Imagining the 2015 Formula 1 Grid If 3-Car Teams Are Introduced
The prospect of three-car teams in Formula One hit the headlines again in Singapore.
Bernie Ecclestone told The Guardian that plans were already in place for the switch if three of the current teams dropped out.
He was responding to rumours which kicked into gear after former Williams CEO Adam Parr claimed on Twitter that the sport was heading in that direction.
This is the last year of F1 as we know it. In 2015 eight teams will contest the championship, with several teams entering three cars.— Adam Parr (@adam_s_parr) September 7, 2014
But this wasn't the first time Ecclestone had mentioned it. The idea has been around for years and as recently as July the F1 boss told Gazetta Dello Sport (h/t Autosport for the English translation), "I'm ready for a Formula One with eight teams with three cars each."
For now, it's all speculation and rumour. As much as Ecclestone might want it, a great deal would need to happen for this to become a reality.
Hopefully it never will—but what would 2015's grid look like if it did?
A Note on the Departed
It's not certain that even one team will drop out between now and the start of next season. Though some are considered more likely to depart, at the time of writing all are still alive and kicking.
But three constructors needed to be killed off for this to work, so to cut my imagined 2015 grid down to eight teams, I simply removed the current bottom three in the constructors' championship.
Marussia, Sauber and Caterham.
That seemed the fairest way to do it.
Unless a seismic jolt passes through the driver market between now and the start of 2015, it's difficult to see Mercedes getting rid of either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg. They take up the first two seats.
The third slot here is difficult, perhaps more so than at any other team.
Mercedes could take their pick of any number of excellent, proven drivers. Valtteri Bottas or Nico Hulkenberg would be the obvious choices, as neither are likely to be expensive contract buy-outs. Perhaps Romain Grosjean is an outside bet.
But we've already seen the problems caused by having two roosters in their hen house. Adding an experienced driver who could easily become a third would be bordering on reckless and is likely to do more harm than good.
So taking on a rookie with potential would be a better call. They'd need someone with a strong character, first-rate lower formulae record and sufficient potential to one day have at least a chance of leading the team.
Caterham's reserve driver, Robin Frijns, fits the bill.
There's still a bit of third-rooster risk—he might do what Lewis Hamilton did in 2007 at McLaren. But it's lower than with the other three and a risk worth taking.
Daniel Ricciardo is nailed on here, and unless a headline-grabbing swap involving a Ferrari-driving Spaniard occurs, it seems Sebastian Vettel is, too.
Together, they form a very strong partnership which is pretty much on a par with any other in the pit lane.
For the third driver slot, Red Bull would almost certainly promote from within, so there are only really two candidates.
One is Daniil Kvyat, currently of Toro Rosso. But though he undoubtedly possesses a great deal of talent, moving the young Russian up to the big team—alongside two heavy-hitters—after just one year may not be the best call.
So the other obvious choice gets his chance to see if he really can match Ricciardo at a front-running team—Jean-Eric Vergne.
Unlikely to get a drive if two-car teams remain, this would be his lifeline.
Williams have a very good pairing. Felipe Massa has masses of experience and is capable of putting in excellent drives, while Valtteri Bottas looks like a future world champion.
Both are set to stay.
For the third slot, Williams would have a bit of a quandary and a great deal to think about. Still not rich despite their good form in 2014, using the seat to bring in some income may be the preferred approach.
Option one would be to bring in a proven, high-quality driver who also provides funding. Romain Grosjean would be available, and he has the backing of French oil giant Total.
Trouble is, Williams already have Petrobras (also an oil company) on board.
Total co-existed with fellow crude-craver PDVSA at Lotus in 2014, in part because Total supplied the fuels used in Lotus' Renault engine. But it's hard to imagine "Total" being plastered onto a Petrobras-fuelled, Mercedes-engined Williams in 2015.
Taking on Grosjean even without the cash? Possible, but not this time.
Option two would be the publicity slam-dunk of promoting Susie Wolff to a race seat and hoping the sponsors react favourably. Highly experienced on the team's simulator, she put in a good showing during free practice one at the German Grand Prix this year.
But there's nothing in her record or any publicly available testing data to suggest she's worthy of making the step up to racing.
Their third, final and probably best option would be to promote their Banco do Brasil-backed reserve driver, Felipe Nasr. He joined the team early in 2014 and is very much doing the business in GP2 at the moment, where he lies second in the title hunt.
He appears to have talent to go with his money, making him the perfect candidate.
Ferrari are entering a brave new future and keeping Fernando Alonso for at least one more season would be hugely useful.
