Can F1 Drivers Swap Cars? (Key Rules Explained)

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Formula 1 cars are incredibly sensitive machines. It’s easy for the cars to be damaged while they’re out on track, and there’s also the risk of a car suffering a mechanical failure. You might therefore be wondering if F1 drivers can swap cars during the race weekend.

F1 drivers are not allowed to swap cars. Each driver is assigned to their own car. Any damage to the car, whether mechanical or physical, must be repaired by the team. Drivers can’t use spare cars and haven’t been able to since 2008, in large part as an effort to cut the costs involved in the sport.

Every driver must use their own car. This means that if a driver has damage to their car there is the risk of losing time in a practice or qualifying session. Below, we discuss how many cars each F1 team has, and we also talk about when spare cars were used in the sport. 

How Many Cars Do F1 Teams Have?

F1 teams have 2 cars. The FIA rules state that every team can only use 2 cars during the course of any Grand Prix weekend. In the past, teams were allowed to have spare cars, known as T-cars, set up and ready to race if needed. However, spare cars were banned in the 2008 season to reduce costs.

Formula 1 teams will bring enough spare parts to rebuild both of their cars at any Grand Prix. This means that even if the cars are damaged throughout the race weekend, the team will still be able to rebuild the car from the ground up if needed. Having enough spares prevents drivers from having to sit out on a session because of a damaged car, losing out on valuable points.

Rebuilding The Car

However, the team has to rebuild the entire car and repair any damage. This creates a challenging situation for Formula 1 teams, as repairs aren’t usually a quick and easy job. Oftentimes drivers have to miss the start of a Free Practice session or even the start of qualifying due to a damaged car that needs to be repaired by the team.

Drivers can be left frustrated by mechanical failures as they need to rely on the team to fix the problems in time for them to get out on track. In Formula 1, track time is extremely valuable, and getting as many laps as possible under your belt to perfect your setup and get used to the track conditions is key. Losing any amount of track time in Formula 1 can derail a driver’s entire weekend.

Can F1 Drivers Swap Cars With Their Teammates?

F1 drivers cannot swap cars with their teammates. Every driver must use the same car throughout the course of a Grand Prix weekend. There is no way for them to drive another car, even if it’s their teammate’s car. Each driver is assigned their own car, set up specifically for them.

For example, Lewis Hamilton has a completely different steering wheel setup than George Russell, even though they’re teammates at Mercedes. Drivers choose the setup and settings that are most comfortable for them, and switching cars will take this element away from them, potentially leaving them at a disadvantage. 

Swapping Chassis

We often hear about drivers swapping chassis with their teammates throughout the season. A chassis is the foundation of a Formula 1 car, and it plays an integral role in how the car handles around the circuit. If a chassis is damaged, bent, or has an imperfection, it could cost the driver several tenths of a second per lap.

In order to keep things fair among teammates, many Formula 1 teams choose to rotate their chassis between the two drivers. While both chassis are identical in the majority of cases, there is a slight chance that one chassis is ever so slightly ‘better’ than another.

Some teams swap their chassis between the drivers after every Grand Prix, while other teams will swap the chassis at the halfway point of the season. Some teams don’t swap their chassis between drivers at all during the season – it all depends on what the team and the drivers agreed on.

Sharing Setups

Every Formula 1 team has a unique car, which makes it impossible to directly compare drivers in different teams. But a driver’s teammate is their greatest rival. With equal machinery and the same team, teammates can only be compared to each other. Losing to your teammate in Formula 1 is never a good thing!

When one driver is performing better than their teammate, it often comes down to the setup of the car. The way a driver sets up their car can give them a performance advantage. But the problem is that not all drivers are great at setting up their cars, which can give them a disadvantage, even if they’re a super-fast driver on track.

KEY FACT: If both cars are set up in the same way, it’s like both drivers are driving identical cars, but this usually isn’t what happens

Disadvantages Of Setup Sharing

Sharing setups across the garage between teammates doesn’t always solve the problem though. Every driver has a unique driving style, with some drivers being smoother and others being more aggressive. The way that each driver has learned to drive their car is different, much like a fingerprint.

