Mario Andretti guaranteed that his son Michael would have become World Champion at McLaren, but there were too many politics.
In 1993 Michael made the move to Formula 1 and so gave himself the opportunity to repeat his father’s achievement, that being to win the World Championship.
At McLaren the American racer had the perfect tools for the job in theory, but after only 13 races he returned to the United States with just a single podium finish.
Sadly, Mario said there were just too many factors working against his son for him to reach his true potential in Formula 1.
“Michael was hired by McLaren when Ayrton [Senna] was supposed to go to Williams. They had Mika Häkkinen. He should have been Michael’s team-mate, but suddenly Ayrton’s deal [with Williams] didn’t materialise and Michael was already there as a high-paid driver. It was difficult,” Mario explained during the Starting Grid podcast.
“[Häkkinen] was suddenly sidelined, and Häkkinen cost McLaren almost nothing.”
McLaren team principal at the time Ron Dennis did not want Michael in the car, informing him that the Italian Grand Prix would indeed be his final race with the team so that Hakkinen could be brought into the line-up.
He only got to race in Italy after Mario had begged Dennis to allow it.
“He said to him, ‘Mika Häkkinen will replace you from Italy and finish the season. And I can’t tell you if I’m going to renew your contract until Ayrton knows what he’s up to. It could be November,’” Mario explained.
“I begged Ron to let Michael drive, at least in Italy. And there he went on to finish on the podium, after starting ninth.”
Michael Andretti, McLaren – Ford, British GP – Silverstone, 1993. #F1 pic.twitter.com/wQmtOjkQdF
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One thing was clear though, Senna respected Michael’s speed, and this shone through during a test at Magny-Cours that year.
“Ayrton had great respect for him, Michael and Ayrton were within five hundredths of a second [at the test], with a time that would have put them in the first two rows,” Mario explained.
“Michael showed he can compete, but there were so many factors against him.”
Among those factors were McLaren’s switch from Honda to Cosworth, and also heavy restrictions on testing time for the drivers.
“In that year there was the new rule that you were not allowed to test on the track where the next race would take place,” said Mario.
“In addition, the maximum number of laps allowed in testing was 23 laps. That was a stupid rule that shaped the year. Because Michael came to every track for the first time. He had never been able to test there.
“And then McLaren lost the Honda engines and switched to Cosworth, and he had never tried the Cosworth. There was a lot going on against him.”
So, if the cards had not been stacked against his son, then Mario guaranteed that Michael would have won the World Championship with McLaren.
“There were a few things that didn’t work in his favour. I’m not saying that because he’s my son, but if Michael had stayed, he would have been world champion with McLaren. I guarantee that,” he concluded.
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