Why the FIA's hope for new F1 teams will be easier said than done
The FIA has reignited talk of new teams joining the Formula 1 grid in the near future, something many fans have wanted to see for some time.
Gone are the days when it was a fight for teams to survive in F1. Not long ago, even the tally of 10 was an achievement - only nine raced towards the end of 2014 - so why not open things up and give F1 more cars, more drivers and more action?
It's something FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, publicly for the first time, has now expressed a desire in exploring. In a tweet sent from his official account on Monday evening, Ben Sulayem said he had asked his team at the FIA "to look at launching an Expressions of Interest process for prospective new teams for the FIA F1 World Championship."
Although nothing has formally been launched, it nevertheless marks a first step towards the potential expansion of the grid. The move is understood to have been taken in order to flush out possible interest from new teams and give the FIA an idea of just how much of a clamour there is to join F1.
Yet adding an 11th team to the grid is going to be far easier said than done given the numerous hurdles that still lie in wait, no matter how keen potential candidates or the governing body may be to make it happen.
How the tender process works
Formula 1 is not a series that any team can simply rock up and join. There is a formal process that must be followed and adhered to for a candidate to prove it is worthy of a spot on the grid.
Ben Sulayem has shown the intent to get the ball rolling for this process, which starts with calls for expressions of interest as part of the formal tender for potential new entrants.
This process was most recently launched in May 2015, back when the grid had 10 teams. This set out to identify a new team that could join the grid either for the 2016 or 2017 seasons to bolster the grid.
Mohammed bin Sulayem, President, FIA, is interviewed
Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images
Although no suitable candidates were ultimately identified, the process was set out by the FIA which said it would conduct due diligence on applicants, which would need to demonstrate four key areas:
a) the technical ability and resources of the team
b) the ability of the team to raise and maintain sufficient funding to allow participation in the Championship at a competitive level
c) the team's experience and human resources
d) the FIA's assessment of the value that the candidate may bring to the Championship as a whole
Point B was particularly salient at the time. Six months earlier, Caterham had collapsed and Manor had survived by the skin of its teeth, limping through to the end of the 2016 season before ultimately folding.
Once the FIA has received applications to join the grid and completed its due diligence through inspections and interviews, a decision is then made to then grant or deny an entry.
The most recent team to successfully make it through the tender process was Haas, which had its entry approved in the spring of 2014. The team was initially set to race in 2015 before pushing it back to 2016, giving it time to get its operations in place. Unquestionably, it has been a success, giving credence to the FIA's criteria and process.
News the FIA is looking into expanding the grid will have been most warmly received across the Atlantic amid Michael Andretti's push to extend the family dynasty to an F1 team.
Andretti has been vocal about his plans to establish an F1 operation for almost a year now, revealing in Miami that plans were going ahead to establish a headquarters in Indianapolis that would be capable of operating such a team even without an entry in place. His approach has been persistent, getting on the ground at numerous F1 races last year to talk with those who would be involved in the process, including Ben Sulayem.
But the big issue through all of this is that there was no formal process to follow. No matter how much Andretti wanted to tell the FIA and the other teams that it could join the F1 grid, there was no mechanism in place to make that happen without a concrete call for expressions of interest. Even if everyone was aligned in making it happen and the proposal had all the makings of a great grand prix team, the door was shut.
That looks set to change. Ben Sulayem's plan, if it progresses, will move the door ajar and give the green light for interested parties to come forward. You can be certain that Andretti would be at the front of that queue.
Michael Andretti, Chief Executive Officer & Chairman Andretti Autosport
Photo by: Andreas Beil
Looking at the above criteria, there can be little question over Andretti's technical ability and resources, given its prowess in IndyCar, Supercars and sportscar racing, or its experience and human resources. The funding question is also something Andretti has stressed is an easy one to answer, tapping into F1's current US boom to ensure sponsors and partners are in place.
But Point D is the one that is going to be the sticking point, particularly when it comes to getting F1 and the existing 10 teams on board - something that must be achieved, no matter how much the FIA would like to expand the field.
The $200m question
The possibility for a new, American team to join F1 has rightly excited fans. Andretti said in Miami back in May that "million of people are embracing it", but he admitted it was "just not the right people at the moment."
By that, he meant the other teams. So far, only McLaren and Alpine have publicly stated support for Andretti's F1 plan. McLaren CEO Zak Brown is close to Andretti, having jointly run Fernando Alonso's Indianapolis 500 entry in 2017, while his United Autosports outfit works with Andretti in both Extreme E and Supercars. Alpine's owner, Renault, has been touted as a likely engine partner for any Andretti F1 operation.
But the other eight teams have been lukewarm at best about Andretti's bid to join the grid, largely because of what it would mean for them financially.
F1 currently dishes out revenue to teams through prize money based on championship position and fixed payments that are divided 10 ways. Under the most recent Concorde Agreement, signed in 2020, this was made more equitable to ensure all teams got a more even slice of the pie.
Mick Schumacher, Haas VF-22, Lance Stroll, Aston Martin AMR22, Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren MCL36, Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-22, the remainder of the field at the start
Photo by: Simon Galloway / Motorsport Images
The worry for teams is that by adding an 11th team, each will take a 10% hit on their returns, meaning it had to be proven that the new entrant's addition of the grid could be additive and essentially make up for this. As Toto Wolff put it: "If a team comes in, how can you demonstrate that you're bringing in more money than it's actually costing?"
F1 tried to combat this by putting a dilution fund into the Concorde Agreement, meaning any new entrant would have to cough up $200 million just to join the grid. This would be divided between the existing teams in a bid to make up for the 10% drop. But less than two years after it was agreed, there were already calls to raise that bar.
"The dilution fund was set a few years ago, when the value of Formula 1 was different," Haas F1 chief Gunther Steiner said in June. "I think one of the things will be, should we readjust it to current market rate, which is a lot more than that. But I think that's a very difficult process to do."
Getting the 10 teams on side is going to be the biggest challenge the FIA faces if it wants to get a new entrant on the grid. While it may be the governing body, this process would very much be a joint one with the commercial rights holder (F1) and the existing teams. All parties would have to be content with the compromise to make it happen.
Does F1 need an 11th team?
F1 has been clear in its stance that it would be open to adding a new team, but only if they proved the added value that would be clear for the whole championship.
In August, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali said it was "not a problem of quantity" and that he did not "see a weakness in the number of teams in F1", feeling the current strength of the grid should allay any fears about making up for the loss of any existing outfits - a fear borne out of the demise of Caterham, Manor and HRT.
Vitantonio Liuzzi, HRT F111 leads team mate Daniel Ricciardo, HRT F111
Photo by: Sutton Images
"We need to have an entity or a team or a manufacturer that is really solid, is really strong and has a full commitment for an incredible long-term future," said Domenicali, just days before Audi announced it would be entering F1 from 2026 as an engine manufacturer, undoubtedly a huge coup for the series.
The call for expressions of interest could see other parties come forward, perhaps those Domenicali hinted at as being less vocal when he spoke in August. We know that Porsche is looking at its next steps after its planned partnership with Red Bull fell through; getting a big OEM name like that on the grid would clearly be something that could add the value F1 wants from any potential new teams.
As exciting as the prospect of a new team and more drivers on the grid in the future may be for fans, there is a long, long road to go down before anything can be set. Ben Sulayem has taken the first baby step forward in that.
If plans progress, it could prove to be one of the big political stories of F1 in 2023 if the existing status quo considers pulling another seat at the table, and under what terms that would be allowed to happen.
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