FIA wonders how it can deny General Motors a spot on Formula 1 grid

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The FIA has received “more than five” expressions of interest from teams interested in joining Formula One, the president of the governing body told The Associated Press on Wednesday, with a decision on expansion expected by the end of the month.

The bid that stands out most to Mohammed Ben Sulayem is from Andretti Global and General Motors — a supportive sign that Michael Andretti may indeed get the F1 team he’s been chasing for more than two years.

“People have to understand we are here to promote motorsport and we are here to be fair. The Expressions of Interest process is very robust and there is no circumstance where we can deny any teams if they fulfill the criteria to enter,” Ben Sulayem told AP. “So imagine me saying no to someone like GM? We have in the regulations that we can go up to 12 teams. I’m not breaking (rules). But do we allow anyone to enter? No. But how on earth can we refuse GM?

“I mean, where’s the common sense in this? GM is a heavyweight and when they come with Andretti, that’s good for all of us.”

Ben Sulayem’s support of Andretti Global comes two weeks after Greg Maffei, CEO of F1 commercial rights holder Liberty Media, reversed course and said grid expansion could be welcomed, particularly if it involved an American manufacturer. Prior to Maffei’s comments on the Walker Webcast, Liberty and the majority of the current 10 existing F1 teams had been against expansion because it would dilute revenue.

“I think in the right set of circumstances we would work to get the 11th team,” Maffei said on the episode. “Somebody who could bring a lot of value to the sport, a lot of value to the fans, because of their position in technology, their position as an OEM (original engine manufacturer), their position in marketing – some combination of all that – you could imagine coming to some kind of an agreement. But it’s not without controversy, certainly among the 10 teams.”

Most of F1’s teams oppose expansion because they don’t want to split the prize money with an 11th team. FIA regulations require a $200 million, anti-dilution fee for any new team, but stakeholders are now wondering if that price is too low.

Alpine last week sold a 24% stake in its team to a group of investors that includes actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney for $218 million (200 million euros). The deal put Alpine’s valuation at roughly $900 million.

Ben Sulayem told AP he was pleased to see that Liberty has softened its stance and said FIA is currently reviewing multiple applications. It is solely up to FIA to decide if F1 will expand. He did not reveal who submitted the required paperwork, but said “not all of them are serious, and not all of them are eligible to be at the pinnacle of the sport.”

As for taking Andretti seriously?

“One of the reasons we did was because they were persistent,” Ben Sulayem said. “It’s about serious contenders, and they came and we said ‘OK, we need an OEM.’ and then they provided GM, the biggest car manufacturer in the United States, and then it became stronger.”

F1 in 2026 is introducing new engine regulations that have secured commitments for participation from Alpine, Audi, Ferrari, Honda, Mercedes, and Ford in a partnership with Red Bull. Porsche is still looking for a partner after a deal with Red Bull fell apart, and Andretti in January announced he was partnering with General Motors and its Cadillac brand.

Andretti in 2021 nearly purchased Sauber and when the deal fell through, he petitioned FIA to expand the 20-car grid. His request was met by fierce resistance from most of the existing F1 teams.

But Andretti continued to move forward and secured the financial backing for the buy-in fee, has a deep-pocketed sponsor in Gainbridge and a new shop being built in Indiana. The addition of GM strengthened his position, and Ben Sulayem soon after created the “Expression of Interest” process for interested teams.

“I don’t blame some of the teams for being reluctant or refusing or rejecting, let’s say, because people want to sit within their own area, which means that there is no one new coming that will even challenge them,” he told AP. “Challenge them with maybe the performance or the financial benefits. But we believe that the conditions are right for new entrants for F1.”

Ben Sulayem said he met with GM President Mark Reuss, who assured him the Andretti effort had the backing of the General Motors board of directors and that Cadillac was serious about a long-term effort.

“So I am happy that Liberty Media are seeing the same as my way of thinking towards the future,” he said.

In addition to wanting another American team – Haas is owned by American businessman Gene Haas but does not field American drivers – Ben Sulayem would like to see a Chinese automaker enter the series. The Chinese GP is back on the F1 schedule for 2024 for the first time in five years.

“Maybe in the future we have China in with a manufacturer. We have a Chinese driver ( Zhou Guanyu ), but imagine having a Chinese OEM?” he said. “Then you have sustainability when it comes to sustaining motorsport not just sustainability of the environment. Big teams come and they don’t come because of an adventurous reason. They come because they calculate and they undertake a big study and they have long term plans and clear goals.”

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.

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