Formula 1’s popularity in the United States accelerated in 2022, making it a vibrant market that sports chiefs are eager to grow. From 2023, there will be three US races in Miami; Austin, Texas; Las Vegas.
But Formula 1 has only one US team, England-based Haas, and it hasn’t had an American driver on the grid since 2015, when Alexander Rossi raced five races.
Michael Andretti is looking to change that. He is the son of 1978 Formula 1 World Champion Mario Andretti, and owns Andretti Autosport, the team that has achieved massive success in the United States through IndyCar, winning the Indianapolis 500 five times. Andretti Autosport also competes in Formula E, Extreme E, sports car racing and the Australian Supercars Series.
Andretti’s next goal is to form a Formula 1 team, to race as early as 2024. His team will be based in Indianapolis and he has an American driver, Colton Herta, who is the youngest race winner in IndyCar history.
“We want to be an American team that wants to develop American drivers for the future,” Andretti said. “There is no one out there doing that. This is where we want to be.”
Last year, Andretti came close to acquiring a majority stake in Sauber Group, which runs the Alfa Romeo team, only for talks to collapse as negotiations neared completion. With none of the other teams ready to sell, Andretti set out to create his own team.
“He is keen to enter Formula 1,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown said. “He is from a high-quality racing family. He has an IndyCar team, a Formula E team, an Extreme E team. We think the more competition, the better.”
Brown is not alone in supporting Andretti’s plans. Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso raced for Andretti at the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, giving him first-hand experience of how the team works.
“It’s a very good organisation, very professional,” Alonso said. “They have a lot of good guys out there. Formula 1 is a different level for sure, but they have a passion for motorsport and it would be very good for the sport to have Andretti’s name on the grid.”
However, their enthusiasm for Andretti’s Formula 1 plans is unshared. Of the 10 teams, only two – McLaren and Alpine – announced their support to allow Team 11 to join.
“Right now, you have 10 good teams and they are all stable,” said Gunther Steiner, Haas team principal. “Why should we change something if it works like this? Right now, we are in a good position.”
Formula 1 has a history of folding teams. From 2012 to 2016, three teams – HRT, Caterham and Manor – were closed due to financial concerns and are seen as examples of the risks posed by having too many teams.
“If we have a new team that comes with a huge added value to the championship, that might make sense,” said Frederic Vasseur, Alfa Romeo Team Principal. “But we don’t want to welcome someone new who puts two or three teams on the net at risk.”
The concern for the existing 10 teams is that by adding a new person, the Formula 1 prize money will be split in more ways, meaning that each team ends up with less money to work with. Mercedes CEO Toto Wolff said any new team would have to prove they can bring more money into Formula 1 than it would cost current operations. “Because the 11th team means a 10 percent commute for everyone else,” he said.
To address this concern, any new entry must pay a one-time fee of $200 million split between the existing network. Andretti is willing to pay that amount, but the current teams don’t think that’s enough to make up for the potential lost income. Steiner said that when that amount was agreed in 2020, the value of Formula 1 was “totally different”, and suggested it would have to be adjusted in the future.
Otmar Szafnauer, Alpine Team Principal, believes that the larger split in the prize money will be offset by the additional revenue that could be made by adding Andretti to Formula 1.
“Andretti is a big name in motorsport,” he said. “We’ve got more races in the States now, and I think a team like Andretti can make the entire revenue payout even bigger, so that we all benefit.”
Brown was disappointed that several teams were against adding Andretti. “I am not at all surprised that some racing teams have a very selfish view of what should and should not happen in motorsports,” he said. “I don’t think this is anything new.”
But Wolff said it was important to recognize that existing teams “have invested significant amounts” of racing in Formula 1, which has helped the sport’s growth, and that its value can be attributed in part to the limited number of teams creating exclusivity.
Stefano Domenicali, chief executive of Formula 1, agreed that “the team community should be respected”, and that any addition should be “really important”.
“We have a lot of people or a lot of investors who would like to be in Formula 1,” he said. “Some of them are louder than others. But we need to protect the teams.”
For Andretti to join, Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, must issue a tender calling for interest from the new teams. Andretti said talks with FIA president Mohamed Ben Sulayem in Miami in May were “positive”, but that there was still a “major process to be done” to get adequate support.
“There are millions of people embracing,” he said, adding Andretti’s team. “They are not the right people at the moment.”
It doesn’t stop Andretti from making plans to hire staff and establish a base in Indianapolis, which he had hoped construction would begin this summer.
“We spend money to get the ball, because we feel like we’re hoping to get it,” he said. “We’re taking risks, but we think it’s worth the risk.”