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FIA to explore expansion in Formula 1

Will we see more teams in F1 in the near future?

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Formula One: Formula 1 Aramco United States Grand Prix 2022 Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Could we see more than ten teams on the grid in a future F1 season?

The door has at least been cracked open to that possibility. FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem posted on social media at the start of the new year that he was inviting “Expressions of Interest” for potential teams and owners seeking to join F1.

Since the 2016 season, there have been ten teams in F1. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, there were seasons with as many as 14 teams in the field. F1 does not have a limit on the number of teams, but it does place a limit on the number of cars on the track for a given Grand Prix, capping that at 26.

In the years where there were 14 teams on the grid, there were ways to keep the field limited to just the 26 cars on the track, whether through prequalifying or the “107% rule.” But since the field reduced to ten teams in the 2017 campaign, F1 has not needed to limit the cars for a Grand Prix.

The statement from Ben Sulayem comes as F1 is growing in popularity — particularly in the United States — and multiple groups have expressed an interest in joining F1. Perhaps the most well-known is led by former race car driver Michael Andretti, who raced for one season in F1, backin in 1983 with McLaren. Andretti is now the head of Andretti Autosport, and has been angling for a move into F1 recently.

Prior to the Christmas holiday, Andretti Autosport broke ground on a massive new complex outside of Indianapolis. During the event, Michael Andretti noted that their interest in F1 might soon get good news from the sport. “We’re hoping in the next couple weeks. That would sure be a nice Christmas present.”

Andretti Autosport is not the only group exploring a move into F1. Calvin Lo, a billionaire from Hong Kong, also indicated in December his interest in expanding into F1. Lo is the CEO of R.E. Lee International, one of the largest — if not the largest — life insurance brokerages in the world. Back in December, Lo told BBC Sport that the “ideal” path would be owning a new team, and not buying into a current F1 team: “Based on what I’m seeing right now, it’s highly aspirational, but it seems like it can be done if all the stars are aligned.” Lo also indicated that time was of the essence. “Based on the timelines, the sooner the better, right?” Lo told BBC Sport. “It seems even now is a very tight timeline just to put something on the grid by 2026.”

It should be noted that this invitation from the FIA is just the first step, and not a clear sign that F1 will be expanding anytime soon. There are significant barriers to entry, and not everyone is on board with the idea of expanding the number of teams. Those who have indicated some opposition to the idea include Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who addressed the idea of expansion prior to last May’s Miami Grand Prix:

“But we have 10 entries today. We divide the prize fund amongst those 10 entries. We have invested considerable amounts over the last 10 years. Each of the organisations that are sitting here on the podium has probably put more than a billion into their Formula 1 projects over the years.

“So it needs to be accretive if a team comes in, how can you demonstrate that you’re bringing in more money than it’s actually costing?

“An 11th team means a 10% dilution for everybody else. If one is able to demonstrate that, then we should all be sitting at the table and cheer for such an entry. But that hasn’t been demonstrated yet.

“That may sound a bit dry because it comes down to the numbers, but the value of Formula 1 is that it’s a limited amount of franchises and we don’t want to dilute that value by just adding teams.”

Perhaps sharing Wolff’s opinion is none other than Formula 1 president and CEO Stefano Domenicali. Back in September Domenicali was asked about the need for expansion, given the fact that drivers such as Daniel Ricciardo were left without a seat for 2023. In response, Domenicali pushed back on the idea when speaking with Sky Sports: “Adding one or two, you may open up some driving seats. But we need to also have the right dimension in what is successful for the sport. I think in that respect there is the evaluation of the sustainability of the team, the evaluation of not being too crowded with that. So I would say in terms of priority, it is not really a need for Formula 1 today.”

Domenicali went further, outlining how the costs associated with joining F1, and operating a team, can be near-prohibitive. “You see how difficult today it is to find people that really are the top quality in all the different business. I don’t think that today that is something we will be able to say with faith. I think that is the time that we need to invest for the future, but we need to be balanced. So I’m not saying that this will not happen, but we need to take it step by step.”

Speaking of those costs, the fees associated with joining F1 are not cheap. Under the current Concorde Agreement, which governs F1, any new team would face an entry fee of $200 million, to be split among the ten existing F1 teams.

Still, with the growth of the sport worldwide — and in the United States — a team might be more than willing to pay the price. And with F1 continuing to grow in the United States, the idea of another American team might be appealing to FIA. Right now, Haas is the only American team operating in F1, and they have enjoyed rather limited success, unless you consider turning team principal Guenther Steiner into a star through the Netflix series Drive to Survive.

But with Logan Sargeant joining Williams Racing, giving F1 the first full-time American driver since 2015, and three races schedule for the United States in 2023, the sport is continuing to grow stateside. Which could be huge for any proposal from Andretti Autosport.