Valtteri Bottas's Mercedes suffered a late puncture.

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Given that on average there is at least one second, if not more, on raw performance per lap between the top six cars and the rest of the field, it is hard to see any other driver joining Perez in the podium club, barring a race of chaos and mass retirements, before the season ends at the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 25.

The reason addressing the superiority of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull remains a conundrum for F1 bosses has taken on an extra dimension because the subject of three-car teams has reared its head again.

Mercedes are unhappy because Ocon, a member of their driver programme, is looking as if he will be without a drive next year with the 22-year-old Frenchman set to lose his spot at Force India to Lance Stroll. There are only 10 teams in F1 and 20 seats available, so Ocon looks as if he will have to sit out the 2019 campaign, much to the consternation of Toto Wolff, Mercedes' executive director.

There is no space at Mercedes, with Lewis Hamilton and Bottas already under contract, so Wolff's cunning plan to avoid this situation happening with his drivers in the future is that teams run a third car.

“I like the idea because the more cars we have in the field, and the more opportunity we give to young exciting drivers to fight in a competitive car against experienced drivers, it would create great stories,” was Wolff's take on the situation in Singapore.

That might well be true, and having a 30-car grid rather than 20 does sound good in theory. But it will not result in more drivers competing for race wins, as the top three will still continue to dominate. The rest of the field will effectively be fighting for only seventh place at best, a demoralising prospect for most. Suddenly a 10th-place finish would be seen as a good result while clinching a podium place would be even harder than it is now.

Wolff wants the F1 Strategy Group to look at the idea but hopefully it will be given short shrift. It is not the answer. Instead F1 should be more concerned with trying to work out ways to get more teams into the sport and expand the grid that way.

Lowering costs and improving the racing is one way of getting other manufacturers on board. Having a situation where you end up with three drivers on a podium from the same team will do nothing for the sport long term and won't entice new faces to enter or old ones to return.