Formula 1 is a professional sport, and professional sports are businesses. Given that fact, it's not especially surprising that F1 team owners and Liberty Media have been staunchly opposed to Andretti Global's bid to add an 11th team to the grid from day one, based on the principle that an extra team would mean another slice of the pie, and a few millions less for every existing team across the revenue split. Trouble is, the arguments are getting weaker and weaker, as illustrated in Mercedes AMG F1 owner and boss Toto Wolff's comments since this odyssey began.
Now, obviously, Wolff has been far from the only prominent individual in the sport vocally opposed to Andretti's entry. Aston Martin's Lawrence Stroll has said a lot, though his rationale tends to boil down to not fixing what isn't broke, and erroneous comparisons to other professional sporting leagues. "The right way to come in if you want to enter the NFL today, NHL hockey or any great sports franchise is that you've got to buy a team," he recently told ESPN on the paddock in Las Vegas. It's clear Stroll hasn't spent a wealth of time in Sin City over the last few years, nor watched much hockey, or he just might've heard of the Golden Knights. Perhaps he's afraid of Andretti and engine partner General Motors winning the whole thing six years down the road.
Everyone's favorite breakout star of Netflix's Drive to Survive, Haas chief Guenther Steiner, has said his piece, too. In fairness to Steiner, his reasoning strikes a little more sound. On one hand, an outfit of Haas' (limited) stature and (lack of) competitiveness would never be extended an olive branch to join the championship today, and Andretti's proposal is infinitely more appealing from a value-to-the-sport perspective. But on the other, those early pandemic months were mighty difficult for the smaller teams without an energy drink empire or multinational automaker's worth of profits to softly land on. I get it.
Back when Andretti was looking to Trojan Horse its way onto the paddock through Sauber, F1's team owners didn't seem to care much how things unfolded, because that wouldn't have increased the total number of teams. As soon as it was clear Andretti Global boss Michael Andretti wasn't to be deterred by that setback, the conversation changed. It was way back in February of 2022 when Andretti first announced its intent to become F1's 11th constructor, and it was around then that Wolff said the $200 million anti-dilution fee—a fee that specifically exists to protect the financial security of existing competitors when another stands to further divvy up earnings—wasn't enough to roll out the red carpet.
"Andretti is a name, that's for sure," Wolff said at the time, per Motorsport.com. "And the American market is important. But every team that is joining needs to be accretive, that means needs to add value. And it's not only it's not only by paying $200 million entry fee, but it needs to demonstrate in my opinion what it can do for the other teams, for F1 and FIA. Only then the sport will grow."
By January of this year, Andretti announced that it inked a deal with Cadillac. Sure—not a disruptor of the global economy in quite the way some of Mercedes' partners have been, but by all accounts a pretty recognizable, perhaps even valuable brand. Andretti, now with GM's backing, is assuredly good for whatever check needs to be signed to get their foot in the door, even if the terms of the existing Concorde Agreement all F1 teams agreed to two years ago means they really shouldn't have to put up with much more of this. But come July, Wolff started talking about F1 circuits not having enough garages.
"When you look at qualifying sessions, I mean already now we're looking like on a go-kart track, we’re tripping over each other," he said at the British Grand Prix, quoted by Road & Track. "There is a safety concern: We haven't got the logistics, where to put an 11th team. Here in Silverstone, we can accommodate the Hollywood people but on other circuits, we can’t." "Hollywood people," of course, meaning the fictional 11th team Apple TV and Brad Pitt have created for their upcoming film based on the sport, the only universe in which an additional F1 team could supposedly ever exist.
But what really propelled me to revisit Wolff's comments over the last nearly two years was his latest, to Racer. Here, the Silver Arrows boss admits that GM is "a big player, no doubt," before moving the goalposts one more time, for good measure.
"We haven’t seen any data, just to say it’s going be awesome," Wolff said. "Where’s the case? What are the numbers? How much can we gain in popularity? What’s the name worth? How much more can the sport be attractive? What are the facts? And if those facts are positive, I have no doubt that F1 will consider that in that way."
F1, as well as everyone involved with making decisions that shape it, could've begun researching what the names "Cadillac" or "Andretti" were worth almost a year ago, if they cared to. They've had endless resources to seek out the "facts" that'll demonstrate the benefit of an Andretti Cadillac entry, just as they've had the chance to prove the opposite, but never have. So far, their only argument's been that a $350-million pool divided by 11 equals a smaller number than that same pool split 10 ways, to use numbers gathered by Speedcafe. If Wolff really wanted the answers to those questions, he's a pretty smart and influential guy. I trust his ability to get them.
To return to the NHL for a moment, that league has added two new clubs in the last six years: the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken. They paid $500 million and $650 million in expansion fees, respectively, and in light of that, F1's team owners are probably kicking themselves for not demanding a similarly lofty sum in their Concorde Agreement. But a broader championship—particularly one that counts GM among its participants—is a stronger one, particularly when just 10 teams keep the show on the road, not 32. There's strength in numbers, and some of those numbers unfortunately count for a bit more than others. Just ask Liberty Media about Ferrari's bonus.
Owners didn't always sweat the threat of expansion in F1, certainly not back when they allowed Lotus, Manor, and HRT into the fold. Of course, today things are different. F1 certainly has come a long way over the last five years, especially in North America. If the powers that be can't seriously weigh the endorsement of a massive corporate partner certain to enhance standing in the sport's most valuable emerging market favorably against a slight dip in revenue share—which that anti-dilution fee exists to cover in the first place—then maybe they actually want something to break, so there's something to fix.
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