It's Time to Get Angry About The Ongoing 11th Team Saga


In the grand scheme of things, a multi-billion dollar sport potentially deciding to turn down a new entry is not the most pressing issue the world faces at the moment.

But if you're someone with a passion for Formula One, this issue is becoming increasingly important. It's not just about an eleventh team - it's about the very soul of the sport itself.

I've written about this ongoing saga - and in particular, Andretti Autosport's attempt to gain entry - a couple of times already, but whenever I do, I find that I have to be very careful when choosing my words. To be completely honest with you readers, it makes my teeth itch and blood boil.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the only one. Even in the mainstream motorsport media, you'd struggle to find much critical comment about it. As for fans, perhaps few are unaware of quite how scandalous this really is.

F1 is currently on its summer break - and, whilst there's little else going on, attention has returned to the ongoing topic about new team entries. It is well-known that Andretti is still awaiting a decision, whilst hoping to enter in time for the start of the 2026 season. In addition, another team - Hitech Grand Prix - has also expressed interest.

The FIA has rigorous procedures in place for determining the credibility of such entries, and approval isn't guaranteed. But happily, it seems to largely be in support of increasing the grid to 11 or 12 teams.

The problem however, is that Formula One Management (FOM) and the majority of the existing 10 teams very definitely aren't, and are doing their damnedest to prevent it from happening. Over the past couple of seasons, there have been increasingly ludicrous reasons suggested as to why the grid shouldn't expand.

Perhaps the nadir was only recently, when Toto Wolff suggested that additional cars on the grid could be a safety hazard, particularly in the long-established Q1/Q2/Q3 elimination qualifying format when cars are regularly bunched up on track.

That argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny however, as when elimination qualifying was first introduced in 2006, there were 11 teams on the grid! That number increased to 12 several seasons later. Can you remember any big safety problems from back then? I can't.

But Wolff was far from finished talking nonsense. Indeed, he went on to make the baffling claim that Formula One is the only sport that prospective teams can decide to enter without having to first "qualify" or prove their worth. Does he realise that given the enormous expense and resources that have long been required to enter F1, the sport likely would never have survived this long if further barriers were put in place?

No matter what team bosses or FOM lickspittles (such as the insufferable Stefano Domenicali) say, the real reason existing teams don't want additional entries comes down, purely and simply, to greed and money. They don't want the prize fund to be diluted, and face the risk of making a few less million dollars, even if that offset could be easily covered in new sponsorship deals.

But who gave these current teams the right to be able to dictate that future teams should be denied entry? Nobody. That is the most appalling part of it - particularly when you consider their own histories.

Let's jog some memories. Red Bull, for all their current success, have been in the sport since 2005. Mercedes - despite being an engine supplier for far longer - have only been around as a full works team since 2010. To put it in other words, they've hardly been here for any great length of time considering the sport's 73 years of history. When they've been around for such a relatively short period of time, what gives them the right to block newer teams?

To put it in perspective, Red Bull and Merc's involvement doesn't yet match the likes of Ligier (20 years), Brabham (25 years) or Tyrrell (28 years) - despite all these names having disappeared from the grid by the end of the 1990s.

Haas has even less history - and if they had any sense, they'd avoid getting involved in this issue at all. After all, they've only been here since 2016 - less than a decade - and by all accounts, they were heading for the exit only a couple of years ago. Funnily enough, since the value of F1 teams has increased on average by 276% since 2019, they don't seem to be quite so keen to leave...

It's a similar case for Aston Martin, or Force India as it used to be. When Lawrence Stroll and his consortium bought the team as recently as 2018, they rescued it from financial ruin. But should entering the sport just as it witnessed a boom in popularity be a good enough reason for preventing new entries, when they may sell up in the near future? Of course not.

Then we come onto the older grandee teams - who don't really have much of a leg to stand on either.

Alpine, or Renault as it is technically, have been the definition of a flip-flopper when it comes to their presence in F1. They've often left at short notice, leaving the remnants of the team in terrible financial disarray as most manufacturers tend to do. No manufacturer should have a say on future entries - particularly one that has been so flaky with their own involvement.

Sauber is due to soon be known as the works Audi team - but did anyone stand in Peter Sauber's way when he entered his eponymous team into F1 in 1993? Nope. And if they had, then there wouldn't even have been a team for Audi to purchase all these years later.

McLaren and Williams have been around for longer than most - although the latter is 'Williams in name only' since it was purchased by Dorilton Capital three years ago. Current owners would do well to recall the history of the team they own, though. Frank Williams first entered the sport running customer March cars, before entering his own Williams-built machines a few years later. McLaren had similarly humble beginnings with legendary founder Bruce McLaren. It's a direct contradiction of their own storied histories for these two teams to be happy for the sport to be closed off to new entrants.

And finally, there is Ferrari. The only team to have been here from the very start - and as such, the only team to have competed against every Formula One team that has ever existed. To which I'd simply ask: what gives them, at this precise moment in time, the right to determine who does and doesn't get to enter, when that has never previously been the case?

Is it just because of the money that's now involved? That Scuderia Ferrari was recently valued by Forbes to be worth $3.9bn? If so, it's a tragic indictment of just how little Formula One has become about racing, and how much it's now just about business. Even Enzo Ferrari, a true racer at heart if ever there was one, would likely despair at that.

A reminder to the teams, since they clearly need it: much as you might wish to, you don't own Formula One. The sport doesn't exist for you to make money. You have no right to prevent anyone else from entering.

Shame on the lot of you for trying to do so.

Of course, nothing stays the same forever. Prospective new teams can't just purchase existing equipment from other constructors, as Frank Williams once did. But a key part of Formula One's history from the very beginning has been that anyone with the necessary money and resources has been able to enter the sport - and it has made F1 healthier for it.

That should be cherished, celebrated and encouraged. F1 has never been a 'closed shop' sport - and never should be. Over half the current grid owe their existence to teams that were set up long before their own involvement began.

The whole thing this sorry state of affairs reminds me of is the 'European Super League' from a few years ago. Now, I'm by no means a football aficionado, so bear with me.

The concept was that a handful of some of the biggest and most prestigious football clubs in Europe would create their own competition, and that it would be restricted to those teams only. Promotion and relegation - a key part of football competition - didn't factor, these clubs didn't want the risk of any pesky minnows showing them up, after all.

The backlash the proposed plans received from both football pundits and fans alike was swift and vociferous - so much so that the clubs involved quickly withdrew, and the league was dead in the water within 48 hours of being announced.

But it was too late for their reputations - because those clubs had revealed their pure greed and lack of sporting integrity for the world to see.

The similarities to F1 are stark - teams believing themselves to be bigger than the sport, driven by enormous greed, and only wishing to compete against those they deem worthy, purely on their terms.

I just wish that what F1 teams are trying to do here received the same vocal criticism as the European Super League for it is no less scandalous. F1 journalists and fans need to speak out about this, loudly and as one, before it is too late.

Formula One is a sport I love dearly, and has been a huge part of my life for the past 30 years. But I feel so strongly about this particular issue that if a credible eleventh team is prevented from entering the sport, even after being approved by the FIA, I will likely turn my back on it for good.

I have no interest in following something that is stuck with the same ten teams forever more, with no chance for anyone new to take part due to everyone else being more interested in money than racing.

Because that's not a sport. It's a cartel.

James Singleton

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Published: 15/08/2023
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