Mercedes chief Toto Wolff recently suggested that Formula 1 should consider the option of allowing teams to run a third car, now racing legend Mario Andretti has given support to the concept and believes it could boost the sport’s popularity.
Andretti himself is a beneficiary of a third ‘guest’ car concept that was prevalent in the sixties and seventies whereby teams could run a third car either as part of the main team or with a satellite outfit.
In 1968, local hero, already a racing superstar Stateside, Andretti was given a wildcard entry into the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen by Lotus chief Colin Chapman. Andretti teamed up with Graham Hill and Jackie Oliver, the team had lost Jim Clark when he was killed at Hockenheim, in April.
The American debutant grabbed headlines when he qualified on pole for his home race but was forced to retire his Lotus with a clutch problem.
Three seasons later, at the 1971 South African Grand Prix teaming up with Jacky Ickx and Clay Regazzoni in a third Ferrari, Andretti went on to win the race and thus claim his first Formula 1 victory in only his tenth grand prix.
His first full season, not skipping a single grand prix, was in 1977 with Lotus. A year later he became F1 World Champion in Colin Chapman’s iconic Lotus 79.
During an interview with Motorsport-Total, the third car idea got the 78-year-old revved up, “Would that not be really interesting and help grow the popularity of the sport?’
“Let’s just imagine, for example, IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden gets a guest drive at the United States Grand Prix with Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull getting a third car for the race. That would be huge! That would attract an additional 40,000 people.”
Andretti goes further and suggests implementing “guest drives” for stars in other countries, “You could get a Chinese or a Japanese driver who may have great potential, star qualities and teams would like to try them for a single race in a third car.”
With reference to his own breaks as a third driver, Andretti explained, “I myself am the best example. Colin Chapman gave me the opportunity to compete for a top team in a competitive car, so I took pole with the third car.”
He then recalled his first win with Ferrari, “I also won my first race in a third Ferrari in South Africa. What I mean by that is that it really got my career started. Competition is competition and you have to think about the bigger picture.”
“We’re always looking for new ways to promote Formula 1 and reach new fans, the sport could benefit from that – not just in the United States but also in other countries.”
The stumbling block for such a concept is that the smaller teams would suffer in terms of results and even exposure, which Andretti acknowledged but argued, “If you don’t approach it with an open mind then nothing will ever improve, you have to take every chance to make things happen.”
“If Formula 1 becomes more popular because of this, then even the small teams will benefit as they will have better chances to attract bigger sponsors.”
With regards to championship points and the financial windfall that comes with finishing higher up the pecking order, Andretti conceded, “Then just don’t award points to the guest car.”