Nigel Mansell Thinks F1's Small Grid Is Spoiling The Careers Of Young Drivers

Nigel Mansell Thinks F1's Small Grid Is Spoiling The Careers Of Young Drivers

The 1992 champion reckons the sport needs to get back to the maximum 26-car grid in order to give more drivers an opportunity and create more entertainment on track

More cars in a race definitely seems like a better idea than boosting the entertainment of a grand prix by doing something like, say, adding a mid-race soundtrack to the equation. This is the first season in which Liberty Media will have full autonomy over the sport and it will be interesting to see if they listen to former champions in their process.

In the 1992 season in which Mansell won the title, 16 teams participated. The grid was so large that pre-qualifying events and the qualifying session itself was used as a means of weeding out uncompetitive entrants. In total drivers didn’t pre-qualify on 12 occasions, and cars didn’t qualify on 50 occasions.

There was no shortage of cars in 1992, even if they weren't all entirely competitive..
There was no shortage of cars in 1992, even if they weren't all entirely competitive..

These figures highlight an issue of wasted time and effort that really wouldn’t be attractive in the modern era for manufacturers and even private entrants, but does Mansell ultimately make a strong case for slightly increasing the depth of the grid? He told Autosport:

“We want to see 26 cars on the grid. There is an awful lot of worthy drivers who are backlogged and have nowhere to go. Through the years, there were drivers being injured out of the sport and being replaced.

“There was always a new influx of blood every year, always cars to get into. That has dried up. The FIA have done an incredible job with safety, the manufacturers have worked closely to make the cars safer. A driver almost has twice the career span which is good for them, but the drivers waiting to break in will never get the opportunity.”

There are plenty of drivers from other categories that would thrive in F1 (American categories included), and if rules encourage current teams to stay and new teams to join it would be feasible to see 26 competitive cars on the grid for the first time since 1995 at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Take the newest team on the grid, Haas, as an ideal model for doing it right. It didn’t rush into the sport and a technical partnership with Ferrari allowed it to compete in the midfield straight away without the 107% qualifying rule even entering the squad’s psyche.

Haas was the last new team to join, in 2016
Haas was the last new team to join, in 2016

With the likes of Manor and Ford recently hinting at an interest in a more cost-effective F1 for the future, is a grid with a bit more depth on the horizon? It depends on what route Liberty Media decides to take as there is a clear fork in the road ahead. Will it take the easy option and play “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC half-way through the US GP? Or will it take the long-term option of creating rules which encourage a few more teams (and therefore drivers) to take part so that ‘more entertainment’ is met through tougher competition? Because that’s surely what F1 should be about.