This means that even if a driver shares their setup with their teammate, there’s no guarantee that it would work for them. Nevertheless, it could help their teammate to get on the right track, and from there they can fine tune the set up to better suit their driving style. But F1 is a competitive sport, so teammates may be reluctant to share their winning secrets!

KEY POINTS

• F1 teams can have 2 cars each – there are no spare cars allowed

• Each car will be set up specifically for one driver

• F1 teammates cannot swap cars during a race weekend, although they may swap some parts

Can Drivers From Different Teams Swap Cars?

F1 drivers cannot swap cars with other teams. Drivers on the Formula 1 grid sign a contract with their respective teams. This means that they are contractually bound to drive for the team that they represent. Drivers aren’t allowed to swap with another driver at any point during the season.

Moreover, drivers can’t swap into different team’s cars for the same reasons they can’t swap cars with their teammates. Each driver has their own transponder (a device that tracks their times over the course of a lap and is used for measuring pit lane speeds, among other things) and unique customizations built into their own cars.

Unusual Scenarios

But there are some unusual circumstances where F1 drivers can switch teams during a season. It’s highly unlikely that a driver would switch in the middle of a race weekend, but it’s entirely possible for them to jump up and down the grid as the season progresses, and we’ve seen it happen many times before. However, this is more ‘team swapping’ than car swapping.

Red Bull is known to promote and demote their drivers between their main team – Red Bull Racing – and their junior team, AlphaTauri (formerly Toro Rosso). Max Verstappen, for example, was promoted to the senior team for the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, which was the fifth round of the championship (which he famously won).

We’ve also seen drivers replacing injured drivers many times in the past, such as when Giancarlo Fisichella replaced the injured Felipe Massa at Ferrari for the second half of the 2009 season. Every team has a reserve driver, and sometimes a team’s reserve driver is one that is already on the Formula 1 grid.

For example, Mick Schumacher is currently one of the Ferrari reserve drivers, so he would get called up to Ferrari should they need a replacement for one of their drivers. In this case, Schumacher would move teams mid-season, although not as a result of a contract change.

Can F1 Drivers Use Spare Cars?

F1 drivers are not allowed to use spare cars. The spare cars, also known as T-cars, were banned from the sport in 2008. This created a challenging situation for many teams where they would have to work much harder to get their cars repaired and ready to go back out on track after were damaged.

Spare cars were often used in the past. It was an easy solution for many drivers who had been involved in a crash or had suffered a mechanical failure. The spare car ensured that they would always be able to take part in qualifying or practice sessions, or indeed the race, even if their car was damaged.

Why Were Spare Cars Banned?

In 2008 the FIA banned Formula 1 teams from bringing spare cars to the Grands Prix, and there were two main motivations behind the rule being implemented. The rule change shook up the entire grid behind the scenes, even if it didn’t make as much of a difference to spectators from the outside.

The first reason for the rule change was that the FIA wanted to reduce costs in Formula 1. The sport has always been looking to reduce costs, and banning spare cars was one step in the right direction. The spare car required additional transportation costs as well as man hours in building the car for every race weekend and taking it apart to get ready for transport again.

The second reason spare cars were banned in Formula 1 was that it led to many drivers misusing them. There were several incidents where drivers had to be disqualified for jumping into their spare car after having already started the race in their other car. The spare car was not meant to be used as a backup car in the middle of the race, but several drivers still tried it!

KEY POINTS

• F1 drivers cannot swap cars with their teammates or any other drivers

• They might swap teams mid-season, but this is rare

• F1 drivers also can’t use spare cars, as they were banned in 2008

Final Thoughts

F1 drivers are not allowed to swap cars. The only scenario where a driver would be driving a different car throughout the Formula 1 season is when they have been called up to another team. Drivers are not allowed to use spare cars either, as these were banned at the start of the 2008 season.