In 2023, no place will host more Formula One races than the United States. And yet, there are no American automakers in F1 and there hasn’t been a consistent American driver for over a decade. America’s foremost non-NASCAR racing brand Cadillac and the Andretti family want to change that with an American brand and an American driver as soon as possible.
With all the other things happening this last week it didn’t get much attention that the president of the FIA (the governing body for most international racing) put out a tweet saying that he wanted to expand the FIA grid:
— Mohammed Ben Sulayem (@Ben_Sulayem) January 2, 2023
This is a big deal as, for the most part, even the new teams in F1 are just rebadges of exiting teams (Jordan became Midland became Spyker became Force India became Racing Point became Aston Martin).
F1 is enormously expensive and American automakers have been content to race in NASCAR, with Ford/GM/Chrysler occasionally competing at Le Mans, though typically in the sports car classes (Cadillac, it’s worth noting, is going back to Le Mans with this beautiful hypercar.)
So why now? Let’s list the reasons, in chronological order:
1. The Senna Effect
Credit to my old boss JF Musial for good timing with this Road & Track piece on how Asif Kapadia’s wonderful 2010 film Senna, covering the life and death of Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna, sparked an interest in the sport.
2. The Sport Comes Back To America
After a disastrous end to racing at Indy, a surging NASCAR made F1 barely a necessity in the United States and there was a five-year drought. Then, in 2012, the brand new Circuit of the Americas hosted the first rebranded U.S. Grand Prix. I was there (with Patrick) and it was a lot of fun and super strange because no one seemed to know what to do with it.
3. Liberty Media Buys F1
An American company, Liberty Media, buys F1. The old guard who owned F1, in my opinion, did a bad job with the sport. It was resistant to social media. It was still enamored with linear TV deals. If you were an American, there was not a huge reason to watch it, even if NBC Sports (which, full disclosure, I did some work with) did an ok job at trying to broadcast it.
When Liberty Media bought the company they opened the doors to social media and improved accessibility to the sport via streaming platforms. They also opened the door to Netflix.
4. Drive To Survive
Technically, in between all of this, an American company fronted by Gene Haas started an F1 team called Haas F1. What’s more important is at the same time Liberty Media gave access to a production company and Netflix to film behind-the-scenes of F1 and expose fans to the drama of the sport and teams like Haas and Red Bull. It was an enormous success and made even backmarker drivers suddenly famous in the United States.
5. The Expansion of F1 Races
First it was Austin. Then, last year, it was Miami. Next year it’s Austin, Miami, and Las Vegas. That’s more races than anywhere else on the planet. What’s missing is an American driver and an American brand.
Why It’s A Big Deal
We know that next year we’ll have Logan Sargeant as America’s first regular representation in years, but he’s still racing for a British team. Enter Cadillac and Andretti. Here’s what they say in their press release:
Today Andretti Global and General Motors, two American powerhouses in the automotive and motorsport sectors, have announced their intent to pursue the opportunity to compete in the FIA Formula One World Championship. GM would be represented by the Cadillac brand. The Andretti Cadillac team would be based in the U.S. with a support facility in the U.K.
This reunites two iconic American companies with deep motorsports pedigrees and provides the opportunity to build on previous racing accomplishments while expanding international reach for both brands. F1 has seen consistent growth globally and most recently in the U.S. with 2023 races in Austin, Miami and Las Vegas.
The Andretti Cadillac team is planning to submit an Expression of Interest when the FIA opens the formal process. If selected, the team is seeking to compete as soon as practical with at least one American driver.
I probably don’t have to explain why Mario Andretti is important, but he’s the last American to win an F1 season and that was in 1978!
F1 remains enormously expensive and there’s no promise that Cadillac goes through with it, but it makes a lot of sense from a brand perspective.
This is breaking news. This story is being updated.
Photos: Netflix, Apple, GM