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Andretti's plan to run an F1 team from four locations

Some four months after its entry was approved by the FIA, the nascent Andretti Cadillac team is still awaiting final approval from Stefano Domenicali and the Formula 1 organisation.

Michael Andretti, Owner, Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E

The target remains a debut in 2025 with a customer Renault power unit, while it awaits a decision from FOM on its plans. The longer-term plan is to have a Cadillac V6 in the back of the car by 2028.

With no official word from F1 on a potential entry, the team has still had to push ahead with its programme on the basis that it cannot afford to wait.

The fact that it is already hard at work in the design office and wind tunnel is also a signal of intent, and a demonstration that this is a serious project with proper financial backing behind it.

It’s also a complex undertaking that will see the team operating from four sites in three countries.

Splitting departments between countries is nothing new, and it’s a strategy currently undertaken by Haas and the recently renamed RB team, for example.

However, Michael Andretti’s plans are particularly ambitious. The race team and design departments will be based at Silverstone, the aero guys will use the Toyota wind tunnel in Cologne, and simulations, vehicle dynamics and R&D will be undertaken at the GM Motorsports facility in Charlotte.

When Andretti Global’s huge new base in the Indianapolis suburb of Fishers is completed, it will become the home for manufacturing, which in the interim will be conducted by outside suppliers.

A racing team is also about people. Andretti has been actively recruiting F1 veterans, including some who had recently spent time on similar start-up projects that didn't make it through the FIA entry process.

Nick Chester, the team's cornerstone

Nick Chester, Technical Director, Renault F1 Team

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Nick Chester, Technical Director, Renault F1 Team

The first man to commit was technical director Nick Chester, who is leading the design programme at Silverstone after 20 years at the Enstone-based team in a variety of roles, including technical director, and a stint at McLaren's Formula E squad.

"Michael explained what he was trying to do and what he was aiming to do in entering F1,” says Chester. “And to be honest, it was very, very exciting. The target to build a fresh team to go and win was a very attractive proposition. And doing it all from a blank sheet.

"I think the appeal was knowing the investment behind it, knowing that effectively it's a family-backed team with the Andrettis, and the history they've got in racing, and the knowledge they've got in racing.

“You put those together, the strong investment, a real will to win and that family history, and that was what really swayed it for me. And the chance then to shape a team, which is obviously something that very rarely comes up.”

Chester had to serve a six-month gardening leave before officially joining the project in March 2023.

In the interim, other key people had joined, and the group had started work in a corner of the Andretti Formula E base in Banbury. In April, with the headcount expanding, the design team took over a facility at nearby Silverstone.

Important early hires were Chester’s former Enstone colleague John Tomlinson as head of aerodynamics and John McQuilliam, previously with Jordan and Marussia/Manor, as chief designer.

Others with impressive CVs to join include head of systems Karl Dexter (ex-Ferrari, Manor and Mercedes FE), head of performance analysis James Knapton (Force India and Red Bull) and head of production Simon Cayzer (Aston Martin).

“I think you always want to have your department heads in, so they can recruit for their own departments,” says Chester. “So it was forming that core, and then recruiting from there.

"We've outgrown the unit we're in at the moment. It was quite a strange feeling when we came from Banbury, as there were fewer than 10 of us.

“There are now over 70 in the building, and we've filled meeting rooms with desks, and we're bursting at the seams. We're going to move units in the middle of February, and that'll give us a lot more space.”

Using the Cologne wind tunnel

Wind Tunnel Model in Toyota Cologne

Photo by: Andretti Autosport

Wind tunnel model

Even with experienced people in the mix, creating an F1 project from scratch is not the work of a moment.

"It is challenging, and you've got to start sort of chipping off,” says Chester. “I suppose you can only chip off the most important things to start with. You're well aware that you want to do everything, but you can't do everything!

“The priority was getting an aero programme going, starting to get CFD and then a tunnel programme going. And then at the same time, it's starting to get some processes in place as well, and just trying to build up the other things you need in business."

The Cologne wind tunnel conveniently became available for an F1 customer in the summer when McLaren cut its ties and switched to its own new facility in Woking.

Andretti moved in a few months later with a 2024-spec model. Since then, its aero guys have been commuting back and forth from the UK.

“We weren't ready at that point when McLaren were just finishing,” says Chester. “So we started in October.

“McLaren did a pretty good car out of it in ‘23. And we've found it's been a really good place to work, and the personnel at Toyota have been super helpful.

"We've been able to build a full 60% good quality model and get all our systems up and running in the tunnel. The development rate is increasing. It's not quite where an existing team would be, just because of the size we are.

“But having said that, we're making some pretty good progress, and we're learning and we're getting into that iterative cycle that you need as you're a developing team."

The next step is creating and testing full size prototype parts, and eventually a complete chassis.

