With Max Verstappen‘s championship already wrapped up, one major talking point is likely to dominate Formula One for the foreseeable future: whether the grid will welcome an 11th team, Andretti-Cadillac, in 2026.
Earlier this month, the governing FIA accepted Andretti’s bid to join the F1 grid. For that to happen requires sign-off from F1’s commercial rights holder, Liberty Media, who have to agree a deal with Andretti. That process is not as straightforward as it might appear in writing.
As has been clear since the FIA first opened up the process to find one or two new F1 teams, there is significant opposition from the sport’s existing 10 teams to welcoming a new entry any time soon. While those teams do not have a deciding vote on Andretti’s entry, their unified opposition has no doubt helped to shape the current lukewarm stance of Formula One Management.
Speaking to teams in the paddock two weeks ago in Qatar, there was nothing suggested to ESPN that the championship is warming to Andretti. Ahead of this week’s U.S. Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, we look at the current state of things and explore why there is still a major roadblock to a potential 11th entry.
Why the opposition?
In a recent media session with ESPN and other selected media, FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem — the man more committed than anyone to adding a new team to the F1 grid — was unequivocal on this question.
“Let’s not play a game here. It is about the money,” he said.
This is undoubtedly true when it comes to the teams. At the heart of this are two major financial considerations, both linked to the prize money teams receive at the end of a championship season.
While the drivers’ championship gains more attention and is arguably the more prestigious of the F1’s two titles, the constructors’ championship is where the money is — teams are paid based on their finishing position each season. Andretti joining would see that prize fund go from a 10-team split to an 11-team split.
The rules have a device in place to mitigate against this called the anti-dilution fee, which is $200 million Andretti would be due to pay to spread amongst the other teams to ease some of that short-term financial pain. Here lies another issue. The current fee, agreed when the most recent Concorde Agreement was settled in 2020, is $200 million.
F1 teams feel this amount is now significantly below value, given the boom F1 has enjoyed since Netflix’s “Drive to Survive” documentary rocketed to global prominence during the pandemic. It is likely to be significantly increased when F1 teams agree the next commercial agreement in 2026.
As evidence, teams can point to the recent investment in Alpine — in July a consortium paid $200 million for a 24 percent stake in the team, meaning the overall value of the team was placed in the $900 million region. It explains why teams would feel so aggrieved if Andretti could pay $200 million to own an entity which would immediately be worth significantly more once it had a commercial deal agreed with F1.
In the short term, Andretti needs to prove to F1 that any financial loss the other 10 teams take in the short-term is worth it because of the extra interest and investment it may bring to the sport.
Speaking on that topic, Ferrari boss Fred Vasseur said: “Our viewpoint is coherent with what we’ve been saying so far on this matter. If the entry of an 11th team is additive to the sport, then we see this positively.”
The health of the other teams
It would be easy to suggest, as Michael Andretti unwisely did at the start of the year, that the opposition to his entry is a pure question of “greed”. But there are deeper reasons that are worth taking into account.
In F1 terms, the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a lifetime ago given the boom period which followed it, but several teams were on their knees during the first months of lockdown. The scars are still clearly there. The financial health of the grid — and fears of at least one going out of business — was a driving factor behind F1’s push to return to racing in July 2020, the earliest any international competition resumed as normal again.
“All the teams on the grid, they made a big effort,” Vasseur said in Qatar two weeks ago. “We have to keep in mind that three to four years ago, we had almost half the grid quite close to bankruptcy. We have to avoid to be arrogant.”
The existing 10 teams feel that they rode it out in F1 when things were bleak and have helped turn it around into the entity it is today. That viewpoint was articulated well by Haas boss Guenther Steiner.
“I’d like to go back to 2020, I remember sitting in these video meetings when the pandemic hit and four teams were ‘are we here next year or not’,” Steiner said. “We were all struggling, trying to keep alive, and a lot of people and a lot of team owners have put their money in it to stay alive and to make F1 what it is now.”
He added: “Why would we dilute what we’ve got just to get somebody else a team when F1 is booming? Because who knows what [it will be like] in three, four years. And I go back, it’s only 2020 when we were struggling to stay alive as F1. The 10 teams that are here got through the hard times.”
Williams boss James Vowles also gave a detailed explanation behind his team’s opposition to Andretti, suggesting teams are still not thriving despite the current health F1 is in generally.
“It should be known it is not just us that are not financially stable,” Vowles said. “I’d say probably half the grid aren’t.
“I’d say the addition of an eleventh team is a sensible thing but only at the point where the tenth team on the grid is financially stable”.
He added that he was “more than happy to bring in new entities but the pie has to grow as a result of it not shrink.”
Does F1 need Andretti?
Then there is the question of the benefits Andretti itself would bring. Andretti himself suggested other teams would be worried about his entry stealing American sponsors, but he might have cause to be worried about other teams stealing the key partner piece to his bid.
While several F1 figures have commented to ESPN that Andretti’s team itself is seen as fairly unremarkable, the opposite is true of General Motors and Cadillac.
Vowles, rather provocatively, suggested Williams would be open to a partnership with General Motors should its entry with Andretti be unsuccessful.
“I welcome GM with open arms, Williams welcomes GM with open arms and I hope to forge a relationship with them should things not work out,” Vowles said. “They are incredible entity who I think would make the sport better, so it’s not we’re closed minded to people coming to the sport, but what we’re very careful on is protecting the sport we have right now.”
Reading that, it is easy to see why people like Andretti and Ben Sulayem think F1 teams are only looking to protect themselves, rather than genuinely having concerns about the long-term health of the championship.
As it stands currently, General Motors are not committed to building an engine, but rather will enter a technical partnership with Andretti. Renault would likely supply the team an engine for its arrival in F1.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner has suggested a better outcome would be if F1 could convince General Motors to enter as an engine supplier, not simply as a partner to Andretti. Audi is already set to do the same for 2026 and Ford is due to partner with Red Bull Powertrains, albeit not a fully-fledged power unit manufacturer.
“I think that to have GM coming in in particular to Formula is a massively positive thing,” Horner said. “We’re seeing Ford coming back in ’26. Ford versus GM would be fantastic.
“But ideally, I think they need to do their own engine. And I think that when you look at how Audi has come into the sport, they’ve acquired an existing team and an existing franchise. Should it be different for the others?
“I think that’s where Liberty and the FIA need to get together and come to us with a collective position because you can’t have one rule for one, another for others.”