Bluffer’s guide — Part 3: teams and drivers

At last, bluffer’s guide makes its return. For the past couple of months I’ve been too busy to continue the series, but now I have some more free time. Previous bluffer’s guides have looked at the rules and aspects of strategy. This guide will look at issues around teams and drivers: how they enter, why they enter and what their job is.

Entry requirements

At present there are ten constructors (the posh word for teams) in Formula 1. Each team enters two cars, meaning that 20 cars are entered into each event. There is nothing set in stone about these numbers. It is thought that according to the Concorde Agreement (which will be covered in a future bluffer’s guide) a minimum of 20 may enter. According to the FIA Sporting Regulations, a maximum of 24 cars may start a race.

Teams normally stick with the same two drivers throughout the season. However they may use up to four different drivers in one season, or more at the FIA’s approval.

In addition to the two race drivers, every team employs test drivers. These test drivers may be used during the Friday Practice sessions, although each team is still limited to running two cars. For this reason, teams tend to use their race drivers anyway.

A driver must be awarded an FIA Super License before he may compete in Formula 1. To achieve this, a driver must show consistent form in a lower category. Failing that, a driver may get a Super License with the unanimous approval of… whoever makes that decision — provided he has tested for at least 300km at racing speeds in a current car.

This is basically to prevent rubbish but rich drivers from paying loads of money to achieve his childhood dream of entering a Grand Prix. However, it hasn’t stopped the occasional bad egg from slipping through the net!

The decision to enter

Unlike some other sports, there is no promotion or relegation in F1. The decision to enter Formula 1 is essentially little more than a business decision. Once a team has met the FIA’s requirements, all a team has to do is be able to fund itself in order to keep going.

The huge costs involved in running an F1 team are enough to keep the list of potential entrants low. There is space for 12 teams in the Championship and only ten of them are taken. One of those teams is currently up for sale. There is little point in setting up a new team if you can easily buy an existing one.

This season began with 11 constructors. But when Super Aguri ran out of funding it had to pull out.

Similarly, drivers have few requirements to meet. They must have a Super License (as outlined in the section above). But apart from that, all they have to do to get a drive is basically to persuade a team to give them a drive.

This does not depend on talent alone, although that is of course a huge factor. Many drivers get a slot at a poorly-funded team by bringing sponsorship money. Such drivers are known as ‘pay drivers’ because they effectively pay for their drive at a team.

Some pay drivers have gone down in history as being notoriously awful. Ricardo Rosset had lots of cash as he was the heir to an underwear business. Fittingly enough, his performances in F1 were, indeed, pants.

The 2008 season is said to be the first year for a very long time (perhaps ever) when the grid did not contain any pay drivers. However, it is also thought that Nelsinho Piquet and Adrian Sutil bring substantial sponsorship moneys to their respective teams.

A team sport or an individual sport?

Formula 1 (along with most other forms of motor racing) is rather unique among sports because it is both a team sport and an individual sport. A good driver would be nowhere were it not for a team of hundreds working tirelessly to provide him with a good car. On the day of the race, an army of people analyse the race as it happens to try and come up with the best strategy for the conditions. And the efforts of the pit crew cannot go unnoticed, as they must be relied upon to ensure that pitstops are carried out smoothly.

In this sense, you can say that Formula 1 is a team sport, but one that places a huge amount of the responsibility on one individual. Once the driver is on the track, there is not much more the team can do to help him, and it is up to the driver not to make a mistake. For this reason, there are two championships in F1 — one for drivers and one for constructors.

Each team enters two drivers and these are often referred to as “team mates”. However, often there is nothing “matey” about the relationship between these two individuals. Indeed, they might hate each other because the one person they want to beat more than anyone else is their team mate, who is usually racing with equal equipment. Comparing team mates with each other is an important barometer of a driver’s skill, so it is usually in a driver’s interest to undermine his team mate.

However, pragmatically a driver has to remember that he is an employee of his team. If a team decides that it is in their best interests to help one driver more than another, they are within their rights to do this. This is known as “team orders” and is part of racing. (Team orders will be discussed in more detail in a future bluffer’s guide.)


Teams spend a lot of time testing their cars to make sure that their developments work properly before racing with them. Such tests must be held at an FIA-sanctioned circuit. Testing is limited to 30,000km per team per calendar year. This limit excludes promotional events and young driver training. A young driver is defined as a driver who has not competed in a Formula 1 event for 24 months or has not tested an F1 car for more than four days in the past 24 months.

