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Formula 1

What would a modern non-championship F1 race look like?

by Edd Straw
7 min read

The idea of a non-championship Formula 1 race run with a reverse grid has again been floated, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner recently suggesting this would be the best place to trial an experimental format amid the likely defeat for F1’s latest push qualifying race push.

Non-championship races have been extinct since the final Race of Champions was staged at Brands Hatch in 1983 having been endangered long before that, but the history of such events provides plenty of ideas for storylines that would work well today.

And as the picture below of the 1974 Race of Champions at Brands Hatch shows, it didn’t need to be a championship round to attract an ample field and a healthy crowd.

Race of Champions 1974 Brands Hatch

Non-championship races used to produce some remarkable moments. Carlos Reutemann made his F1 race debut driving a McLaren on home soil in Argentina in 1971, while Keke Rosberg’s breakthrough F1 win was behind the wheel of a Theodore in the rain-hit 1978 International Trophy – the same race Derek Daly made a big splash in by leading on debut for Hesketh.

Private entries, like the Ecuire Bonnier team that ran Reutemann, were common as well. In 1976, Scuderia Everest – run by a certain Giancarlo Minardi – fielded a Ferrari for near-namesake Giancarlo Martini!

There were even some landmark moments for cars. Stirling Moss took the only race victory for a four-wheel drive F1 car driving the Ferguson P99 at the Oulton Park Gold Cup in 1961 while Lola took its only victory thanks to John Surtees in the 1962 2000 Guineas race at Mallory Park.

For the sake of argument, we assume that this race has been bankrolled by a very motivated sponsor

There are many obstacles to a non-championship race being staged these days, notably the fact it would require a huge amount of money to be up for grabs to justify teams participating and the cost of putting it on and the myriad contractual problems that can surround it.

But we are setting that to one side to create our dream grid for a non-championship Formula 1 event.

Let’s call it our dream-based-in-reality grid – we’ve done it by applying the themes that formed the line-ups for the non-championship races of the past to the 2020 teams and available drivers.

The rules are simple: it’s a one-off event with all 10 teams obliged to turn up with at least one entry.

But if they do not run a second car, they are obliged to supply a car to be run by another team as a satellite entry and also have the option to run a third or, grid capacity allowing, a fourth car with precedence given to the leading teams if the entry is over-subscribed.

Losail circuit Qatar

This is defined by circuit capacity rather than F1’s usual 26-car limit, with 30 cars entered for the race at the Losail track in Qatar best known for hosting MotoGP’s season-opener.

For the sake of argument, we assume that this race has been bankrolled by a very motivated sponsor, who has also ensured the participation of several of the key drivers contractually given a non-championship race without some of F1s biggest names would not have the necessary appeal for a massive audience.

This race is also designed to take place at the end of this season – in reality, impractical given the enormous demands of the condensed season on personnel but acceptable for a fanciful case study that we’ve applied plenty of imagination to.


Lewis Hamilton

F1 races need their stars, so Mercedes has no choice but to field Hamilton. But given its success elsewhere, the team opts only to field a single car.


George Russell
Stoffel Vandoorne

The Mercedes-affiliated team draws personnel from its various racing programmes to run Mercedes protege George Russell as a satellite to the main team. Formula E driver Stoffel Vandoorne is also given a chance to reignite his F1 career.

George Russell Mercedes Abu Dhabi F1 testing 2019


Charles Leclerc

With Sebastian Vettel moving on, only one car is entered under the Scuderia Ferrari banner for the team’s recognised star.


Mick Schumacher
Robert Shwartzman
Callum Ilott

Some have suggested the FP1 outings for these three drivers constitutes a shootout. But a three-car academy entry to allow the trio to fight it out on equal footing is much closer to a head-to-head evaluation.

Ferrari Fda F1 Debut


Alex Albon
Lucas Auer

With Max Verstappen unexpectedly deployed elsewhere (see below), regular driver Alex Albon teams up with single-seater returnee Lucas Auer. The 26-year-old DTM racer is chosen to fulfil the desire for Red Bull to run an Austrian driver for the first time since it dropped Christian Klien in 2006.


