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Analysis
Formula 1 United States GP

Why Andretti F1 hopes are not over, even if FOM says no

Andretti has been given the green light by the FIA but now faces the difficult task of convincing Formula 1 and its teams of the commercial value that it can bring to the sport, a far tougher test than any it has passed so far

Michael Andretti on the grid

Despite Andretti Formula having been given the seal of approval by the FIA to join the Formula 1 grid, its entrance to the series is still far from guaranteed. 

The key factor now is that it must agree commercial terms with FOM before it will officially be granted a slot. 

This demand for there to be a commercial deal in place forms part of the two documents (one regulatory/governance, the other financial) that come under the auspices of the current Concorde Agreement – the document that dictates how F1 is run from 2021 to 2025. 

PLUS: How F1's new team conservatism has already seen off one credible bid

Whereas under previous Concorde Agreements teams could race in F1 without a commercial deal in place – they just would not receive any prize money – there is now a specific stipulation that means no outfit gets on the grid unless it has a financial deal sorted with FOM. 

This means Andretti’s fate is very much in the hands of FOM, which is understood to be lukewarm to the idea of having an 11th team join F1 right now. 

In terms of where we go from here, FOM wants to spend some time digging into a costs/benefits analysis of what it means to have an extra team on the grid before it makes its call on whether or not it wants to do a deal with Andretti.

This counts not only for the financial impact that current teams would face in sharing their prize pot 11 times rather than 10 but also in terms of wider costs on the championship. 

There is a large amount of negativity surrounding Andretti's potential entry among the existing teams

There is a large amount of negativity surrounding Andretti's potential entry among the existing teams

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

F1 circuits have got well used to running 10 teams, and not all venues (it is understood to be actually less than half) are geared up to having garage, paddock and Paddock Club facilities for an 11th competitor right now. 

Expanding the facilities (even though theoretically required in regulations that allow up to 12 teams), comes with a cost – and the many millions this could cost is all money that would come out of the prize pot that is shared among teams. 

FOM is not in a rush to push on with its analysis and it is likely we will only find out towards the start of next year whether its assessment is that F1 gains from an 11th team, or it has decided that right now is not the right time for it to happen. 

"There is resistance always at the beginning but once it's done, you don't leave a door open" Mohammed Ben Sulayem

Such a timeframe makes it nigh on impossible for Andretti to make it on to the grid for 2025, even though it has begun assembling staff and has started working on its car design. 

Any negative call by FOM for 2025 would in theory also be valid for the short-term future too, because there are unlikely to be conditions that would change its mind over matters. 

But a no will not be the end of the road for Andretti, because there is one critical factor at play that could dramatically changes things – and it is that the current Concorde Agreement runs out at the end of 2025. 

And while some parties may be eager to see a lot of the current terms roll over into the new Concorde that will run from 2026, the situation surrounding new teams will almost certainly be something that there will be a push for movement on – especially from the FIA’s side. 

Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA

Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

So, if the FIA stands firm in its belief that the door needs to be better left open for a new F1 squad, and it demands a more equitable process that lets valid entries like Andretti in, then that could be the route that helps get the American squad in. 

After all, for the Concorde Agreement to be valid, it needs approval from all the parties involved – the teams, FOM and the FIA – so it’s not a case that two of those elements can railroad through demands that keeps an 11th team out. 

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem says he is leaving negotiations to a team of representatives he has assembled to deal with the talks and wants to ensure that the final agreement is one that works for everyone. 

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“I have a good team and it's good to start negotiating now,” he said. “But our house is not on fire and the new Concorde Agreement should be fair to all of the three stakeholders: the FIA, FOM and the 10 teams, if they are still there. 

“That's where then I think we will feel good. There is resistance always at the beginning but once it's done, you don't leave a door open. You will get a lot of wind and a lot of things, but once it's closed…[that’s it]…next.” 

The key factor here is whether demanding better access for an 11th team is a hill that the FIA is willing to die on. Would it hold on against resistance from FOM and the teams to ensure the grid was opened up if it risked no Concorde Agreement at all?  

That’s something only Ben Sulayem and his team will know right now. 

Andretti has partnered with Cadillac for its F1 entry

Andretti has partnered with Cadillac for its F1 entry

Photo by: Andretti Autosport

But it is patently obvious that the FIA is going to get its elbows out in the discussions to ensure it gets improved terms from the next Concorde than it got from the current one. 

Ben Sulayem is open that the governing body has perhaps not done as well in negotiations in the past as it should have done. 

It’s probably no coincidence that as talks about the Concorde begin, Ben Sulayem says the time has come for the FIA to get better rewarded for the demands placed on it to regulate F1. 

How the Concorde negotiations pan out are hard to predict right now, but a revised document appears to be the best hope for Andretti

“I'm not hiding here: we need more resources,” he said. “It's a $20 billion operation here, so we cannot run it on a shoestring.” 

He added: “Our agreement has to be better. You have to remember one thing: we own the championship. 

“I represent the landlord, and we lease it. But in the meanwhile, our mission is different to Liberty but we are in the same boat, so we have to be together. The sport needs a strong FIA, because we benefit from that.” 

How the Concorde negotiations pan out are hard to predict right now, but a revised document appears to be the best hope for Andretti in getting its entry across the line in the next few years. 

Ferrari team principal Vasseur has spoken of the need for financial certainty in F1

Ferrari team principal Vasseur has spoken of the need for financial certainty in F1

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

It could be that the dilution fund is increased, it could be that there is a totally different prize structure that suits both current competitors and new entrants and avoids the risks of boom and bust of the old era when only the top ten teams got money. 

Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur recently suggested that what is critical for the current competitors is getting some financial certainty in a championship where the boundaries are always moving – as cost cap restrictions face pushback. 

“On one hand, we are open to increasing the cost at every single meeting,” he said.  

“We put inflation, we change the index for the inflation blah, blah, blah, and we increase the CapEx. And now we want to dilute more the incomes.  

“It's not easy to run a business and to do forecasts when you have this kind of change so often and, honestly, we are not learning from the past and this is a big issue.” 

But in the end, the outcome of the new Concorde Agreement in how it deals with new teams – and getting all parties to agree to something – will boil down to one thing. 

As Ben Sulayem said: “I understand the teams. They have no power over it [the decision to let a new entrant in,] but we listen to them because their point is also the money.  

“And let’s not play a game here: it is about the money.”

Michael Andretti previously competed in F1, but will he finally be back in the paddock in 2025?

Michael Andretti previously competed in F1, but will he finally be back in the paddock in 2025?

Photo by: Motorsport Images

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