Let’s explore why Formula 1 teams have been unable to use a reserve car for years.
During the 2023 Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix weekend, Logan Sargeant received a ten-second penalty because it appears that Williams used what could be called a “third car.”
In the past, this was allowed, and you would often hear about the “spare car” or “mule.” It was a reserve car that teams had at their disposal and could send onto the track if one of the two cars was damaged. This way, the teams didn’t have to sacrifice one of their drivers in qualifying or the race if they were involved in an incident during the preceding sessions.
However, since 2004, the FIA has prohibited the use of spare cars to reduce costs for the various teams. In this regard, after the 2010 Monaco Grand Prix, Stefano Domenicali, who was the Team Principal of Ferrari at the time, raised the issue since Fernando Alonso couldn’t participate in qualifying due to an accident in practice. “We cannot deny the audience the opportunity to see a driver on the track. We will discuss this with the other teams and see if it’s possible to change the rules.”
The current Sporting Regulations, specifically in Article 27, explain why Formula 1 teams don’t have a spare car. “Each competitor must have no more than two usable cars at any time during the competition.” However, Article 27.1 highlights the possibility of having an additional safety cell that can be installed in the event of irreparable damage.
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In this regard, a “return to the past” seems impossible. To make the reintroduction of the “spare car” in Formula 1 possible, the budget cap would need to be revisited first. Teams are already at the limit managing two cars, and adding a third would necessitate changing the current maximum cap specified by the regulations. Additionally, the number of components, such as the gearbox and power unit, usable during a season would need to be reviewed.