Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

‘I am an optimist’: why Mario Andretti is not ready to give up on his F1 dream
F1 Sport

‘I am an optimist’: why Mario Andretti is not ready to give up on his F1 dream

The former Formula One world champion Mario Andretti, perhaps the most successful driver in US history, is certainly at ease in the paddock for this weekend’s Miami Grand Prix.

The 84-year-old, who won his F1 championship in 1978 for Lotus and has also taken four IndyCar titles, victories at the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and has been honoured as the US driver of the year in three separate decades, still revels in immersing himself in the sport and his pleasure at its burgeoning revival in his home country is palpable.

Andretti wants to make F1 his home too. But with his family’s attempt to bring their new team to the sport stalled, he has been left frustrated and disappointed, yet as determined to fight their cause as ever he was on track.

He has been captivated by F1 ever since he was 14 after he watched Alberto Ascari at Monza in 1954 before his Italian family, displaced by the war, was taken by his father to the US in 1955. Andretti followed his dream from the small town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania to the peak of F1 during a period when the sport was hugely popular in the States.

His son, Michael, has since developed a very successful racing team bearing the family name which competes across a range of series and has returned multiple Indy 500 victories, IndyCar championships and the Formula E title. Last year when the FIA announced it was inviting applications for expressions of interest to join F1, Michael, enthusiastically joined by Mario, applied. They were backed by General Motors who would be supplying the team’s engines under its Cadillac brand from 2028.

In October last year, of the four applications the FIA received Andretti’s was the only one they approved as meeting the criteria for entry to F1. However the attempt also had to be approved by F1’s owners Formula One Management (FOM).

In January F1 delivered its verdict, rejecting the Andretti entry for 2025 or 2026, citing in a lengthy explanation their position that an 11th team would not bring enough added value to the sport to cover the upheaval its addition would cause, noting that “F1 would bring value to the Andretti brand rather than the other way around”.

They also cited concerns that the team would struggle to be competitive, especially using customer engines until 2028 when GM was in the game and that the task facing a new power unit manufacturer was immense. They did leave the door open for a potential entry in 2028 however.

Mario Andretti in his Lotus before his F1 debut at the US Grand Prix in 1968.View image in fullscreen

Sitting in Miami as the US revels in F1’s success in the country Andretti is as witty and passionate as ever and does not shy away from admitting what a blow F1’s decision was, noting it was “depressing to say the least”. Nor does he have much truck with F1’s arguments.

“You tell me any team that can guarantee you are going to be competitive,” he says. “It’s absurd to be thinking that I am coming in tomorrow and definitely be competitive, I wish you could guarantee it. But what do you think we are in for? The objective is to be competitive. Do they think we are just here to jack around and be satisfied? No, we have never done that in our entire lives, look at our record.

“They say we don’t bring value? Well I think we bring value and at the same time we want to do right, the best way we can.”

F1’s decision disappointed many observers who would have welcomed an 11th team with an established racing heritage. Before the Miami GP, the debate entered a wider public sphere when 12 bipartisan members of the US congress wrote to F1 with a series of questions addressing whether FOM’s decision was breaching anti- competition regulation.

Andretti hopes F1 will provide more concrete reasoning to their arguments, which he finds enormously frustrating.

“We have completed everything that we needed to satisfy the FIA and for some reason when it was in the hands of FOM we have just met some resistance,” he says. “The biggest problem is that there is nothing specific saying: ‘If you do this, you are in.’ That’s the issue. I am hoping and praying some reason will prevail.”

One theory that has been posited is that 2028 is potentially on the table because any entry in 2028 will be after a new Concorde agreement, the contract between FOM, as F1’s commercial rights holder and the teams. Under the current agreement there is an entrance or antidilution fee designed to compensate the teams for a new entrant of $200m, which it is considered could be raised up to $600m or higher under a new deal, to better reflect the value F1 teams now command. This would be more likely to be satisfactory to the other teams.

skip past newsletter promotion

FOM made no reference to this in their rejection of the Andretti bid, nor did they consult with the teams who have an inherent financial self-interest in protecting their closed shop but did confer with stakeholders including race promoters, sponsors and broadcasters. They declined to make any comment, referring only to the previous statement on the rejected bid.

Andretti remains conciliatory in his approach. He is calm and considered and there is a genuine sense he wants to find a solution but believes the arguments F1 have presented do not stand up.

“I have lived this myself,” he says. “I have seen the teams operate, when a team was nowhere like Lotus and then what it takes to bring it around. It’s all about people, we know all this stuff.

“We have been accused of having a lot of passion and not knowing anything about business but I think we know a little bit about business too. I have put bread on the table through motor racing my entire life.”

Mario Andretti competes in the 1976 Japanese Grand Prix.View image in fullscreen

The team’s project continues nonetheless. They have just opened a new facility at Silverstone, and have started recruiting to staff it. Andretti says they have a host of experienced F1 personnel lined up ready to bring on board, were they given the green light.

“I am an optimist,” he says. “I believe Andretti will be in F1 for 2026. I am totally hopeful. Anything worthwhile has never been easy for us but we are resilient, we just want to be able to give a chance to reason this thing out properly.”

Andretti is still sharp as a tack, and his recollection of his time in F1 is fascinating. Of racing for Colin Chapman and charmingly he still calls Enzo Ferrari, who courted his talent, Mr Ferrari. The sport is in his blood and he dearly wants that to continue.

“I come to Miami, I walk the paddock, people are kind, inviting me, but I don’t have a home. Everywhere I have always gone in my life I have had a home, everywhere I went I was part of a team. For me to live the rest of my life following Formula One I need a home and an F1 team would be my home,” he concludes with a hopeful smile.

Source: theguardian.com