Michael Andretti, IndyCar, 2021

Why Andretti’s latest attempt to take over an F1 team looks well-timed

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Michael Andretti has long planned to take the name of American automobile racing’s first family into Formula 1. In August 2018 it emerged that his group had submitted an offer to acquire Force India as a going concern, although the bid was rejected on account of being too light.

His keenness to take the family name into the sport’s top echelon is easily understood. Both Michael and father Mario are ex-F1 drivers, the latter crowning his career as 1978 F1 world champion, having also won the Indycar championship, Indianapolis 500 and much else besides.

Though Michael Andretti’s F1 career was less celebrated – he bailed out of his sole season with McLaren before his 1993 campaign was over – he was also an Indycar champion and racked up 42 race victories.

As a team manager he has been even more successful. Andretti Autosport competes in international categories ranging from IndyCar and Formula E through Supercar V8s to Extreme E, the last two series in conjunction with Zak Brown who is also, of course, McLaren Racing’s CEO.

F1’s US-domiciled commercial rights holder Liberty Media has long planned to grow interest in the sport in North America through the addition of further grands prix on the continent – hence the addition of Miami to the 2022 F1 calendar. An further US team alongside Haas and the presence of a local driver (or two) would obviously aid Liberty’s quest – particularly should the Andretti name and brand be involved.

Andretti quit F1 after taking his first podium in his 13th race
Thus, it was no surprise when credible sources on late Thursday advised that Andretti was closing on a deal to acquire 80% of what is known as Islero Investments AG, the holding company for the Sauber group of companies, which runs the Alfa Romeo-branded F1 team. The Sauber group is itself a division of Longbow Finance SA – the Rausing family (of Tetrapak fame) investment vehicle. Indeed, one of our sources stated that the deal was “80% done”.

Clearly an 80% deal is no firm deal, but what makes the matter credible is that paddock talk has long had it that Longbow discreetly put the team up for sale – in whole or in part – primarily because the F1 outfit does not fit Longbow’s investment profile. That said, Finn Rausing, who controls Longbow, is said to be an ardent follower of the sport, so would enjoy peripheral involvement.

Longbow stumbled into F1 team ownership in 2016 by accident. The fund backed Rausing’s Swedish compatriot Marcus Ericsson at Sauber, and when the team over-extended itself via a series of management blunders Longbow stepped into the breach, eventually converting debt to ownership. Longbow became a reluctant team owner, and packaged Sauber as Islero for ready sale.

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When RaceFans requested comment from Andretti Autosport about the potential purchase a carefully crafted statement was provided, repeated here in full:

Esteban Ocon, Force India, Spa-Francorchamps, 2018
Andretti put up a rival bid to Stroll for Force India
“As is no secret, Formula 1 has been of interest to Michael and the team for some time. We’ve explored and come close on many options over the years, but we have nothing new to report. Our passion is racing, in all forms. Should a proper opportunity come along to take the Andretti name back to F1, we’d jump at it. But as of now, that opportunity has not fallen in our laps and our focus remains on our seven current disciplines of competition.”

The fact that there is “nothing new to report” does not mean there are no behind the scenes discussions – nor is this a flat denial that negotiations are currently taking place. Equally, “Should a proper opportunity come along” is a rather broad statement – after all, what is “proper opportunity” in F1 terms? Price? Control? Location? Facilities? As for it “coming along”, it may just be Sauber…

Then, the interested party could be Michael in his personal capacity or as Andretti Autosport or even Andretti Acquisition Company, an investment vehicle formed by Michael in March this year. However, a spokesperson for AAC on Friday told RaceFans that AAC had no involvement in any Sauber talks. But there is no reason why that could not change in future.

Still, apart from sentimental reasons why would Michael Andretti be interested in F1? As many a motorsport entrepreneur has discovered, it is generally the quickest way of losing fortunes rather than making them.

But circumstances have changed under Liberty. F1’s new technical and financial regulations are designed to close up the field and budget caps reducing the costs of competing.

First, F1’s prize money structures have changed, with independent teams likely to earn around $10 million (£7.35m) each per year more than previously. Growing the sport’s global profile should make sponsor acquisition easier – particularly in the USA.

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F1’s television ratings in the US have recently seen the largest ever growth, while its Netflix series Drive to Survive has introduced an entirely different demographic to the sport. Andretti, or any other US-based team for that matter, could benefit hugely from Liberty’s initiatives.

Sauber’s Alfa Romeo team lie ninth in the championship
Sauber offers superb facilities. BMW, which owned the team from 2006 to 2009, invested heavily. It has a long-term branding and sponsorship deal with Alfa Romeo in place – team sources told RaceFans it runs to four years with options – in turn meaning that Andretti would effectively be walking into a race-ready operation, albeit one with plenty of headroom.

