Formula 1 Racing

F1’s largest-ever field, 35 years ago today · RaceFans

Start, Jerez, 1989

Formula 1 was in a state of change 35 years ago. The explosive but expensive turbo era was over, and a new formula for normally aspirate engines encouraged a raft of new entrants.

When FISA (now the FIA) closed entries for the new season at the end of January, a record 40 cars had signed up. These were drawn from 21 teams in all, two putting forward single-car entries, as was allowed at the time.

The last of those – ironically named First – never made it to the start of the season. Nonetheless 39 cars, one shy of twice today’s entry, turned up for almost all of that years races.

There were three exceptions during the course of the year. AGS driver Philippe Streiff was badly injured in testing, suffering paralysis which ended his grand prix career, so the team only entered a single car for the season-opener.

One-third of the field did not qualify at each race

Ferrari also turned up with just one car on two occasions. Gerhard Berger missed Monaco due to the burns he sustained in a fiery crash at Imola, but was back at the next round. Later in the season Nigel Mansell was banned from taking part in the Spanish Grand Prix after failing to observe a black flag during the previous round in Portugal.

Other drivers swapped teams over the course of the season, and a total of 47 different names appeared. With 39 cars vying for places on a 26-car grid, one-third would not get to start, and qualifying therefore took on far greater significance than today.

An opening ‘pre-qualifying’ session for up to 13 cars from the lowest-ranked teams based on their previous constructors championship positions was held at every round. At first these included the likes of Brabham, who hadn’t contested the 1988 season.

Only four cars progressed from pre-qualifying, meaning nine drivers’ weekends ended at that point. A further four dropped out at the end of the qualifying session. Some never made the cut at all: Aguri Suzuki turned up for all 16 rounds and never once pre-qualified his Zakspeed.

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The prospects of F1 ever allowing a field as large as this again are beyond remote. At present it remains to be seen whether F1 will welcome Andretti as an 11th team, following the approval granted by the FIA last year. Even if that happens the grid will still be four cars short of capacity, so no one need worry about failing to qualify for a race, yet alone pre-qualify.

1989 Formula 1 entry list

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