Motor racing-Even with Cadillac, Andretti still faces some big hurdles

By Alan Baldwin

LONDON (Reuters) – Michael Andretti appears to have ticked all the right boxes with his plan to enter Formula One with General Motors brand Cadillac and an all-American team, but it may still not be enough to secure admission.

Even if the governing FIA sounded welcoming, the reaction from Formula One’s commercial rights holder to Thursday’s announcement was lukewarm and big hurdles remain to any potential 11th entry.

Andretti, son of 1978 F1 world champion Mario and with an outstanding record as team owner and businessman across various motorsport series, has been rebuffed before but remains optimistic.

“One of the big things was ‘what does Andretti bring to the party?’,” he told reporters on Thursday’s video call announcing the Andretti Global tie-up with GM and plans for an ‘all-American’ team.

“Well, we’re bringing one of the biggest manufacturers in the world now with General Motors and Cadillac. We feel that that was the one box we didn’t have checked that we do have checked now.”

Andretti tried to take over Sauber, the company that runs the Alfa Romeo F1 team, in 2021 but those talks failed at a late stage. Audi subsequently did the deal instead and will enter a factory team in 2026.

An announcement last February that a power unit partner, believed to be Renault, had been secured also fell on stony ground.

If the FIA is now willing to open an ‘expressions of interest’ process, which will take some time, the decision will not be decided by the governing body alone nor based solely on credibility.

Andretti must convince the teams and Liberty Media-owned Formula One, which has seemed increasingly at odds with the FIA under that body’s new president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, that it is in their interests.

That will not be as easy as in the past.

NETFLIX EFFECT

The sport’s popularity is surging in the United States already, fuelled by the popularity of Netflix docu-series ‘Drive to Survive’, and growing revenues coupled with a budget cap has turned even once-precarious teams into sustainable franchises.

Formula One chief executive Stefano Domenicali, a former Ferrari team boss, said last September that expanding beyond 10 teams was “not a priority”.

One senior team source told Reuters that the chances of Andretti being accepted remained “highly unlikely” and a “strong majority” of current competitors were very opposed to any expansion.

Previous support came largely from McLaren and Renault-owned Alpine.

A major road block is the dilution of the teams’ share of the revenues and a feeling that the current $200 million entry fee, which would be shared among the existing 10 teams as compensation, now looks too cheap.

Owners of the Seattle Kraken, the 32nd team in the National Hockey league, paid a $650 million expansion fee to join in 2021 and similarly deep-pocketed groups have also been sniffing around Formula One.

Hong Kong-based billionaire Calvin Lo told Reuters last August that Asian consortiums were looking for opportunities, while German sportscar manufacturer Porsche remains interested and Honda is watching closely.

Haas boss Guenther Steiner said last June that Formula One’s entry fee should reflect the sport’s “big progression in value”.

The team source suggested $500 million would be a more suitable sum.

While Andretti Cadillac has huge resonance, it may also be more of a badging exercise — similar to Alfa Romeo’s deal with Ferrari-powered Sauber — than a full-on manufacturer effort that would carry more clout.

Andretti has made clear the team would race at least initially with a “customer” engine, unlike Audi who are building their own.

“I do think they are credible but I need to see a higher entry point,” the team source said.

“I think the only chance anyone has of getting in is to pay a much larger entry fee.”

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)

tagreuters.com2023binary_LYNXMPEJ050LU-BASEIMAGE