Crisis at Caterham could pave the way for three-car teams in 2015

Kobayashi Caterham

The chances of the Formula 1 grid shrinking appear more real than ever, with Caterham seemingly on the brink of leaving the sport.

And with reports suggesting that a second financially-troubled squad could be set to fold following the upcoming U.S Grand Prix, F1 may be heading towards a dramatic change. The sport's regulations state that if the grid shrinks to less than 20 cars, the remaining teams will be obliged to field third entries. The loss of Caterham would bring the grid down to 20, meaning any further withdrawals would trigger this clause.

Caterham's position now appears more perilous than ever. Since being sold by Tony Fernandes in July, the team has appeared increasingly close to going under. And, in a statement released yesterday, their new owners stated that they may have to withdraw their support for the F1 team.

One of the outfit's chief suppliers - Caterham Sports Limited, who produced the team's cars - has become the latest associated company to be placed into administration. It remains possible that their cars will not be released for the U.S Grand Prix. The team have also been locked out of their Leafield factory as of Thursday morning.

This prompted the new owners - who have been named as the Swiss-based Engavest SA - to go on the offensive, asserting that Fernandes and his partners have "refused to comply with [their] legal obligations to transfer their shares to the buyer.

"The buyer (Engavest) has been left in the invidious position of funding the team without having legal title to the team it had bought," they added.

Fernandes has responded by telling BBC Sport that the new owners' statement is "garbage". Fernandes also previously tweeted on the subject, sating: "If you buy something you should pay for it. Quite simple."

This places Caterham's future in significant doubt. Their case is not helped by the fact that the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone has been a vocal supporter of the three-car team plan. What's more, Ecclestone is quoted as saying of Caterham: "I think it's better they go. I don't want people going around with begging bowls."

That makes the possibility of three-car teams in 2015 very real. However McLaren racing director Eric Boullier was uncertain about the plan when when asked last month.

"The chassis for the third car, the logistics, the people around ... we will need at least six months' notice," Boullier said in September. With the opening race of 2015 taking place in March, Ecclestone would need to have informed the teams of their responsibility a month ago if the plan is to come to fruition.

Mercedes chief Toto Wolff believes running an extra car would cost his team €25m per season, though there could potentially be some form of compensation from Ecclestone's FOM group.

The possibility of three-car teams coming to fruition in 2015 poses some intriguing questions about the driver market. With Fernando Alonso seemingly still a free agent, it could place the Spaniard in an envious position - and might even see him join Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at Mercedes.

However the plan's positives are outweighed by the negatives - as outlined previously on this site - and the chief concern at the moment should be for the hard-working staff at Caterham whose future job prospects have been thrown into uncertainty.