After loudly and spectacularly announcing its arrival, Michael Andretti’s bid to be Formula 1’s 11th team has gone relatively quiet.
Having failed to reach terms with the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo team late last year, Andretti has been raising funds and even hiring staff to form a brand-new team for the 2024 season. It comes with a steep US$200 million (A$293.7 million) just for the blessing of F1 management to enter, but the American motorsport mogul insists he has not only that but also the cash to develop a competitive team.
Combined with the influence of his father, 1978 world champion Mario Andretti, the bid seemed like a shoo-in, particularly as it arrived as the sport attempts to capitalise on a massive upswing in support from the United States.
But execution hasn’t been so easy.
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Most teams have railed against the inclusion of a new constructor, and the reason is money. F1 has never been more popular, and for the first time in history all 10 teams are profitable thanks to the growing prize pot.
Adding an 11th team would dilute that pot, and while the US$200 million fee is supposed to compensate existing teams for receiving a smaller slice of the pie, the pie has grown so large in the last year or so — and is expected to keep growing — that even this relatively hefty price of admission will cover the biggest teams for only two years or so.
“I think we have four or five [teams] that are definitely in our corner,” Michael Andretti told GQ. “But the others have their hand out: ‘What are we going to get out of it?’.
“That’s what it’s all about — and they’re all being shortsighted. I’m saying: ‘Okay, you can get that now, but what about what we think we can bring to the future?’
“But they don’t care about that. They don’t care about the series. They only care about themselves. But that’s the F1 way — it’s always been that way.”
A QUESTION OF VALUE — OR PREJUDICE?
Speaking earlier in the year, Toto Wolff didn’t deny that money was at the heart of his team’s opposition to Andretti’s plans, but he argued it was a matter of value rather than cost.
“If we have a true American team with an American driver, that would be very beneficial,” he said.
“It needs to be additive. If a team comes in, how can you demonstrate that you’re bringing in more money than it’s actually costing? Because an 11th team means a 10 per cent dilution for everybody else.
“That hasn’t been demonstrated yet. And that may sound a bit dry because it comes down to the numbers but the value of Formula 1 is that it’s a limited amount of franchises, and we don’t want to dilute that value by just adding teams.”
But Andretti, speaking to GQ, said Wolff was dramatically underestimating the value of the American market — and how much of a hold F1 had on it despite the sudden explosion in interest in the last three years.
“I’m trying to remind them that there’s 350 million people in this country and that, yes, there’s been a spike in interest here with Drive to Survive, but that they shouldn’t be content with what they have,” he said.
“We’re just skimming the surface. They’ve captured the interest of all these new fans — but fans are a little fickle. They’re confident that they have the American audience now. But you need a hook to keep them in for the future. And we feel that we can be that hook.
“We’re a true American team, we get a true American driver. Now it’s, ‘Oh, there’s really something for the country to root for’. That’s where I think our value really comes in strong, to keep that fan that they just got.”
Andretti reckons he’s seen it all before, during his ill-fated attempt to switch from CART to Formula 1 in 1993
The record book shows he didn’t last the season after an uncompetitive showing alongside teammate Ayrton Senna, but Andretti’s always maintained that he was pushed out — even sabotaged — by a team that didn’t really want him there with young Finn Mika Häkkinen waiting in the wings.
“It was a definite European club,” he said. “And I’m getting the feeling it’s still the European club, the way we’re being treated. Because we would be a threat. The first real international team.
“It’s a very snobbish approach they’re taking. Ultimately, we’re going to bring more value than we’re going to take away.
“I didn’t forget about it. I pretty much knew what we were getting into here. You’re swimming with the sharks. So, you better make sure you have your harpoon on you.
“I’m not naive about that. I was naive maybe when I went into it back when I was a driver, but probably because of that experience I’m not naive now. Everybody’s got their knife, and they’re ready to stab you in the back.”
ARE F1 JUST A BUNCH OF EUROSNOBS?
Andretti’s accusations seem curious given F1’s concerted effort to expand in the United States since the commercial rights were bought by Liberty Media — an American company, as it happens — and given F1 already hosts an American team, albeit with head office in the USA and the race team in the UK.
“I don’t know what he’s trying to achieve with these comments, but that’s down to Michael,” Haas team principal Guenther Steiner told The Race.
“Obviously, in my opinion, these comments, they’re not constructive, or, you know, taking [things] forward, but you live by your choices.”
Steiner added that it ultimately wasn’t up to the teams but the FIA at hand out licences, though the 10 teams, fundamentally acting as franchises and wielding political power, are clearly capable of influencing the outcome.
Meanwhile, however, it’s long been clear that Formula 1, the FIA and the teams have been tweaking the technical regulations due in 2026 to entice the likes of Audi and Porsche into the sport after decades of the Volkswagen brands teasing but never ultimately committing.
