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US House Judiciary Committee chairman opens probe into F1’s Andretti rejection

The chairman of the United States' House Judiciary Committee has opened a probe into Liberty Media’s denial of Andretti’s entry into Formula 1 in an escalation of political interest.

Michael Andretti, Owner,retti Global

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz

Just days after Mario Andretti appeared on Capitol Hill, Republican Jim Jordan has written to F1’s owners demanding explanations for the decision-making process that has blocked Andretti’s hopes.

American television and radio network NBC published a letter it had obtained from Jordan outlining a request for documents and information relating to F1’s call on denying Andretti a spot on the grid.

In the letter, which has been sent to Liberty CEO Greg Maffei and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, Jordan says he wants answers to ensure that no illegal anti-competitive behaviour took place.

“The Committee on the Judiciary is responsible for examining the sufficiency of federal competition laws to protect against monopolies and other unfair restraints on trade,” he wrote.

“Sports leagues, like Formula 1, operate in a notable area of antitrust law in which some degree of collusion is necessary for the creation of the product.

“However, when a sports league deviates from its rules and practices in a manner that reduces competition and depresses consumer interest in the product, the collusion may amount to anti-competitive conduct.”

Jordan outlined that he did not accept some of the explanations that F1 made for rejecting Andretti’s bid when it announced in January that it had decided against allowing it onto the grand prix grid.

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

He wrote: “The excuses put forward for denying Andretti Cadillac’s entry appear to be pretextual, arbitrary, and unrelated to Andretti Cadillac’s suitability to compete in Formula 1.

“For example, Formula 1 alleged that a new team could only add value to Formula 1 by 'competing for podiums and race wins.'

"However, the FIA had already analysed—and approved of—the technical capabilities of Andretti Cadilac to compete among current teams, and most current teams in Formula 1 do not meet Formula 1’s standard of regularly competing for 'podiums and race wins'

“Formula 1 also faulted Andretti Cadillac for attempting to use an existing engine manufacturer because it could 'be damaging to the prestige and standing of' Formula 1. At the same time, however, Formula 1 stated that if Andretti Cadillac used a new engine manufactured by General Motors in the team’s first year, a new engine would create a challenge for the new team.

“Formula 1 cannot have it both ways. The truth, as FIA President Muhamed Ben Sulayem explained, is that the rejection of Andretti Cadillac is 'all about money.'"

The Committee also felt that arguments that had been put forward about an 11th team damaging the interests of current teams perhaps hinted at anti-competitive behaviour.

The letter added: “Weak teams want to be protected from competition to the detriment of consumers and an additional team would compete for prize money and sponsorships.

“If Formula 1 must hinder competition and harm consumers to protect failing competitors, then the entire Formula 1 model may be broken and the entity cannot hide behind the necessity of a sports league to pursue anti-competitive conduct.

“Delaying Andretti Cadillac’s entry into Formula 1 for even one year will harm American consumers to benefit failing Formula 1 teams.”

In a bid to help the Committee’s investigation into the matter, Jordan has demanded documents and a staff-level briefing from F1 over what happened.

He has asked for all documents and communications referring or relating to the process for evaluating the new team entries and Andretti, plus anything related to F1's decision to reject its entry on January 31.

Furthermore, he has requested all documents and communications between F1 and the ten current teams relating to new team entries, and any communications related to the new team entry or anti-dilution fees in the Concorde Agreement.

He has asked for a briefing as soon as possible and no later than May 21.

Last week, several Congress members wrote to F1 asking for answers over the Andretti decision and whether or not F1’s actions had put “unreasonable restraints on market competition” that might contravene US laws.

Speaking during a press conference outside the US Capitol last week, Mario Andretti said: “We’ve done everything that’s been asked of us. I represented the US proudly in my F1 career. My proudest moments were standing on top of the podium with the American national anthem playing.”

F1 declined to comment on the matter when approached by Autosport.

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