A man on a mission

Michael Andretti is 60 later this year and he knows that if he wants to have a Formula 1 team, time is ticking away. Michael is an ambitious man, and although he might not wish to admit it, he has unfinished business in Formula 1.

His father Mario was the last American to win the F1 World Championship, back in 1978, driving for Team Lotus. Since then no-one has even got close.

As a driver Michael wanted to follow his father in F1. He was fortunate that at the end of 1992 McLaren needed a replacement for Gerhard Berger, who had decided to join Ferrari. At the time McLaren needed a new engine partner, as Honda had decided to stop the super-successful alliance with the Woking team. McLaren boss Ron Dennis tried to do a deal to get hold of Renault engines, but ended up with a Ford V8 deal for 1993. It was short-term solution and Dennis was looking for a manufacturer which would commit – as Honda had done. He saw potential in doing a deal for the powerful Lamborghini V12 engines. The Italian firm was then owned by the American giant Chrysler. The firm had changed bosses in the autumn of 1992 with Bob Eaton, the former boss of GM Europe, having been hired. Eaton understood the power of Formula 1 and wanted to ramp up the promising Lamborghini programme, and to change the name of the engine to Chrysler. Thus an American driver was a good choice for McLaren, on the basis that it might help doing a deal. The Andretti name was powerful and Michael was obviously a good Indycar racer.

But it all went wrong.

Michael struggled to get up to speed against Senna. It was simply too ambitious a step to take on the best driver in F1 at the time, not knowing the team, the tracks nor how F1 worked. He opted not to settle in Europe, but to fly backwards and forwards – which did not help. He was replaced before the end of his first season, with McLaren opting for the rising star Mika Hakkinen (later a double World Champion) instead.

It hurt.

It was clear that Michael was better than the results suggested but he had needed more time. One can point to a number of things that might have been done differently, but in the end it was all academic. Michael came and went.

Back in the US he was soon a winner again and since then has built an impressive empire in Indycars and various other formulae. It has been clear for some years that Michael has been wanting to get into F1. He was a bidder for Force India back in 2018 and last year he tried to buy Sauber. The bid failed. Now it seems he is looking to go it alone. That is going to be a huge challenge, not only because of the money that will be required, which includes a $200 million payment up front to open the F1 door.

To build a suitable F1 team, capable of being competitive, will cost plenty and success will not be quick in coming – F1 isn’t like that. It will require a big budget and a long-term commitment. One wonders, therefore, whether buying a team would still be a better idea, although perhaps that is impossible because the starting price these days is around $500 million… and perhaps Michael does not have that much available and hopes to gather the finance required as he goes along.

But Andretti has advantages as well. Alpine, for example, is looking for a customer team and will help if it makes sense. There is, of course, the possibility of new engine suppliers in 2026 and so having an Andretti team up and running in 2024 is necessary. Andretti is American and F1 is booming in the United States, with big corporate sponsors looking at the sport and considering jumping in, as Oracle has done. Michael has some well-heeled supporters and a driver with talent and ambition in Colton Herta, who has been backed in his career to date by the Steinbrenner family, which owns the New York Yankees, one of the world’s biggest sporting franchises. These are the kind of people now looking at F1.

We will see how it goes, but the first hurdle is to convince the FIA that the team has all that is required to get an entry…

70 thoughts on “A man on a mission

        1. Dan Gurney is one guy who it’s impossible to fully appreciate unless you know about racing in general… not just any one racing series, but at least a bit about all of the noteworthy ones… plus, you need to be aware of the racing-driver part… and the improving-the-car part…. and the car-design part…. and the car-manufacturing part… and the racing-team part.

          Gurney proved he could do all of it. More than that, he proved he could win at all of it. But his career followed at curious path. As best I can tell, it was a combination of him following his own personal north star mixed in with him responding to the twists and turns of the roller coaster he was riding. He zigged and zagged and became more than a jack of all (racing) trades, he became a master of all of them.

          He didn’t limit himself to any one aspect of racing… which is how he gave himself the chance to win at all of them… but it also meant that he never did any one thing in any one place long enough to establish a well-focus legend.

          He didn’t keep moving because he was hard to get along with. AFAIK, pretty much everybody liked and respected Dan Gurney. He kept moving because that’s how he dealt with whatever choices he faced. A truly remarkable career by a truly remarkable guy. It’s just that lots of people don’t realize it.

          1. Well said. A giant in the sport and probably one of the nicest people too. Another lone star is Jim Hall, never getting the respect he deserves for his contribution to motor sport.

          2. I hadn’t even noticed than Dan Gurney was no longer with us. Sad now…

            William Court posited the notion of the “Master Driver” in F1, naming them as Ascari, Fangio, Moss, Clark and Stewart in the period he was considering, but then wondered where on earth Mario Andretti fitted into the picture. Sprint cars, Indy cars, F1, sports cars, NASCAR and probably 2CV-Cross or lawnmower racing if someone had offered him a drive. Though he did draw the line at re-signing for Alfa Romeo for 1982.

