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Why Andretti doesn’t accept F1’s rejection arguments

OPINION: F1 recently dropped the bombshell that Andretti's application to join the championship had been rejected, leaving many perplexed with the decision. It's a verdict that in time teams and series organisers could well come to regret

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Photo by: Alfa Romeo

Liberty Media and Formula 1 have done some great things for the championship since 2017, but last week they scored what some may see as an own goal.

Exactly seven years and seven days after the official handover from former boss Bernie Ecclestone to new CEO Chase Carey, F1 issued a statement explaining why a future Andretti Cadillac entry would not be accepted.

The fact that the answer was no was not exactly a surprise, given what a headache adding an 11th team would be for F1 ahead of Concorde negotiations with the 10 incumbents.

As the statement drily noted, "our assessment did not involve any consultation with the current F1 teams. However, in considering the best interests of the championship we took account of the impact of the entry of an 11th team on all commercial stakeholders in the championship".

What stood out were some of the reasons used to justify the decision, notably the line that “while the Andretti name carries some recognition for F1 fans, our research indicates that F1 would bring value to the Andretti brand rather than the other way around".

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The statement caused a storm, particularly among US fans, who are well aware that the Andretti name far transcends motorsport in their country, the same nation that F1 is so eager to conquer.

They could also point out that a few days earlier a sister Andretti team won a Formula E race, beating among others a rival called McLaren...

The rejection also caught the attention of the FIA. In the past, all the way up to Haas in 2016, new entries were its responsibility, and Ecclestone had little say. That changed under the latest Concorde Agreement, which includes a “dilution fee” of $200 million that will be shared among the 10 teams, and now gives F1 the final say.

FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali have been heavily involved with Andretti's application

FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali have been heavily involved with Andretti's application

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Andretti Cadillac is the first team to have made it through the initial stage of this new two-step process by gaining approval from the FIA after a rigorous analysis and a series of meetings. The matter was then passed to F1 for what was ostensibly mainly a commercially focussed assessment.

The fact that F1 then made much of the technical aspects of the bid appeared to pull the rug from under the FIA – if the governing body had studied and approved that side, why was F1 now challenging that decision? That has to be considered in the context of an increasingly tense relationship between FIA president Mohammed ben Sulayem and F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali. The disagreement over Andretti will not have dampened it down.

Andretti issued only a short response on Wednesday evening, noting that the team “strongly disagreed” with F1’s views, while indicating that it was still full steam ahead. Given the pushback on social media F1 had a storm to weather, but a stroke of luck arrived in the form of the Lewis Hamilton to Ferrari story erupting on Thursday morning, taking away the attention of fans and media alike.

However, late on Friday, Andretti reclaimed a small slice of the news agenda with a more detailed response, albeit addressing only two of the key points that F1 had highlighted. One revelation in the F1 statement was the claim that “we subsequently wrote to the applicant on 12 December, 2023 extending an invitation to an in-person meeting at our offices in order for the applicant to present its application, but the applicant did not take us up on this offer".

While not saying that Andretti had declined, the implication appeared to be that Andretti was reluctant to engage with F1, before the team’s Friday response made it clear that it didn’t know about the invitation. “We were not aware that the offer of a meeting had been extended and would not decline a meeting with Formula One Management,” it said. “An in-person meeting to discuss commercial matters would be and remains of paramount importance to Andretti Cadillac. We welcome the opportunity to meet with Formula One Management and have written to them confirming our interest.”

It emerged that the email, which came from an F1 employee rather than Domenicali, had been found in a spam folder. It sounds ridiculous, but such things can happen to any of us. And if the sender doesn’t phone or follow up, how could you possibly know that such an important message was ever sent?

As a result of the IT mishap, F1 issued its rejection statement without conducting any face-to-face enquiries with or hearing a presentation from Andretti, relying instead on the info given to the FIA and some supplementary questions submitted in October.

