The Formula 1 paddock turns small nuggets of information into wild rumours so quickly that half of what you hear is either untrue, out of date, or a misinterpretation. Maybe all three at once!
At the previous race in Turkey, it emerged that Andretti is looking to buy into Sauber. That was true, I have no doubt about that. What was less convincing was how quickly this escalated the following morning. Suddenly it was being treated as fact that it was definitely happening, that it could be signed and completed by the United States Grand Prix, and that it would be in place for 2022 with Colton Herta joining the team from IndyCar.
That could all prove to be true. When a story breaks it’s inevitable that different people dig up different bits of information. But much more likely is that people were getting carried away and starting to add 2 + 2 themselves – again, it could all prove to be true, but that doesn’t mean it’s accurate at the time.There’s a difference between what he can be confident is happening and what we might assume will happen.
We can be confident that Andretti is seriously interested in Sauber and that representatives of both parties have had conversations. We can assume that rumours of a meeting at the coming United States GP are true given it would be a logical place for Andretti’s Americans to meet face-to-face with a team based in Switzerland.
Will it happen? Impossible to say from the outside. But it seems perfectly plausible as it seems to fit what both parties want. The impression has always been that the Swedish side of Sauber’s ownership – mainly Finn Rausing – never put the team up for sale after buying it in 2016, but would be willing to sell if the right offer came in. Especially if Rausing could remain peripherally involved in a small way.
Michael Andretti is said to have wanted to take the family name back to F1 for a while and has been open about his desire to take Andretti Autosport onto the F1 grid if possible. There seems to be some serious financial firepower in that organisation now too. In that case there is a motivated seller, and a motivated buyer. The figure that was being spoken as fact in Turkey was around $300m for 80% of Islero Investments (which owns Sauber’s motorsport and engineering divisions).
That suggests Andretti’s side is keen to make the team its own but willing to let the existing owners retain a stake – which would also work for someone like Rausing, who gets to remain an F1 team part-owner with barely any financial responsibility. Given what he’s put into that organisation to keep it afloat, you can’t begrudge him that kind of solution.
There will be some people who wonder what the point of Andretti joining F1 is. But the appeal of an F1 team has arguably never been higher, because a place on the grid is exclusive and F1’s started a more equal era in terms of budget caps and sharing out prize money more equally. So, the more interesting question to me is why Andretti thinks Sauber specifically will work. There is plenty of potential in the team, there always has been, but harnessing it is a problem. Being based in Switzerland is part of that because it’s historically been a tough sell.That won’t change unless it is relocated from Switzerland – and it also won’t be a ‘true’ American team if it’s not either based in the US or with a prominent US influence.
Given the infrastructure that exists at Hinwil a mass relocation seems highly unlikely (not to mention unwise). So if it happens there will presumably be some kind of Haas-type arrangement where the bulk of the team’s work is conducted in Europe but there’s an American headquarters as well. How well that can work is hard to judge. Haas made it look quite appealing but leaning on its Ferrari relationship was a big part of that and the team has since slumped (albeit with other factors complicating it). Plus, Haas was an all-new operation. That’s one less hurdle for Andretti to worry about.
This is all hypothetical until we know two things: whether Andretti is actually buying Sauber, and exactly what its plans for the alliance are. Until then, we’re back to where we started – dealing with a lot of speculation that can quite quickly run out of control. But that’s part of the fun, right?