Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has suggested new entrants looking to join Formula 1 should buy an existing team, citing potential safety implications of expanding the grid.
Andretti Cadillac is one of a number of potential new teams that have made submissions to the FIA, with the governing body currently reviewing them all before informing Formula One Management (FOM) itself of any suitably candidates to join the grid. However, Wolff says he is firmly against a new team being added to the existing 10 and claims qualifying could become too crowded.
“We have no visibility of who the applications came from, and what the proposals are,” Wolff said. “I think all the stakeholders — and I think mainly the FIA and FOM — will decide on such a new entry, will assess if the proposal is accretive for Formula 1. What does it bring us in terms of marketing and interest, and whether they want to think about introducing that.
“Our position was very clear: Buy a team.
“But there’s a lot of consequences. When you look at qualifying sessions, I mean already now we’re looking like on a go-kart track — we’re tripping over each other. There is a safety concern: we haven’t got the logistics, where to put an 11th team. Here in Silverstone, we can accommodate the Hollywood people (filming for Apple Studios’ forthcoming F1 movie with a fictional team) but on other circuits, we can’t.
“Then people like Audi and the venture capital funds (investing in Alpine), have been buying into F1 teams for considerably higher valuations. All of that is a picture that the FIA and FOM have to access. And, as I said before, if a team can contribute to the positive development of Formula 1 — and in a way that the other teams have done, over the many years, have suffered over the many years — we have to look at it.”
While he admits the existing teams don’t have visibility on the submissions from the would-be entrants that could provide a more compelling argument, Wolff feels the situation of expansion is unique to F1.
“There is no mature sports league in the world — whether it’s a national football championship, or the Champions League, the NBA, the NFL, the NHL — where such situation is possible, where you say, ‘I’m setting up a team and I’m joining, thank you very much for making me part of the prize fund.’
“You have to give to qualify; you have to go through the ranks; you have to showcase the commitment to the championship that we’ve done over the many years. But, to repeat what I said, if it’s accretive, then we must look at it.
“So far, what we’ve seen hasn’t convinced the teams — but we haven’t seen the applications and submissions that were made to the FIA and to Stefano (Domenicali, F1 CEO), and they will judge whether that is positive for Formula 1 or not.
“I’m looking more at the American franchises. If everybody in the NFL — the teams own the franchise there, so it’s different to us — agrees to have another entry, to let another team in because of the right reasons — the right ownership, etc. — then that team is being admitted into the championship. And the same with most of the professional leagues in the U.S. We are a franchise, and this is how I would look at it.”
When it was put to Wolff that the NHL did recently add expansion teams, he clarified that expansion has to be agreed upon by all teams in that case, and denied there was any desire to block a U.S. entrant.
“The NHL has added teams and I’m very aware of it, because they have decided to do so, all the stakeholders. We have done that in the past when Formula 1 was on the brink of losing teams, because of bankruptcy. We increased the numbers of teams and nobody complained about that. On the contrary. We felt that we needed to make sure that we have 10 teams on the grid and not lose any. So these two factors are very different with the NHL to the current situation.
“I still have the belief that this is a league of franchises. And when someone comes in, then it should be like in the NFL, where you say, what is it that the new team brings to the party? And that, I repeat, is for the FIA and FOM to decide. We can comment from the sidelines here and obviously our standpoint is clear, because we would only want to have a team that brings something to the cake, and an 11th team brings more than what they cost the other team — more show, more exciting drivers — and the team’s nationality plays no role.
“We have had an American team for a long time, we need to have a good points system so that we can attract more drivers from the U.S., that we make them eligible for a Super License. We need to support young drivers like Logan Sargeant to give them enough time. Because like we’ve seen with Fernando (Alonso) in Spain, you’ve got to race at the front. If you’re not racing at the front, your fellow countrymen are not going to follow.
“These are the things we have to do. And if one of the applications has demonstrated to the FIA and to FOM that it is beneficial that they join, we can just say welcome, you know. At that stage, we have to embrace the decision that’s been taken and say, OK, let’s work on this together.”
Wolff was not alone in his stance, with multiple team bosses stating similar views, including Ferrari’s Fred Vasseur.
“We didn’t change at all the position, that I think it could make sense for F1 only if it’s a huge push in every single direction,” Vasseur said. “Very often we are speaking about the nationality of the team but for me it’s absolutely not an argument. F1 is not just a UK championship because we have 70 percent of the teams based in the UK. The attractiveness of F1 is much more based on the nationality of the drivers and so it’s nothing to do with the nationality of the team.
“Also today, we have a huge boom around F1 but you have to keep in mind a couple of years ago the owners of the teams made a huge effort, when the crisis was there, and it’s a kind of benefited today. Again, if (a new team) is a huge push for the championship, for F1, for everybody, all the stakeholders, why not? But I don’t see we’re at that point today.”
McLaren’s Zak Brown, on the other hand, remains supportive of a new team entry, as does Williams team principal James Vowles — so long as it helps other teams become profitable.
“It’s a sign of how strong the sport is, that we have so much interest in growing the grid from where we are today,” Vowles said. “Nothing against it but it has to grow the pot sufficiently.
“At the moment, actually, if you look at the earnings, the profit, most teams lose money. That’s the result today, and we need to make sure we keep growing the pot as a result of things. And very much welcome someone that grows the pot further, as simple as that. We all get a bigger pie and we get a bigger slice of the pie.
“There’s the option and opportunity to clearly buy one of the existing entities … that already exists on paper. Our perspective is we very much welcome it. We just need to make sure that the pot is widened sufficiently that it makes sense.”