The third car advantage?


The third driver 'scheme' was introduced a couple of years back, along with the single lap qualifying format.

Ostensibly, it was introduced in order to allow the smaller teams, such as Jordan and Minardi to get a little more running on Grand Prix Fridays, and hopefully some additional broadcast coverage. It was also recognised that teams could attract added revenue by selling the third drive to pay drivers.

Grudgingly, teams like McLaren agreed to the third driver rule, though a series of directives were put in place in order that those who qualified didn't gain technically by exploiting the system.

Ron Dennis famously referred to the Friday runners as 'track cleaners', and when Fernando Alonso took pole position for the Hungarian Grand Prix, the French team having taken full advantage of its opportunity to run a third car, team boss Flavio Briatore dedicated the pole (no pun intended) to the housewives of the world.

Subsequently, despite various tweaks to the rules, BAR, Toyota and even McLaren have benefited from the third driver rule - but is it still relevant?

"I would have to say that we are very happy with the third car facility," admits Patrick Head, "and I think last year I'm sure Ron Dennis was very happy with the third car facility.

"It was actually proposed, I think, for some of the teams nearer the back of the grid to be able to have paying drivers on a Friday and it certainly isn't being used in that way," he admitted. "But on the other hand, it is a bit of an advantage to the lower teams and therefore, as a corollary disadvantage for the upper teams. I would have to say that they are probably happy about it this year and I hope to be in a position where we are unhappy about it next year."

"It certainly is an advantage especially now, in the early phase of the season," added BMW's Mario Theissen, "because, as we discussed before, everybody is concerned about reliability and keeps engine or car mileage low. We are happy to benefit from that.

"Maybe we can change it after every team benefited from it for one year," he continued, "though I don't know if that works out. On the other hand, you have to see what would happen without the third cars on Friday. Certainly the teams who have a third car, their race drivers would maybe do a few laps more but not too many, and now at least, we have some cars going around on a full programme."

"Clearly it's an advantage," added Toyota's John Howett, "but as we don't have it, it sounds sour grapes to say you can't. I think you just have to live with the rules as they are, but clearly we did gain advantage from it from the last two years with Ricardo driving on the Friday, no question.

"I agree with everything that's been said," admitted Honda's Geoff Willis. "It's clearly an advantage for us but maybe it's just a way of helping to mix up the grid to try and give a little bit of a penalty to the top four teams and a little bit of a bonus to the following teams to maybe avoid teams just running away.

"It keeps you having to work hard."

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Published: 18/03/2006
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