ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Michael Andretti spoke about his latest effort to get a Formula 1 team Friday at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – the season-opening race of the NTT IndyCar Series season.
One week ago, Michael’s father, racing legend Mario Andretti, tweeted that his son had filed paperwork with the FIA to create a new Formula 1 team that would begin competition in 2024.
Although Mario’s tweet appeared to catch Andretti Autosport off-guard, Michael indicated he was glad that his father got the information to the public.
“Yeah, we wanted to get it out there,” Michael admitted. “We wanted them to see that we feel that we can get a lot of support from the fans and hopefully that can help Formula One see how it could help the series.
“We feel we bring a lot to the party, especially with Liberty Media (F-1 owners) and what they’re doing in the U.S., pushing the U.S. market. If we were to have a U.S. team, U.S. driver, I think that would go a long way for the popularity of Formula One in the United States.”
Toto Wolff is an Austrian businessman, motorsports executive and stake holder and Team Principal of the Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team. He is pushing back at an Andretti Formula 1 team. He has made several negative comments about the prospective team in recent days.
“Toto’s going out there saying, ‘What do you bring to the table?’” Andretti said. “I think we bring a lot, and I think we’ll bring a lot more than what we’ll be diluting.
“For one, we’re not diluting because we’re bringing in $200 million, which basically is four years of prize money that would be taken out by us. I think we check every box. We’re a long way down the road with a manufacturer. There’s nothing that should us hold back from being accepted.”
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There is a complicated process that Andretti has to navigate. The FIA and the Formula One Manufacturers (FOM) to gain approval for a new team.
“The FIA has been OK,” Andretti said. “It’s the FOM listening to the teams. They have to get through that. We have to show that for the teams, we’re going to be bringing a lot and not just going to be there. We’re going to put in a serious effort. We have serious staying power with our partners. We’re in this to be competitive.
“I don’t think the teams have a vote anymore. They did in the old Concorde. But I still think F1 listens to them and make sure everybody’s buying into it. And hopefully can convince the teams that were actually going to bring value to the series. We’re not going to pull it down or dilute it.”
Andretti stressed that Liberty is an American company attempting to bring three Grands Prix to the United States. To have a team from the United States with a top young American driver such as Colton Herta involved could help bolster the case for an Andretti Formula 1 team.
“That’s our case,” Andretti said. “The American market is still untapped, but obviously with the Netflix series (“Drive to Survive”), that’s really brought a lot of popularity, and I think that’s the other thing. I believe we can bring more longevity to the Netflix series to have a real American team with an American driver, I believe with our brand, I think it could keep a lot of interest going for a lot more years. Because everything fades out over time, but I think this would help the longevity of the Netflix series.”
Andretti would jump at the chance to be part of “Drive to Survive,” the Netflix documentary series that follows Formula 1 teams throughout the season, even through the lean times of getting the team up and running.
“I think you have to be,” he said. “I don’t know if it would be me. It would probably be our team principal. But I’m sure there’ll be some stuff. I’m sure Dad would love being on it.”
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Andretti is currently creating the funding through a partnership of investors to generate $200 million toward a team outside of IndyCar.
“Our thing is the clock’s running, so we need to get this going ASAP,” Andretti said. “Two years sounds like a long time but it’s not a long time. We’ve got a lot to do, a lot to build. I’m very excited about the talent I think we can get in the team. There’s a lot of interest. We’ve talked to a lot of people. They’re just sitting on the sideline waiting to see this thing go, and we can build a real credible team.
“First, we have to get approval. Once we get approval, time. Structuring it. You’re looking at having to hire 500-plus people. It’s a big, big undertaking. The guys we’ve been talking to that have experience and have won world championships, they feel like it can be done. But we can’t go much further than we are. Maybe a month then we’ve got to get rolling. It would be nice (to get that approval in a month) otherwise we’re going to be thrashing.
“I’m excited if we can get the approval, we can come in looking good.”
Andretti would build a new racing facility in Indianapolis, but admitted the initial car would have to be farmed out to an existing team in Formula 1.
“I’d like to put every one of our series under one roof,” Andretti said. “It’s never been done, so that would be cool.
“We’d also have a satellite and most of the engineers would probably be in England. To get them over here would be really difficult. Nowadays with technology and stuff, it’s no different than what I was going to do with Sauber. I was going to set up an engineering thing in England and basically design the car and build it in Switzerland.”
Andretti indicated he has an impressive group of partners, but is not ready to reveal them to the public.
“I have to talk to them first,” Andretti quipped. “Yeah. I don’t have that money. We’ve got real good backers. They’re the best. They want to do this and do it right and be competitive. They’re not in it to just be in it. They’re in sports already and they think Formula One is very attractive at the moment with what they’re all doing with the cost cap, the popularity in the U.S. growing.
“The timing is perfect, and they think it’s a great series to be involved in.
“Initially they thought it would be done by now, but then there was a lot of pushback.”
Andretti has had conversations with Gene Haas, currently F-1’s only American-based team owner. He believes many of the current F-1 team owners would like to see Andretti field a team, with the exception of Wolff.
“But if you read between the lines, he softened it a little bit from what his first stance was, and I think once we can get to him and explain to him where it’s going to bring more value to the series and hopefully raise the price from having us involved, getting more American companies involved,” Andretti explained. “The biggest sponsorship in the history of racing was an American company. I think there’s a lot more out there if we can continue to grow the popularity here.”
For now, Herta is focused on winning the NTT IndyCar Series championship, but with the lure of a potential ride in Formula 1, Andretti believes that will serve as inspiration to the 21-year-old driver.
“I think it’s good for him,” Andretti said. “It’s good for his head to know that he’s got that; that he’s wanted in that way. I was all abuzz when I was in my heyday and talking about going to F1 for years, and then I won most of my races.
“So, I think it’s a positive thing.”