We should have learned by now if the Formula 1 grid will soon get a new team. But after the initial deadlines slipped, the informal new targets have passed by too.
Since the search for potential new teams began in February at the behest of FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, we’ve been waiting longer than expected for an outcome.
The opening phase of the search invited any interested parties to submit a preliminary expression of interest, and those that did were then given complete requirements for the full application process, which had an initial deadline of April 30 (or the Sunday of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend).
But it was extended to May 15, because more information needed to be requested.
The original April deadline meant a decision on whether any new team will join the grid was expected by June 30. This was only ever treated as a target, though. Once it slipped back to mid-July, with July 15 commonly cited as the new deadline, the same applied – it was a target, not a concrete deadline.
And now that’s passed as well, without any news. But whether the answer arrived in June as planned, or comes this month (or even later) it seems unlikely the process will end with all the major stakeholders actually thinking it’s a good idea.
The stakeholders don’t need to pick a new team at all, and though the most recent calls for interest have ended in new entries, the F1 landscape has changed since then. So the decision-makers may determine that none of the prospective entries merit a place on the grid.
Multiple parties have talked up their interest in joining the F1 grid and some have come forward to confirm they have acted on that interest, like Andretti Cadillac and Hitech Grand Prix.
The Andretti-Cadillac collaboration and the would-be expansion of Hitech’s junior single-seater empire were considered the most serious proposals by many in the paddock. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, although the Andretti Cadillac bid has been the most talked about, has apparently impressed the most behind the scenes, and became a great case study for the issues that have dominated this process.
It would be surprising if either gets an 11th entry. That’s not a judgement against the applications submitted, because the cases that have been made remain private. It’s just a feeling based on the fairly consistent narrative for months, if not a couple of years, that reflects a pretty divided landscape.
F1’s commercial rights holder and its governing body don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, especially the subject of more teams. And this is not, as some have tried to make out, a straight decision for the FIA alone.
While this is a process overseen by the governing body, the commercial rights holder has a key role to play. If either F1 or the FIA has an issue, no entry will be granted. There needs to be a unified position and that has not felt like the case whatsoever.
For example, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali’s personal opinion is that the grid doesn’t need to expand.
“If you have a good show 20 cars are more than enough,” he said on F1’s official podcast recently.
“If you have two cars, or two drivers fighting, the level of attention is mega. So can you imagine 20 cars, 10 teams, on the level where there is a competition on the track? It would be impressive.
“I would say let’s wait and see. My ‘no’ is not against someone who wants to come in. I need to clarify that because otherwise it seems that I want to be protectionist.
“That is not the case. I want to see the right one. And I need to also respect the ones that have invested in F1 in the last period because we forget too quickly in that respect.
“We need to be prudent. We need to take the right decision.”
On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that Ben Sulayem would like an Andretti Cadillac entry to be granted.
Andretti getting General Motors on board is believed to have been a significant factor in why Ben Sulayem felt it was necessary to start a formal evaluation process, and he keeps talking about it in a positive light.
Frankly it is a little surprising that the FIA president has been so brazen, because it could easily be interpreted as him identifying a favourite. Given the process is live and neutrality is quite important, publicly pondering how he could say no to a brand like General Motors (as he did in an interview with the Associated Press) didn’t stand out as a particularly shrewd thing to do.
The personal opinions of the people at the top of these organisations may or may not be relevant. Only those at the heart of the process can say either way. But ignoring any specific arguments for or against specific bids, there’s been a division throughout this process that gets to the core of why any entry being accepted seems so unlikely.
Ben Sulayem thinks that F1 has come around to his way of thinking on this matter. He’s even gone as far as stating that publicly as well. But this seems to relate to him misinterpreting, accidentally or otherwise, comments made by Liberty top dog Greg Maffei regarding an 11th entry and General Motors’ involvement in the Andretti bid.
Ben Sulayem, like some others, has interpreted it to mean the Liberty position has shifted and it now agrees with the FIA president that an Andretti-GM combination is too good to turn down.
Maffei was apparently talking in the context of American manufacturers being involved as engine suppliers, though. As in, what could come about is General Motors being involved in F1 in the future in some way. Not necessarily as an 11th team. And the broader view that F1 would be open to another team if the conditions were right has been expressed for a long time.
Ultimately, there’s never been a compelling reason to believe that FIA and F1 agree over whether the grid should expand, let alone who that extra entry should go to.
There remains a massive commercial consideration at play here, with no consensus on who should swallow any potential financial loss caused by expanding the grid. Will F1 give up more of its revenue? Will the teams have to accept reduced commercial terms to make room? Or would the FIA need to make a sacrifice, if Ben Sulayem is so keen to grow the grid?
Even assuming the FIA decides that any of the applicants have also made a strong case on a technical and financial level, F1 will need to be convinced there is a really good commercial reason to accept them. Only then would a new team get the green light.
Maybe this will happen. If an entry makes a very good case, and F1 and the FIA agree that an 11th spot would be the right thing to do for the right team, it would be disappointing to see it turned down.
But given the hesitance and division to date, it would mark a significant shift if any of the prospective entries succeed – at least for now.