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Opinion: Why F1’s muted response to the Andretti-Cadillac announcement?

There was a baffling development during Thursday’s announcement that Andretti Global and Cadillac had teamed up to register their expression of interest in joining the Formula 1 grid: the response from F1 was anything but welcoming. RacingNews365 Editorial Director Dieter Rencken ponders why.

Just what does Formula 1 - the commercial rights holder, not the sport itself - have against Andretti and/or Cadillac after the two parties confirmed their intention to sign up to the FIA’s recently announced Expressions of Interest (EoI) process for new teams? Consider the fanfare emanating from the biggest offices in F1’s St James towers when Audi and Porsche expressed interest in entering F1, then compare that incessant chatter over a period of 18 months with an F1 spokesperson’s baffling response to Thursday’s announcement from two of US racing’s greatest names. "There is great interest in the F1 project at this time with a number of conversations continuing that are not as visible as others," he said. "We all want to ensure the championship remains credible and stable and any new entrant request will be assessed on criteria to meet those objectives by all the relevant stakeholders. Any new entrant request requires the agreement of both F1 and the FIA." Not a direct word said about either USA party… Set aside the semantics in the comment and focus on the implied messages: That Andretti and Cadillac would need to be assessed by “all” stakeholders to ensure they are "credible and stable". If said stakeholder net includes "all" teams, then Williams and Haas (with all due respect to them) could vote on whether Cadillac - the USA’s oldest car maker, founded 1902 - complies with F1’s credibility and stability criteria! However, should the teams be excluded from this process - as indeed they should be for (obvious) monopolistic reasons – the number is whittled down to just two stakeholders: FIA and F1. But, given the governing body’s open-armed welcome , one conspicuous doubter remains: F1 itself.

Why invisible conversations?

Equally, why F1’s "a number of conversations are not as visible as others" comment, which dilutes the main message by referencing others after two evocative names - from the US, a market F1 long battled to crack - expressed (more than mere) interest in F1? That’s about as churlish as parents overshadowing the graduation day of a child by praising the latent potential of younger siblings who have not yet registered for university. Now consider the fate of two VW Group brands so publicly wooed by F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali, who sat on VW’s main board as Lamborghini CEO before taking over F1’s reins. Ultimately only Audi eventuated, with Porsche going all low profile after very publicly splitting with Red Bull. Talk of Porsche’s participation is now muted, so surely Domenicali should welcome another luxury sporting brand, one that wins Daytona. Perversely, when Porsche formally announced that talks with Red Bull had hit the skids Formula1.com ran the (bad news) story - rather sympathetically - yet refused to devote a single column inch to the Andretti announcement. Think about that for a moment: F1’s official organ dresses up bad news but refuses to publish positive developments for the sport - what sort of ‘editorial’ policy is that? “Utterly biased” springs to mind. Has Audi brought a new team into F1? No - it bought Sauber, which raced as (Ferrari powered) Alfa Romeo, so that brand is set to disappear by 2025. Thus, in grid terms, Audi’s main contribution is on the powertrain front by adding one of two new suppliers to the mix, Red Bull being the other. Andretti would add a team to the ‘show’ and Cadillac may yet go down the PU route - making it seven suppliers, up from the current four.

Cadillac: Head-to-head with Mercedes and Audi

There are, though, no doubts that the Audi name is an extremely welcome boost for F1; arguably the reason Cadillac plans to enter F1 is to go head-to-head with the Four Rings and Mercedes on a global stage. That said, as a luxury sporting brand Audi has been visible for but 50 years whereas Cadillac has spearheaded GM’s luxury car offering for over 120 years. Not even Porsche comes close: it turns 75 this year. What, then, is all this talk about "credible and stable" about? Particularly after GM President Mark Reuss made the right noises about Cadillac’s F1 interest, citing hybrid power, sustainable fuels and turbocharging. These factors plug straight into F1’s corporate “Net Zero Carbon by 2030” message, so where is the problem with Cadillac’s entry, particularly as RacingNews365 understands that, in addition to the usual business criteria, the FIA’s EoI process includes sustainability, equality and diversity, and societal impact factors. Crucially, Andretti praised FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem, with not a nod towards Domenicali. Significantly, during a media call in August the latter suggested that F1 did not need more than 10 teams, saying: "I think today in the actual status of F1, it’s not a problem of quantity, where we can see a step of increasing the value of F1." In other words, in the Italian’s opinion, ten teams suffice. If so, why is F1 having "a number of conversations [with other prospective entrants] that are not as visible as others"? All these factors combine to make F1’s position towards Andretti/Cadillac all the more difficult to fathom, pointing to deep-rooted (or even personal) reasons for the chilly response. Could these be that the FIA - not F1 - is driving the EoI process, as is its right regardless of what conversations F1 may be having or that F1 feels ‘left out’ the loop; could it be that the Andretti conversations were ‘invented’ in Paris not London? Either way, on Thursday Andretti and Cadillac undoubtedly conquered F1’s moral high ground…

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