Was F1’s assessment of Andretti’s shortcomings fair?

FOM’s statement on Wednesday afternoon was as detailed as it was blunt about what it felt were the Andretti Cadillac bid’s shortcomings.

It felt there was little chance Michael Andretti’s team would reach an acceptable level, in which case it didn’t see any added commercial value in having it on the grid, famous name or not.

It also dismissed the idea of Andretti entering in 2025, therefore having to build cars both for this regulations cycle and the 2026 reset within two seasons, as naive.

Meanwhile, the FIA responded with a non-committal statement saying it is «engaging in dialogue to determine the next steps».

Andretti can’t be competitive

FOM’s main thrust is that an 11th team would not bring added value to F1 nor raise significant interest unless it were to reach a degree of success, such as vying for podiums in the mid-term.

It is clear that if this is what it takes to be accepted, joining F1 is a non-starter for any hopeful entrant. In recent history, only Haas has ‘successfully’ survived as a new team, but it has yet to improve on its best grand prix result of fourth in 2018’s Austrian Grand Prix, and it finished dead last in 2023’s constructors’ standings.

Haas did finish sixth and fifth in its first two grand prix in 2016 but did so with a much more off-the-shelf business model that would now no longer be admitted. The gaps between the existing 10 teams have also decreased dramatically, making for a much more competitive barrier to entry.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-23, leads Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-23

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Kevin Magnussen, Haas VF-23, leads Nico Hulkenberg, Haas VF-23

Other than that, there haven’t been any true start-up teams in the modern era that have had both longevity and success, as all the heavy hitters have either been in F1 for decades or taken over existing outfits.

With F1 team values skyrocketing thanks to the budget cap and the series’ raised profile, the window for taking over an existing team has all but closed in this seller’s market.

And while Andretti Cadillac looked better poised than any potential entrant to break that spell, it would have been unrealistic to expect great things from the outfit within the first three seasons.

Andretti doesn’t raise interest unless it’s competitive

And if Andretti Cadillac can’t fight for podiums, FOM argues it therefore won’t bring enough value to justify an extra spot on the grid and upset the apple cart, given all the commercial implications that come with accepting an 11th team.

Out of all the arguments, this is perhaps the hardest to digest. After all, wasn’t Liberty Media desperate to grow its property in the United States, where the Andretti dynasty is still a household name whose exploits have frequently seeped into mainstream consciousness and popular culture?

Tying up with fellow US powerhouse General Motors and taking Californian IndyCar star Colton Herta as one of its drivers seemed like a golden ticket to instantly turn Andretti into a fan favourite for North American TV viewers and for attendees of its three domestic grands prix.

It certainly would move the needle much more than Haas, which has never employed a US driver and has otherwise done little to play into its American identity, and commercially an Andretti — Cadillac — Herta combo seems much more interesting than some of the other midfielders currently operating in F1.

But if emotions make way for cold commercial considerations, it’s not entirely impossible to understand FOM’s motives either. F1’s US rise so far has had a whole lot to do with its Netflix series Drive to Survive but virtually nothing with American participation.

Michael Andretti

Photo by: Art Fleischmann

Michael Andretti

Other than soundbites from the now departed — and Italian — team boss Guenther Steiner, Haas has remained under the radar and has arguably not made a significant impact on its home market due to its lack of headline results.

The same applies to American drivers. Williams’ Logan Sargeant would stand a decent chance of helping sell tickets in a race-winning car, but as Austin’s grand prix promoter disclosed last year, his presence on the back of the grid has sold close to zero extra seats.

FOM argues that Andretti will fail to do much better than Haas both on and off the track and that it would still take a Herta-like figure to get podiums and wins for a competitive American sports market to truly sit up and take note.

It is hard to fully know the answer to this question without giving Andretti a go, but Liberty Media will not take any risks to hurt the existing 10 teams’ commercial interests unless a prospective entrant is too good to turn down.

Andretti has underestimated F1

FOM’s most damning conclusion was that Andretti is biting off way more than it can chew. Entering a car for the current era regulations in 2025 and then building a new one for the 2026 regulations overhaul is seen as naive and, as the statement reads, «gives us reason to question their understanding of the scope of the challenge involved».

Andretti Global is a true multi-series powerhouse that has competed in many major international championships, be it IndyCar, Formula E, Australian Supercars, sportscars or Extreme E, and has found success in virtually all of them.

F1 is a much different beast altogether, and Andretti certainly wouldn’t be the first hopeful entrant to underestimate what it takes to compete.

Some of its plans, including the idea to have four different headquarters between Charlotte, Indianapolis, Cologne and Silverstone, are rather ambitious.

Michael Andretti, Walkinshaw Andretti United Holden

Photo by: Dirk Klynsmith / Motorsport Images

Michael Andretti, Walkinshaw Andretti United Holden

But the scale of its preparation in recent months, which included hiring a wide roster of experienced hands led by former Alpine man Nick Chester and readying a first wind tunnel model, has been a statement of intent.

F1 veterans like Chester, who joined following a 20-year stint at Enstone, would likely have painted a realistic picture of what it would take to build cars for both the 2025 and 2026 rules. And while other teams are bound to budget caps and testing restrictions, Andretti still has free rein to ready its 2025 car, which would have raced under relatively stable regulations.

Meanwhile, 2026’s aero rules haven’t been published yet, and there is a ban on wind tunnel and CFD work on the 2026 project until 1 January 2025 anyway. It’s worth pointing out that Haas too had to build two dramatically different cars for the 2016 and 2017 regulations, and started out respectably well, but as stated above it was operating under a vastly different business model.

Does F1 risk alienating the American fanbase amid FIA/FOM battleground?

An added element to F1’s dismissive comments on Andretti’s technical plans is that that particular domain belonged to the FIA, which greenlit the sporting and technical aspects of Andretti’s entry following a long vetting process. FOM’s rejection of Andretti is poised to further impact its strained relationships with FIA leadership.

In a brief initial response the FIA «notes the announcement from Formula One Management in relation to the FIA Formula One World Championship teams’ Expressions of Interest process. We are engaging in dialogue to determine next steps.»

But the main elements of its decision remain rooted in commercial grounds as it aims to protect the value of its existing franchise-like squads, who all weathered the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and expect to be taken care of in return for their long-term investments.

As its statement said: «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.

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, the rest of the field at the start

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Lando Norris, McLaren MCL60, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, Carlos Sainz, Ferrari SF-23, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, the rest of the field at the start

«We were not able to identify any material expected positive effect on CRH [Commercial Rights Holder] financial results, as a key indicator of the pure commercial value of the championship.»

Without having all the details of FOM’s investigation, it is hard to argue effectively against its findings. But its dismissal of America’s most recognisable team is set to further alienate those who felt F1 has been unwelcoming to Americans throughout Andretti’s entire ordeal.

In an initial reaction, Michael Andretti said he «strongly disagreed» with the rejection and that «work continues at pace» on his project, at least for the time being.

F1 says it would perhaps look differently upon a new attempt in 2028 when GM is ready to provide works power units. But with any potential entry now at least four years away, it seems implausible to keep up the same level of investment, recruitment and momentum for such a long period without any returns.

F1’s door remains ajar. It remains to be seen if Andretti has the stomach to keep banging his head against it, or if he has slowly but surely had enough.

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