Finally, there is the emotional side: Sauber is closely aligned with Ferrari, running Maranello-supplied powertrains. Mario, of course, won his first grand prix (in 1971) with the Scuderia, 10 years later raced under the red and white of the Alfa Romeo F1 team, and finished his grand prix career with the Scuderia.

Michael recently revealed that in 1992 – ahead of joining McLaren – he had been offered a Ferrari F1 drive, although a Ferrari source told RaceFans it was more an enquiry than an offer. Still, lesser factors are known to have swung deals, so the emotional angle cannot be underestimated.

None of the foregoing guarantees a deal between Sauber and Andretti has or will be cut. These factors merely illustrate why it could be cut and what the advantages are to both parties: Andretti gets a funded, turn-key operation, one with contractual motor manufacturer support similar to the deal he enjoys with BMW in FE and Longbow exits F1 while Rausing remains involved via a 20% interest.

Should the deal come to pass the ideal timing of the announcement would be during the United States Grand Prix – two weeks hence. Other F1 deals have been cut faster.

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12 comments on “Why Andretti’s latest attempt to take over an F1 team looks well-timed”

  1. Good news. But wish it was an 11th team not an acquisition.

    It does seems that a brand new team is still prohibitively expensive these days.

    1. Agreed.

      We need more teams in F1, not just teams being resold.

    2. Indeed. They need to scrap this crazy high entry fee.

  2. So what does this mean exactly regarding the ownership and the name of the team because the situation is a bit strange?

    Right now, as far as I understand, the team is “Sauber” but “Alfa Romeo” sponsors it, hence why it’s “Alfa Romeo Racing” with the car name being “C41” because of Sauber’s chassis codes.
    If Andretti buys the team,
    Does Sauber cease to exist and the team becomes fully Andretti-owned sponsored by Alfa?
    Does the Alfa sponsorship “take a step back” and the team becomes something like “Alfa Romeo Andretti Autosport”?
    Does he effectively run the team and has his name all over it (like BMW and Alfa) by deep down there would still be a “Sauber”?

    1. Is Mercedes “deep down” still BAR?

      1. No, but Sauber was bought (I think) from BMW, it became “BMW-Sauber”, and after BMW left, it automatically became again just “Sauber”.
        Right now it’s “Alfa Romeo Racing”, not “Alfa Romeo Sauber”… but aside from the name, the car is still built by Sauber.
        So in a way, Sauber remained Sauber all these years, despite some name changes and buyouts…

  3. This, Williams and Haaaaaaaaaaaaaas* are probably the only ones for sale. After that, a new team is 200 million extra on top of the 150 million a year plus set up costs.

    So of course teams will be bought in preference to new entries.

    * with apologies to FF1S

  4. Marcus Ericsson to partner Romain Grosjean at Andretti Autosport. You heard it here first ;)

    1. Well Ericsson is at Ganassi, so that won’t happen. Initially it will be Herta and Bottas, until his contract is done then possibly RG back to F1 with Herta.

  5. José Lopes da Silva
    10th October 2021, 15:47

    Andretti has been thinking of this ever since he hit Wendlinger’s Sauber in Donington Park.

    1. Or when Jos Verstappen punted Michael right of Berger at the very 1st turn at Interlagos.

  6. If he can get this deal done, he should be thinking about starting a development program for young drivers. Rossi lost out of a ride in Manor due to Rio’s connections. I do not want for Logan Sargeant suffer the same fate. Sargeant deserves to race out the remaining 2 events at Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Charouz needs persuasion to get Sargeant in a Formula 2 car.

    Andretti could become the ultimate back up plan for Jak Crawford in case he gets dropped by Red Bull. But he has progressed very well in Euro Formula. Kaylen Frederick could be the next US driver to become a contender.

    Juan Manuel Correa just recently got a titanium nail removed from 1 of his legs. Once he gets his 2nd nail removed, the real rehab begins.

    The next 2 weeks, we wonder if Michael and Colton will be streaming in You Tube to watch Cameron Das clinch the Euro Formula Open series title. A very 1st to win an European Open-wheel series since 2004 when Scott Speed won the Formula Renault Eurocup and Formula Renault Germany. And could become the 1st US driver who was no part of a development program.

    We only wished if the FIA could invite Josef Newgarden to test out an F1 car. Rossi could enter Formula 1 once again because he raced the minimum 5 events to retain his super license. He could get a re-fresher test. Colton Herta only has 32 super-license points. If Michael is willing to get Herta in Formula 1, Colton must win the Indy Car Astor Trophy.

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