Friday, January 13, 2023

OPINION: What more can Michael Andretti do?

PHOTO: @FormulaArgOK on Twitter

by Ben Schneider Staff Writer

EDITOR'S NOTE: Congratulations to Ben, who thanks to the increased support of the Patreon was promoted to Staff Writer this offseason, joining William Soquet. This opinion piece kicks off our coverage for 2023.

A few months ago, I wrote an opinion piece here arguing that if Formula One wanted an American driver badly enough, they would have had one by now. That piece mainly focused on Andretti Autosport IndyCar driver Colton Herta’s inability to qualify for an FIA Super License, which ultimately cost him a reported opportunity in F1 with AlphaTauri. Ironically, this missed opportunity may have been what opened the door for another young American driver to get his chance. Mercedes junior Nyck de Vries, who made one Grand Prix start with Williams in 2022, ended up getting the AlphaTauri seat instead, which kept the door open for Logan Sargeant to step into the seat of the departing Nicholas Latifi. When Sargeant makes his debut this upcoming season, the United States will have its first F1 driver since Alexander Rossi made five starts with Manor Marussia in 2015.

But while America finally has an F1 driver of its own, that wasn’t the only issue I brought up in my piece in September. I also mentioned the struggle of the Andretti Global project, spearheaded by Herta’s IndyCar team owner, Michael Andretti. For over a year now, Andretti has been determined to find a way into F1 ownership, which would allow Herta the easiest path to earning a spot as a driver on the F1 grid. First, Andretti spent the final months of 2021 attempting to purchase an existing team, only for a proposed deal with the Sauber-owned Alfa Romeo team to fall through at the eleventh hour. Determined to find a way into F1 by any means necessary, Andretti then announced plans to start his own team, Andretti Global.

As was noted in September, the response from existing team principals and owners has been lukewarm at best. The name “Andretti” on its own, they argue, does not add value to the sport, and an entry from a new manufacturer such as Audi or Porsche would make for a better option should the FIA allow for a new team to expand the grid.

Undeterred by these setbacks, Andretti pressed on. Last month, he broke ground on a $200 million facility for the team’s headquarters, a 575,000 square foot project that had previously been announced in August. And finally, just last week, Andretti made good on the manufacturer demand, surprising the motorsports world with an announcement that Cadillac was onboard with the Andretti Global project.

And yet, despite meeting every demand, it appears the goalposts may very well be moving yet again. A tweet from Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern highlighted a quote in an article from the BBC’s Andrew Benson earlier this week: “Within F1, there is a general sense that many of those racing in America in categories where teams buy cars off the shelf and run them with fairly small-scale operations don't quite grasp just how high the level is in F1, how complex the task.”

We could go in many directions with this quote. We could bring up how Red Bull won only two NASCAR Cup Series races in five seasons before pulling out. We could bring up the time McLaren got bumped from the Indianapolis 500 by Juncos Racing, who had spent the prior 48 hours converting a road course backup car to a speedway car. If we really wanted to dig deep, we could bring up Ferrari’s lone attempt at the “500” in 1952, where Alberto Ascari retired after just 40 laps with a wheel collapse, resulting in Ascari’s only non-win of the year in championship events he entered.

But those are neither here nor there. Instead, let’s recap what Andretti’s application brings to Formula One. A $200 million headquarters. A brand new American manufacturer with an already established presence in motorsports. The name Andretti. We’re not talking about an unknown or sketchy “Rich Energy” kind of deal here. We’re talking about an established name in the motorsports world, one that is practically synonymous with the sport of motor racing, joining forces with General Motors to build what Andretti believes will be “the biggest story of the year.” Even FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem tweeted Sunday that the adverse reaction to the news has been “surprising,” reaffirming his support for “encouraging prospective F1 entries from global manufacturers like GM and thoroughbred racers like Andretti and others.”

Enough is enough. As IndyStar’s Nathan Brown wrote on Friday, “Michael Andretti’s answered every F1 challenge.” As far as I’m concerned, that leaves only one more question left to be answered.

What more can he do?