It didn’t visit the team’s temporary design offices at Silverstone, where among the 70 staff F1’s technical director Pat Symonds – the man you would expect to be assigned to such an inspection – would have found many people with whom he worked with at teams like Renault and Manor, and indeed in some cases hired. The technical director, chief designer and head of aero are all former colleagues of Symonds.

Andretti is already well underway with the design of an F1 car

Andretti is already well underway with the design of an F1 car

The other point specifically addressed in Andretti’s response was F1’s assertion that the “novice constructor” would struggle to build a car for the current 2025 rules and then go straight into making one for the brand new 2026 regs.

F1 noted: “The fact that the applicant proposes to do so gives us reason to question their understanding of the scope of the challenge involved.”

Most of those working for the Andretti project have solid F1 experience gained with teams up and down the paddock, and they are well aware of the challenge. The door had been left open for a 2025 entry, but the limiting factor was the potential level of competitiveness that could be attained relative to the green light date finally coming. It’s a simple matter of months, days and hours.

Given that it took from March until October for the FIA to make its initial call, and that the F1 decision then dragged on for a further four months, the window for a launching a respectable effort in 2025 had closed. While 2025 was in theory still a possible start date, if that was the only option, internally the focus had already switched to the new rules and an entry in 2026.

In Friday’s response the team noted that it “has been operating with 2026 as the year of entry for many months now. The technicality of 2025 still being part of the application is a result of the length of this process".

For now the team has left it at that, but there were many other points that it could easily have addressed. Included in the technical discussion outlined above were several references to a “compulsory” power unit supply. What that relates to is the detailed provision in an appendix to the FIA sporting regulations that obliges the PU manufacturer with the fewest teams – which for a 2025 entry would be Renault – to supply an entrant that doesn’t otherwise have a deal.

In 2026, Honda joins Renault under this definition as it will only be working with Aston Martin (as a brand new PU supplier, Audi isn’t counted). In this context, F1 said, “the need for any new team to take a compulsory power unit supply, potentially over a period of several seasons, would be damaging to the prestige and standing of the championship".

This was an unusual take. Aside from the fact F1 questioned the validity of a process that was debated and put into the rulebook for good reasons, Andretti doesn’t fall under the “compulsory” category anyway. The team had an initial agreement to use Renault power, a deal that was entered into by the French manufacturer for sound business reasons, and which did not involve any arm-twisting by the FIA.

Andretti had struck up a deal with Renault to use same engines used by Alpine

Andretti had struck up a deal with Renault to use same engines used by Alpine

Photo by: Giorgio Piola

That lapsed as the entry process became strung out, but the intention has always been to reactivate it as soon as an entry is confirmed, and a start date clear. Alpine confirmed this week that “nothing has changed” on that front.

While time has moved on and there have been management changes at Alpine if anything an involvement with Andretti is even more attractive now given that its F1 team has high profile US investors, and a proxy association with such a famous name won’t hurt.

F1 tackled the PU question from another curious angle, noting that “the applicant proposes to attempt this with a dependency on a compulsory supply from a rival PU manufacturer that will inevitably be reticent to extend its collaboration with the applicant beyond the minimum required,” ahead of a move to Cadillac in 2028 that “a compulsory PU supplier would see as a risk to its intellectual property and know-how".

Aside from the fact, that as noted, the arrangement will be voluntary from Renault’s side the scenario of a team using one manufacturer’s power unit while designing its own for future use is a common one. Indeed, three identical examples are currently in progress, at Red Bull and RB (Honda to Ford) and Sauber (Ferrari to Audi). You could also add Aston Martin, already in technical talks with Honda over their 2026 collaboration while still running Mercedes PUs.

In addition, as the rules make clear, a works PU manufacturer has to supply the same equipment to customers, and providing only “need-to-know” data is normal practice if a change of supplier is imminent. Typically there are carefully constructed Chinese walls to ensure that there is no transfer of IP.

