Teams wary of new entries to F1 grid
By Mat Coch
Monday 4th October, 2021 - 2:30pm
The desire for more teams in Formula 1 must be weighed against the impact their addition would have to the current grid.
That’s the opinion of Alpine executive director Marcin Budkowski and Ferrari racing director Laurent Mekies.
Formula 1 is currently experiencing something of a logjam when it comes to drivers looking to join the field.
The seat alongside Valtteri Bottas at Alfa Romeo Sauber remains the only one as yet confirmed for the 2022 championship.
At least three drivers are in the frame for the drive, including Antonio Giovinazzi and Alpine Academy members Oscar Piastri and Guanyu Zhou.
The latter is the front-runner. A Formula 2 race winner, Zhou also has significant backing from his homeland.
Ferrari junior, Callum Ilott, was a candidate before electing to switch focus to IndyCar for next season.
Of the 20 seats on the 2022 grid, at least 19 of them will be filled by drivers with at least one year of F1 experience.
It’s a problem which has seen leading figures such as Mercedes boss Toto Wolff and Red Bull’s Christian Horner suggest more teams are needed.
Mercedes has Formula E world champion Nyck de Vries waiting in the wings, while Red Bull has had to all but cut ties with Alex Albon in order for the Thai-licenced driver to join (Mercedes-powered) Williams.
F1 operates what is effectively a franchise system, with limited spaces available for new teams and a $200 million ‘anti-dilution’ fee payable for the privilege of joining the fray.
“It would be good to have more teams in Formula 1. I think we would all welcome that,” began Budkowski.
“But they need to be the right teams and they need to bring value to the sport and I think that’s one of the reasons that the anti-dilution fee was brought in; to make sure that people who come are really financially sound and solid, to be able to run a Formula 1 team, which is a very expensive business to run.
“Equally, it was also a way to ensure that when the Concorde Agreements were negotiated that all the teams would be reassured that the cake wouldn’t be split in more slices, with newcomers entering the sport in an uncontrolled manner,” he added.
“It was a measure that was mostly brought to give confidence to the existing 10 teams that they would be looked after if there were new teams coming.”
F1 teams receive prize money payments from the sport’s commercial rights holder, Liberty Media.
Historically, the payment structure has rewarded the top 10 teams in the championship based on two ‘columns’ of payments relating to performance over the most recent and last three seasons respectively.
While the sport’s financial practices have changed in recent years, the addition of new teams would reduce the slice of pie available to all.
“Should that (anti-dilution fee) be scrapped? To be honest, it’s a question for the commercial rights holder, a question for Stefano [Domenicali, F1 CEO] in that case,” Budkowski posed.
“But yeah, more teams would bring more diversity to the sport, bring more drivers in the sport for sure.
“I think it’s a better outcome than having three cars per team as has been mooted by some other people in the recent past.”
As recently as 2012, F1 had a grid of 24 cars. It could have been 26 had US F1 Team got off the ground.
Those additional teams, Virgin Racing, Lotus Racing, and Hispania Racing Team, entered the sport in 2010 under the notion of cost cap regulations which never materialised.
None of the operations now exist but demand for places on the grid has remained strong.
The anti-dilution fee was designed to keep opportunist and unqualified teams from entering the sport, not keep talented youngsters on the sidelines.
“Ultimately you still want the 20 best drivers to be on the grid and what we need to come up with as a group is to find a way to give a chance to the young guys that are coming to be able to demonstrate whether they are part of the top 20,” suggested Mekies.
“I don’t think it’s so much a matter of making it a top 22 or 24 or 26 or whatever, but it is a matter to have the opportunity to have the testing opportunities to make sure that we don’t miss, in one of these young drivers coming up, a guy or a young woman that is potentially within these 20 best drivers in the world.”
Ironically, financial regulations have this year come into effect, leading McLaren’s Zak Brown to suggest to Speedcafe.com that it could see the value of teams rise into the billion dollar range.
Brown argues it will be possible for teams to run at a profit, making them a viable business in a traditional sense.
It’s possible to therefore imagine a time when teams rely less on F1’s prize money payments for survival and more to add to their bottom dollar.
It’s at that point at which the argument for F1 being able to sustain more teams, and the necessity of the anti-dilution fee, changes.