Tag Archives: Mario Andretti

Getting an American Driver Back in F1 with Mario Andretti

The Marussia Garage sits empty this weekend at Circuit of The Americas

The Marussia Garage sits empty this weekend at Circuit of The Americas

As Circuit of The Americas track ambassador, world champion Mario Andretti spoke to me last year about Alexander Rossi’s return to FP2, and what that meant to him to see an American return to F1 during a Grand Prix weekend on US soil after a 6 plus year absence.

It’s now a year later, and Formula 1’s economic climate has left Alexander without a current team or a former team, let alone a drive, and fans continue to look for signs that an American will get behind the wheel in the near future.

Given the current state of affairs, I started off asking Mario how he would engage American fans about the sport this weekend and to speak to their desire to see an American drive at Circuit of the Americas:

“Can you imagine what it would do to the interests of this event if Mercedes would say, ‘OK, we’re going to have Alexander Rossi as our guest driver this weekend in his home country’?   At least leave that option open. . . “

Mercedes had no official comment, but off the record it was made clear what would be involved to allow someone outside a team a test, as development and driving in top teams go hand in hand today at every race, and mainly with the two best racing drivers a team can hire.  Seat time for a reserve driver alone is very limited, so giving a weekend drive to a someone from outside the team at a Grand Prix would seem very unlikely given the value of the track time permitted teams.

Times have changed, but it’s clearly not just about the ability to get any drive in F1, according to Mario, who spoke from his own experience:

“… I say this because that’s how i started my career, as a guest driver and I was very successful at it, so a driver [like Alexander Rossi] could surprise a lot of people by being in the car that’s actually competitive, not a Marussia, not a Caterham but a car thats actually competitive.”

He went further to say: 

“It could open up a whole new world for a driver like himself and the possibilities . . . and the good thing about this is that option is there to exercise, and I hope that sooner or later it will be exercised because it’s beneficial to everyone, it can be beneficial to the series, period.  In every possible way, I don’t see any negatives, thats why I’m talking about it.”

More from Mario shortly, but how do you think Formula 1 can do a better job getting American talent on track here at home?

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Filed under American F1 drivers, American F1 Fans, Circuit of the Americas

America’s Return to Formula 1

Californian Alexander Rossi in FP2 at Circuit of The Americas photo: Caterham F1 Team

Circuit of The Americas has been building a home for Formula 1 in America, and this weekend marks the second year of the race in Austin, Texas.  Sellout crowds last year demonstrated how teams, drivers and fans have embraced F1’s newest circuit and surrounding city at this global sporting event.

Austin is in the exclusive company of 19 other cities around the world that will host an F1 race this year, and while signs this weekend are showing that America can produce an F1 event that attracts and builds an audience, there is still one thing missing:  A hometown hero.  Americans have been competing with the world on four wheels since the days of the first automobile, but more accessible opportunities to drive in US-based racing series have typically kept American driving talent closer to home in IndyCar and NASCAR.

Formula 1’s annual visit to Austin has now become a focal point for discussion around what it can do to bring the right opportunity for a driver to compete in front of a hometown audience.  In Friday’s first practice session, Caterham F1 Team’s reserve driver,  Californian Alexander Rossi, drove, besting his teammate Charles Pic by over half a second, and marked the first time an American drove in a grand prix weekend in front of his home audience in nearly six and a half years.

In attendance this weekend at the circuit are Alex’s family, friends, and many supporters, as well as the last American to win a title in Formula 1, Circuit of The Americas ambassador Mario Andretti, who said:

“Everyone seemed to be awaiting [Rossi’s session] . . . I came in this morning, and Helmut Marko (Red Bull Racing) approaches me and asked ‘Why don’t we have an American driver?   Do you know of any youngster maybe around 16 to 17 that you could see could be a good prospect?’  . . . The teams are beginning to think in those terms.”

Broadening a foundation of support for Formula 1 in America is a topic of much discussion in the paddock this weekend as sponsors and teams measure the impact that their appearances on and off the track have with the public.  Sponsorship is the lifeblood of racing, and conventional wisdom up and down the paddock is that the U.S. is a key market for the continued success of F1, with teams here actively looking for American opportunity and talent to compete at the highest level.  Mario continued:

“To have a venue like this now that is going to be hosting Formula 1, and a solid home in the United States – that can play a very big in my opinion in advancing that spirit.”

Corporate sponsorship has always been a key part of getting into F1 for any American driver, and while team budgets and use of technology has grown since Mario’s years of racing in the sport, for him, there’s something more about representing one’s country on the track:

“I remember when I was in Formula 1, there was a special, a different sort of pride that went along with bringing the results because you were making your country proud as well.  It was like being in the Olympics.”


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Formula 1 history in Monterey

Sunday’s racing at the Rolex Reunion concluded with the 9B group for a run of F1 cars dating from 1966 – 1983, powered mainly by the Cosworth DFV.  The sights and sounds from the pit were tremendous, featuring a great showing from Historic Grand Prix, an American based group of vintage F1 car owners who campaign at various open wheel events around the world.

On the grid over the weekend were cars from Don Nichols’ Shadow team, and Roger Penske.  Cars like the PC-3, along with many of those in this run group were from an era when the economic barrier to entry was much lower for teams, and symbolic of the sport’s less commercial roots.

Hats off to Gill Campbell, Jennifer Capasso  and the rest of the team in Monterey for putting on a great event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, results of the above race have been posted.  Not only did they put on a great weekend , but they also took on the weekend’s timing and scoring at the track.

While walking around the garages and twittering away, I ran into my friend Rahul from the Lotus formus interviewing Historic Grand Prix member and owner of the Andretti Lotus 77, Chris Locke.   Rahul had a great writeup on the car and it’s brief appearance in Iron Man 2 at the Historic Monaco Grand Prix.

If you have a chance to see these cars run at a local road course, by all means introduce yourself to the teams and driver – and enjoy the sights and sounds these cars make on track!

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Filed under American F1 drivers, American F1 Fans, American F1 history, American teams in F1, Americans working in F1, F1 in America