The big news before the Qatar Grand Prix was the FIA giving the green light for an 11th team to join the Formula One grid. Yet the chaos surrounding the kerbs, re profiling of the track and extreme driver exhaustion on Sunday meant that a full and frank response from the team bosses was lost in the noise.
Following the announcement from the FIA, the teams were strangely silent and FOM/Liberty Media issued but a brief statement acknowledging the process and stating they would examine the application for themselves.
F1 share price jumps on Andretti news
Whilst FOM have stood behind the teams in their opposition to a new team joining the sport, F1’s share price in fact jumped nicely on the Andretti news and suggests FOM may secretly approve of the new American team joining the sport.
Mohamed Ben Sulayem has since stated categorically that the teams have “no power” to prevent Andretti competing in Formula One and even cited how petty it would be should they be refused paddock passes.
On the legal front a number of commentators have suggested this matter will end up before the courts, but this is unlikely. The teams, F1 and the FIA all agreed the entry fee for a new team and the process required less than three years ago in the latest Concorde agreement.
Haas F1 were the last team to join the sport back in 2016 and they upset a number of longer standing competitors with their business model. Haas arranged to take as many parts from Ferrari as possible along with their power unit and then outsourced the design and certification process for their chassis.
Why just Andretti approved?
During their first season, the team were surprisingly 8th out of the 11 teams participating that season and again it was suggested by not being a ‘proper constructor’ they had gamed the system.
It takes years or hundreds of millions to build the infrastructure for a competitive F1 team, and Haas had neither the time or the money to do that.
The recent process established by the FIA was described as “stringent” and in fact three other teams – Rodin, Hitech and LKY SUNZ – were all rejected by F1’s ruling body.
LKY SUNZ co-founder and CEO Benjamin Durand accepted that Andretti’s bid deserved to be accepted but believed given the Concorde Agreement provides for 12 teams in F1 that another would have joined the American outfit.
2023 Bids were better than Haas F1
“We knew that there was a possibility that they take only one team,” Durand explained to The Race.
“Honestly, I would have thought there would have been 12 [teams] and the decision would be between us and the two other ones [Rodin and Hitech] that have been rejected because what I can say is this: from what I know from the teams that have been bidding that – again, I’m not privy to everything – but all of them are at the level of competing with Haas or AlphaTauri and this kind of thing.”
Given each of the new outfits were intending to design and build their own cars, for Durand to claim they would be competing with mid-field outfits like Haas is surprising indeed.
Andretti Global Motorsports are clearly intending to join Formula One and be competing for honours in a handful of years given the comments of Durand.
Andretti sights set on race wins
“Andretti is coming to a level that is much higher because he wants to compete for winning etc, so he has a better bid. OK, but if Haas had been in with the bid with us, I think they wouldn’t have passed the bid.
“The bar is so high this time that probably Haas, if you compared to their bid a few years ago, wouldn’t have got over the bar either.”
This raises questions over the ad-hoc manner in which potential Formula One teams apply and are evaluated given the scrutiny over the Haas entry just some eight years ago.
Of course Andretti is not actually on the grid as yet while FOM ponder how to manage the commercial relationships. In reality Andretti could probably fund itself through sponsorship and their global network established through the competitions in which they currently compete.
FIA play politics with F1 applications
Of course this wold in fact be a headache for the other teams if Andretti proved the money from Liberty Media was not necessary to do well in Formula One.
Yet it appears strange that only Andretti were accepted given the Concorde agreement allows for up to 12 teams on the F1 grid. If as Durand says the bids were all competent enough and even better than the Haas application for 2016, then why did the FIA only choose Andretti?
Durand believes he has the answer to this and it was down to the FIA being forced to play politics.
“OK, that’s the way it is, the bar is higher, but I don’t think for us it’s technical or commercial or financial. I think there was no way,” Durand argued.
“I think they tried to push for 12 teams. I think they then saw [the resistance] and so decided not to try to push,” claims Durand.
Horrner admits: “its all about money”
If true, this is a sad state of affairs given the fans are almost universal in their support for more Formula One teams to be competing.
Logistics and little room for more teams at certain circuits has been argued a reason for retaining the number in F1 at the current 10. But as Mohammed Ben Sulayem pointed out this week, it is the responsibility of the circuits to deliver facilities appropriate for up to 12 teams and so this is no reason to reject a 12th competitor.
As Christian Horner admitted in Qatar, “its all about money” and clearly the teams don’t wish to lose out and be diluted in the prize money they receive; and Liberty Media have not willingly offered to increase the pot of cash to reflect extra contenders.
Yet in a Sport recently valued at $20bn, surely there’s enough to go around to see additional competition and opportunity for more drivers to take part in one of there highest forms of motor racing.