Battle lines are drawn as F1 and the FIA brace for civil war over Andretti entry

Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Stefano Domenicali. Spa, Belgium. August, 2022 Credit: Alamy
Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Stefano Domenicali. Spa, Belgium. August, 2022 Credit: Alamy

Andretti want in but the two most powerful groups in Formula 1 do not see eye-to-eye on the matter.

Raise the banners, civil war is coming to Formula 1.

The Andretti-GM partnership announcement was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. A moment in F1 history when the sport’s higher ups could no longer sit and hope to wait out the storm.

The Andretti bid has been years in the making and after continual setbacks, last week’s announcement was a move that Michael Andretti himself said ticked the final box that needed ticking.

But still, with seemingly everything asked of them completed, the Andretti bid balances on a knife edge with the sport’s loudest voices disagreeing on the matter.

In one corner, there is the FIA whose new Expression of Interest process demonstrated their willingness to expand the F1 grid and in the other, it is FOM and the F1 teams, dismissing the notion off the bat seemingly without even judging the merits of the bid.

But the Andretti-Cadillac bid has come to represent something far bigger: it is a battle for power between the sport’s two main players.

The relationship between the FIA and F1 has always been an odd one with the two parties happy to coexist when it suits and equally as happy to diverge when their interests are not aligned, but this seems a move almost designed by president Mohammed Ben Sulayem to shift power back to his side after years of it moving towards F1.

FOM has undoubtedly been in control as of late. With the addition of races as well as introducing more Sprint events, the sport’s commercial arm has capitalised on their reputation being higher than it ever was before. F1 owners Liberty Media have rightfully been praised for bringing the sport into the modern era and it is thanks to them that F1 is enjoying a period of popularity never seen before.

Meanwhile for the FIA, their political stock has taken hit after hit in recent years. The 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is still a stain across the sporting body’s reputation, with plenty of fans still furious at the way the situation unfolded and it is not the only incident where fans have been left wondering why events have played out the way they have.

So perhaps this is a move to boost the FIA’s image in the view of the fans? The general consensus of the sport’s audience has been positive when it comes to the Andretti bid, especially from a North American audience who believe it is time for representation after years of taking American money.

Ben Sulayem is a year into his four-year term and having got his feet under the desk, the 61-year-old appears to be now flexing his muscles.

In the world of F1 with its behind-closed-doors meetings and careful politicking, no FIA president is ever going to outright blame Formula 1 for causing a problem, but Ben Sulayem’s social media post was as close to a declaration of war as we are ever likely to see.

The incumbent president said he had been surprised by “some adverse reaction” to the Andretti bid and if there had been any confusion as to who he was referring to, the tagging of the official F1 account in the tweet ruled out any speculation.

Ben Sulayem said the sport should be encouraging bids from “thoroughbred racers like Andretti” and said that bids such as this one grows markets and boosts F1’s appeal.

The other side of the sport remains unconvinced. Following the announcement of the Andretti-Cadillac partnership, Formula 1 was quick to reiterate that any bid must seek the approval of both the FIA and F1 itself.

So with fan approval, racing pedigree and the money behind them, why exactly are F1 and the teams dragging their heels? To put it simply: money.

The Formula 1 group is much more dependent on the teams than the FIA is, so is often dictated by what the big voices within the paddock have to say. In 2021, the latest Concorde Agreement was signed between F1, the FIA and the teams and stipulated that any new outfit looking to get on the grid must stump up $200 million to be distributed to the existing teams as compensation for a loss in revenue.

The idea behind this has always been that if you start sharing the pie 11 ways instead of 10, the existing teams will see a loss in their profit but the entry fee was actually just a barrier, seemingly preventing anyone but a major manufacturer from joining.

The teams now want it raised to $500 million with Reuters reporting that the majority of F1 outfits were averse to any expansion at all.

While the current teams will point to the likes of the $650 million needed to join the NHL or the over $2 billion in the NBA and MLB, those comparisons fall down when you consider that entry to those leagues also grants you a spot in the draft and a large swath of players to choose from. Formula 1 has nothing of the sort, it is a purely financial hit that has brought such concern.

It is not Andretti who F1 teams are opposed to, as much as they may claim, it is the idea of anyone new joining. The commercial arm are happy to continually move the goalposts in order to make it impossible for any team to jump through the right hoops to get on the grid, it is only through Michael Andretti’s determination to do as such that the sport finds itself in this situation.

This disagreement is only likely to deepen as the months go on. The FIA is expected to formalise its Expression of Interest process by the end of the month with the first submissions to have been judged by May so it appears as if we are entering the calm before the storm period. It is a chance for both parties to rally public consensus to their side with the battlefield being on social media platforms and in the media rather than a muddy field.

Andretti have lit the fuse on one of the biggest power battles in recent F1 history, but only time will tell as to who emerges victorious.

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