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F1 at an impasse over new American team

F1 at an impasse over new American team

FORMULA ONE: F1 feels like it’s finally cracking America, but now Americans are having trouble trying to break into F1.

Formula-One
By Michael Lamonato

Thursday 19 May 2022, 12:30PM


Michael Andretti is keen to get a slice of F1 action by establishing a new team. Photo: AFP

Michael Andretti is keen to get a slice of F1 action by establishing a new team. Photo: AFP

The sport is still basking in the glow of its enthusiastic welcome to Miami for one of its highest profile races in years, but not all teams are convinced it needs reciprocate the United States’ warm embrace.

Cracking America has been a long-held dream of the Euro-centric F1, and it’s taken American owners to find ways to establish the sport in an already saturated sport market.

Growth in the US has become almost the defining key performance indicator, and the sport’s global popularity off the hit Drive to Survive series and an all-time classic 2021 season saw the US Grand Prix sell out last season, but it was the sheer scale of F1’s reception in Miami that confirmed its arrival as a heavy hitter.

Now America wants more than just a slice of the F1 calendar.

Last year Michael Andretti, son of 1978 world champion Mario, made a bid to enter F1 as a constructor by purchasing the Alfa Romeo-branded Sauber team that fell apart at the last minute over details regarding money and control.

For years the easiest way to run a team has been to buy an existing constructor team given there’s always been one or two owners ready to sell their way out of the super-expensive business with limited opportunity for on-track success.

But since the establishment of the cost cap and development controls designed to equalise the sport, owning a team is suddenly profitable and comes with a decent chance of progress.

Buying into F1 is no longer the most cost-effective way of going racing.

Michael Andretti is now proposing to start a new team from scratch, except he’s running into trouble there too.

Eight of 10 teams are pushing back against a new entrant because it would eat into their prize money.

Under the prevailing commercial deal a set percentage of F1 revenue is split among the 10 teams, with each getting a fixed amount to compete and then a further sum based on their championship position.

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That same agreement stipulates a new entrant must pay an eye-watering US$200 million (B6.9 billion) to join the pact to soften the blow of the prize pool being diluted.

But all but McLaren and Alpine - the former run by Andretti business partner Zak Brown, the latter with a deal to supply the new with engines - have rebutted that the fee would be enough.

“How can you demonstrate that you’re bringing in more money than it’s actually costing?” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said. “An 11th team means a 10% cent dilution for everybody else.

“The value of Formula 1 is that it’s a limited amount of franchises, and we don’t want to dilute that value by just adding teams.”

Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner suggested F1, not the teams, should be prepared to take the hit if it thinks Andretti will help to grow the sport.

“If they want more teams, they’re obviously going to have to dilute their share of the fund,” he said. “It would be unfair to expect the other teams to pay.”

Andretti is racing royalty. Michael and Mario between them have won numerous championships in American open-wheel racing and F1 as drivers and team owners, and though F1 already has an American team with Haas, it doesn’t have Andretti’s brand recognition.

Andretti is also planning to run at least one American driver, which would only supercharge US interest.

But the dissenting teams also fairly argue that hearing Andretti say he has the cash isn’t the same as seeing his business case. An undercooked team pootling around at the back would only detract from F1’s value regardless of the name on the side of the cars.

Andretti said in Miami he’s already setting up his factories and hiring staff after receiving a positive reception from FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, and the governing body is ultimately in control of the entry process.

But the teams will continue to cause trouble unless they can be convinced it’s in their best interests. Andretti may need to get his would-be rivals on board if he’s to stand a chance of making it onto the grid by 2024.

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