The FIA has approved Andretti’s bid to become Formula 1’s 11th team but the battle has only just begun as Michael Andretti now needs to gain the approval of the 10 teams.
And he needs to convince them while taking a hefty slice of their prize money earnings.
Based on the comments that have been made over the last year, if not longer, it seems an insurmountable task.
Andretti receives FIA approval
With Formula 1’s regulations allowing for more than 10 teams, the FIA officially opened the application process back in February with Andretti, a legendary motor racing family, leading the charge.
In case you missed the Wiki entry, Andretti as a racing outfit has not only been one of the powerhouses in American racing for decades, the family also has a history with Formula 1 with Mario Andretti a 12-time race winner while his son Michael, the Andretti team owner, contested 13 races with McLaren in 1993.
With that pedigree behind him, a pedigree that appeals to sponsors, Andretti teamed up with General Motors to forge Andretti-Cadillac, found factory space in the United Kingdom, and agreed an engine deal with Renault, ticking all the behind-the-scene boxes and the rest of the FIA’s criteria.
That included finances to run a sustained high-level campaign as well as proving they could reach the sustainability and equality, diversity, and inclusion targets.
What the FIA didn’t explain in technicolour though, is why exactly Andretti’s application after their months of rigorous due diligence was the winning bid.
But while motorsport’s governing body is happy Andretti would be a great addition to the grid, there are 10, although in truth it may only be eight or nine, team bosses who don’t agree.
Shortly after Monday’s FIA announcement, F1 simply said: “We note the FIA’s conclusions in relation to the first and second phases of their process and will now conduct our own assessment of the merits of the remaining application.”
Because to find a spot on the Formula 1 grid not only involves FIA approval but also that of Formula One Management which means Liberty Media, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, and the teams also have a say.
And they’ve already made their thoughts on this abundantly clear.
What value would Andretti bring to F1 as an 11th team?
Under the guise of asking what value would Andretti bring to Formula 1, Mercedes motorsport boss Toto Wolff has balked at the idea of another team joining the grid.
Although Andretti not only brings one of the biggest names in motorsport to the grid, they’ve partnered with Cadillac through General Motors, and therein lies two of the biggest names in the industry.
And yet team bosses continued to ask what value does that bring to them, and Formula 1 as a whole.
“Andretti is a great name but this is sport and this is business and we need to understand what is it that you can provide to the sport,” said Wolff.
“And if an OEM or a multinational group joins F1 and can demonstrate that they are going to spend X amount of dollars in activating, in marketing; that’s obviously a totally different value proposition for all the other teams.”
His former right-hand man and now Williams team boss James Vowles also questioned what Andretti and Cadillac could bring to the party.
“We’re always open to the sport growing, but the truth behind it is the sport financially needs to become more and more successful,” he said.
“Whoever joins in that environment needs to bring with it effectively the growth that is required in order for everyone else to be in a better position, or at least a neutral position. And I think it’s been the statement from the outset, from the beginning.
“There are a lot of lovely things about Andretti and about Cadillac. It just needs to have a good understanding of how it will grow the sport, in what way, and what the growth will be.”
It’s a question the teams will hammer on because even if Andretti does bring value to the sport with potentially a larger global audience and more sponsors wanting to come on board, an 11th team dilutes the prize pot.
Well, who’s going to pay for it?
That’s the question Red Bull team boss Christian Horner asked earlier this year after Andretti accused the teams of greed when they initially opposed his entry.
Under Formula 1’s latest Concorde Agreement, prize money is split between all the teams on the grid and not just the top ten as it was in yesteryear.
That means Andretti will immediately take a chunk out of the existing teams’ earnings, and if they prove successful and climb up the grid, the size of that slice increases.
“As with all these things though, it ultimately boils down to, ‘Well, who’s going to pay for it?’” Horner said.
“And you can assume that the teams if they’re perceived to be the ones who are paying for it – or diluting their payments to accommodate it — of course, it’s not going to sit that well.
“The two teams that are supporting it (McLaren and Alpine) either have a partnership in the U.S. with them or are going to supply them an engine. The other eight are saying, ‘Well hang on, why should we dilute our element of the prize fund?’”
Fred Vasseur agrees with his rival that money is at the heart of the debate as he doesn’t want to see the existing brands diluted especially as he feels they deserve reward for having survived the global economic crisis.
“My position is that the 10 teams that made huge efforts even when it was tough to be on the grid and to survive for some of them, now that if we have to welcome another team, it has to be for mega good reasons,” he said.
Could a proposed $600 million anti-dilution fee sweeten the deal?
Given that it’s clear this is an argument that comes down to money, the existing teams not keen on sharing their pie, it has been proposed that Formula 1 increases the anti-dilution fee up from $200 million to $600 million.
Earlier this year it was reported that F1 CEO Domenicali was open to tripling the anti-dilution fee. That’s the fee all new entrants pay that is then shared amongst the existing teams to cover some of their losses.
“The so-called anti-dilution payment was done at $200 million, just a couple of years ago,” the former Ferrari team boss said back in April, “because at that time no one would have expected that the value of this business would rise up so much.
“Today the situation is totally different, for sure. And it’s our duty to make sure that we protect the business the best way that we can, and have a bigger picture.”
With Domenicali seemingly in the same camp as the majority of the team bosses, Formula 1 and the FIA are on another collision course. One in which accusations of not having F1’s best interests at heart or even harming the sport are set to make headlines.
FIA v F1
Not for the first time in his brief tenure, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem opened the door for conflict with Liberty Media and the Formula 1 team bosses when he unilaterally opened up the tendering process.
He did so even in the face of verbal opposition from Domenicali and the existing teams, who had all made it very clear they aren’t keen on an 11th team.
Now that the process has concluded and Andretti has been given the FIA’s nod, Ben Sulayem has put the ball firmly in Formula 1’s court as to whether the grid increases to 22 cars or not.
One could say he’s backed them into a corner.
At a time when Formula 1 appears to have cracked the American market, it could be a bad look for the sport to say no to one of American’s most loved racing names.
So if FOM and co say yes, he gets the win as the man who started the process. And if they say no, he gets to lament wanting to grow the sport but that he was blocked.
It’s a war that is likely to rage for months to come with Andretti the proverbial pinball in the mix.
Watch this space…