Andretti frustrated by ‘snobbish’ F1 response

Michael Andretti

Michael Andretti has vented his frustration at the opposition he is facing from within the Formula 1 paddock as he looks to found a new team.

The American has made no secret of his desire to compete in F1 and last year came close to buying Sauber.

That deal ultimately collapsed and set the former McLaren driver down a different path – the creation of an entirely new operation.

One of the key hurdles he faces however is Formula 1’s franchise model, and the payment of prize money linked to that structure.

Currently, 10 teams share in that pot, paid out by the sport’s commercial rights holders, as compensation for their commitment to compete in the championship.

There are mechanisms to open that to new teams, though for each new addition the prize money available is diluted – an 11th team, such as that Andretti is proposing, equates to a 10 percent drop in existing teams’ prize money share.

As such, there has been resistance to Andretti’s efforts, leaving the 59-year-old to vent his frustration.

“It was a definite European club, and I’m getting the feeling it’s still the European club, the way we’re being treated, because we would be a threat, the first real international team,” he said, referencing his stint as a driver in 1993, in an interview with GQ.

“It’s a very snobbish approach they’re taking. Ultimately, we’re going to bring more value than we’re going to take away.”

There has been public support for Andretti, notably from McLaren and Alpine, though there are some vested interests on both fronts.

Alpine, through parent company Renault, has a deal in place to supply the new team with power units, while McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has business relationships with Andretti, including with the Walkinshaw Andretti United Supercars operation.

Privately, there is further support, with as much as half the current grid in the American’s favour, though that still leaves some five teams to oppose the addition.

Among their number is Mercedes, with Toto Wolff suggesting Andretti has to do more than just enter a new team, but increase the value for all existing stakeholders too.

“He’s using that as an excuse,” Andretti said of Wolff’s remarks.

“But you can tell he’s looking at it and thinking, ‘I’m gonna have one less vote. It’s gonna be one more vote against me’, that’s the way he’s thinking about it.

“I pretty much knew what we were getting into here. You’re swimming with the sharks. So, you better make sure you have your harpoon on you. I’m not naive about that.

“I was naive maybe when I went into it back when I was a driver, but probably because of that experience, I’m not naive now.

“Everybody’s got their knife, and they’re ready to stab you in the back.”

Interest from Formula 1 itself, or more specifically Liberty Media, also appears somewhat cool.

Commercially, the sport is in strong health with solid growth both financially and in terms of popularity in recent years.

It has tempted the likes of Audi and Porsche (both part of the Volkswagen Audi Group) to explore possibilities for the coming season, with manufacturer and OEM investment seemingly Liberty Media’s preferred option for future competitors.

The United States has been a key market for growth over the past few years, helped in a large part by Drive to Survive.

Andretti, however, warns that relying on that alone to create and solidify a fanbase is foolhardy, and suggests his team offers a vessel for Americans to become more invested in the sport.

“I’m trying to remind them that there’s 350 million people in this country, and that, yes, there’s been a spike in interest here with Drive to Survive, but that they shouldn’t be content with what they have,” said Andretti.

“We’re just skimming the surface. They’ve captured the interest of all these new fans—but fans are a little fickle.

“They’re confident that they have the American audience now, but you need a hook to keep them in for the future, and we feel that we can be that hook.

“We’re a true American team, we get a true American driver,” he added.

“Now it’s, ‘Oh, there’s really something for the country to root for’.

“That’s where I think our value really comes in strong, to keep that fan that they just got.”

Instead, as tends to be the way in Formula 1, the sport looks to be driven by commercial self-interest.

“That’s what it’s all about — and they’re all being short-sighted,” Andretti reasoned.

“I’m saying: ‘OK, you can get that now, but what about what we think we can bring to the future?’

“But they don’t care about that. They don’t care about the series. They only care about themselves. But that’s the F1 way — it’s always been that way.”