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Andretti Global clears first hurdle to join Formula One as an 11th team with FIA expansion approval

NEW YORK: Michael Andretti cleared a major hurdle in his bid to launch an American team in Formula One after the FIA said Monday that Andretti Global meets all required criteria to expand the world’s top motorsports series to 11 teams.

The decision does not guarantee Andretti will get the two-car team he wants and just how far he has to go was made clear in the brusque response issued by F1 after the announcement.

“We note the FIA’s conclusions in relation to the first and second phases of their process and will now conduct our own assessment of the merits of the remaining application,” Formula One said in a statement.

Liberty Media holds the F1 commercial rights and it is to the corporate giant that Andretti Global and partner Cadillac must next prove their commercial value. Liberty Media and F1 President Stefano Domenicali have mostly sided with the existing 10 teams, which vehemently oppose expanding the 20-car grid. The teams, however, have no vote on expansion.

Approval from the FIA was a first, important step in Andretti’s three-year quest to return his family’s storied name to the pinnacle of auto racing. Mario Andretti, his father, won the 1978 F1 championship and Michael ran 13 races in 1993.

The father and son are among the most successful racers in American open wheel history and rank third and fourth on IndyCar’s all-time win list. Michael Andretti said the Andretti Cadillac group was honored by the FIA’s approval.

“We appreciate the FIA’s rigorous, transparent and complete evaluation process and are incredibly excited to be given the opportunity to compete in such a historic and prestigious championship,” the statement said. “The formation of this distinctly American team is an important moment of pride for all our employees and fans. We feel strongly that Andretti Cadillac’s deep racing competencies and the technological advancements that come from racing will benefit our customers while heightening enthusiasm for F1, globally.”

Andretti said the team looked forward to engaging with the current F1 stakeholders.

California businessman Gene Haas owns an F1 team, but Andretti contends his team will truly represent the United States since Haas doesn’t field American drivers. Andretti’s plan had been to put Colton Herta in his car, but the 23-year-old Californian has failed to earn the Super License required to compete in F1.

Herta, who received both a lengthy and expensive contract extension before last season, went winless and finished 10th in the IndyCar standings. Teammate Kyle Kirkwood, who is from Florida, won twice and received his own contract extension last month.

So Andretti has American options and has insisted that with the support of Cadillac, his team would truly represent the red, white and blue. Haas does operate a portion of his team in North Carolina.

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has been vocally supportive of the Andretti effort and formalized that by sending it to the next stage.

“Andretti Formula Racing LLC was the only entity which fulfills the selection criteria that was set in all material respects,” he said. “I congratulate Michael Andretti and his team on a thorough submission.”

Ben Sulayem, who took over as head of FIA in late 2021, led the opening this year of the process for potential new teams after Andretti petitioned for the grid to be expanded to allow new entrants. Andretti’s motion came after his failed 2021 bid to purchase an existing team.

The FIA received seven applicants at the first phase. Five went through to the second round, which required a $300,000 fee and deep-dive by F1’s governing body. Only four applicants completed the entire process; Andretti, with engines that would be General Motors-badged under the Cadillac banner, was deemed to be the only worthy applicant.

The applicant had to meet FIA’s sporting, technical and financial requirements to be recommended as a future team. Ben Sulayem said Monday “our objective, after rigorous due diligence during the application phase, was to only approve prospective entries which satisfied the set criteria and illustrated that they would add value to the sport.”

Most of the existing teams have been publicly against expanding the grid for anyone, even an American with General Motors branding. F1 this year will have three races in the US, five in North America, and has targeted a new sponsorship market by tapping into American popularity of the European racing series.

Current F1 teams — namely top players Red Bull and Mercedes — argue they have invested too much into F1 for someone to buy their way into the series. There is a $200 million anti-dilution fee for any new entrant, but the teams have argued expansion takes away from their financial cut.

And, they’ve said, if Andretti wants a team so bad then he should just buy one. None admit to being for sale as the value of an F1 team has gone up tremendously with the popular Netflix docudrama “Drive to Survive.”

Ben Sulayem said opening the process for new teams to join “also attracted further commitment from Audi, Honda and Ford and interest from Porsche and General Motors.”

This was the third time the FIA has been opened to pitches from potential teams. The first, in 2009, led to four teams joining the series but all eventually went bankrupt and are no longer part of the sport. For that reason, the parameters to join F1 and the entire application process is now extremely stringent.

Haas got his team in a 2014 expression of interest and remains on the F1 grid. Haas launched in 2016 and has already said that Kevin Magnussen of Denmark and Nico Hulkenberg of Germany will return next season.

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