Yesterday should have been a joyous day for Formula One and its millions of fans as the FIA approved the first new team to join the sport in eight years. Given the lack of excitement concerning the outcome of the driver and team championships this season, surely news that puts F1 firmly front and centre in global sports is a good thing?
Yet the stoney silence from FOM (the company Liberty Media uses to run its commercial F1 operations) was deafening. Further, there was nothing posted on social media by the teams nor on their websites – not even a grudging congratulation for Andretti on their success.
The wall of “No Comment”
This wall of ‘no comment’ from the F1 competitors was clearly agreed in advance of the FIA announcement and the minimal acknowledgement from FOM of the ground breaking news wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on. It is really quite remarkable given in usual circumstances the likes of Gunther Steiner and others can’t hold their water long enough to reach the facilities.
“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,” said FOM in a statement.
There has been a chasm growing between the FIA and FOM ever since Mohammed Ben Sulayem was appointed the successor to Jean Todt as the president of the FIA. The 59 year old UAE citizen was the first to be appointed from outside Formula One into this role for the best part of 50 years.
However, the former Rally champion campaigned under the slogan, “FIA for Members” committing to double motorsport participation world wide. Ben Sulayem won the votes of the 243 Member Organisations which span 147 countries on five continents defeating the outgoing FIA president’s preferred candidate Graham Stoker with 61.6% of the vote.
Chasm grows between FIA and FOM
Since his appointment the role of the FIA has become front and centre with a number of significant changes being made in the governance of F1 and the control of the race weekends.
This has ruffled feathers and so when Ben Sulayem initiated a process for new applicants to join F1, the backlash from F1 bosses was instant.
Yet here we are, the FIA has approved a new team to join Formula One, so what will happen next?
Much of the media reporting suggests its now over to FOM to either reject or ratify the Andretti entry, however it is questionable whether in fact it has the power to prevent Andretti from joining the party.
Rigorous process to prevent legal challenges
Firstly, the FIA has ensured its process has been rigorous with Ben Sulayem floating the idea that if it had not been so, then the likes of Andretti and others may take legal action against the motorsport organisation under EU anti-competition prevention legislation.
So it is unlikely that FOM can unpick the application to the point they claim it is not fit for purpose.
What is within their remit is to drag out the commercial discussions with Andretti and the other 10 teams as to how the new remuneration process will work.
The existing teams have objected to any new entrant on the grounds they will receive a diluted proportion of funds over the years from FOM – and FOM have never suggested they will top up the pot from their growing income to ensure this does not happen.
EU intervention on separation of powers
So it could be the commercial discussions with the current teams Andretti drag on exhaustively in some kind of attempt to time them out of their stated intention to be ready for the 2025 season.
2025 is important because under the Concorde agreement – which includes this year – the audit-dilution/entry fee for a new team is $200m. A number of current F1 bosses have suggested this will rise when the next deal is signed to around $600m from 2026 onwards.
But will this prevent Andretti from turning up and becoming registered as a competitor for the 2025 season?
The EU was forced to intervene in the affairs of Formula One over arguments regarding the commercial rights to the sport when Max Mosely was FIA president and Bernie Ecclestone ran the commercial activities of the sport.
FIA have “absolute discretion”
It was regulated that there should be a full separation of responsibilities with the FIA taking those regulatory in nature and FOA/FOM taking the commercial ones.
There is a line in this complex legislation which is enlightening: “….establish a complete separation of the commercial and regulatory functions in relation to the FIA Formula One World Championship – to guarantee access to motor sport to any person meeting the relevant safety and fairness criteria.”
Further the FIA sporting regulations I article 8.5 state that: “All applications will be studied by the FIA and accepted or rejected at its absolute discretion.”
This really does leave no room for FOM to reject Andretti out of hand but they may suggest the negations are complex and attempt to drag out the matter beyond June 1 2024 when Andretti must be registered as a competitor.
Historic precedent faces FOM
Yet there is precedent that these negotiations have never in the past required such an extended time. Back in 2010, three teams were admitted and Brawn had a matter of weeks to register his ‘new’ teams before the season began.
In the case of Haas too, the commercial arrangements were hardly recorded in the media as their application flew through approval with both the FIA and FOM.
Yet things are about to get messy. Instead of celebrating a new team joining F1 the sport is about to descend into farce unless FOM confirm Andretti quickly.
The process is already over a year long since Andretti requested to join F1 and the question must be asked, is this really a genuine application approval system if there’s no chance of ultimately a Global Racing brand capable of joining there sport?
New teams deal for 2026
Of course there is the possibility of law suits being taken out and the unthinkable rejection of Andretti form the commercial process until 2026.
FOM need to lay down the sword in the fight with Ben Sulayem and accept to the fait accompli. The quicker a commercial solution is found the better, and the 11 teams then can contest the amount FOM provide in terms of prize money for the 2026 season and beyond.
The $200m should satisfy the 10 as recompense for the single season of 2025 then the commercial rights holders of the sport need to shell out some of their billions to give the fans what they want and almost universally – or so it seems on social media – it is more teams and more drivers in Formula One.
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