Why Ben Sulayem pushes on with new team process despite F1 criticisms
FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has defended his decision to open up a tender process for new Formula 1 teams, despite the unease it has caused.
Earlier this year, motorsport’s governing body invited potential new teams to express their interest in joining the F1 grid from as early as 2025.
The evaluation process of those applications is ongoing, with several teams, including Andretti-Cadillac, Hitech, Craig Pollock’s Formula Equal and LKY SUNZ going public with their ambitions.
Other squads, including Rodin Carlin and an entry from Asia, were also linked to potential F1 bids.
But the move to expand the F1 grid has not gone down well in the grand prix paddock, with F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali sceptical about the need to expand the number of entries beyond the current 10 teams.
Furthermore, rival teams themselves are not impressed about the prospect of getting more cars on the grid.
They have publicly questioned the commercial implications of needing to share their revenue with extra parties, as well as logistical issues relating to the number of pit garages available.
But Ben Sulayem is unmoved by the doubts about the new team entries, and thinks he and the FIA have done the right thing in trying to get more cars on the grid.
Speaking exclusively to Autosport’s sister site Motorsport-Total.com, Ben Sulayem said: “We have a contract and our contract says we have up to 12 teams. So we are not breaking the rules. We are, on the contrary, fulfilling the rules.
“The FIA as a regulator has to look at all the requests, and we did. The expression of interest was the right thing to do. I know some of the teams are not happy because I can see the financial impact on them.
“Is it adding a team or do they have to buy an existing team? That's not for me to impose on big teams. But what we have to do is the process, and the due diligence of the financial side and the technical side.”
Andretti is one of the teams that has registered interest in joining F1
Photo by: Alexander Trienitz / Motorsport Images
The original deadline for the applications to be judged was the end of June, but this timetable has now slipped back because the FIA wants to ensure that it conducts a thorough analysis of all the entries.
It is possible that a decision may come shortly after the F1 summer break.
“We extended it because some of the teams requested some time, and you don't want to exclude them,” added Ben Sulayem.
“You have to be flexible. We are not yet over with it because we have to be very careful with making a decision.
“It's a big process, and I don't like to be rushed because the decision has to be very, very clear.”
Asked when a decision could be expected, he said: “Not far away. I think four to six weeks. We need to do it right. We are talking about big investment from people.
“We just have to wait now for the next six weeks to see what is the plan. I have no doubt that FOM will do the right decision. They know what's better.”
Ben Sulayem said that there had been between five and six applications made, with “three or four” of them “very serious".
As the FIA closes in on a decision over the new teams, the stakes involved are incredibly high.
One scenario that sources have suggested could happen is that one or two of the new teams are given approval based on being technically capable of entering F1, but do not get an entry because a commercial deal cannot be reached that satisfies FOM and the current squads.
Critical to the approval of a new team is the level of the anti-dilution fee that should be paid to other teams to compensate them for a potential loss of commercial rights income.
This is currently set at $200 million in the Concorde Agreement, but it is suggested that this figure will be raised to be up to three times higher in the future.
Should one of the interested new F1 teams get rejected at this late stage, then that could open the door to potential legal action – something that Ben Sulayem admits is possible.
“What if one of the applying teams take us to court? They can, if we say no to them,” said Sulayem.
“It's not about me. I am only implementing the rules."
Not enough space
An 11th team has already been at some F1 races this year, with filming for Brad Pitt's new film
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
One of the practical issues that has cropped up in relation to the new teams is that many of F1’s current tracks do not have enough garages to accommodate them.
There have also been claims that there could be safety issues in qualifying if there are more than 20 cars on track at the same time.
But Ben Sulayem has rubbished such suggestions, as he says that the presence of the Apple F1 movie featuring Brad Pitt, which has its own garage at certain races, shows what is possible.
“We are running an 11th team already because of Hollywood,” he said. “And the tracks have been improving. The FIA is always there with the circuits and looking for constant ways to improve.”
Asked if current circuits were big enough, Ben Sulayem said: “One hundred percent. If it is 10, or 11, or 12 [teams], they have to be compliant. Our circuit commission will always be there and they will check and go through the whole process.
“And you can't have regulations that suit everyone. At the end of the day, if you ask me about the PU [regulations for 2026], was everybody happy? No. But then eventually it went through. Everybody signed, and the new teams signed up as a consequence.
“I can't break the rules. I am not giving anyone any ideas, but if there is an application and we have enough space for it, we have to look into it.”
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