Andretti says control issues of F1 team ended Sauber talks

IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti said Thursday that “control issues at the 11th hour” derailed his bid to buy the Alfa Romeo team from Sauber but he has not given up on his attempt to acquire a Formula One team.

Andretti made his first public comments on the failed attempt, which had been a widely discussed topic surrounding F1’s stop in Texas two weeks ago.

“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. That had nothing to do with that,” Andretti said. “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.”

He did not expand on the control issues, other than to say it meant “controlling the team.”

Andretti has been looking to expand his organization into F1 and was in negotiations with Sauber, which controls the Alfa Romeo team. He had also looked into getting IndyCar driver Colton Herta into a seat in Texas for the first practice session, when reserve F1 drivers can get on the track.

He confirmed Thursday that the 21-year-old Californian would have been part of any F1 venture by Andretti Autosport.

“If we do ever get a team, he would lead the way for us in terms of wanting to bring an American driver. He’d be the perfect guy to do it,” Andretti said. “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.”

Herta spent two years racing in Europe before his opportunities stalled and he returned to the United States ahead of the 2017 season. He won six races in Indy Lights over two seasons before his 2019 promotion to IndyCar.

Herta won a career-high three races this year and is headed into his fourth season of IndyCar. Had the F1 deal gone through, Andretti said he would have promoted Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood to Herta’s seat.

Instead, the option on Kirkwood’s contract has expired and he’s expected to take the $1.3 million scholarship awarded to the Indy Lights winner to A.J. Foyt Racing.

“Unfortunately at the moment we don’t have a spot for Kyle, but that’s not to say we won’t in the future,” Andretti said. “We’re definitely going to watch him, and I’m hoping he gets a full-time ride to get experience, and we’ll see how that goes. The goal is to get him back in our family one day again.”

Andretti has replaced two of his four drivers since the IndyCar season ended in September. Romain Grosjean was hired to take over Ryan Hunter-Reay’s seat, and Lights driver Devlin DeFrancesco will replace James Hinchcliffe.

DeFrancesco will drive the car that is fielded in conjunction with George Steinbrenner IV. The 21-year-old Canadian has spent two years in the Andretti development system and leapfrogged Kirkwood for an IndyCar seat.

Andretti noted that DeFrancesco was quicker than Kirkwood at a recent test, and DeFrancesco said his style was better suited for an Indy car than an Indy Lights car. He was the Indy Pro 2000 rookie of the year in 2020 and this season had two podium finishes in Indy Lights.

“Devlin getting the seat was always in the plan before Kyle was even around,” Andretti said. “It’s not like we picked Devlin over Kyle. It was always going to be Devlin.”

Andretti also said he’d like to find a role for the 34-year-old Hinchcliffe to remain with the organization. The Canadian has had two different driving stints with Andretti.

“We love James. He’s just such a great personality,” Andretti said. “We’re hoping to somehow keep him within the team.”

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