Michael Andretti: IndyCar champion turned team boss – and future F1 entrant?

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Michael Andretti is used to being underrated in Formula 1.

He spent all 13 grands prix of his short career trying to prove he deserved his place on the grid. Now, 30 years later, he’s attempting the same – only this time as a team owner.

The son of 1978 world champion Mario Andretti, Michael had a short stint in F1, followed by a return to the CART IndyCar series where he was already a star. But his desire to return to the top of motorsport has remained, and last week’s announcement he has secured the backing of General Motors to make it happen has brought it closer than ever, though obstacles still remain.

Andretti was first linked to F1 in 1986 when he made a superb start to the CART season. However he was denied the chance to make an F1 debut as a substitute in Detroit that year.

Feature: The forgotten story of the first time F1 snubbed Michael Andretti in 1986
He continued in CART, winning the 1991 CART title with Newman/Haas Racing. He scored 27 IndyCar race wins and pole positions before his move into F1. That could have come a year earlier than it did, as he had a contract with Ferrari for 1992, but team boss Carl Haas wouldn’t let him go.

Instead the McLaren F1 team came knocking to sign him for 1993, and the third time around the stars finally aligned for Andretti’s grand prix debut to finally happen.

“I think he can win grands prix and become the world champion,” said Ron Dennis, McLaren’s team principal at the time. “It’s not a question of which country you come from. It’s how you demonstrate your desire to win.”

Andretti’s eventual introduction to F1 involved a few setbacks, as he later explained. “There was interest probably starting in 1990. I’d tested before I even won the CART championship. But every test I went to, unfortunately, something was out, or the weather was bad, and I never got a real proper test.”

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Andretti switched to F1 after 1992 CART IndyCar season
His expectations that McLaren would find a new manufacturer engine partner to replace Honda, who left at the end of 1992, were dashed. “From the time I signed my contract to the time that everything started to happen, we lost an engine deal. We were supposed to have the Renault engine, but that went away.”

McLaren therefore resorted to customer Ford Cosworth DFVs – and not even the latest specification, which went to rivals Benetton. Meanwhile Andretti started on the back foot. After stalling at the opening round and then subsequently crashing out at Kyalami, he suffered the same fate during the second round at Interlagos after a massive shunt with Gerhard Berger.

Round three’s famed wet European Grand Prix at Donington Park saw Andretti qualify sixth, still adapting to F1 cars and desperate to prove his worth. Yet moments after the lights went off he collided with Karl Wendlinger’s Sauber on the opening lap, making it three out of three retirements for the American.

The season didn’t improve much from there. He retired from the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola after crashing into Wendlinger once again, this time while running fifth. He retired three more times that season and eventually reached the podium at Monza, only to step down and relinquish his seat to Mika Hakkinen.

Those 13 races were all Andretti had to prove his worth. His story was remembered for all the wrong reasons, invariably held up as an example of an IndyCar driver who failed to make the transition to grand prix racing. But the odds had been stacked against him.

Besides being partnered with one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time, the 1993 rules changes restricted Andretti’s testing from the start. F1 ditched unrestricted free practice sessions, with just 23 laps allowed in the morning’s untimed sessions and 12 in the qualifying session.

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“Every rule change that happened, and the engine change, hurt me, because all of a sudden we couldn’t start testing until late,” said Andretti. “I literally got one-and-a-half days of testing at Silverstone before the first race. That was the only real test I’d had ever in an F1 car before I went to my first race. So it was pretty tough. Before we even got going from that standpoint things were stacked against us.”

As was widely observed at the time, Andretti did not make life easy for himself by tackling a largely European series from a base in the US, and shuttling back and forth between the two. However he denied that was a significant factor.

“I grew up a lot that year,” he recalled. “I learned a lot about people. So in terms of experience, it made me a better person, a stronger person. So I try to not look at it as negative, it’s part of life. Everybody’s going to have stuff like that. It made me a better person at reading things, reading people.”

Andretti won immediately on his return to CART. He added another 14 victories after that, taking his all-time tally to 42 which places him fifth on the list of most successful drivers in the top-flight American open-wheel racing.

Having returned to Newman/Haas, in 2001 he moved to Team Green in his bid to finally break the ‘Andretti curse’ in the Indianapolis 500, a race his illustrious family has won just once. The following year, as he started to wind down his racing activities, he took over the team alongside Kim Green and Kevin Savoree.

Team Green was rebranded under the Andretti name once the sale took effect in December 2002 and continues today as the successful Andretti Autosport operation. The brand has branched out into other motorsports, including Formula E and Extreme E. Andretti recently announced an expansion into sports cars with Wayne Taylor Racing.

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Their successes include five Indianapolis 500 wins, plus IndyCar championship success for their drivers on four occasions. Yet Formula 1 has clearly remained a target.

Andretti comes from one of America’s great racing dynasties
Andretti originally attempted to buy Force India in 2018 after the team ran into financial trouble. He then again tried to buy the Sauber-run Alfa Romeo Formula 1 team in 2021 but was unable to strike a deal on terms he considered acceptable.

