I Can't Get Over GM's F1 Drama

australian driver jack brabham sits aboard the brabham bt19 repco v8 which he drove to win his third drivers world championship in 1966 before the start of the formula one australian grand prix on 10 march 1996 at the melbourne grand prix circuit, albert park, melbourne, australia photo by darren heathgetty images
I Can't Get Over GM's F1 DramaDarren Heath Photographer

General Motors is getting into Formula 1. At least that's GM's intention. It is ready and willing to do so, per an announcement today. If F1 is particularly stoked on that plan, it is making a difficult showing of it.

The whole thing is a little odd as Formula 1 survives to varying degrees on the heavy involvement and investment from large car companies. Mercedes is the biggest player at the moment, or Ferrari depending on how you think of it, but it wasn't long ago that Renault was the top team in the sport. Even just pulling from recent decades we have seen full-car teams from Toyota, Jaguar, and serious work from Honda, BMW, Ford, and more that I am probably forgetting. Oh right, Peugeot. See? There's one.

All of these manufacturers have kept teams, have kept F1 itself afloat.

But F1 doesn't exactly survive by any one team at any one time.

italian race car driver and businessman enzo ferrari 1898 1988 casts his eye over the brabham repco during the italian grand prix at monza, 4th september 1966 photo by reg lancasterexpresshulton archivegetty images

Manufacturers are capricious. They come and go. A classic example of the team/manufacturer dynamic is Brawn GP. It was the Honda team, run by ex-Ferrari genius Ross Brawn. Honda dumped ungodly amounts of money into its F1 effort with little to show for it other than one of the kookiest paint schemes in F1 history. Then came the financial crisis and the Great Recession, and Honda found it more than a little difficult to justify its F1 spend. Ross Brawn bought the team for a pound in 2009, and with hardly enough cash to keep the lights on at its factory and its workforce employed, Brawn won the opening race of the season and then the championship overall.

As a sport, F1 needed companies like Honda, but it also needed to be able to survive without them. F1 knows that at the end of the day, big-buck manufacturers answer to shareholders, and will abandon the sport when times get hard and F1 needs them most. F1 has to keep its guard up.

It is with that in mind that I find the GM news charming. The central drama is that GM wants in on F1, and wants in with Andretti. GM wants to provide power units for Andretti Cadillac starting in 2028.

Now, F1 certainly wants new manufacturers to provide power units for teams starting in 2026, the first year of new engine regulations. Audi is involved. Ford is involved. Honda is involved. These regulations were designed specifically to get carmakers in the door. But F1 isn't being quite so accommodating to GM. Why not?

Well, F1 says it wants GM to funnel its cash into an existing team, as we reported today:

Andretti Global, which was the only team approved by the FIA in its recent search for viable new F1 teams, still needs approval from F1 itself before it can enter the championship. That process is ongoing and has become contentious, with direct quotes from executives suggesting an open attempt by current members of the F1 grid to bring GM in without accepting Andretti's team. Williams executive James Vowles has optimistically suggested an intent to poach GM as a partner after loudly objecting to Andretti's F1 bid and reporting from the Associated Press suggests that F1 itself has requested the company abandon Andretti to partner with an existing team, but GM president Mark Reuss stated simply this week that "GM is committed to partnering with Andretti to race in F1."

If we assume F1 is acting in good faith, it is allegedly saying that GM should be writing checks to an existing team, if it wants to join the sport1. Remember, F1 teams don't necessarily want more competitors around. The teams split all of the collective prize money. If F1 can survive with its existing 10 teams, those are 10 happier and wealthier teams than if there was an 11th around. This is millions of dollars on the line. That's drama!

I have no clue how this will all shake out. It could be that GM does march into F1 with Andretti Cadillac, but also supplies power units to Williams or some other team, either immediately or some season a year or two in the future. Or it could be that Andretti gets pushed out, GM keeps on racing sports cars, and the world keeps spinning. At least until there's another financial collapse, F1 budgets tighten, and teams start asking what happened to all the carmakers in the sport.

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