Why Formula 1's rejection of Andretti isn't the final word

We didn't know it at the time, but February 18 2022 has proved to be a key date in the annals of Formula 1. It was on that day that former world champion Mario Andretti announced to the world on social media that his son Michael had applied to the FIA for a spot on the F1 grid for his racing team Andretti Global from 2024, after months of unsuccessfully pursuing a partnership with or takeover of an existing team.


Already an internationally respected racing organisation with proven resources and experience, and with a successful record in IndyCar, Formula E, Extreme E, endurance racing and Supercars, there was little doubt in many minds that if not quite a sure thing, Andretti Global's application to join the F1 grid would ultimately prove successful. How could it not?

The FIA proved receptive to the idea and eventually opened a formal new team application procedure in 2023 in response. Other prospective teams joined in, but all fell by the wayside - except Andretti, which got the governing body's approval on October 23.

But on the other side of the F1 paddock, the response to Andretti's bullish bid has remained palpably sub-zero.

The existing ten teams made no secret of their unhappiness at potentially having to share the sport's revenue 11 ways, as well as facing increased competition for prize money.

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The sport's commercial rights holders Liberty Media, operating through FOM (Formula One Management), were reluctant to appear quite so venal and spoke airily instead of any new team having to contribute some ill-defined sense of 'added value' to the sport.

This back and forth has gone on for nearly two tears, and yesterday Formula 1 handed down its final decision to reject Andretti's bid for entry in 2025/6, with an attempt to codify and articulate its reasons in order to put them (hopefully) beyond challenge.

For a document seeking to justify a decision it had jumped to the day after the original application two years ago, it seems to all intents and purposes to be an unimaginative restatement of what was said at the time, albeit in fancier legal language.

"We were not able to identify any material expected positive effect on financial results, as a key indicator of the pure commercial value of the championship." Rather than go to the trouble of compiling a detailed, painstaking 20-point argument, Formula 1 could have saved itself a lot of time by trimming it to one single-word finding: 'No'.

'A competitive participant'

A key part of this week's declaration on the Andretti bid sees Formula 1 continuing to argue its 'they just won't be any good' view. "We do not believe that the Applicant would be a competitive participant," the statement baldly concludes - as if it's possible to determine such things in advance. Sport is the ultimate proof that nothing is ever predictable, no result a sure thing, and that only by running the race can anyone know the actual result.

Formula 1's problem is that the majority of the arguments it deploys against Andretti could be made with greater force and accuracy toward existing teams on the grid - in particular, Haas. It was the last new team to make it onto the grid in 2016 but has since fallen into the doldrums, finishing dead last in the constructors' championship again in 2023.

While it's true that Haas' own bid to join F1 came at a very different time for Formula 1 (before Liberty Media took up the reins and deposed Bernie Ecclestone from his throne), many of this week's arguments do have a feel of the powers that be looking down at Haas and concluding "we're not having another one of those on the grid, it'll ruin our image and lower the value of the sport". It won't make comfortable reading for Gene Haas.

One argument put forward by Formula 1 is that a new team would struggle to build a contender for next year's 2025 rules while also designing another totally different car for 2026 when the engine rules change. And yet even Haas managed to do something very similar when it first entered the sport, and had a successful honeymoon period before going into more recent decline. Overall, using the example of Haas' problems to beat a third party like Andretti around the head seems to lack any notion of either common sense or natural justice.

Moving the goalposts

One of the main reasons Formula 1 has given for turning down Andretti's bid is the lack of an engine partner being in place in time for their first race. This had never been part of F1's requirements in the past, and the majority of teams still work with customer engines sourced from the likes of Ferrari or Mercedes. This is apparently no longer good enough for Formula 1, but nonetheless Andretti complied and put together an engine deal with General Motors that would see them supply power units under the Cadillac brand.

Box ticked, it seemed. But no. The development lead-time meant the new PU wouldn't be available until 2028. Andretti would have to bridge the gap with a customer engine, just like countless teams had done in the past. But in a clear example of moving the goal posts, Formula 1's latest decision states this is no longer acceptable.

"The need for any new team to take a compulsory power-unit supply, potentially over a period of several seasons, would be damaging to the prestige and standing of the championship," this week's statement declared.

