I still can’t believe the Andretti-Sauber F1 deal isn’t going forward. After so many rumors and reports of Michael Andretti flying to Switzerland on a whim and Colton Herta flirting with a surprise Friday Free Practice test at the United States Grand Prix, it seemed signing the paperwork was merely a formality. And then it collapsed.
As for why it collapsed, Andretti recently told his side of the story at a press conference initially intended to announce Devlin DeFrancesco as part of the team’s 2022 IndyCar lineup. According to Motorsport.com, Andretti felt it necessary to clear the air. Here’s what he said:
“I’d just like to put an end to some of these rumors that the deal fell through because of financial reasons. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It had nothing to do with that.
“It basically came down to control issues in the final hours of the negotiations. That’s what killed the deal.
“I’ve always said if the deal is not right, we’re not going to do it, and in the end it wasn’t right. So we continue to look for other opportunities.”
Andretti later added: “Unfortunately at the 11th hour, control issues changed, and it was a deal that we had to step away from because we couldn’t accept it. I always said that we’re only going to do it if it’s right for us, and in the end it wasn’t right for us.”
Asked by AP to clarify if he meant that Andretti Autosport was expected to “buy it and not control it”, Andretti nodded and said, “Basically.”
This was a proposed $404 million deal, by the way — so the idea of spending all that dough on a racing team only to not call the shots is, understandably, not particularly attractive. Then again, money has a way of convincing people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t. Andretti says this disagreement didn’t come down to finances, but I have to wonder if it wasn’t all part of a tactic by the current stakeholder to drive up the price tag.
If there’s anything that makes this postmortem more crushing, it’s reading Andretti confirm without a shred of ambiguity that, indeed, 21-year-old American driver Colton Herta was going to be his guy:
“Obviously if we do ever get a team, [Herta] would lead the way for us in terms of wanting to bring an American driver,” he said. “He’d be the perfect guy to do it. I mean, we definitely were going to try to get him into the seat because I believe he could be a competitive driver in Europe. I really do. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t.”
It seems Andretti may have also expected a bit more support from F1's American owners, Liberty Media, who have overseen a prosperous expansion of the sport this side of the Atlantic:
“I think [Liberty] would like [the deal], obviously, because they’re really pushing the American market, but they weren’t doing anything to help us… I think it would have been a huge story. It’s a shame it didn’t work out. But I don’t give up…”
And so, Andretti says he’ll continue to look to expand, not exclusively to F1 but to any series where it makes sense. I feel like this isn’t the last we’ll hear of America’s racing family trying to make it in F1, but for now, this drama’s on hiatus.