Formula 1’s popularity in the United States has accelerated in 2022, making it a vital market that the sport’s bosses are eager to develop. From 2023, there will be three American races, in Miami; Austin, TX; and Las Vegas.
But Formula 1 has only one American team, England-based Haas, and it hasn’t had an American driver on the grid since 2015, when Alexander Rossi took part in five races.
Michael Andretti seeks to change that. He is the son of 1978 Formula 1 world champion Mario Andretti and owns Andretti Autosport, a team that enjoyed huge success in the United States through IndyCar, winning the Indianapolis 500 five times. Andretti Autosport also competes in Formula E, Extreme E, sports car racing and the Australian Supercars series.
Andretti’s next goal is to create a Formula 1 team, to race as early as 2024. His team would be based in Indianapolis and have an American driver, Colton Herta, who is the youngest winner in IndyCar history.
“We want to be an American team that wants to develop American drivers for the future,” Andretti said. “There is no one there who does that. This is where we want to be.
Last year Andretti came close to acquiring a majority stake in the Sauber Group, which operates the Alfa Romeo team, but talks broke down as negotiations neared completion. With none of the other teams willing to sell, Andretti set about creating his own.
“He can’t wait to get into Formula 1,” McLaren chief executive Zak Brown said. “He comes from a high quality racing family. He has an IndyCar team, a Formula E team, an Extreme E team. We think the more competition the better.
Brown isn’t the only one backing Andretti’s plans. Two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso raced for Andretti in the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, giving him first-hand experience of how the team works.
“It’s a very good organization, very professional,” Alonso said. “They have a lot of good guys there. Formula 1 is a different level for sure, but they have a passion for motorsport, and it will be super good for the sport to have the Andretti name on the grid.
Yet their enthusiasm for Andretti’s plans in Formula 1 is not shared. Of the 10 teams, only two – McLaren and Alpine – have openly declared their support to allow an 11th team to join.
“At the moment you have 10 good teams which are all stable,” said Haas team principal Günther Steiner. “Why should we change anything if it works like this? For the moment, we are well placed. »
Formula 1 has a history of team withdrawal. From 2012 to 2016, three teams – HRT, Caterham and Manor – all closed due to financial issues and are seen as examples of the risk posed by having too many teams.
“If we have a new team coming in with mega added value for the championship, it could make sense,” said Alfa Romeo team principal Frederic Vasseur. “But we don’t want welcoming someone new to put two or three teams on the grid at risk.”
The concern for the existing 10 teams is that by adding someone new, the Formula 1 prize fund will be split in multiple ways, meaning each team will end up with less money to operate. Toto Wolff, Mercedes chief executive, said any new team would have to prove they could bring more money to Formula 1 than it would cost existing operations. “Because the 11th team means a 10% dilution for everyone else,” he said.
To address this concern, any new entry must pay a one-time fee of $200 million which is split between the current grid. Andretti is ready to pay that, but the existing teams don’t think that’s enough to make up for the potential loss of revenue. When this sum was agreed in 2020, the value of Formula 1 was “very different”, said Steiner, who suggested it should be adjusted in the future.
Alpine’s team principal Otmar Szafnauer believed the larger prize pool would be offset by the additional revenue that could be generated by Andretti’s addition to Formula 1.
“Andretti is a big name in motorsport,” he said. “We have more races in the United States now, and I think a team like Andretti could maybe increase the whole revenue pie, so that we all benefit.”
Brown was disappointed that so many teams were against the addition of Andretti. “I’m not at all surprised that some racing teams have a very selfish view of what should and shouldn’t happen in motor racing,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything new.”
But Wolff said it was important to recognize that current teams have “invested huge sums” to race in Formula 1, helping the sport grow, and that its value can be attributed, in part, to the limited number of players. teams creating exclusivity.
Formula 1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali agreed that “the team community must be respected” and that any additions should be “really meaningful”.
“We have a lot of people or a lot of investors who would like to be in Formula 1,” he said. “Some of them are more vocal than others. But we have to protect the teams.
For Andretti to join, Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, must issue a tender calling for interest from new teams. Andretti said talks with Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA president, in Miami in May were “positive”, but there was still “a big process to go through” to get enough support.
“There are millions of people embracing ‘the addition of an Andretti team,’ he said. “They’re just not the right people right now.”
That didn’t stop Andretti from planning to hire staff and establish a base in Indianapolis, which he hoped to begin construction this summer.
“We’re spending money to get the ball rolling because we think we’re going to hopefully get it,” he said. “We’re taking a risk, but we think it’s worth it.”