The news that the Andretti Group would like to join Formula One filled thousands of column inches during the 2022 season. Most of which are arguments from team bosses as to why the sport does not need an 11th team or why Andretti doesn’t bring enough value. Yet the recents tweets of FIA president Mohamed Ben Sulayem make it clear he is in favour of the Andretti application.
Ben Sulayem tweeted last week, “I have asked my FIA team to look at launching an Expressions of Interest process for prospective new teams for the FIA F1 World Championship.”
FIA president pushes Andretti F1 application
Interestingly, the tweet was from his personal account and not from the one which is the official FIA twitter handle.
Formula One’s commercial rights holder responded referring to the “great interest in the F1 project at this time, with a number of conversations continuing that are not as visible as others.”
It mysteriously added, ”Any new entrant request requires the agreement of both F1 and the FIA.”
Within a day, the Andretti group revealed they had bagged the fish largest car manufacturer in the world in General Motors with the implication that the American manufacturer would be building an F1 engine for 2026.
There was no comment from any of the F1 team bosses or teams to Michael Andretti’s revelation, though the Mohammed Ben Sulayem then issued another tweet on Sunday.
Any negative reaction was behind the scenes
“It is surprising that there has been some adverse reaction to the Cadillac and Andretti Global news,” he wrote.
“We should be encouraging prospective entries from global manufacturers like GM and thoroughbred racers like Andretti and others.”
Yet it was noted that there was in fact no public adverse response to the Andretti announcement just merely the prior tweet of caution from F1 about there being “a number of conversations continuing that are not as visible as others.”
We can read this to be directed at Andretti given Michael and Mario arrived at the inaugural GP with a letter they asked team bosses to sign stating they weren’t against Andretti joining Formula One.
F1 CEO irritated by Andretti
This clearly irritated Stefano Dominical, F1’s CEO, who the BBC report was forced to point out to Andretti this was not the way things were done in Formula One and that Andretti could not “bully him into supporting the bid.”
Clearly there is a problem behind the scenes between F1 and the president of the FIA who again yesterday made reference to the Andretti bid at a visit to the Dakar rally.
Ben Sulayem said he was “opening the door, not approving” Andretti’s bid, adding: “There is a lot of process and due diligence to be done first. The governance is there. We want them to succeed, and I’ve no doubt that FOM (F1 Management) and Liberty would like to see that also.”
On message over the FIA’s future plans for the new F1 power units, Ben Sulayem added, ”If you want to maintain the sustainability of the sport you have to open it up to the rest of the manufacturers.
Ben Sulayem pushes for new manufacturer GM
“We are allowed to have 12 teams on the grid, and to have a big company like GM, which is one of the top five in the world, we should be encouraging them to come to F1.”
And maybe herin lies the difficulty. The current agreement between the teams, the FIA and F1 allows for a maximum of 12 teams.
Early in 2022 the VW Group announced it would be looking to introduce Audi and Porsche into Formula 1. Of course the Porsche deal with Red Bull Racing collapsed but Audi are believed to have agreed a deal with the owners of Sauber to buy the team and enter it as a ‘works Audi’ outfit.
Porsche F1 application in the wings
Porsche said following the debacle with Red Bull that they were still “exploring avenues” by which they could enter Formula One.
The of course Ford have been rumoured to have had behind closed doors conversations with F1 together with the Panthera Team Asia who declared their intent this week.
So with just two more slots on the grid and with two global manufacturers waiting in the wings, the Andretti application may not look as rosy as it once did.
That said, Porsche showed an interest back in 2017 when the FIA launched its first working party to discuss the replacement of the current F1 power units. But 5 years later the German brand has still failed to find an acceptable path to join the sport.
Rocky ride for FIA president
It does feel as though there is friction between the FIA president and F1 who are the only parties who can agree new F1 entrants. The teams have no say in the matter though they do have a powerful voice in Stefano Dominicali’s ear.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem has had a rocky ride since taking over from Jean Toto in December 2021. The first item in his in tray was the refusal of Lewis Hamilton to participate in the FIA end of season gala. Because Lewis’ had finished P2 in the drivers’ championship he was mandated to attend along with the driver in P3 and the winner.
The row petered out and Lewis Hamilton was fined €50,000 for his non attendance and Ben Sulayem revealed, “we have worked together to make sure that the money will be put towards youth from underprivileged backgrounds getting into motorsports engineering.”
Then the FIA president had to deal with the fall out from Mercedes’ protests over F1’s race director Michael Massi who was sidelined initially then resigned to return to his home in Australia.
2 Formula 1 race directors failed
Ben Sulayem appointed two race directors in his place, though the teams and drivers’ have been critical throughout the 2022 season of this solution. Many in the paddock believe this has led to a lack of consistency and it could be that neither Neils Wittich or Eduardo Freitas will return for the 2023 season.
The FIA had battles with the teams and F1 over increased recompense for the increase in sprint races, together with an insistence that the no jewellery regulations were upheld by the stewards.
All in all its been a tough year for the FIA’s new leader and it could be this battle with F1 over Andretti is Ben Sulayem attempting to assert is authority. Tweeting from his personal twitter account is somewhat a strange thing to do.
According to the BBC Mohammed Ben Sulayem may face another battle as the teams are demanding a rethink over the entry fee they agreed for new teams joining F1.
Teams now want $700m from new F1 entry
The latest Concorde agreement signed in 2020 dictated there should be an anti dilution fund charged for a new entrant. This would be distributed amongst the current teams as compensation for a loss due to dilution in the prize money.
Yet there are those who are now suggesting, ‘that was then and now F1 has even a greater value.’ $200m would cover two years of diluted prix money and some individuals including Haas team principal believed the amount should be higher.
A figure of $6-700m is now being bandied around for the FIA to require a new entrant to pay as this would represent more like 5 years of dilution in the prize fund shared by the F1 teams.
According to the BBC one senior insider pointed to the latest “new franchise in the North American ice hockey league, the NHL, which cost a group from Seattle a $650m ‘expansion fee’, another name for a dilution fee.”
The Andretti argument is set to run and run and given Michael Andretti’s vociferous responses to each negative review his application receives, it is hard to see Andretti ever making it into Formula One.
— Scuderia AlphaTauri (@AlphaTauriF1) January 10, 2023