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Formula 1's Andretti Decision Is an Insult

formula 1 lenovo united states grand prix 2023
Formula 1's Andretti Decision Is an InsultNurPhoto - Getty Images

Andretti Global has spent the past two years growing its Formula 1 bid into something that looked undeniable. The Michael Andretti-led operation spent 2023 winning a title in an open wheel world championship, earning approval from the FIA to discuss an F1 expansion bid with the series, and securing General Motors first as a sponsor and later as a powertrain provider. In a decision that is insulting to auto racing as a sport, Formula One Management has denied the program anyway.

Cadillac alone should have made this a moot point. This program represents a major investment from one of the world's biggest volume automakers, the exact type of manufacturer partner that F1 had desperately hunted throughout the past two decades. The brand's commitment to make an engine makes this as serious an expansion effort as any that joined the grid in the brief manufacturer boom of the 2000s, and far more serious than the accepted bids from HRT, Virgin, Caterham, and Haas F1 that joined the grid in the 2010s.

If Cadillac was not enough, the significant steps Andretti has already made to ramp up the operation in advance of a potential 2025 grid spot should have done the job. As Luke Smith of The Athletic reported earlier this week, the operation already employs 120 people and has already begun wind tunnel testing a 2025 car that will now never race. 50 GM employees are included in that count, further reinforcing that this operation's ties to General Motors go well past a name on the engine cover.

Whether or not Andretti's domestic racing programs are good enough to justify an F1 team right now is beside the point, but his Andretti Autosport has won titles in IndyCar and recently secured the driver's championship in Formula E. In both series, Andretti competes directly with McLaren-branded operations owned and run by the same group that operates the McLaren Formula 1 team. Even as the operation's IndyCar team has struggled mightily the past two years, Andretti's cars have outrun the McLaren entries.

Those are the reasons the program should be on the grid. FOM cites a handful of reasons that it should not, starting with worries that the program would not be competitive in 2025 and that a new wave of regulations in 2026 could further disrupt the team's ability to compete. While it is true that any new operation could be uncompetitive even after beginning development of a 2025 car, existing Formula 1 teams have gone full seasons without scoring a single point. If Andretti does not finish a race in 2025, it would have been exactly as successful as Haas F1 was in 2021.

FOM's announcement is also worried about an 11th team's "operational burden on race promoters, would subject some of them to significant costs, and would reduce the technical, operational and commercial spaces of the other competitors." In other words, the existence of an 11th team both cuts into the literal physical space available for teams at a given track and further divides the ability of those teams to compete for a limited pool of sponsorship and engineering talent. The physical concerns are a minor issue, F1 approved 13 teams for its 2010 season. The more conceptual concerns are valid, but they ignore that a massive chunk of the sponsorship and engineering talent tied to this program is coming directly from a GM partnership that the brand has already stated is only available to Andretti's operation.

Although Andretti had a provisional deal with Renault to secure an engine until GM's powertrain was ready in 2028, someone else could have been forced by rule to provide an engine if that deal fell apart. F1 describes this possibility, one that would only happen if no other deal was made with another engine manufacturer that wanted money in exchange for goods and services, "would be damaging to the prestige and standing of the Championship." These concerns, apparently, are far more worrying to the brand than the damage to the prestige and standing of F1 that come with rejecting a General Motors-backed operation on such flimsy grounds.

While the announcement was always going to be conceptually insulting, some of the specific wording veers closer to directly insulting. The statement notes that, “While the Andretti name carries some recognition for F1 fans, our research indicates that F1 would bring value to the Andretti brand rather than the other way around." That a family of drivers whose fame is in part a result of driving in F1 has not eclipsed the fame of F1 as a brand is obvious to anyone, and there is no reason to acknowledge it. It is wholly unrelated to the question of whether or not Andretti Cadillac belongs in Formula 1, a point seemingly wrapped into this statement only to ensure that every reader knows that Michael Andretti's self-aggrandizing irritated FOM decision-makers.

All of this is made all the more cruel by the group of teams that actually do compete in Formula 1 today. Operations from Red Bull, Mercedes, Ferrari, and McLaren are all unimpeachable, great teams that have a long history of success thanks to their significant long-term investment in winning championships. Alpine's F1 team is not exactly on that level, but it is a factory-supported operation making a serious effort to fight for race wins. In another world, Alpine would have made an ambitious but beatable target for the Andretti program's first year in F1.

The rest are not quite so significant. Two have big partners signed for major future endeavors, but are not much right now. Aston Martin has big dreams and a big partner in Honda going forward, but for now it is just a customer Mercedes team owned by its struggling second driver's father. Sauber will eventually become an Audi factory operation, but until then it is named after a cryptocurrency casino.

The last three teams on the grid do not have such hopes. Visa CashApp RB is a junior team for a better operation on its third name in five years. Haas F1, the only American-owned operation on the grid, has never scored a podium. A Williams team no longer owned by the Williams family has made serious efforts to improve under James Vowles that have already born fruit, but the team itself made its own position relative to a GM-backed operation clear when Vowles openly suggested that GM should work with his team if his vocal opposition to Andretti helped kill their existing bid.

One common counter to the Andretti proposal is that Michael Andretti should have purchased an existing team, like Audi did when it planned its acquisition of Sauber ahead of the 2026 season. Not only has Andretti attempted that, reports in late 2021 suggested that he attempted to purchase that same Sauber team well before Audi made their deal. No other operation on the grid appears to be available for sale any time soon, Andretti seems to have no other way onto the grid but an approved expansion.

The announcement from Formula 1 suggests that a new application in 2028, to run with a GM powertrain from day one, would be approved. That note makes no suggestion that Andretti is a part of the bid, which only adds to what an Associated Press columnist said "looks and feels like a grudge" against Andretti.

That leaves the door open for a GM factory operation, with or without Michael Andretti and co-owner Dan Towriss, joining the grid in 2028. Until a legally binding deal is signed, FOM has given General Motors decision-makers no reason to believe that will actually happen. Given how the process has gone so far, why would anyone involved try again?

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