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today is Apr 01, 2023

Michael Andretti’s hopes of gaining a place on the Formula 1 grid appear to have been boosted twice in the past 24 hours.

First the FIA formally opened its process for new teams to apply to compete in the world championship. But by no means does this guarantee an application from Andretti will be accepted.

Indeed, following pushback from F1 and most of the existing teams who don’t want to share the sport’s spoils with new entrants, the FIA made it clear that even if it approves a bid the commercial arm of the sport can block it. “Existing F1 teams will be given priority over new applicants,” it stated. “In the event that no applicant is considered suitable by the FIA and/or by the F1 commercial rights holder, no new F1 team(s) will be selected.”

But at least the wheels are turning. Merely getting the FIA to consider its case will be an achievement for Andretti, as new entries are only admitted to F1 periodically. The earliest a new team might arrive on the grid is 2025, almost a full decade after the last entrant, Haas.

Andretti wants to bring Cadillac into F1 Nonetheless it’s clear Andretti’s hopes of entering F1 rest not only on convincing the FIA they are serious about competing for the long-term, and not merely selling up in a few years’ time when the growing popularity of F1 has increased the value of their investment. They also need political support from F1 and its teams.

This was not entirely absent to begin with. As Andretti does not propose to build its own engines it will need to source one from an existing manufacturer. It has previously named Renault as its preferred supplier, and they are believed to be favourable to Andretti’s cause. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has also voiced support for Andretti’s efforts to enter F1.

But most important is the position of F1 itself. Up until now, they have offered little encouragement. “I don’t see honestly the need of that increase [in the number of teams] to have a big benefit for the sport of Formula 1,” said F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali in August last year.

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Today Domenicali appeared alongside Ford president and CEO Jim Farley on Fox News as the manufacturer announced its plans to return to F1, a series it left almost two decades ago.

Analysis: Why does an American car-making giant suddenly want to be in Formula 1? “It’s great news for us. It’s great news for Ford. It’s great news for America,” said Domenicali. “Ford has been part of Formula 1 since 1967 until 2004. There have been many championship wins.

“And that’s the right place to be for the future together in motorsport in an entertainment platform that is growing in the US. We are really happy of course. It’s a great moment for all of us.”

With Ford heading back to the grid in 2026, the chances of Andretti joining them can only have been improved by their announcement last month that they had secured the backing of another major US car maker, General Motors, through its Cadillac brand.

That was an attractive proposition to begin with. But following today’s announcement F1 has the possibility of two massive American rivals going up against each other.

Two major manufacturers who are competing fiercely for buyers’ loyalty in the US market – which F1 is investing so much energy in exploiting, adding a third race this year – will have obvious appeal.

By 2026 the major rules changes introduced by Liberty Media to improve the sport’s financial situation and competitiveness will have matured considerably. It will be the fifth year of the revised aerodynamic regulations which were introduced in 2022 (having been delayed by 12 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic) and the sixth season since the budget cap was brought in.

The rules appear to be having the desired effect. F1’s popularity is growing and the financial health of its teams has improved.

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Former F1 motorsport director Ross Brawn previously argued the series should only consider expanding its grid once those rules were established.

“We have a surprising number of teams that have shown an interest,” he said in 2019, just three years after Liberty Media’s takeover. “But what we’ve said to those teams is let’s get these rules introduced, let’s stabilise the situation, let’s get everything working properly before we seek more teams. I think with the 10 teams we have, 10 healthy teams in Formula 1 is actually enough.

“If we do get any extra teams they’ve got to really add to the show. We must learn from history. Some of these small teams came and went and didn’t really add to Formula 1. So I think we’ve got to stabilise what we’re introducing in ’21 and then look at where there’s an opportunity for more teams.”

F1 is on course to be at that point by 2026. But a decision on whether to admit new teams in time for that must be made soon if they are to have a chance of being competitive when they arrive.

The FIA’s decision to go ahead with admitting new teams will prompt F1 to answer the question. If it doesn’t want to let in a team which already competes in a range of other series, carries the name of a world champion, is building a massive new factory and bringing one major US car manufacturer with it to take on another, what more does F1 want?

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