Obviously these are two brands with significant international recognition, but with Porsche tipped to enter only as an engine supplier to Red Bull Racing and AlphaTauri — effectively replacing Honda, so a net neutral contribution in that sense — and Audi reportedly attempting to buy Alfa Romeo-branded Sauber in Switzerland, their potential inclusions won’t dramatically change the F1 landscape.
This is despite the fact that car manufacturers are the first to leave when the going gets tough, and the sport’s history is littered with such examples. Porsche and Audi are joining F1 after withdrawing from the World Endurance Championship, for example, while Audi has also recently pulled out of both DTM and Formula E.
Contrastingly, it’s independent racing teams that find a way to continue — just consider Haas and Williams in recent seasons or Sauber in the wake of BMW’s exit from the sport 12 years ago.
You can understand in that context why Andretti might feel a little aggrieved to be receiving so much pushback given his company’s long and storied history as an independent constructor.
AMERICA IN FORMULA 1
And it’s fair to say F1 has a long and difficult history connecting with the United States, going back all the way to the early years of the series.
The Indianapolis 500 was included in the world championship between 1950 and 1960, but the trans-Atlantic plan was a flop. Very few F1 protagonists bothered to make the trip in the 11 years the famous race paid points — perhaps the first signs of the alleged snobbishness.
But F1 never stopped trying to crack America, and the country has hosted 72 grands prix — behind only Italy, Germany and the UK.
Europe: 670 (Italy is the largest, with 103).
North America: 144 (United States: 72).
Asia: 91 (Japan: 37).
South America: 68 (Brazil: 48).
Oceania: 36 (Australia: 36).
Middle East: 35 (Bahrain: 19).
Africa: 24 (South Africa: 23).
Yet the sport has historically failed to translate its Stateside presence into any great influx of drivers despite America’s passion for motor racing.
There have been 761 drivers to ever enter a grand prix, excluding those who entered only the Indy 500. The USA can count just 52 of those as its own.
And if we refine that a little more, the US is found to be further under-represented.
Of the 458 drivers who have entered five or more grands prix, only 28 of them have come from the United States, or around 6 per cent.
The United Kingdom still leads the way with 92 drivers — more than 20 per cent — ahead of Italy with 66 and France with 50.
Europe has produced 334 drivers, while the rest of the world has delivered only 124, or around 27 per cent.
Drivers entered into more than five races
Europe: 334 (UK is largest, with 92).
South America: 44 (Brazil: 28).
North America: 40 (United States: 28).
Asia: 18 (Japan: 11).
Oceania: 16 (Australia: 10).
Africa: 6 (South Africa: 4).
The story is much the same on the list of winners. Of the 105 drivers to have stood on the top step of the podium, 75 have come from Europe, and the largest single country represented is the UK.
Grand prix winners
Europe: 75 (UK is largest, with 19).
North America: 11 (United States: 7).
South America: 11 (Brazil: 6).
Oceania: 6 (Australia: 4).
Africa: 1 (South Africa: 1).
Of the 72 titles awarded, Europe has won the vast majority, with the UK winning 40 per cent of those.
World championships by country
Europe: 50 (United Kingdom: 20, Germany: 12, Finland: 4, Austria: 4, France, 4: Italy: 3, Spain: 2, Netherlands: 1).
South America: 13 (Brazil: 8, Argentina: 5).
Oceania: 5 (Australia: 4, New Zealand: 1).
North America: 3 (United States: 2, Canada, 1).
Africa: 1 (South Africa: 1).
The 72 world titles have been won by 34 different people 18 of whom claimed only one crown each. Again Europeans are the largest recipients.
Europe: 23 (United Kingdom: 10, Germany: 3, Finland: 3, Austria: 2, Italy: 2, France: 1, Spain: 1, Netherlands: 1).
South America: 4 (Brazil: 3, Argentina: 1).
North America: 3 (United States: 2, Canada: 1).
Oceania: 3 (Australia: 2, New Zealand: 1).
Africa: 1 (South Africa: 1).
Only once in the last 30 years has the world championship gone to a driver of non-European heritage, that being Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.
SO WHAT ARE ANDRETTI’S CHANCES?
The longer the process drags on, the less likely it seems that Andretti will manage to find a route into Formula 1.
And the clock is ticking, with F1 due for a new set of commercial agreements in 2026. While it was earlier speculated that it might be easier to join the grid after that date, the teams have clearly signalled through their reluctance to accept the Andretti bid that they’ll be fighting to make it harder.
“They can make it as difficult as they please,” Mario Andretti told the WTF1 podcast of the current bid process. “And sometimes I cannot believe that the process has to be this complicated.
“But they have to realise how serious we are, how committed we are, it’s not just in and out, it’s a long-term commitment with the investment that will be made.”
But history hasn’t been kind to Americans trying their hand at Formula 1, and whether that’s luck, politics, snobbishness or some combination of the lot, funding and commitment might be the least of the problems facing the latest attempt at an Andretti trans-Atlantic crossing.