With one tweet on Friday, Mario Andretti hyped up motorsport fans around the world by announcing his son Michael is attempting to enter his own Formula 1 team in 2024 after failing to purchase Sauber.
Here, Mario speaks exclusively to RACER about the plans and how they’re taking shape.
Q: It’s really big exciting news that has got a lot of people talking – how exciting is it to know of all the plans because you must be involved pretty heavily?
“That’s exactly right. What’s interesting, what’s kept me motivated in the business all my life is when I’m excited about something to share it with fans of the sport and then see their reaction. It’s been amazing. The feedback that we’ve received and I’ve received has been 99.9% positive and that’s what we live for in so many ways. That’s what’s so gratifying and that’s why you embark on a lot of these ventures that obviously are very ambitious — no question — but that’s what it’s all about. That’s what keeps you going.
“I’m very proud of what Michael is doing and his goals. I certainly endorse what he’s doing and I’m there to help whichever way I can without having a job! That’s the perfect scenario!
“I said, ‘You’re so far along and you’ve done so much work since the attempt to purchase a present team failed.’ He’s not giving up on the idea, period. He started working immediately on the Plan B, if you will, that now becomes Plan A, to just start his own team. He has a couple of individuals behind him that are here for the duration and are solid, and everyone is feeling the same way, feeling very positive about embarking on something like this.
“It is a huge situation here to get into but we live this sport. That’s all we do, that’s all we know and it’s not that we’re people who just have the financial means and say, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ No, this is our life. This is all we do. We breathe what we do.
“So we’re here for the duration and for Michael, you could see he’s been very ambitious as a team owner by participating in different disciplines all over the world if you think about it. Formula E, Extreme E, Supercars in Australia… He likes to put himself next to some good partners as well.
“But the Formula 1 goal here is the ultimate goal for him as well, no question about it, and he’s young enough to be there for a long, long time. And from my standpoint to see all of this happening is really what keeps me going, to be honest with you.”
Q: It would be incredible to see it come off, especially such a positive reaction. There was already a positive one when he was trying to buy Sauber, so was the idea to create his own team a response to that or was he working on both plans at the same time?
“To be honest with you all along he had this idea of, ‘Well, if this doesn’t work we might have to start our own team.’ So he started working, he started talking about possible connections — that’s how he pretty much lined himself up with an engine supplier and some of the aspects where, if you don’t have anything like that at least promised then what’s the point? Also, he has some very, very interesting and powerful individuals ready to come onboard as soon as this thing becomes official, with how to guide him and how to be involved in a start-up operation.
“I cannot mention these individuals now until it’s official, but he’s done his homework to the point where I said, ‘You know, Michael, I’m going to say something about it,’ and he said, ‘OK, just don’t tell them everything!’ I just can’t sit back and not share some of this with the fans.”
Q: And you making it public must also help in terms of more potential partners or people who want to be involved in the project coming to you now that more people know about it?
“That’s my point exactly. We all know the importance of that — to arm yourself with the best talent possible for the particular job and that’s the secret of everything. That’s how you reach out — you try to create enough excitement that it could be interesting for a lot of talents to join something like this and be part of it.
“All of it works. I’ve already been reaching out to really key people — I have a lot of friends in the business and that’s the beauty of it. Motorsports is one big family; we’re all part of it and we’re the ones who are here to stay, that’s the important thing, because this is all we do.”
How far down the line are you with the FIA? Have you just registered interest that you want an entry or have you had to do anything specific so far?
“It’s in there, it’s absolutely with the key people. All of this has been going on and at the moment I think it’s a matter of them getting approval from the teams and all of that what has to happen. There’s several steps that they have to take which is part of it. I’ve been in touch with Bernie (Ecclestone, former F1 chairman) — he and I have been speaking and I’ve been getting a lot of guidance as well. He’s the one who implemented a lot of these rules.
“We’re on it. We’re on it in all those aspects — we’re not going in here blindly. Anything that has been asked of us — guarantees and whatever — we comply. So if there’s anything more they need from us, we’re ready to respond. That’s the way it is, that’s where we are.”
You mentioned the fees — at the moment it’s $200 million to buy an entry into the sport. I know F1 mentioned that might be waived with agreement, but if it isn’t, is Michael in a position to pay?
“Yes, yes. Like I say, we’re going into this thing with our eyes wide open and we know some of the prerequisites. I don’t think Michael is asking for any special favors — we need to comply with whatever we need to comply to and go on. It’s as simple and as complicated as that, but we know what we are getting into.”
It has been reported that the chassis could be made in Indianapolis but the team will run out of the UK, is that accurate?
“Yeah absolutely. I don’t want that to be confused — we get some remarks even on Twitter: ‘Oh yeah, you can’t operate out of the U.S.’ — we’re not going to operate out of the U.S. Michael’s whole plan is to expand all operations, expand even the facility in Indianapolis where we’re going to have much more capability to be able to manufacture aspects of it, not relying on other vendors. But the base operation, engineering, everything is going to be out of the UK. That’s solid, that’s the way it’s going to be. We don’t need to confuse all that. A lot of people said, ‘You’re a dreamer to operate out of the U.S.’ No, that’s not the intent. We’re not stupid about these things.”
Q: The Andretti Extreme E team is based in Dorset, UK…
“Yeah they are, but this would be a totally different scale. This would be a whole new-scale operation.”