Wolff: “Safety concerns” on circuit if an eleventh team joins the F1 grid

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Photo credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team

Several team bosses have expressed their displeasure at a possible 11th team joining Formula 1 when talking to the media in Silverstone. A decision on an extra team joining is expected soon, with Andretti-Cadillac being the most noteworthy one. Feeder series team Hitech GP is also eyeing a spot on the grid, but if the team principals have their way, Formula 1 will remain a ten team operation.

Ferrari’s Frédéric Vasseur thinks that ‘just’ being an all-American team shouldn’t be an argument in letting another team join.

“My position is that the 10 teams that made huge efforts even when it was tough to be on the grid, and to survive for some of them, now that if we have to welcome another team, it has to be for mega good reasons,” he explained.

“The fact that you have an American team is not a good reason. Because for me, first, we have an American team, thanks to Haas. And the second one is that if you want to be at the top in the country, it’s a matter of drivers.

“Have a look at what’s happened in the Netherlands. It’s the biggest success of the world today, and they don’t have a team, they have Max.

“I think first, we have a good success in the US. If you want to increase the success in the US, it’s more a matter for me to have an American driver. It’s not about the team.”

Vasseur did not make an exception whether the possible new entrant is a big manufacturer or not, emphasising the efforts all ten current teams made to remain on the grid.

“I have to say it again, that we made collectively a big effort. If someone wants to join now, it has to be also to the benefit of everybody in the paddock.

“It means that they have to bring something to F1. I don’t think that the nationality of the team is an asset.”

His Red Bull colleague Christian Horner voiced his concerns over the intent of Andretti partner Cadillac, fearing it might be just a badging exercise.

“GM is a great brand, but what I’m interested in is what is their model? I don’t assume they’re going to go and build a facility like [ours]. I assume it’s a badging exercise.”

Comparisons to the Ford-RBPT deal were quickly dismissed by Horner: “They [Ford] are not pretending to be an entrant in F1. GM are associated with Andretti at the moment, who currently don’t have an entry.

“Now, the FIA will run their process. I think, as with all these things, you’ve got the logistical issue of how to accommodate the 11th team,” he added, an argument also raised by Toto Wolff.

The Mercedes principal also added safety concerns into the mix, citing the recent qualifying shenenigans with drivers impeding eachother.

“I think all the stakeholders, and I think mainly the FIA and FOM who decide on such a new entry, will assess if the proposal accretive for F1, 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. There’s a lot of consequences when you look at qualifying sessions. I mean already now we are looking like on a go-kart track, we are 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, but on other circuits we can’t.”

But, unsurprisingly, at the end of the day, it always boils down to money. Wolff compared it with other major sporting leagues, where new teams also cannot join at a whim.

“Then people like Audi and now the venture capital fund [at Alpine] have been buying into F1 teams for considerably higher valuations.

“And so all of that is a picture that the FIA and FOM have to assess. And as I said before, if a team can contribute to the positive development of F1, and in a way that the other teams have done over the many years, have suffered over the many years, yeah, we have to look at it.

“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 a situation is possible, where you can say ‘I’m just setting up the team and I’m joining, thank you very much for making me part of the prize fund.’ You have 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.

“To repeat what I said, if it’s accretive, then we must look at it. So far, what we have 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], and they will judge whether that is positive for F1 or not.

“But in any case, from a team owner’s side, there is no league which just increases the entries, because that just dilutes the whole league.”

When confronted with the fact that the NHL [USA’s top ice hockey league] has welcomed some new teams in recent times, Wolff rebutted with the fact that this was a joint decicion by all stakeholders, which in Formula 1 is not the case.

“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 F1 was on the brink of losing teams because of bankruptcy, we increased the number of teams and nobody complained about it. 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 I say what is it that new team brings to the party, and that is 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 – an 11th team brings more than what they cost the other teams. More show, more exciting drivers.”

This sentiment was backed by Horner, who explictly made the position of the teams clear: it’s about the money.

“But the reality is what it really boils down to is, who’s going to pay for it? And if it dilutes the existing 10, of course, they’re going to have an issue with it.

“Liberty are not going to want to dilute their element of the income. So that’s where you end up at a stand-off.”