Formula 1 Teams Fear Adding to Their Ranks Could “Dilute” Income

·8 min read
f1 grand prix of miami practice
F1 Principals Say More Teams Could “Dilute” IncomeJared C. Tilton - Getty Images
  • Formula 1’s sanctioning body, FIA, is nowhere near making a decision on whether to expand F1 team ownership from 10, though its Sporting Regulations do allow for up to 26 cars by 2026.

  • Some team principals seem open to adding to their ranks, but only “if the entire sport can be better off by adding teams.”

  • Others are more hesitant, asking, “ultimately, who pays?”

You’ve heard the expression “strike while the iron is hot,” right? But what happens if that iron comes back to burn you?

That’s kind of the situation Formula 1 finds itself in. There’s no question the series is enjoying its biggest growth spurt in history. The fan base in the United States is second only to NASCAR—and to hear many in F1 say it, the gap between it and the stock car boys is closing quickly and dramatically.

That’s why it’s not surprising so many want to hitch their steering wheels, so to speak, to F1, including IndyCar team owner and former F1 driver Michael Andretti, who hopes to either be granted an expansion franchise by 2025, if he doesn’t buy into an existing team before then.

Two other organizations have also expressed interest in joining F1, whether or not Andretti makes the cut.

But racing’s sanctioning body, FIA, is nowhere near making a decision on whether to expand F1 team ownership from 10 (two cars per team) to 11 or 12 or 13 any time soon. FIA’s Sporting Regulations do allow for up to 26 cars in F1 by 2026, which is a key point to keep in mind.

In Friday’s press conference among several key team principals in Miami Beach, site of Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix, whether F1 will indeed take on more teams or keep status quo remains one of the hottest topics of conversation going.

“If the entire sport can be better off by adding teams, that’s what we should be looking at doing,” Alpine’s Otmar Szafnauer said. “Right now we have 10 teams, that if we can reel one in, there’s 10 of us competing almost at the same level and I think that’s good for the fans.

f1 grand prix of miami practice
“If the entire sport can be better off by adding teams, that’s what we should be looking at doing,” says Alpine’s Otmar Szafnauer.Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

“We haven’t had that in recent years in Formula 1 and the cost cap has helped, better distribution of the income has helped. The fact that the sport is on the ascendancy means we get more sponsorship too and with all that, having 10 healthy teams is great for the sport. If we had more than 10, and it becomes a little bit less healthy, maybe that’s not so good. But that’s not for us, or not for me to say. So for me, it’s whatever optimizes the entire sport, whatever that number is.”

Added McLaren principal Zak Brown, “As long as they are additive to our sport, I’d love to see more cars on the grid. I think it’s exciting. I remember when I started following Formula 1, you had pre-qualifying, I think there were 30-31 cars trying to show up to make the show. So I think an increase in the grid of the right teams that bring the right resources and are additive to what we’re all trying to do and help grow the sport, then I’m all for it.

“Really the only credible, sustainable team that I’ve seen in the last decade is Guenther’s (Steiner of Haas Racing). And so what we do need to make sure is if someone enters that they really have the commitment and can do what it takes. Because in my experience, I think in a variety of motor sports, you do see a lot of dreamers. What we don’t need with the health of the sport is a team coming in underestimating what it’s going to take and two years later, they're gone. So you know, hats off to, to Haas for the commitment they've made and continue to make to the sport, so we need more teams like that.”

Steiner had an interesting take when he was also asked to reply to whether F1 should indeed expand or not, given Haas was the last successful major entity that came into the sport and, more importantly, has stuck around and weathered the storm from both a performance and financial sustainability standpoint.

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“Why should we rock that boat, you know, if there is not more coming to us?” asks Haas’ Guenther Steiner.Dan Istitene - Formula 1 - Getty Images

“If we got more teams, there needs to be an upside for the 10 which are here, and then I think nobody will have anything against it,” Steiner said. “But there needs to be an upside and not just more sharing. So I think it could be 11, could be 12, could be 13, I don’t know.

“But in the end, seeing if they can bring an upside to the 10 stakeholders, which are very solid now, all 10 of them. We didn’t have that for a long time. The competition is getting closer as well. Financially, everybody’s stable. Why should we rock that boat, you know, if there is not more coming to us?”

Judging by their replies, at least two team principals—Red Bull Racing’s Christian Horner and Mercedes’ Toto Wolff, seem completely against expansion.

“It’s very difficult in Formula 1 to perform,” Wolff said. “It has taken us many years to be where we are. We’ve gone through really difficult times where Formula 1 wasn’t the blockbuster it is today, and therefore whoever enters the sport, I think it would be beneficial for all of us if they can really bring something new to the show, if it can help us to increase our audiences or if there is lots of marketing dollars that are being invested, similar to what we have done over the years.

“Red Bull and Mercedes, sitting here, I mean, hundreds of millions. And if that were the case, I think we need to be all open-minded and say how can we contribute to making that happen? But again, we’re not part of the governance. And so I would very much hope that we find someone, if we decided to go for another team, that somebody can really leverage what we have today and make it even greater.”

Added Horner, “The issues remain the same as 12 months ago, both fiscally—what is the incentive for an existing team or franchise to accept an 11th entrant—and then ultimately, who pays? I mean, if it dilutes the income of the 10, it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas. Why would they do that? You know, are Liberty prepared to pay and fund an 11th team, are the FIA prepared to reduce their fees to help accommodate it?

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Red Bull’s Christian Horner and Mercedes’ Toto Wolff.Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

“Look, Formula 1 is in fantastic health at the moment, you can see Formula 1 is flying… Formula 1 has never been in a stronger position. I think Liberty have done a great job with the sport. We’re seeing new markets, new growth, new fans, and a new demographic of fans.

“But I think longevity is in the best interest of everybody, to have a settled sport that has a clear direction for the future, of what its goals and objectives are, together with the Technical Regulations and Sporting Regulations and Financial Regulations that we want to develop for the future, to just continue to make the sport better and more appealing and more inclusive, over the coming years.”

Liberty Media, the American company that owns F1, is coming off another record quarter of earnings announced earlier Friday morning. That not only is exceptional to the health of the series, but also prompted some to wonder whether the current Concorde agreement, which doesn’t expire until after the 2026 season, needs to be re-done—and extended—sooner.

“You know how long these Concorde agreements normally take, we all know that, so the earlier we start, the earlier we get to a conclusion,” Steiner said. “So I’m not against this if FOM (Formula One Management group and the FIA) wants to come and propose to us what they want to do for the next five years, which is actually the next seven years now, I think we, as a team, are pretty happy to talk with them.”

Added Brown, “I think everything’s working great. If you look at the health of the sport, from a Liberty point of view, from the 10 racing teams’ point of view, the teams that want to come in, the promoters, the fans, the TV, so I’d like to see it get done sooner rather than later, just for the stability and longevity of the sport.

“I also think it's a little bit of a rinse and repeat. I think it’s working. I don’t think there’s much to add or change to the existing agreement, so I don’t think it needs to be a prolonged conversation either. I’d pretty much be happy with a rinse and repeat with a few tweaks here and there. There’s things in the digital age that have advanced since we did the last agreement that I think need to be discussed. But I think for the most part, it’s a solid agreement.

“It’s working so we don’t really need to fix what’s not broken.”

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.