There will be a different look to the grid in Austin this weekend for the US Grand Prix as there will be only 18 cars instead of the familiar 22
Stalled teams create new problems for Formula One -- PHOTO: REUTERS

THERE will be a different look to the grid in Austin this weekend for the US Grand Prix as there will be only 18 cars instead of the familiar 22. The beleaguered Caterham and Marussia teams will be absent, most likely leaving Sauber and Lotus to fulfil the role of backmarkers.

Both Caterham and Marussia have gone into administration since the Russian GP in Sochi three weeks ago, unable to sustain the ante of US$2 million (S$2.6 million) a week that is considered the minimum needed to keep an F1 team afloat these days.

The ramifications of the likely demise of the two remaining 'new' teams' - both came into F1 together with HRT in 2010 on the back of then FIA president Max Mosley's pledge of a US$40-million budget cap - have yet to be seen.

Details of the Concorde Agreement by which the sport is governed commercially have always been a close-kept secret, but it is believed that Bernie Ecclestone is committed to fielding a minimum of 20 cars per race.

Clearly that won't be possible in Texas, and is unlikely to be possible in the remaining races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi either. It thus remains to be seen whether two of the bigger teams will be called on to enter a third car, which would be eligible to keep any position its third driver achieves but not the points associated with it.

The FIA say they won't ask for this in 2014, partly because teams are believed to have been guaranteed 60-days' notice to run a third car, and details concerning its livery and driver qualification have yet to be agreed fully. But clearly it could be a concern for 2015 if neither Caterham nor Marussia survive.

There may also be a very significant longer-term legacy, as potentially the lack of a full grid might be deemed to breach the 100-year deal by which the FIA sold the commercial rights to F1 to Ecclestone for US$360 million back in July 2000.

Meanwhile, after the first two practice sessions in Austin the FIA will experiment with a new method of slowing drivers down when yellow flags are deployed, following Jules Bianchi's accident in the Japanese GP on Oct 5.

This will not comprise the automatic system of slowing each car via its standard FIA-mandated electronic control unit, which is still under development.

Instead, drivers will be required to follow a delta or target time established on Thursday for each sector of the track by safety car driver Bernd Maylander, and must not exceed it for the duration of the deployment.

On track, this will be another crucial weekend for title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg. The latter is aiming to repeat his 2012 triumph in the inaugural race here, and building a gap of at least 14 points over his team-mate prior to the double points finale in Abu Dhabi.

That would enable Hamilton to finish second to Rosberg in the Middle East, but still take the title.