‘I’m an optimist’: why Mario Andretti isn’t ready to give up his F1 dream

<span>“The goal is to be competitive,” says Mario Andretti of his plans to launch a Formula 1 team.</span><span>Photo: Michael Conroy/AP</span>” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/dCmFJLCgNhRmvo8.BDtthw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/3e34aee6f20c25dc5ba7 e1de50cad59a” data src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/dCmFJLCgNhRmvo8.BDtthw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/3e34aee6f20c25dc5ba7e 1de50cad59a”/></div>
<p><figcaption class=“The goal is to be competitive,” says Mario Andretti of his plans to launch a Formula 1 team.Photo: Michael Conroy/AP

Former Formula 1 world champion Mario Andretti, perhaps the most successful driver in American history, is certainly feeling comfortable in the paddock for this weekend’s Miami Grand Prix.

The 84-year-old, who won his F1 championship for Lotus in 1978 and also has four IndyCar titles to his name, winning the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and being honored as American Driver of the Year in three separate decades , continues to enjoy immersing himself in the sport and his joy at its burgeoning revival in his home country is palpable.

Andretti also wants to make F1 his home. But now that his family’s attempt to bring their new team into the sport has stalled, he is left frustrated and disappointed, but as determined to fight for their cause as ever on track.

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He has been fascinated by F1 since he was 14, having seen Alberto Ascari at Monza in 1954 before his Italian family, displaced by the war, was taken to the US by his father in 1955. Andretti followed his dream from the small town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania to the pinnacle of F1 during a period when the sport was extremely popular in the United States.

His son, Michael, has since developed a highly successful racing team that bears the family name, competing in a range of series and producing multiple Indy 500 victories, IndyCar championships and the Formula E title. When the FIA ​​announced last year that it was inviting applications for expressions of interest to participate in F1, Michael applied, enthusiastically accompanied by Mario. They were backed by General Motors, which would supply the team’s engines under the Cadillac brand from 2028.

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

In January, F1 ruled, rejecting Andretti’s entry for 2025 or 2026, citing in a lengthy explanation their position that an eleventh team would not add enough value to the sport to offset the unrest its addition would cause to compensate. adding value to the Andretti brand, rather than the other way around.”

They also cited concerns that the team would struggle to be competitive, especially if they used customer engines until 2028, when GM was in the game, and that the task facing a new power unit manufacturer was enormous. However, they left the door open for a possible entry in 2028.

Sitting in Miami as the US basks in F1’s success in the country, Andretti is as sharp, witty and passionate as ever and doesn’t shy away from admitting what a blow F1’s decision was, commented that it was “depressing to say the least”. He also has little confidence in F1’s arguments.

“Tell me a team that can guarantee you’ll be competitive,” he says. “It’s absurd to think that I’ll come in tomorrow and definitely be competitive. I wish you could guarantee that. But what do you think awaits us? The goal is to be competitive. Do they think we’re just here to browse and be happy? No, we have never done that in our entire lives, just look at our file.

‘They say we don’t add value? I think we add value and at the same time want to do the right thing, in the best possible way.”

F1’s decision disappointed many observers, who had welcomed an eleventh team with an established racing heritage. Before the Miami GP, the debate entered a wider public sphere when twelve bipartisan members of the US Congress wrote to F1 with a series of questions about whether FOM’s decision breached anti-competition regulations.

Andretti hopes that F1 will substantiate their arguments more concretely, which he finds extremely frustrating.

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

One theory that has been posited is that 2028 is potentially on the table, as any entry into 2028 will take place following a new Concorde agreement, the contract between FOM, as F1’s commercial rights holder, and the teams. Under the current agreement there is an entry or anti-dilution fee intended to compensate the teams for a $200 million newcomer, which it is believed could be increased to $600 million or higher under a new deal, to boost F1’s value teams now better reflect command. This would probably be more satisfying for the other teams.

FOM did not mention this in their rejection of Andretti’s bid, nor did they consult with the teams who have an inherent financial self-interest in protecting their closed shop, but they did consult with stakeholders including race promoters, sponsors and broadcasters. They declined to comment, referring only to the earlier statement about the rejected offer.

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

“I have experienced this myself,” he says. “I’ve seen the teams operate, while a team was nothing like Lotus and then what it takes to make it happen. It’s all about people, we all know this.

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

The team’s project continues anyway. They have just opened a new branch in Silverstone and have started recruiting staff. Andretti says they have a host of experienced F1 personnel ready to come on board, if given the green light.

“I’m an optimist,” he says. “I believe Andretti will be driving in F1 in 2026. I have every hope for it. Anything worth doing has never been easy for us, but we are resilient, we just want to give the chance to reason this out.

Andretti is still sharp and his memory of his time in F1 is fascinating. About 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 really wants it to continue.

“I come to Miami, I walk around the paddock, people are nice and invite me, but I don’t have a house. Everywhere I’ve been in my life I’ve always had a home, everywhere I went I was part of a team. If I want to follow Formula 1 for the rest of my life, I need a home and an F1 team would be my home,” he concludes with a hopeful smile.

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