Yuki Tsunoda
Jehan Daruvala

Personnel from Carlin’s programmes join additional Red Bull personnel to run F2 driver and current Red Bull next-cab-off-the-rank Yuji Tsunoda in a third car, along with Carlin’s Red Bull-backed Indian F2 racer.

Jehan Daruvala


Max Verstappen
Pierre Gasly

While Red Bull had to agree to running Verstappen under the event contract, it decided to switch it to AlphaTauri as a benchmarking exercise to see how he fares against incumbent Gasly.


Takuma Sato

Honda brings favourite son Takuma Sato back to F1, 12 years after Super Aguri was closed, for a one-off return under the Honda banner as it builds up to its farewell season.

Takuma Sato


Lance Stroll
Sebastian Vettel

Racing Point opts to give its British Racing Green colour scheme and branding an early debut with Ferrari agreeing to release Vettel to make his first appearance for his new employer alongside the inevitable Lance Stroll.


Daniel Ricciardo
Lando Norris

McLaren decides to bring forward Ricciardo’s debut, with agreement from Renault, and pairs him with regular driver Lando Norris as a preview to 2021 – with Carlos Sainz Jr left without a seat for the one-off thanks to Ferrari’s desire to run its Academy drivers.


Paul di Resta
Karun Chandhok

Paul di Resta

For a special documentary series funded by Sky, McLaren enters a satellite team for two of its on-screen team with relatively recently Formula 1 experience. Di Resta, who was McLaren’s reserve driver for the 70th Anniversary Grand Prix weekend, is the obvious choice alongside Chandhok.

OK, this is very fanciful, but non-championship races used to throw up some unusual entries so this is our modern take.


Christian Lundgaard
Guan Yu Zhou

Renault’s leading juniors are paired to allow Renault to compare their performance on equal footing, with its nominally-satellite car providing the experience…


Fernando Alonso

Frustrated by the derision for its absurd desire to run a 39-year-old with more than 300 F1 starts in the ‘young driver’ test, Renault enters a third car under the Alpine banner to help Alonso’s preparation for 2021.

Motor Racing Formula One Renault F1 Team Viry Chatillon, France


Kimi Raikkonen
Romain Grosjean

The Sauber-run team has never run a Swiss driver in F1, so picks up the Franco-Swiss Romain Grosjean for a one-off outing to partner fan favourite Kimi Raikkonen.

A third car is entered, but to recapture the spirit of the old days, the driver will not be decided upon until the 11th hour based on who is in the area, qualified and available


Nico Hulkenberg
Colton Herta

F1’s resident super-sub has to be on the grid somewhere, and given Haas’s interest in him and the fact it might have signed him for 2020 in the first place, a belated debut is an obvious choice.

He partners IndyCar ace Colton Herta, who is given a toe-in-the-water to boost the team’s American profile.

Colton Herta


Valtteri Bottas
Felipe Massa

It wasn’t unknown for drivers to return to teams in non-championship races – for example Brabham called up Hector Rebaque for the 1983 Race of Champions even though he’d last raced for it in 1981.

So Williams rolls back the years with Bottas persuaded to make a one-off return, which he agrees to so he can show how strong he is compared to Russell, and Felipe Massa, race sharp from his Formula E farewell, also makes a crowd-pleasing one-off return.

Felipe Massa

As for the format, the reverse grid based on constructors’ championship order seems a sensible way to go. But given two-heats-and-a-final wasn’t unheard of, we could split it up further. Whatever happens, the winner would have to work hard for their victory.

Of course, this won’t happen and likely any potentially interested sponsor would be channelled by F1 into regular-season races.

But it doesn’t stop us speculating what it might be like if the spirit of the old-school International Trophy and Race of Champions could be revived for 2020.

After all, in the homogenised world of modern F1, we are starved of variety and it would be wonderful if, one day, some kind of non-championship F1 event could be created to provide a break from the norm.

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