American Michael Andretti cleared a major hurdle in his bid to launch a Formula One team as the FIA said Monday that he meets all required criteria to expand the world’s top motorsports series to 11 teams.
The FIA decision does not guarantee Andretti will get the two-car team he wants. Andretti Global and partner Cadillac must still prove their commercial value to F1 rights holder Liberty Media and the existing teams, which vehemently oppose expanding the 20-car grid. The teams, however, have no vote on expanding the grid.
“We note the FIA’s conclusions in relation to the first and second phases of their process and will now conduct our own assessment of the merits of the remaining application,” F1 said in a statement.
Approval from the FIA was a first, important step in Andretti’s three-year quest to return one of racing’s most storied names to the pinnacle of auto racing. Mario Andretti won the 1978 F1 championship and Michael, his son, ran 13 races during the 1993 season.
The father and son are among the most successful racers in American open wheel history and rank third and fourth on IndyCar’s all-time win list. They’ve been trying for years to get the Andretti name back into F1 and cleared a hurdle while formalizing that FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem supports the Andretti effort.
“The FIA is obliged to approve applications that comply with the Expressions of Interests application requirements and we have adhered to that procedure in deciding that Andretti Formula Racing LLC’s application would proceed to the next stage of the application process,” Ben Sulayem said.
“Andretti Formula Racing LLC was the only entity which fulfils the selection criteria that was set in all material respects. I congratulate Michael Andretti and his team on a thorough submission.”
Ben Sulayem, who took over as head of FIA in late 2021, led the opening this year of an “expression of interest” process for potential new teams after Andretti petitioned for the grid to be expanded to allow new entrants. Andretti’s motion came after a failed 2021 bid to purchase an existing team.
The FIA received seven applicants at the first phase. Five went through to the second round, which required a $300,000 fee and deep-dive by F1’s governing body. Only four applicants completed the entire process; Andretti, with engines that would be General Motors-badged under the Cadillac banner, was deemed to be the only worthy applicant.
The applicant had to meet FIA’s sporting, technical and financial requirements to be recommended as a future team. Ben Sulayem said Monday “our objective, after rigorous due diligence during the application phase, was to only approve prospective entries which satisfied the set criteria and illustrated that they would add value to the sport.”
Most of the existing teams have been publicly against expanding the grid for anyone, even an American with the General Motors branding. F1 this year will have three races in the United States, five in North America, and has targeted a new sponsorship market by tapping into American popularity of the European racing series.
But the existing teams — namely top players Red Bull and Mercedes — argue they have invested too much into F1 for someone to buy their way into the series. There is a required $200 million anti-dilution fee for any new entrant, but the teams have argued expansion takes away from their financial cut.
And, they’ve said, if Andretti wants a team so bad then he should just buy one.
Gene Haas launched the only American-owned team in 2016. Andretti has said his team will really be the American team with an actual American driver and the backing of GM and an American sponsor.
Ben Sulayem has backed the Andretti effort and said the Andretti name and General Motors bring too much to the series to be outright rejected for future teams, It also doesn’t carry a financial stake in F1’s profits the way Liberty and the existing teams currently collect.
Ben Sulayem said opening the process for new teams to join “also attracted further commitment from Audi, Honda and Ford and interest from Porsche and General Motors.”
This was the third time the FIA has opened an expressions of interest process for potential teams. The first, in 2009, led to four teams joining the series but all eventually went bankrupt and are no longer part of the sport. For that reason, the parameters to join F1 and the entire application process is now extremely stringent.
Haas got his team in a 2014 expression of interest and remains on the F1 grid.
By JENNA FRYER AP Auto Racing Writer