Formula 1’s popularity in the United States has accelerated in 2022, making it a vital market that the sport’s bosses are eager to grow. As of 2023, there will be three US races, in Miami; Austin, Texas; and Las Vegas.
But Formula 1 has only one American team, Haas, which is based in England, and it has not had an American driver on the grid since 2015, when Alexander Rossi took part in five races.
Michael Andretti is looking to change that. He is the son of the 1978 Formula 1 world champion, Mario Andretti, and owns Andretti Autosport, a team that has enjoyed enormous success in the United States through IndyCar, winning the Indianapolis 500 five times. Andretti Autosport also competes in Formula E, Extreme E, sportscar racing and the Australian Supercars series.
Andretti’s next goal is to set up a Formula 1 team, to race as early as 2024. His team would be based in Indianapolis and have 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’s nobody out there that’s doing that. That’s where we want to be.”
Last year, Andretti came close to acquiring a majority stake in the Sauber Group, which operates the Alfa Romeo team, only for talks to fall apart as negotiations neared completion. With none of the other teams willing to sell, Andretti set about creating his own.
“He’s keen to come into Formula 1,” said the McLaren chief executive Zak Brown. “He’s from a high-quality racing pedigree 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. The two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso raced for Andretti at the Indianapolis 500 in 2017, giving him firsthand experience of how the team operates.
“They are a very good organization, very professional,” Alonso said. “They have a lot of good guys there. Formula 1 is a different level for sure, but they have the passion for motorsport, and it will be super good for the sport to have the Andretti name on the grid.”
Yet their enthusiasm for Andretti’s Formula 1 plans is not shared. Out of the 10 teams, only two — McLaren and Alpine — have openly stated their support for allowing an 11th team to join.
“At the moment, you’ve got 10 good teams who are all stable,” said Günther Steiner, the team principal of Haas. Why should we change something if it works like this? At the moment, we are in a good place.”
Formula 1 has a history of teams folding. From 2012 to 2016, three teams — HRT, Caterham and Manor — all shut down because of financial concerns and are seen as examples of the risk posed by having too many teams.
“If we have a new team coming in with mega added value for the championship, this could make sense,” said Frédéric Vasseur, the team principal of Alfa Romeo. “But we don’t want to have welcoming someone new put at risk two or three teams on the grid.”
The concern for the existing 10 teams is that by adding someone new, Formula 1’s prize money fund will be split more ways, meaning each team ends up with less money to operate. Toto Wolff, the chief executive of Mercedes, said any new team would have to prove it could bring more money into Formula 1 than it would cost the existing operations. “Because the 11th team means a 10 percent dilution for everybody else,” he said.
To address this concern, any new entry must pay a one-off fee of $200 million that is divided between the current grid. Andretti is willing to pay this, yet the existing teams do not think this is enough to make up for the possible lost income. When this sum was agreed upon in 2020, the value of Formula 1 was “very different,” said Steiner, who suggested it would have to be adjusted in the future.
Otmar Szafnauer, the team principal of Alpine, thought the greater split in prize money would be made up for by the extra revenue that could be generated by adding Andretti to Formula 1.
“Andretti is a big name in motorsport,” he said. “We’re having more races in the US now, and I think a team like Andretti could perhaps make the entire revenue pie bigger, so that we all benefit.”
Brown was disappointed that so many teams were against Andretti’s addition. “I’m not surprised at all that some of the race teams take a very selfish view on what should and shouldn’t happen in motor racing,” he said. “I don’t think that’s anything new.”
But Wolff said it was important to recognize that the current teams had “invested considerable amounts” to race in Formula 1, helping the sport’s growth, and that its value could be attributed, in part, to the limited number of teams creating exclusivity.
Stefano Domenicali, the chief executive of Formula 1, agreed that the “community of the teams has to be respected,” and that any addition would have to be “really significant.”
“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 more vocal 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 new teams. Andretti said that talks with Mohammed Ben Sulayem, the FIA president, in Miami in May were “positive,” but that there was still “a big process to go through” to get enough support.
“There are millions of people embracing” the addition of an Andretti team, he said. “It’s just not the right people at the moment.”
It is not stopping Andretti from making plans to hire staff and establish a base in Indianapolis, which he hoped to start construction on this summer.
“We’re spending money to get the ball rolling, because we feel like we’re hopefully going to get it,” he said. “We’re taking a risk, but we think it’s worth the risk.”