Another argument put forward by F1 relates to lack of room for an extra team in the pitlanes and paddocks of the world. The statement notes: “The addition of an 11th team would place an operational burden on race promoters, would subject some of them to significant costs, and would reduce the technical, operational and commercial spaces of the other competitors.”

If that is the case as of January 2024, surely it was the same situation in March 2023 when the FIA opened the entry process and encouraged Andretti to invest tens of millions of dollars on the basis that there was the physical space available to accommodate an 11th team? Other failed bidders, notably Rodin Carlin and Hitech, also spent money up front in good faith.

F1 may suggest that it was the FIA’s initial entry process and not theirs, but if it really is physically impossible to accommodate 11 teams at all 24 venues couldn’t surely this could have been sorted ahead of time instead of entrants wasting their money?

An 11th team already featured at several races in 2023 as part of the upcoming Brad Pitt film

An 11th team already featured at several races in 2023 as part of the upcoming Brad Pitt film

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

In 2023, we saw many pitlanes with a complete double garage set up for the upcoming Brad Pitt movie, while many venues now have super exclusive hospitality garages where wealthy punters sip champagne as the cars roll by. It’s a lucrative exercise, and should Andretti take over that space, F1 will presumably lose that extra income.

Yes, there are tight and short pitlanes, notably at Zandvoort. However that is being addressed with new construction, and as race boss Jan Lammers told this writer last year the Dutch venue will be “ready for Andretti.”

If there are any other venues where space is still a problem, there’s a simple question to be asked. Given that the Concorde Agreement makes clear provision for an 11th and even 12th team how could F1 approve any new venues that don’t have enough space for a future entry expansion, and indeed how could the FIA homologate them?

It was not all doom and gloom, though. The F1 statement contained an acknowledgement that a works Cadillac project with a new PU, as is currently scheduled for 2028, would be considered differently.

The point is that the team wants to build up to that date via a couple of years with Renault customer PUs, which is not unlike what Audi is doing with three interim Sauber-Ferrari seasons – and the team would then be that much more competitive when it switches to its own Cadillac PU in 2028.

That punchline to the F1 statement was perhaps too little too late for General Motors, one of the world’s biggest automotive companies with a global reach that would make it a valuable partner for F1. The company is fully committed to Andretti, and its top executives are likely to be fuming.

Given the effort that Domenicali and his colleagues made to attract Audi and (less successfully) Porsche, it seems a strange way to treat such a big player. As for F1’s view on a lack of any commercial contribution of an Andretti Cadillac team to the championship, the organisation says it has done its research, and until that is shared with us, it’s hard to challenge.

However, the fact that there was so much focus on Andretti and indeed Cadillac’s initial competitiveness could be questioned. No one expects a new team to come in and shoot for podiums.

Michael Andretti has pushed for his team to join F1

Michael Andretti has pushed for his team to join F1

Photo by: Alexander Trienitz / Motorsport Images

Indeed there exists the possibility that Audi will be the least competitive team at the start of 2026 – and that’s with Sauber’s 33-year head start. If the first Ford PU is below par then the Red Bull and RB teams could be at the bottom of the order.

The future remains hazy, not least because a new Concorde Agreement will come into force in 2026. Should the process be dragged out until then we don’t know what kind of provision there will be for new teams, never mind what the future dilution fee will be set at, although one could assume that the bar won’t be set at $200 million. Will a future entry agreed prior to 2026 be accepted under the current Concorde? It's not clear.

There is one interesting aspect to a 2028 entry. While new PU manufacturers fall under the FIA financial regs up to three years before their entry – in Cadillac’s case that means 1 January, 2025 – on the chassis side Andretti will remain free of any financial or aero testing restrictions for a couple of years, and the team can spend whatever it wants to spend on R&D.

The message for current teams who might be hoping to see Andretti trip up is simple – be careful what you wish for…

Could F1 come to regret its decision to not let Andretti enter?

Could F1 come to regret its decision to not let Andretti enter?

Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images

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