Last week a lot was made of Luca di Montezemolo’s comments saying that they would push to be allowed to run a third car with Michael Schumacher driving it. I think the idea was taken more seriously than it perhaps should have been.
In my view the whole thing was a bluff, intended to soften the blow of Schumacher’s withdrawal following all the hype. By immediately positing the idea of running Schumacher in a third car in the future, they kept the prospects of a Schumacher return alive in the minds of Schumacher fans and the excitable media, while firmly bolting the door shut in reality.
After all, if Ferrari think Schumacher is good enough to race full time again, they already have two cars they can put him in if they want to. But they think that they can find two better drivers anyway — otherwise why ask for a third car?
Normally, the prospect of three car teams is brought up only as a way of keeping the size of the grid high even when there are fewer teams. Presumably this is the plan B in case the grid ever reaches below that magic number, whether it is 16, 18, 20 or whatever.
But supposedly the prospective 2010 field is larger than the field has been for over a decade. 24 cars are currently entered, with two slots ready to be filled (BMW Sauber’s old slots). And there is supposed to be a “reserve list” of teams ready to take up any vacant spaces that emerge. If ever there was a time when third cars are not required, it’s now.
Moreover, three car teams are best avoided for a host of reasons, as outlined by Keith. Imagine, for instance, if Ferrari had three cars in the early part of this decade. The scope for clunky team orders and foul play would have been huge. I am picturing a three car “manufactured dead heat” right now. Shudder.
But that’s okay because I don’t think Ferrari were being very serious when they brought up the idea. The alternative is that Ferrari suspect that the three or four new teams (and, who knows, maybe a couple of others?) will not be able to turn up for the first round of the next season. That doesn’t say much for the FIA’s 2010 entry process, but I guess you can expect Ferrari to be sceptical of it!
But in the case where there are too few teams, people would be talking about three car teams anyway, because it is the obvious plan B. While a plan B isn’t required, though, I wouldn’t be surprise if the prospect of three car teams is not brought up by Ferrari again. The idea can fade away into the background, people will slowly forget about it, and everyone who got worked up about the Schumacher comeback will have been let down slightly more gently than they might otherwise have been.