If Formula 1 really is holding the door open for an indecisive automotive brand while simultaneously having a bouncer bar the way for Michael Andretti’s independent team to enter, that stinks.
Forget for a moment the benefits to the championship of a fully-fledged American team, headed by a racing dynasty family, running homegrown driver talents.
Forget the racing pedigree of the team itself and what an attractive commercial proposition it would be and how it could attract top F1 talent to become a serious contender.
Think instead about the folly of predicating the championship’s future too heavily upon automotive manufacturers.
They do not exist to go racing. Racing is only ever a convenient marketing add-on.
Nothing wrong with that, and an entirely logical stance for them to take. F1 is right to welcome such presence. But not at the expense of an independent core.
That is to totally forget the harsh lessons of history. Which the world at large seems very prone to do at the moment. The turning of the generations means that valuable lessons from the past are only dimly recalled and not properly understood, especially if remembering them is inconvenient to short-term commercial gain.
So a brief history lesson: motor racing was conceived by automotive manufacturers at the turn of the 20th century as a way of publicising the speed and reliability of cars.
Independents could not enter grand prix racing. It consisted solely of automotive manufacturers.
In 1908 there was a global economic crisis. The manufacturers involved in racing got together and signed ‘The Self-Denying Ordnance’, which was a pact that they would all withdraw from racing en masse. So from 1909 until 1912 there was no grand prix racing.
By 1912 they were ready to come back and there were some epic battles between Fiat, Peugeot and Mercedes for the next couple of years. Then the First World War.
Early post-war grand prix racing stuttered back into life. Fiat was light years ahead of the competition and other manufacturers – Sunbeam, Alfa Romeo, Delage – poached its staff and ideas and eventually made very fast cars. Fiat, outraged, withdrew. Sunbeam, Alfa and Delage all suffered economic crises and one-by-one pulled out. Delage was the last of them and won every major grand prix of 1927.
For 1928 there were no manufacturers left but the governing body had the bright idea of organising grands prix for independent teams, using hardware provided by the likes of racing car constructors Bugatti and Maserati.
The six seasons of ’28-33 were a time of technical stagnation – the 1924 Bugatti design was winning grands prix right into 1931 – but brilliant competitiveness. Tazio Nuvolari and Achille Varzi came to the fore during this time and drivers, not manufacturers, established a huge following.
With Hitler regime funding the German automotives came back in 1934 – and with vastly superior technology and funding, dominated. Then World War II.
But even without the war’s interruption this era, while exciting for technology, probably wasn’t destined to sustain long.
Post-war racing came back to life again initially with pre-war cars from what had been the lower formulas. It got popular enough that by 1954 Mercedes and Lancia had joined – and with way more advanced cars than could be fielded by even Ferrari or Maserati. At the end of ’55 Mercedes and Lancia pulled out. What was now F1 no longer served their needs or the financial imperatives of the moment.
But a new wave was forming, of independent racers, mainly based in Britain. They built their own cars with bought-in components and by the end of the 1950s they dominated F1 – and would do for the next several decades. They existed only to race – and could therefore be guaranteed to always be there.
It gave F1 a strong skeleton for the very first time in its history. Being independent of the whims of the manufacturers was the absolute key to that sustainability. Automotives could come in and out – and several did – but without disturbing the equilibrium of the championship.
F1 should never allow itself to be beholden for its existence to entities which by definition cannot have the sport as a priority. Independents are the lifeblood of F1’s eco-system.