'Franchise' F1 teams shouldn't get a say on Andretti entry


Though F1 is understandably not the open shop it once was, teams blocking potential entrants like Andretti is still against the spirit of the sport writes Chris Medland

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 02: Michael Andretti team owner of Walkinshaw Andretti United looks on during qualifying for Supercars Adelaide 500 on March 2, 2018 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

F1's new financial approach has made current teams reluctant to the entrance of new potential competitors like Andretti

Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

Sometimes it can be a common misconception that Formula 1 – or motor sport in general – is awash with money.

Yes, it’s a very expensive sport to partake in if you want to run a team or be a driver, but it’s not making millionaires out of the thousands working below that level, and if wages are good now it most certainly wasn’t the case in the past as the sport evolved.

For example, a mechanic working before the television money boom that Bernie Ecclestone oversaw will have been part of a sport where they were regularly doing it for the lifestyle and adventure, because things like long-term financial gain, pensions and healthcare weren’t really part of the deal.

When you’re as lucky as me to be able to go to races, such as Miami or in a few weeks Monaco, that are full of yachts (on real or fake water) and glitzy events, with hospitality tickets worth tens of thousands of pounds, it’s very easy to think that everyone associated with the sport is rich. It’s the image it likes to give off, but it’s simply not the case.

Fortunately, there is a charity called the Grand Prix Trust that knows this, and is there to try and help those who work in F1 if they ever fall on hard times.

60s grid

F1 is now a world away from the relative open house it once was

At the trust’s reunion lunch on Monday – the first since 2019 due to COVID – chairman Martin Brundle addressed a room full of well over 200 people in the Silverstone Wing to outline some of the work that has been done to help people through the pandemic, pay thanks to those who give up so much of their time to run the trust, and encourage everyone to enjoy the chance to reconnect after such an isolating spell.

Among the trustees are the likes of Ross Brawn and Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley, while Pat Symonds was present alongside the ‘rat pack’ including such names as Damon Hill, Mark Blundell, David Brabham and Perry McCarthy. The original Stig even contributed a stand-up comedy routine in the middle of the lunch to entertain all of those attending…

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I was fortunate enough to be on a table with the incredible Michael Tee (son of former Motor Sport proprietor Wesley J Tee, and father of current F1 photographer Stephen Tee), who was at the first British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1948 and numerous races since. Other than his son, he has very little direct connection to F1 as it is now, and yet as a photographer, Michael helped tell the story of F1 in the past, making him a clear part of the sport’s history.

And hearing some of his amazing stories got me thinking about where F1 is headed and why some of the recent statements coming out of teams is a little bit worrying in my view, relating to one specific aspect at least.

Because when you think of F1 and its history, it is littered with opportunities for people. Not for everyone – as I mentioned, it’s a ridiculously expensive sport – but the whole point of F1 was there was a set of rules and if you could create a car quick enough to compete under that set of rules then you’d usually get a chance to try.

Now, it’s a very different time, whilst it’s completely unrealistic for anyone to suggest F1 should still be as open as it was back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s in having pre-qualifying and one-off entries, I also don’t think those who are currently involved get to choose when the music stops.

The word ‘franchise’ has become commonplace in the paddock, with almost all of the teams now describing themselves as franchises when discussing their place on the grid and the growing value of their companies.

MIAMI, FLORIDA - MAY 07: (L-R) Mercedes GP Executive Director Toto Wolff, McLaren Chief Executive Officer Zak Brown and Laurent Rossi, CEO of Alpine F1 attend the Team Principals Press Conference prior to final practice ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at the Miami International Autodrome on May 07, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Potential Andretti entrance has been mixed to say the least

Clive Mason/Getty Images

But they’re not franchises in the sense that they were offered one by F1, under the pretence that there was a limited number and they had to prove themselves worthy. Many of the teams currently on the grid wanted to be part of the sport because of the marketing and commercial opportunities it offers on top of the sporting aspect, and while some – such as Red Bull or Aston Martin – purchased existing teams when they were up for sale or struggling, others – such as Haas or Alfa Romeo Sauber – created new entities that could come in and compete.

And yet, now there is so much money involved in the sport and it is proving so lucrative, they don’t want anyone else to be able to come and threaten them.

I get that the COVID pandemic was extremely hard, and teams had to respond. But the sweeping changes that saw the budget cap introduced have helped them all enjoy more profitable outlooks. With only ten teams, all ten are guaranteed a good chunk of prize money from the commercial rights holder, so when the likes of Andretti come knocking on the door they aren’t open to accepting anyone new.

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Despite the creation of a $200million (£160million) anti-dilution fee in the latest Concorde Agreement that a new team is mandated to pay if it wants a pot on the grid – in turn massively inflating the value of the existing entrants – teams fear their share of the pot being diluted. Essentially, they think they deserve more than that £16million each if anyone else wants to come and race against them.

Not only does such a stance keep a limit on the number of seats available to young talents or jobs to up and coming mechanics and engineers, but it also risks being anti-competitive.

In the past, a team needed to finish in the top ten in the constructors’ championship to be eligible for bigger earnings from the commercial rights holder, ensuring that they only took a decent share of the pot if they were competitive enough. It prevented a team just running around at the back and turning a profit, taking money out of the sport.

If they’re not willing to accept new entrants, what’s to stop a team owner doing the same now, if there’s no threat of finishing any lower than tenth? There’s guaranteed income, without a threat of it ever disappearing through lack of performance.

Would anyone actually do that? I don’t know. And I do admit that you can’t just grant an entry to any team simply because they say they want in and have lots of money behind them. But it also shouldn’t be up to the teams to decide who does or doesn’t race with them.


Teams like Haas have proved new entrants can be just as worthy of a place on the grid as F1 institutions like Ferrari and McLaren


Signing up to the same rules, any new team will face the same challenge as all the rest on the grid, and a budget cap ensures they can’t enter and massively outspend the existing outfits in a way that would put their futures at risk.

Of course the current teams are going to want more money for themselves, but the anti-dilution fee should have ended any say they have on that topic. If they lose a percentage of the revenues, they all lose a percentage, and in a budget cap era that will affect all relatively equally from a competitive standpoint. Plus, losing a percentage doesn’t mean losing money overall, if the size of the pot you’re getting a percentage of grows as a result.

It should be on F1 and the FIA alone to make a call on new teams, based on their commercial viability and sporting potential. Allowing the sport to become a closed shop because the current teams decide they’re in the right place at the right time would be a significant shift away from F1’s history.

Events like the Grand Prix Trust on Monday serve as a reminder that the money doesn’t always trickle down and people need support. Hopefully F1 isn’t headed for a future where those who do make good money get to make decisions that simply allow them to make even more, whether it’s for the greater good or not.