It took three attempts for Andretti to get on the F1 grid as a driver. Will it be a case of ‘third time lucky’ again as a team owner?

The Andretti Group has shown it is serious about competing at the top level. It is spending $200 million (£170m) constructing new headquarters in Indiana.

Two-times Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who raced in the Indy 500 in 2017 with a McLaren entry heavily supported by Andretti, is among those in the sport who believes Andretti is a worthy entrant.

“It could be a big thing,” said Alonso last year. “I know Michael very well, I know the Andretti family and they are obviously a big part of motor sport in general and they are legends. So if we can have them in Formula 1 that will be the best news, I think for both.

Report: Andretti building new £170m headquarters to house ‘current and future racing initiatives’
“Formula 1 would benefit from that and obviously Michael and his team will benefit from the sport and from being in Formula 1. And I think they have the capabilities, the resources, they have the talent to be in Formula 1 and be competitive as well. So I hope this thing comes true in the next few years, and I will follow very closely.”

After FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem announced the governing body would launch an expression of interest process to assess potential new entries into F1, Andretti was first in line. Declaring they would partner with GM brand Cadillac to launch a bid to enter F1 further bolstered their credentials. But there is resistance from their potential rivals, and within F1, to expanding the grid beyond its current 10 teams.

In 1993 competing in F1 was a challenge, but 30 years later just getting on the grid would be an achievement. Michael Andretti has unfinished business in F1, but the first battle he must win is to be allowed to compete.

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Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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26 comments on “Michael Andretti: IndyCar champion turned team boss – and future F1 entrant?”

  1. But there is resistance from their potential rivals, and within F1, to expanding the grid beyond its current 10 teams.

    I don’t think this is necessarily true, Formula 1 would add a new works entry from the likes of Porsche in a heartbeat.

    Mr Andretti and his investors and their customer team with a fancy Cadillac sticker, though, well, might not be enticing enough to hand out an F1 entry at cut-rate prices.

    1. I don’t agree. They have the pedigree and this would be massive for the U.S. market. And personally, I’ve always wanted us to get back to a 26 car grid, so 12 is better than 10.

      This situation where the teams can veto new entries is ridiculous. A new entrant needs to donate the $200m ‘dilution’ and the current entrants still feel (righty so) that profit-wise, it’s still not worth it. Change the regulations asap, FIA; uncouple yourselves from the teams and grow the sport the way you want to!

      1. If you had a rather vocal Mr Andretti with his proposed customer entry while you’re also talking about works efforts with Porsche, Hyundai and who knows who else privately, Mr Andretti wouldn’t make the top of your list of possible entrants either.

        1. Not your list, perhaps.
          But an elite-level international racing team that has huge pedigree and had shown enormous commitment to motorsport? Native to the US, and willing to actually base their F1 operation there too?
          I’d take them over a lot of other proposals (that haven’t happened…).

    2. A “Cadillac sticker” isn’t good enough for F1 but Sauber can slap on Alfa Romero or Audi that’s just fine?

      1. Audi is a different case as that’s a full works team that purchased Sauber, so clearly not just a “sticker.”

        Why you chose that over the more obvious Aston Martin, I don’t know ;)

      2. Who said anything about Sauber or their current set of sponsors?

    3. Manufacturers come and go at the drop of a hat in F1. There’s a very long list of manufacturers in the list of “former” F1 teams.

      Then you have Williams, McLaren, Sauber (BMW, Alfa Romeo, Audi), Stewart (Jaguar), Jordan (Aston-Martin), Tyrell (Honda, Mercedes), Minardi, Haas, Tolman (Renault, “Lotus”, Renault, Alpine). These teams all came into F1 as independents– they may have been bought out by manufacturers, but most have either remained independent, or wound up being independent again when the manufacturer quit the sport.

      Ferrari is the only team that started as a manufacturer, and is still a manufacturer.

      1. Jordan (Aston-Martin)

        Those are not the same. The Jordan entry stopped competing in Formula 1 after the company went into administration in Aug 2018.

        The team currently running under the Aston Martin name was granted a magical new entry just in time to compete at the Belgium GP that year.

        1. You know full well that’s just a name on a piece of paper.

          The team facilities and resources are the same, the team members are the same, the cars remained the same, the sponsors remained the same….
          Only the ownership and official FIA registration changed. It’s the same team for all intents and purposes.

          1. You know full well that’s just a name on a piece of paper.

            No, it’s a number at Companies House.

            One went into administration and ceased participation in Formula 1.

            A different one was granted an entry in Formula 1 in time to compete in the 2018 Belgian GP.

          2. No, it’s a number at Companies House.

            On their piece of paper….

            One went into administration and ceased participation in Formula 1. A different one was granted an entry in Formula 1 in time to compete in the 2018 Belgian GP.

            Using the same facilities, resources, team personnel, cars, sponsors and even drivers….

            Nah, totally different team. No relation at all….

          3. @S

            If you bought my notebook and used it to post here, that still wouldn’t make you me.

            The same is true for Racing Point buying Force India’s race cars and IP and going racing with them in Formula 1 starting from the 2018 Belgian GP.