          3. Dan Gurney’s worth as a manufacturer is clear with the Eagle brand, as a driver he was given no bigger ego boost than when Jim Clark’s father whispered to him that he was the only driver his son feared

            Joe partner at GP+ did an amazing piece on Gurney after visiting his base in California. Cannot remember where I read it but it was probably 8 years ago.

            His F1 record certainly does not pay justice to his talent, one of many from the less professional age of the sport.

    1. He did make the major mistake of being an arrive and drive driver…. Some of the video of him in F1 reminds me of a deer caught in the headlights. I remember on clip where his engineer was explaining brake bias to him like he was a child. It was obvious he was not wanted or respected, which was partly his fault as he didn’t spend time with the team at the factory.

  1. The more, the merrier. Given, of course, the entry is serious and not just another ploy in buying one of the existing entries.

  2. It would be a boost to F1. Perhaps an acquisition or merger with Haas is the most likely. I agree that another year in F1, perhaps with a more committed move to Europe could have brought a much better set of results for Michael. I was always a huge fan, Indy car in the late 80s and early nineties was a hugely impressive series, I loved it.

  3. Bring it on. Would love to see some US drivers in F1 to bring a bit of razzle dazzle. Maybe a female driver too..

  4. In addition to the challenges noted, I recall he very limited testing. He was still settling into the car at the first race.

  5. Hi Joe, great insight, thank you. Alpine really need a partner team to assist in development and to share the costs, is there any chance of Williams turning to Alpine power?

  6. This one bogles the mind. In the States, Andretti has floated a stock issue known as a special acquisition company (SPAC). This requires the merger with an existing company, and has a time limit. If an acquisition isn’t made by the deadline, the money must be returned to the investors. The float is $230 million, meaning he is sitting on $230 million he must invest. Clearly, this isn’t going to work for a start up F1 team.

    Meanwhile, Andretti runs teams which use spec chassis. Indycar, FE, Extreme E. Meaning there is no existing manufacturing facility or engineering facility.

    Less than two years to get a team up and running from scratch. This ought to be interesting.

  7. Hi Joe, what do you rate Andrettis chances of barging into F1?

    I’m not referring to winning races, just making onto the grid?

  8. Interesting, if a successful racing team like Andretti can’t get a pass into F1 it would make F1 practically a closed shop, apart from global car manufacturers.

  9. Joe, assuming he starts a brand new team, how do think the other teams will react to mass staff poaching, given the recent changes in the teams?

    1. Mass staff poaching might actually not be an issue (except for the most senior and starry names) given that the top teams have had to shed staff because of the cost cap. A new team might do a good job of soaking up some of the skilled, experienced people who’re suddenly on the market?

  10. The FIA has apparently already said no. I find that to be very disheartening. Andretti isn’t another Rich Energy scam. They’re the real deal. If they’re not good enough for the FIA, what hope is there that we’ll ever get a new entrant?

    1. There’s no hope. Neither FIA or Liberty want new entrants. They have enough problems with 10 existing ones.For the present anyway

  11. £500m is a cinch. The only thing stopping me from having my very own F1 team is my busy social schedule here in London. That is the only problem.

  12. Does the budget cap apply to capital expenditures prior to first season? Could someone like Dallara build a car? McLaren link down the road ?

      1. Dan Gurney’s worth as a manufacturer is clear with the Eagle brand, as a driver he was given no bigger ego boost than when Jim Clark’s father whispered to him that he was the only driver his son feared

        Joe partner at GP+ did an amazing piece on Gurney after visiting his base in California. Cannot remember where I read it but it was probably 8 years ago.

        His F1 record certainly does not pay justice to his talent, one of many from the less professional age of the sport.

      2. My initial thought was Dallara, but then remembered the Haas angle.

        I thought of three others that may be close with ability on a sub contract basis, Oreca, Onroak and Multimatic. They all busy with GTP and hypercar, but I cannot think of anyone else to use with a Haas model of close alignment with a manufacturer. Two of my thoughts are French and the other American / Canadian.

        I suppose we can all just dream of Andretti being able to bring Ford back to Formula 1.

          1. I meant Dallara would probably not be an option to build a car for Andretti as the build the Haas, although there are apparently a lot of Chinese Walls to stop technology transfer from other programme. The other 3 could probably take it on as the clever stuff like drive train, gearbox etc would come via the Renault/Alpine tie in if that happened.

      1. Alpine is Renault’s smallest brand name, being only 0.1% of their output. Alpine’s total revenue is less than the cost of the F1 team. This appears to be an elegant exit strategy, selling when the right offer comes along.

          1. Yes, minute – even smaller than Aston Martin. And no more ICE cars coming, only electric. So it makes no sense except being ready for sale.

