Wolff: Adding 11th team would create a 'safety concern' for F1

© XPB 

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff chimed in on the renewed debate over expanding the F1 grid and insists that adding an eleventh entrant – or two more cars in the field – would create a "safety concern" for F1.

Discussion over the merits of adding an eleventh entry in F1 were revived this week in the wake of comments by FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem who offered his public backing to Andretti-Cadillac's candidature to join the grid.

Ben Sulayem argued that if the team's project – which is supported by General Motors and which part of five 'Expression of Interest' applications received by the FIA recently – meets the latter's stringent criteria, it cannot be turned down given GM's involvement.

However, a majority of F1's teams remain opposed to opening the door to new teams, as this would only dilute the sport's all-important prize fund.

But Wolff has now added a safety argument to the mix.

"We have no visibility of who the applications came from, and what the proposals are," Wolff said in Silverstone on Friday.

"I think all the stakeholders — and I think mainly the FIA and FOM — will decide on such a new entry, will assess if the proposal is accretive for Formula 1. What does it bring us in terms of marketing and interest, and whether they want to think about introducing that.

"Our position was very clear: Buy a team.

"But there’s a lot of consequences. When you look at qualifying sessions, I mean already now we’re looking like on a go-kart track — we’re tripping over each other.

"There is a safety concern: we haven’t got the logistics, where to put an 11th team. Here in Silverstone, we can accommodate the Hollywood people [a reference to the presence of a fictional team in the pitlane] but on other circuits, we can’t.

"Then people like Audi and the venture capital funds [that invested in Alpine], have been buying into F1 teams for considerably higher valuations. All of that is a picture that the FIA and FOM have to access.

"And, as I said before, if a team can contribute to the positive development of Formula 1 — and in a way that the other teams have done, over the many years, have suffered over the many years — we have to look at it."

Wolff believes that when looking at the world of professional team sports, Formula 1 and its ten current franchises are facing a situation that is unique to Grand Prix racing.

"There is no mature sports league in the world — whether it’s a national football championship, or the Champions League, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL — where such situation is possible, where you say, ‘I’m setting up a team and I’m joining, thank you very much for making me part of the prize fund.’

"You have to give to qualify; you have to go through the ranks; you have to showcase the commitment to the championship that we’ve done over the many years. But, to repeat what I said, if it’s accretive, then we must look at it.

"So far, what we’ve seen hasn’t convinced the teams — but we haven’t seen the applications and submissions that were made to the FIA and to Stefano (Domenicali, F1 CEO), and they will judge whether that is positive for Formula 1 or not.

"I’m looking more at the American franchises. If everybody in the NFL — the teams own the franchise there, so it’s different to us — agrees to have another entry, to let another team in because of the right reasons — the right ownership, etc. — then that team is being admitted into the championship. And the same with most of the professional leagues in the U.S. We are a franchise, and this is how I would look at it."

After Wolff cited the NHL in his comments, he was reminded that the National Hockey League did in fact recently expand its league.

"The NHL has added teams and I’m very aware of it, because they have decided to do so, all the stakeholders," he replied.

"We have done that in the past when Formula 1 was on the brink of losing teams, because of bankruptcy. We increased the numbers of teams and nobody complained about that. On the contrary.

"We felt that we needed to make sure that we have 10 teams on the grid and not lose any. So these two factors are very different with the NHL to the current situation.

"I still have the belief that this is a league of franchises. And when someone comes in, then it should be like in the NFL, where you say, what is it that the new team brings to the party? And that, I repeat, is for the FIA and FOM to decide.

"We can comment from the sidelines here and obviously our standpoint is clear, because we would only want to have a team that brings something to the cake, and an 11th team brings more than what they cost the other team — more show, more exciting drivers — and the team’s nationality plays no role.

"We have had an American team for a long time, we need to have a good points system so that we can attract more drivers from the U.S., that we make them eligible for a Super License," added the Austrian.

"We need to support young drivers like Logan Sargeant to give them enough time. Because like we’ve seen with Fernando (Alonso) in Spain, you’ve got to race at the front. If you’re not racing at the front, your fellow countrymen are not going to follow.

"These are the things we have to do. And if one of the applications has demonstrated to the FIA and to FOM that it is beneficial that they join, we can just say welcome, you know. At that stage, we have to embrace the decision that’s been taken and say, OK, let’s work on this together."

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter