MIAMI GARDENS, Florida – In late February, Michael Andretti said he was hoping to know the answer to the motorsport world’s most long-awaited question within a month and perhaps as quickly as a week.
More than two months later, he still has maybe five months left.
Such is the life of the most popular future Formula 1 team owner. LThis fall, Andretti was close to closing an 11-hour deal to buy Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN before being told he could buy an 80% stake but not be the ultimate decision maker. Andretti says he can only hope now that 12 months after those talks broke down last October, he might finally have his golden ticket to create F1’s 11th franchise.
That decision ultimately comes down to the FIA (the series’ governing body) and FOM (the management group run by Liberty Media, which owns the series). Both organizations are in full force this weekend in the greater Miami area as the world’s most prestigious racing series attempts to continue its rapid rise into the world’s most important sports market. It is therefore not surprising that Andretti, his most loyal supporters and important partners did not hide their presence in the paddock on Friday afternoon.
Although worried about saying anything that might offend the FIA and FOM, Andretti was happy to say that he had already met with newly appointed FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem this week to discuss the potential future of ‘Andretti Global. A separate meeting with FOM, almost certainly including FOM CEO Stefano Domenicali, is scheduled for later this weekend, Andretti said.
“The meeting with the FIA went well,” he told IndyStar. “We left this (meeting) feeling positive. I think (Ben Sulayem) is in favor, but there is a big process. But we won’t get an answer for a while. It could be until September or October. We’re spending money to get the ball rolling and we hopefully think we’re going to get there. We know we’re taking a risk, but we think it’s worth it to get the ball rolling.
Andretti said the risk includes “hiring people at the level we need right now.” Construction site on a state-of-the-art F1 racing store in Indianapoliswhere the cars would be built, could start “hopefully in August,” he said.
It’s the display of financial solvency and dedication that he hopes will eventually persuade FOM to allow Andretti Global to break the glass ceiling of 10 F1 franchises that has existed since 2017 – the year in which Manor Racing left the sport with 10 teams, months before Liberty Media bought the entire franchise. Since then, even the series’ most downtrodden teams have racked up an estimated worth of hundreds of millions of dollars – a number of Andretti’s supporters were willing to pay for a majority share of what the past three seasons have been. either the 8th or 9th-best team on the grid.
When those talks fell apart, Andretti was forced to prepare to shell out more than $200 million to FOM just for a dilution fee – a sum of money that exists to try to make current teams “whole” for two years while a new program eats away at their share of the huge economy pie. Hiring the right movers and shakers (along with hundreds of additional staff) and building and buying the right infrastructure would cost several hundred million more before an Andretti Global car hits the grid.
Although individual F1 team owners and managers have no say in the FIA and FOM’s eventual decision, several have voiced their grievances over the addition of an 11th team – even one with the recognition of Andretti’s name at a time when the United States quickly became perhaps the series’ most lucrative market.
“We are open to racing from anyone, and I think the name Andretti would be a really positive thing for F1, but I think it’s more a question for the commercial rights holder and the governing body,” Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner said on Thursday. “I suppose for F1 it would be easier if they bought an existing franchise, rather than creating a new one, but they are all in good shape at the moment, which has never been the case in F1.
“Twenty-four cars on the grid, you sure don’t want to go any further than that.”
Haas team principal Gunther Steiner was more robust in his pushback on Thursday.
“I think right now 10 teams – 10 strong teams – is a good solution,” he said. “And if there are teams coming, they have to be strong. We as a team don’t need more. We are well placed. »
At the other end of the spectrum is Andretti’s longtime friend and partner Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren Racing, who said opinions like those of Horner, Steiner and others were “selfish”. .
“I think the pushback from some teams is more of a tax pushback, because it’s going to eat away at their kitty,” Brown said. “But the real dilution would be in a few years, and if you think they can be additive to the sport, I think they will add more by helping to build the sport, increasing television rights in the United States and by bringing sponsors. By the time the dilution kicks in, there would be more growth, so I think (we at McLaren) have a very long-term view of these things.
“Economically, I think things would be fine. We support a high quality 11th team.
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A basis for this point, Brown said, comes from the fact that the current 10 teams are on such strong footings. Over the past two decades there has rarely been a time when at least one F1 team was not on the brink of collapse, and at the start of this year we saw much more competitive efforts from Haas and from Alfa Romeo. Williams, at one point on a weak financial footing, has a new owner, and the other seven don’t even show a hint of struggle.
“I think (the last few years) shows how healthy the sport is, now that you have real investors who own different sports teams, and (potential new engine manufacturers) are trying to find a way to get into the sports,” Brown continued. . “But no, I’m not at all surprised that some racing teams have a very selfish view of what should or shouldn’t happen in motor racing.
“It’s not something new.”
This propensity to be selfish, Andretti said, is all the more reason why he felt it was in FOM’s interest to add an additional franchise.
“Ten teams is not even the right number. If you really think about it, they have the Concorde agreement (the binding contract between the FIA, FOM and F1 teams) coming in 2025. Right now Red Bull has two teams, and if they say, ‘We are withdrawing”, you now have 16 cars. You can’t have a race with 16 cars,” Andretti said. “You can have a race with 18 cars, but you can’t have one with 16 cars.”
These are the types of arguments that Andretti made and rehearsed ahead of that crucial grand prix – America’s first F1 race. since his famous racing dad notoriously tweeted in February that Andretti Global had submitted documents to the FIA for review. Mario Andretti told IndyStar on Friday that all he and his son asked for was a chance to sit face to face to see if they could win the room, rather than being forced to stage a polite but powerful. through the media.
“We’re working very hard on it, and they know that and know how strong our intentions are,” the elder Andretti told IndyStar. “We didn’t hesitate in any area. ‘Let us answer all your questions.’ That’s all we ask. We just want first-person encounters. We said, “We’ll meet you anywhere in the world and see what else we can do.”
“I think they will come away with a different feeling, and hopefully it will be positive once we are done with everything we have planned here.”
Andretti on a possible F1 team:“We are here because it is our life”
Maybe, just maybe, this message has already begun to flow. On Friday afternoon, not two hours after IndyStar spoke to the Andrettis in the F1 paddock, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei’s comments were made. at a Bloomberg symposium on Friday afternoon distributed throughout the paddock.
“It is possible that we will increase the teams over time,” he said. “But I don’t think there is a pressing need. There are a lot of people who would like us to do this. Most of them want to buy, but we haven’t felt that need.
These comments can be seen as Maffei being in favor of adding a new F1 franchise; but they also lack the urgency that Andretti would almost certainly prefer.
All the Andretti family can do is push gently, play the game of waiting and hoping.