  13. I watched the embarrassment of Micheal Andretti in F1 and I don’t care to watch a repeat. Just because he wants to finally wash the egg off of his face doesn’t mean he should. I’m sure he is looking at Haas and saying, I could do that. Instead of looking at Red Bull and thinking the same.

    1. Interesting you condemn him for his youthful exuberance mistakes. How many have failed the first, second or third time’s and kept knocking at the door and succeeded

      Last year we lost a fella who was for a time a laughing stock and disparaging called “Wanker Williams”. Imagine if Sir Frank was barred from regrouping after de Tomaso or when Walter Wolf bought his assets and fired him.

      Where would modern Formula One be without Frank Williams and his huge legacy

      I’m not a Michael Andretti fan, but I would love to see him succeed in Formula One, just to show that a person can bounce back.

    2. Andretti has numerous successful race teams competing. Why should he not enter Formula one ? Don’t watch if it upsets you so much. As for Gene Haas, I know him & he is getting everything he wanted from Formula one which is world wide exposure for his CNC machine building empire and when he is done he will sell it for a lot more than he invested.

    1. The regulations still allow 13 teams. They could easily cut newcomers out if they wanted…

      And yes, bring Andretti Alpine on, please. We really need more teams.

  14. Penske looked good for a short time in F1 back in the seventies, but then ran out of money (as I understand it) and left after just two seasons. It did include a win and fifth in the constructors. Now that he is so big and successful it is a shame he never tried again.

  15. Hi Joe

    Does the current commercial agreement allow for the team finishing 11th in the championship price money or this is still the privilege for only the top 10?

    1. There will be money for the 11th and 12th teams, if they pay the $200 million anti-dilution fee when they enter. This will keep out the riff-raff and mean that the prize money is fair.

  16. I love the idea! The fact is, it doesn’t matter who you are, being competitive in F1 requires two things, just to start off with A) A start up budget of at least $7,000,000,000. This covers the FIA entrance fee, a facility in the UK, a facility in Indianapolis, an engine-transmission contract, and what, 250/300 employees? B) Then, experience. They’re going up against teams with multiple World Championships under their belts. Experience is something that comes in time. It can be argued that Haas came in and were a top mid-field runner. They did all the right things. These days they are an American team with Russian flags on the car at a time where Putin and his situation in the Ukrainian could go astray at the drop of a hat. The lesson here is Michael is for American support. Good move! With Andretti Global, I’m thinking with a strong tailwind, the potential for Mike would be having a first win in 5 – 10 years. Zach Brown is a good example with McLaren as a benchmark. Interestingly, Zach and Michael are friends, so who knows what could lay in store? Toss this really far fetched idea: Haas is building a facility at Ferrari’s Fiorano R&D track. With the restrictions imposed for testing, Ferrari gets double the R&D time by utilizing shared components with Haas. Could the same thing happen with Andretti and McLaren? Far fetched? No doubt about that! Could it be possible? You bet your ass it’s possible.. Don’t forget Andretti has worked with teams at Indy, who like them, were Honda powered, and another that was Chevy powered. As crazy as we Americans are, such as taking a British Harrier Jump Jet and changing into vertical mode at top speed (which worked, BTW). Working with McLaren as Haas does with Ferrari actually does make sense, albeit as far fetched as it may seem on the surface. Plus, who knows? Mercedes could see the potential and at one point or another, maybe a Mercedes power unit could find it’s way into Andretti’s car?

  17. It would be a good move to have 12 teams in F1 but I think the $200m is a bit much. Maybe if they got a refund after a couple of years that would help. It’s the Netflix effect at the moment for US interest. Andretti needs to make his mind up quickly and get US sponsors involved. As far as the car is concerned could they get Prodrive to build the cars for them? I’m looking forward to this season as it’s full of unknowns which no doubt be good for the sport.

    1. The $200m makes sense as the target $2 billion pot has to be divided by 11 teams, not 10.

      So the teams immediately lose $200m which we recover from the new entrant, $20m each.

  18. Thanks for the post about this, Joe. I really hope this works out for Michael. As you have said multiple times, the devil is in the details. So far, the FIA has been publicly cool to this but you are the first to mention, if the plan is right, they will be happy to see another team.

    My question is how does Liberty Media feel about this? The Andretti name is big in the USA with this news hitting even the mainstream press. One would think Liberty would be happy to see the Andretti name in F1 but as you have said many times, not everything in F1 is as it seems. Any new on their position?

  19. Oh, I would so love to see another two teams in the sport. Seeing tracks full of 24 cars would be great. Of course, only if they are to be serious and unlike the debacle of HRT.

    While I do not know him personally (of course) everything from his Indy days would suggest Andretti would enter seriously. But that is my humble two cents which is worth even less today than it was last year.

  20. Interesting. I think the biggest challenge will be is building a competent staff. Need a designer and proper staffing.

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