Teams often employ test drivers whose specific job is to test the car. Often race drivers are used at test sessions in addition to test drivers. Some drivers become highly regarded for their ability to give feedback to their engineers and for their knowledge of how to set up a car. Examples of such drivers include Pedro de la Rosa, Alexander Wurz and Anthony Davidson. These drivers are all highly regarded as test drivers but struggle to get a race drive.

Car development

F1 teams do not just launch a car at the beginning of the season and race with it all year. Teams work throughout the year to improve their performance and developments are made to the cars several times per year as the teams see fit. In most cases, the car at the end of the season is completely different to the car that began the season. Check out’s excellent technical section to keep up with the main car developments throughout the year.

Logically, though, the largest leaps are made over the winter when there is no racing going on. Usually each car is an evolution of the previous year’s car. Sometimes cars are re-designed almost from the ground up each year. This used to happen fairly often, but is increasingly rare these days — unless a team hires a new chief aerodynamicist or some other radical team structural change.

Every time there is a major change to a chassis, its name changes. Usually the name changes in a predictable way for the start of each season. For instance, in 2007 Ferrari’s chassis was the F2007 and McLaren’s was the MP4-22. This year those teams’ chassis are the F2008 and the MP4-23 respectively.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop a team from using the same chassis for two years in a row (although this usually doesn’t happen because the pace of development is such that running a two year old chassis would be a serious disadvantage to any team) or from running two different chassis in one season — just as long, of course, as the chassis met the technical regulations. It is quite common for a team to use their old chassis for the first few races of the year if the development of the new car has been delayed for some reason. This happened to Toro Rosso this year, whose new STR3 was not used until the Monaco Grand Prix, six races into the season.


Historically, teams ran traditional liveries with each nationality having a traditional colour. Britain, of course, had British Racing Green, and Italian cars ran in the deep scarlet colour (‘Rosso Corsa’) made so famous by Ferrari. Of course, with the introduction of sponsorship in the late 1960s, this was never going to last and now teams appear in whatever colours take their fancy. But is it true that F1 cars are “glorified cigarette packets”?

The arrival of sponsorship does not mean that the history has gone forever. McLaren (Mercedes) run with a predominantly silver livery and red car numbers, a reflection of the Silver Arrows’ history. BMW run with their corporate colours of navy blue, though the majority of the car is white, Germany’s traditional racing colour.

Honda and Toyota have also run in Japan’s traditional white and red (although today Honda runs in a white, green and blue ‘Earth’ car to highlight environmental concerns). When tobacco sponsorship was still allowed in F1, Honda cleverly used the Lucky Strike logo to double up as the traditional ‘red sun’. Ferrari, of course, are famous for running their traditional ‘Rosso Corsa’ colour. However, in recent years this shade has become lighter, more similar to the shade of red used in Marlboro packets (Phillip Morris still heavily fund Ferrari even though tobacco sponsorship technically does not exist in F1).

Ligier / Prost used blue until the team’s demise in 2002. When Jaguar briefly participated in F1 at the start of this decade, it ran in a deep green. However, it was slightly lighter than British Racing Green, apparently to make sponsor logos stand out better on television. The team that Jaguar bought, the (Ford-powered) Stewart team ran in white and blue, the American racing colours.

Of course, there is nothing in F1’s rules that dictates that teams should use traditional colours. These rules were relaxed in 1970. But clearly many F1 teams still value their heritage enough to run colour schemes that are inspired by history.

Some aspects of the livery are restricted though. The two cars of each team must look “substantially” similar at every event in a year. In 1999, the new BAR team (owned by British American Tobacco) wanted to advertise two of its cigarette brands, one on each car. However, the FIA would not be moved. BAR’s compromise was to advertise one brand along the left side of the car and a different brand on the right. The resulting livery was a real mess and widely derided. From 2000 onwards, BAR’s ditched the ‘dual livery’ scheme.

Each car must display the badge of the car make on the front of the car. The name and national flag of the driver should be displayed on the side (usually just behind the driver’s helmet on the engine cover). The car number should also be visible from the front and the side. However, many spectators complain that the numbers are so small that you cannot see them.

Nowadays, a different way of telling apart the two cars of each team is to look at the ‘T-cam’ (the onboard camera that appears on top of the rollover structure just above and behind the driver’s head). For the lead driver, this is a fluorescent red. For a team’s second driver, it is fluorescent yellow.

Of course, another way to tell drivers apart is to look at their helmets. Traditionally, drivers design their own helmets although these days they are covered in sponsor logos just like the cars are. A good helmet design can become as famous as a historic car livery. Just think of Ayrton Senna’s yellow helmet, Graham Hill’s deep blue helmet with white tabs around the top (an adaptation of a London Rowing Club design, and also used by Graham’s son Damon) or Jackie Stewart’s white helmet with a tartan band around the top.

Car numbers

A minor, but interesting, point is how car numbers are allocated. Car numbers are published by the FIA before the start of each season and remain the same all season.

The current World Champion always races with the number 1. His team mate is allocated number 2. In instances when the World Champion is not participating in the race, it is probable that the Constructors Champion would use the numbers 0 and 2.

Under the old system of allocating car numbers (which ran until 1995), this happened in 1993 and 1994 when Damon Hill ran with the number 0 for two years running. The first time was because of the retirement of Nigel Mansell and the second time was due to the retirement of Alain Prost.

After the numbers 1 (or 0) and 2 are allocated, the following numbers are allocated according to the finishing position in the previous year’s Constructors Championship. So, ignoring the Constructor bearing numbers 1 (or 0) and 2, the highest-scoring constructor will carry the numbers 3 and 4, the next highest-scoring will carry the numbers 5 and 6, and so on. The number 13 is skipped for unclear reasons, though it’s safe to assume that this is due to superstition.

Not all superstitious numbers are removed though. In 2005 Japanese driver Takuma Sato was allocated the number 4 which is an unlucky number in Japanese culture (ominously being closely associated with death). True enough, his season was riddled with bad luck and strange mistakes.

This season McLaren are racing with the numbers 22 and 23 because they were excluded from last year’s Constructors Championship. Super Aguri were allocated numbers 20 and 21. Although Super Aguri no longer participates in F1, McLaren’s numbers remain 22 and 23 for consistency throughout the season.


  1. So why did Ferrari race with 27 and 28 in the past? (Just joking.)

    Awesome post, lots of information and very readable. But it so should have been split into individual entries.

    Having said that, I must admit (and I’m not going to admit to what it was*) I did learn something from your post. But that is the joy of F1 bloggers doing things like this – occasionally you come across some random fact you never knew before.

    *It was the slight lightening of Jaguar’s green livery.

  2. Takuma Sato was allocated the number 4 which is an unlucky number in Japanese culture… True enough, his season was riddled with bad luck and strange mistakes.

    How unlike Sato to make a lot of mistakes in one season…

    I think your point about the team/individual nature of the sport is very interesting. It’s a circumstance peculiar to motor sport that has few parallels in other sports. It’s a fascinating and sometimes infuriating contradiction.

  3. I did love the schizophrenic BAR, it was simply irresistible for a biologist like me. It was an excellent example of a mosaic (look for it in the wikipedia).
    About the superlicence… I think we already had terrible drivers on F1 to trust whoever gives that licences.

  4. Ollie, you’re probably right about splitting it up. I definitely lost focus with this post. It’s been so long since I did a bluffer’s guide that I had to remind myself what the purpose of them was. So this one was a bit all over the place. I put in the bit about liveries after I saw that this post was a bit shorter than the others, but it ended up being way too long. Should have just kept to the rules about the livery. The rest of that bit should probably have been a separate post…

  5. In cases where a driver does not meet the usual requirements for a Superlicence, the F1 Commission (an FIA-organised group of 26 members, including all the team bosses, a sponsor representative, a tyre manufacturer representative, the FIA President and several other people) has the final verdict. So you can blame them for the likes of Yuji Ide and Alex Yoong.

  6. Aaah, thanks for that Alianora! I always wondered who was responsible. At least they don’t always get it wrong — though they might just have been lucky with Kimi Raikkonen.

  7. @ Alianora – they fixed their mistake with Ide and took his license away afer few races 🙂

    Talking about the liveries – I found an intersting comment below one of my liveries history posts:

    “I think each team should be allowed one main livery color, not matching that of any other team and then the car would have to be 50-60% in that color. Let them choose in order of Championship standings. The cars look far too similar these days – also, the var number should be mandatory on the nose and rear wing sides.”

    while I do not think this would be 100% workable due to sponsor demands, at least so alike looking liveries like Force India and McLaren should be eliminated …