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Andretti heading for F1 green light not court, says Ben Sulayem

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem is optimistic Andretti’s Formula 1 entry will be approved by FOM, as he dismissed fears of court action or a war erupting between series bosses. 

Michael Andretti

Michael Andretti

Gregg Feistman / Motorsport Images

Last week, motor racing’s governing body approved Andretti Formula’s application to join the F1 grid from 2025 at the earliest, as its entry was moved forward to the final stage of needing to sort a commercial deal. 

However, getting such an agreement across the line is far from guaranteed, with FOM having been clear that it will only approve an expansion to the current 10-team field if it is proven that another entrant would bring added benefits to the championship. 

FOM’s reluctance to automatically embrace Andretti has prompted talk that if it ends up rejecting the American squad, then the matter could go to court – which may include involving anti-competition authorities within the EU. 

But Ben Sulayem has played down any suggestion of there being a legal showdown over the matter and suggested he is “very optimistic” the team will be given approval.

“We don't have to go to court, and I don't think any of us will go to court,” Ben Sulayem told selected media including Autosport about the Andretti situation. 

“I mean, maybe it sounds very exciting and thrilling to the media, but it will not go to court. I'm sure of that. Why should we go to court?” 

Although the FIA and FOM appear at loggerheads over the matter, with their opinions about the value of Andretti not in line, Ben Sulayem does not see it triggering a big falling out if things do not progress. 

Instead, he is adamant that the situation will be dealt with in a constructive manner rather than as a point of public conflict. 

Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1, Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA, on the grid

Stefano Domenicali, CEO, Formula 1, Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA, on the grid

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

“This marriage [between FIA and FOM]? I’ve said it before and I'll say it again: I think the Pope of the Vatican can get married 100 times and get divorced. But we will not be divorced,” he said. 

“Yes, the owners might change tomorrow, Liberty Media might sell. But the FIA with Liberty going to court? We will not allow it even. It's not even for discussion.  

“To me, we pick up the phone, we handle things. These small things that go are part of making the sport better.” 

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The benefits for F1 

Ben Sulayem thinks there are clear grounds for FOM approving Andretti, which include Liberty Media’s share price rising on the day the extra entry was approved, as well as the difficulties he thinks there will be in turning down its partner General Motors and the Cadillac brand. 

“There are many aspects to this,” said Ben Sulayem about why he was so optimistic. 

“First of all, Liberty is an American company and I read that Liberty were approving, and they were saying we would like to have another team.  

“Then, looking at the share price, it went up instead of down when we declared it. That's good for them.  

“And thirdly, to say no to an American OEM. It's very hard. On the contrary, it's good for business.” 

Cadillac logo

Cadillac logo

Photo by: Art Fleischmann

Fitting an extra team in

While one factor that will be analysed by FOM is the financial consequences of having an extra team on the grid, Ben Sulayem does not see this as grounds to reject the Andretti application. 

While it is understood that less than half of the current circuits have garage and paddock facilities easily able to accommodate an extra outfit, Ben Sulayem says part of F1’s contracts with circuits is that they should be big enough to accommodate 12 teams. 

He cites the fact that F1 has found garage and paddock space for the fictional Apx GP team in the new Brad Pitt movie at several venues as evidence of how easy it is to slot in an extra outfit. 

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“We can afford having another Hollywood team for God's sake,” he said. 

“The contracts are very clear. We are running now 11 teams for Hollywood. And when they are over, at that time, there will be space.  

“Most of the contracts are very, very clear. It is safe to be approved and have to have place for 12. It is written. 

“It's the responsibility of the promoter and the circuit; it's not our responsibility. We don't interfere but that's the rules.

“The rules are not only implemented by us, the rules are implemented everywhere. By all parties.” 

Pitlane atmosphere

Pitlane atmosphere

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

While some have suggested that Andretti could still enter F1 without a commercial deal in place with FOM – so in theory racing without prize money – this is thought to not be possible. 

Senior sources have indicated that the current Concorde Agreements that run from 2021 and 2025, signed by FOM, the FIA and teams, include clauses that stipulate any new entrants on the grid must have a commercial deal agreed before they can compete. 

Talk about Andretti pushing on without approval from FOM is also unrealistic because there would also be basic logistical matters that would be impossible to overcome – such as the team obtaining passes to get in to tracks. These are issued by FOM. 

Ben Sulayem was clear that he did not think the situation would descend as far as to end up in a dispute over passes. 

“I don't think we are that cheap to have that,” he said. “I don't think refusing a team should be: 'We will not give you a pass'. How childish we can be? 

“We are in the pinnacle of the sport of F1. We should be serving big teams with OEMs, to bring them in, to sustain motorsport. 

“But I understand the teams. They have no power over it [the decision to allow Andretti’s entry], but we listen to them because their point is also the money.

“It is about the money. I mean, let's not play a game here: it is about the money.”  

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Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA

Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

No rush 

Although FOM’s analysis of the impact of Andretti’s arrival may not be complete until next year, which will be too late for the American squad to make it on to the grid in 2025, Ben Sulayem says the FIA will not rush a final decision. 

“FOM has all the time,” he said. “I am not in a position to push or to tell them what to do. I do respect everything they do.  

“I never interfere in whatever they're doing. And at the same time, I don't like anyone interfering with our jurisdictions also.

“So it is between Andretti and between FOM.”

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