But they need to plan for life after Alonso, and Kimi Raikkonen won't be a part of that—he seems set to retire at the end of next season.
So (and this is hard to type) in the interest of maximising continuity and the odds of finding a first-rate replacement for Alonso if he also leaves, there is a very serious case for dropping the Finn at the end of this year.
That leaves two seats to fill.
The first would go to Jules Bianchi. A member of the Ferrari Driver Academy since 2009, it's time for the Frenchman to make the step away from Marussia. The best possible way to prepare him for a future with Ferrari is to put him into one of the red cars.
The Scuderia would have no difficulty filling the third and final seat. It's difficult to see Valtteri Bottas turning them down and Ferrari could easily afford to buy out his Williams contract, but his future doesn't seem to lie in Italy.
Nico Hulkenberg's might, with the added bonus of solving F1's greatest unanswered question.
Is he really that good?
In this world, Force India lose Nico Hulkenberg to Ferrari but retain the talented and well-backed Sergio Perez.
Adrian Sutil arrives to fill the second seat. The German is a capable if unspectacular racer, but the main reason he has survived in F1 for so long is the sponsorship cash he brings with him. That would be useful for Force India.
Seat No. 3 could realistically go a number of ways. It's unlikely there would be an available "quality" driver kicking around to replace what Hulkenberg brought to the table, so the team might again look at what financial perks they can acquire.
The team's current reserve driver, Daniel Juncadella, has backing from Kazakhstan-based TAK Group, with its "Astana" (the country's capital) logos currently adorn the nose of the VJM07.
He also has some degree of link to Force India's engine supplier, Mercedes, and currently drives for them in DTM. Whether this would aid relations or provide a little boost in the way of an engine discount is unknown, but it couldn't hurt.
So Juncadella to fill the third and final space.
McLaren have spent all season umming and ahhing about their line-up for next year, but it seems likely none of the big-name drivers they've been chasing are willing to risk joining the Woking squad at this stage.
It may well be different in 2016, once Honda have a year's experience under their belts.
So for now, keeping Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen would be a wise move. Both are capable racers, and while Button is coming toward the end of his career, Magnussen could turn out to be very good indeed.
Given the uncertainty over the 2016 lineup, the third seat would be better filled by a future prospect—and as luck would have it, there's one sat waiting in the McLaren Young Driver Program.
Stoffel Vandoorne, a member of the program since early 2013 and the team's current reserve driver, won on his GP2 debut earlier this year.
After a barren patch in which he got to grips with the finer points of the series, the Belgian has emerged as a front-runner and currently lies third in the championship.
There's no point leaving him there in 2015. If there's an F1 seat available, he should be in it.
Daniil Kvyat remains for at least one more season, while Jean-Eric Vergne departs to the big boys.
It has already been announced Kvyat will be joined by Max Verstappen for 2015.
The third seat should be relatively easy to project, because all their recruits come from the Red Bull Junior Team. There are currently three drivers in that program without plans for next year.
But none of them jump out at you, screaming, "me me me me!"
Pierre Gasly would perhaps lose out due to his age (he's currently 18) and inexperience. While Toro Rosso aren't shy about promoting youngsters, he'd probably benefit from another year in the lower leagues to hone his craft.
Alex Lynn, currently leading and almost certain to win the GP3 series, may also benefit from one more year. A few drivers have jumped from this level to F1, but that probably wouldn't be the best move for Lynn.
So the promotion goes to Carlos Sainz Jr., currently leading the Formula Renault 3.5 series. He doesn't look anything like as good a prospect as some other youngsters, but he's probably the best-placed Red Bull kid.
Pastor Maldonado remains, gracing the team with his substantial backing from PDVSA.
Romain Grosjean stays put, too. He definitely deserves a move up the field but saying that is much easier than finding him a place.
Lotus are not the richest of teams, so the third seat would need to be sold.
Marcus Ericsson, Max Chilton, Giedo van der Garde and Esteban Gutierrez would probably be tapping on the door with briefcases full of cash, but Lotus will have Mercedes engines next year.
Claire Williams (of Williams) said at the Singapore Grand Prix team principals' press conference that they cost around £20 million a year. So Lotus might prefer a nice big discount on those with a pile of sponsor cash.
Enter Pascal Wehrlein, Mercedes' bright young hope. He has done a huge amount of simulator work for Mercedes this season, is their current reserve driver and, earlier in September, became the youngest-ever DTM race winner.
He certainly looks capable of making the step up—so he'd be a good choice to take the final seat on the 2015 grid.
Which drivers would you move around or keep that I did something else with? I hated myself a little bit when I "sacked" one driver, so expect others may disagree with that one. Feel free to comment below.