"We've already got a sort of quarter chassis in progress,” says Chester. “The patterns are out for that, and that's just to start doing some load testing on part of the chassis. We've also got a nose in manufacture.

“We're starting to do some of the major loading work for a homologation. And then the plan is to do a full monocoque to do full homologation tests, around mid-year, so that we're in reasonable shape."

How far away from having a complete car will the team be at that stage?

"There still would be a lot to do,” Chester admits. “I suppose you could say we've got the wetted surfaces, and we'll have a monocoque. There would be obviously all the cooling packages and suspension to do, but we are laying out suspension packages. We're on the way.”

One of the limiting factors is that at this stage the Renault PU supply arrangement is on hold pending entry confirmation, and only when that happens, and a commercial deal is signed, will the team start to receive any technical data.

Chester knows the Renault V6 well, albeit only up to its 2020 iteration, and other team members have worked with a variety of PUs on the grid. However, they don’t have access to up-to-date specs.

“Effectively, any of the discussions that would release power unit information are subject to entry, and then agreement,” says Chester. “It means that we haven't really got any power unit info to work with.

“We obviously know roughly what sort of power and torque, and we know what a generic cooling system looks like to help us with packaging. But we don't know the detail. So that'll be an important part to unlock once we get the formal entry."

One of the most intriguing aspects of the project is the role of GM. Sceptics initially thought that the deal was mainly about stickers on a Renault-powered car, but it already goes far beyond that.

General Motors' input

Roll hoop work at GM  Charlotte

Photo by: Andretti Autosport

Roll hoop work at GM Charlotte

GM has facilities that some F1 teams can only dream about, and 50 people have already been assigned to the project.

"That collaboration we see it as key to being successful,” says Chester. “But also it really lays the foundations for the GM power unit coming in 2028, because you'll have all that collaboration, the methods of working processes, ready for that.

“The tech centre at Charlotte is I think only a couple of years old. But it's something like 110-120,000 square feet. It's got three or four driver simulators, plus static sims.

“There's a full four-wheel car dyno going for the end of the year. There's K&C [kinetics and compliance]. And then there's all the engineers working on software and design as well. There's some proper resource."

In the background the first steps are being taken on the Cadillac PU, although it’s very early days, and the challenge is huge.

Red Bull started from nothing for its 2026 project, but it took a shortcut by headhunting top Mercedes staff from just down the road. GM has a powertrain facility, but it currently lacks the specialist F1 expertise.

“They're building up,” says Chester. “Russ O’Blenes, who runs the power unit programme at GM across all series, is looking at how to build that up for F1.

“Although they've got a lot of resources, they know there's some specific dynos and specific things that you need to put that programme together. And he's looking into all that at the moment, and kicking off various bits of research."

The huge new Andretti Global facility currently under construction in Fishers, to the north-east of Indianapolis, will eventually play a major role in the project.

"At Fishers we'll have a lot of manufacturing for F1,” says Chester. “It's a huge facility, 600,000 square feet, and half of that, broadly, will be F1. It gives us an opportunity to build up a real manufacturing centre of excellence there.

“Obviously that won't be instant, the facility has to be built and machines put in and the department built-up. But the intention is to make a good chunk of the car at Fishers."

Chester says there will also be limited manufacturing capability at Silverstone: "Probably a little bit, enough for quick-turnaround fault fixes, that kind of stuff. And in the early days, we'll have to rely on suppliers.

“But we've got a very good supply base, so that's super helpful. And then over time we'll move more and more of that manufacturing to Fishers."

Making it work across four different sites in three countries, with everything accounted for within the FIA’s budget cap, is not going to be easy.

"It will need good coordination,” Chester admits. “I think if you've got everybody with the right mindset and good communications, you can make it work. 

"But it's something we've got in our mind. We've got to design the structures so that it's going to be efficient."

What now?

 Andretti Autosports logo

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Andretti Autosports logo

So what is the biggest challenge that the team faces in the coming months?

"I think all of it, there's just there's a lot to do!” Chester admits. “It's really the build-up, there's so many things that you have to put in place.

“The biggest one is recruitment, because you've got to get the right people. I'd say that's probably number one. And then after that is building up all your processes, so there's a lot to put in place.”

It may be hard work, and undertaken up to now with no guarantee that Andretti will actually be allowed to join the grid, but Chester has no regrets.

"I'm loving it, it is brilliant,” he says. “I had a few years out of out of F1, and I missed it. I just missed the development rate, and the number of concepts, ideas and opportunities from an engineering point of view you have here are just unrivalled.

“I've really enjoyed coming back to it. And particularly then being able to bring good people into the team, and start to grow it.

"It's very different compared to Renault in that it's not an established team. I was only at Enstone when it was already established.

“While I was there it probably grew from 300 to 800 people, but this feels quite different, because we've got a fairly light touch, and we can grow the organisation pretty much in the way we want to. And that makes it a lot of fun."

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