This was despite reports that Renault had previously agreed a provisional deal to provide Andretti with PUs. The decision to object to this also flies directly in the face of Red Bull's recent short 'stop gap' deal with Honda ahead of its own long-term tie-in with Ford.

Formula 1 says it consulted widely with interested stakeholders representing the sport's main revenue streams when compiling the report and making its report, including broadcasters, sponsors and circuits.

It's hard to see what objections the first group would have had with an extra team being added to the mix, but at least the latter pair could point to practical concerns in terms of the physical space available in the paddock and on pit lane to accommodate a whole new team at race weekends.

(L to R): Stefano Domenicali (ITA) with Christian Horner (GBR) Red Bull Racing Team Principal on the grid. 07.09.2014. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 13, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, Race Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com - copy of publication required for printed pictures. Every used picture is fee-liable. © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

This could be presented as Formula 1's killer argument when it comes to rejecting Andretti. But it comes with a problem, since it accepts that the sport has systematically built in a "ten team only" upper limit into its infrastructure for the last decade.

It's not something Andretti has any input or control over, and therefore cannot overcome - and nor can any other prospective new entrant. By this act alone, Formula 1 has potentially raised the drawbridge and sealed F1 off from any invading hoards to come in the future, regardless of their sporting credentials.

The only potential exception appears to be manufacturer teams: Formula 1 is happy to entertain automotive global giants, but is henceforth closed to mere sporting organisations making the place look untidy.

It's just business, right?

It seems counter-intuitive for Formula 1 to be taking such a closed shop attitude. Since Liberty's takeover of the sport, it's been seeking to expand Formula 1's profile across the globe and in the United States in particular, where there are now three Grand Prix races per year. And yet here it is, steadfastly resisting a top US motor racing team from joining which would hopefully bring more American driving talent to the expanding mix.

While this week's report makes no mention of the influence of F1 teams on the decision to reject Andretti, it's hard not to feel the matter of money lurking in the background. Formula 1 seems to increasingly see its position as representing the teams and their commercial interests in an increasingly tense stand-off with the FIA representing sporting matters.

The growing schism is already fast approaching breaking point, and the decision to reject Andretti after the FIA had given the green light might prove the final straw.

Even the idea that Andretti's bid has been rejected on commercial rather than sporting grounds potentially adds another dimension to this, bringing it within the remit of global trade agreements. Rejecting Andretti (which has spent millions on its bid only to be 'strung along' for two years) could incur a legal review under anti-trust and anti-competition laws, with serious implications.

Formula 1 might be hoping that its vague promise to reconsider Andretti's bid for 2028 will stave that off, but the team will doubtless know that by the time any new review takes place the goal posts will have likely been moved even further out of sight.

The current $200m anti-dilution fee that a new entrant has to pay in compensation to existing teams is likely to have been increased many times over - a billion dollars, perhaps? - to the point where no business-minded sporting organisation in the world could possibly justify paying it.

The end of the story - or just the beginning?

In many ways Formula 1's curt dismissal of Andretti's bid feels more personal than carefully considered legal or commercial arguments. Michael Andretti has certainly raised some hackles in the sport with the full-on way he's pursued his bid, and those in Formula 1 haven't liked being called out on their single-minded focus on money over sport.

That resentment seemed to bubble over in this week's report with the barbed comment that "while the Andretti name carries some recognition for F1 fans, our research indicates that F1 would bring value to the Andretti brand rather than the other way around." Try using that as an argument to belittle Ferrari or McLaren and see how far it gets you.


How much does all of this this matter? Fans might be unhappy with the decision today, but by the start of the season attention will be back on the racing action on the track.

There will be more complaints about appalling team names like 'Visa Cash App RB' and 'Stake F1 Team Kick Sauber', but in the meantime a frustrated racer like Andretti can only watch on from the sidelines.

He will doubtless continue to extend decades of motor racing success in IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 but for now the F1 dream appears to be on indefinite hold. Unless of course Andretti finds another route onto the F1 grid with a partnership or takeover of an existing team, which is where this story started.

One thing is for certain: if this week's decision and statement from Formula 1 was meant to draw a final line under the matter, then it won't succeed. It might be the end of the chapter, but the story - and the battle - will surely continue.

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