Pat Symonds’ defection to Andretti is a clear message sent straight to F1

Thomas Maher
Pat Symonds, Graeme Lowdon, 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Pat Symonds chatting with Andretti's Graeme Lowdon at the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Andretti securing the services of Pat Symonds is a hugely significant moment in its quest to attain F1’s approval to join the championship.

On Tuesday, Andretti sprung a surprise by announcing that Symonds, head of Formula 1’s technical department, has jumped ship to join its burgeoning F1 effort.

Pat Symonds switch to Andretti is a clear statement of endorsement

Andretti’s press release to the media was very straightforward in outlining why Symonds has been signed, with the 70-year-old joining “in pursuit of entering the FIA Formula One World Championship”.

It’s been a fascinating, and not altogether fun, six months for the Andretti squad. Answering the FIA’s calls for expressions of interest for new teams, Andretti was the only applicant to pass the governing body’s stress tests and gain their approval to enter the championship.

But, with it then being passed along to Formula One Management under Liberty Media for commercial approval, which includes getting a team signed up to the Concorde Agreement, the application was shot down in January.

Not only that, the shootdown was written in pretty stark language – F1 made it clear that it did not view Andretti as capable of being competitive from the off, and that its engine deal with General Motors/Cadillac wasn’t enough to convince them otherwise until the manufacturing of power units has actually begun, although the door was left open for a possible entry in 2028.

Of course, there is a valid reason for trying to keep Andretti out for the time being. Being able to pay the entry fees of $200 million – a fee thrashed out in 2020 – along with another couple of hundred million dollars in setting up a team and being granted entry in the next year or two would result in Andretti’s value immediately shooting up – according to Forbes, the value of an F1 team is around a billion dollars, and that’s on the low end.

The new Concorde Agreement that comes into effect in 2026 looks near certain to revise that entry fee significantly higher, meaning Andretti would have to “pay its way” in a more equitable manner to what the existing teams have done over the years.

But while F1 keeps Andretti at arm’s length, being forced to disparage Andretti’s efforts to justify keeping the squad out for now, the team itself has started to pull itself together. More than a marketing slogan, Andretti latching onto “our work continues at pace” has become a reality.

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Setting up a UK base with a facility at Silverstone, the team has begun the recruitment process for 60 high-level jobs to go alongside its existing workforce assigned from GM and its US effort, with Mario Andretti recently telling PlanetF1.com the intent is still entry for 2026.

But it is the signing of Symonds that is perhaps Andretti’s coup-de-grace in showcasing its seriousness in achieving this target. After all, tempting the man responsible for vetting the entry on behalf of F1 to join said organisation means he must be pretty convinced of their legitimacy.

Symonds has headed up F1’s technical department since 2017, serving as chief technical officer for the organisation and playing a pivotal role in crafting the current regulations.

His contract with F1 was due to expire later this year but, due to him leaving early, he will now serve a six-month gardening period before joining Andretti – he will work as the team’s Executive Engineering Consultant under technical director Nick Chester (formerly of Benetton and Lotus).

There are few technical staff better positioned than Symonds to have clear knowledge of what Andretti has to offer and, after being part of its rejection, his joining the team makes it apparent that he doesn’t believe the American squad to be a fly-by-night operation.

This isn’t merely a job switch, it’s an outright defection – Symonds has swapped from being a nightclub bouncer and, instead, has joined the partygoers locked outside desperately trying to get in.

Symonds, who has worked closely alongside World Champions Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso, contributing to four Drivers’ World Championships during his long career, has previously spoken about how F1 can run more than 20 cars.

“There is no harm in having more cars, providing their quality,” he said at the 2023 Autosport International Show.

“The sport is a pedigree success story.”

If there were any question marks whatsoever about Andretti’s legitimacy as an entry, Symonds swapping sides should immediately dispel them – and F1’s CTO throwing his weight behind Andretti adds further pressure on F1 to row back on its rather harsh rejection.

Speaking in a recent interview with PlanetF1.com, 1978 F1 World Champion Mario Andretti was unable to hide his smile as he spoke about the progress the team is making behind the scenes.

While reluctant to comment on how conversations with FOM have progressed recently, Andretti hinted at having some “interesting individuals” waiting in the wings to join the team – hinting there’s more to come than just Symonds.

“We’re working at pace in every aspect that we can to be able to advance the cause because, all along, we’d like to show how serious we are about the project and not just talk but do,” he told PlanetF1.com.

“We have a fair amount of team already together here, and we have some interesting individuals waiting for us to get the 100 percent green light from Formula 1.

“We’re just trying to show that everything is the way it should be. General Motors is definitely behind all of this and that’s very important to bring in a manufacturer with us that has never been in F1.

“I think the fact that F1 is exposed so prominently in the United States, I think, should play favourably to have a full US team involved. I’m staying positive, absolutely.”

Having lost a key member of its own personnel to the team it is saying no to, how much longer can F1 really hold out?

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