          4. That’s the worse comparison ever.
            You aren’t a racing team or a business. Are you?

            If i bought everything about you – your house, your car, your possessions, your family, your name, your business, your image and your identity – for all intents and purposes, I would be you.

  2. The only thing more painful to watch than Andretti’s 93 season was Zanardi’s 99 campaign. It makes me sad just thinking about it.

  3. I’m still baffled that they had not an entry granted yet. I can only see positives:

    – American legendary name
    – GM backing (even if it’s on Cadillac branding only, it’s already massive)
    – true racing pedigree in different championships
    – they have the 200m$ fee covered
    – they are improving the facilities with more 200m$
    – F1 great momentum on American market

    This is no “Stefan GP”. This is a serious proposition. We are under cost cap as well, which makes easier for a team to enter f1. This should be a non brainer. More openings for drivers , test drivers, technical staff. If this is not a worthy addition for F1, then I don’t know what team would be.

    1. I’m still baffled that they had not an entry granted yet.

      You (and we) do not know the full picture.

      We only know that the ones that do had barely any reaction to Mr Andretti’s newest try at getting an F1 entry at the current, value going rate.

      1. Fair comment, but if we look a team like Haas, which have a much less robust proposition (but a very clever one it must be said) doing reasonably well since they started, I cannot think why Andretti wouldn’t cope with F1. For sure they wouldn’t threat the big ones, but I have no reason to think they wouldn’t be able to compete in the low midfield in 2 to 3 years.

        1. Timing is everything. Mr Haas hit the golden window to get his clever / half-a-ed entry approved.

          Mr Andretti on the other hand failed multiple times to buy an existing entry and is now rather desperately trying to get a new one approved before the price for those goes up to market rate. (or new entries are just plain exhausted if multiple of the interested parties are granted one)

          And that’s the thing: If current rumours are to be believed, there are multiple people/groups/manufacturers currently considering joining Formula 1, and it only makes sense for Formula 1 to have them all present their case, rank them according to their desirability, and then work down that list to see if there are one or two desirable applicants willing to commit.

          Mr Andretti’s attempt at jumping the queue and pleading his case in the court of public opinion might indicate that he’s not confident he’ll be one of those asked to the ball.

          1. Correction – Andretti was unsuccessful in buying two teams (the easy way in) and now has no other choice left but to do it the harder, far more expensive way.

            If you believe that F1 has a long list of high(er) quality prospective teams (including manufacturers) ready to drop in a genuine entry, then you must believe anything, as ‘F1 sources’ have been saying this since the last round of entries were granted and only Haas has come (to replace Manor, prior to their inevitable collapse) because F1 was desperate not to drop below 10 teams.
            The same number that F1 and those 10 teams locked in to the Concorde Agreement so as not to lose any more….

          2. @S

            Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

            Though I’m not sure Formula 1’s reference to “great interest in the F1 project at this time with a number of conversations continuing that are not as visible as others” means this even qualifies.

          3. The only evidence of anything is Andretti’s highly-publicised pursuit of entry and the work they have already done to make it reality – including finding the mythical manufacturer that everyone keeps talking about.

            Better than rumours, gossip and maybe’s.

    2. @mmertens whilst you talk about the factory expansion plans in the USA, those expansion plans are at odds with the timeframe that Andretti seems to have set out for entering F1.

      Assuming the construction works run to schedule, Andretti’s new factory isn’t due to open until the first half of 2026. Andretti has also stated that would also involve a significant expansion of his facilities in the UK, with reports that his F1 engineering division would be in the UK – but Andretti has not yet stated how much that would cost or when those new facilities in the UK would be operational.

      Furthermore, not only is this UK division meant to be supporting their Formula 1 team, the Andretti’s have already talked about expanding their operations to have Formula 2 and Formula 3 teams running out of that same facility as well.

      However, there are also reports that Andretti has said that he wants to be on the grid in 2025 – if that is the case, then the new factory wouldn’t be operational until around 18 months after Andretti wants to enter the sport. Meanwhile, the Andretti’s have also not yet confirmed what exactly they are planning on building in the UK, nor when that is meant to be operational, even though it is an important part of their plans.

      If Andretti is aiming for 2025, it does seem rather ambitious to go from nothing to having a fully homologated car in two years, particularly when we still don’t have formal plans for some of the key facilities that Andretti would be relying on to deliver his plans. The only thing that does seem to be certain is that Andretti can’t rely on the new factory in Indiana, given that won’t be operational until after Andretti wants to enter.

  4. Hi Proesterchen, I believe that this is a narrow view about Andretti to be honest. As said before, they first tried to enter the easier way (buying a team). For different reasons it didn’t work in a business standpoint. So they went for the harder way, building a team for scratch. When they first stated the interest, Mr Wolff tried to dismiss them saying that this is a billionaire’s club with OEM involvement needed. So in a great move by Andretti, they managed to get GM involved. They know this is cut throat business, so now they checked all requirements to legitimately enter in F1. Business aside, If F1 wants to be considered that this is a competition and the pinnacle of the sport, they should grant an entry to a worthy and legitimate competitor. Making this interest in participating in F1 public, will pressure commercial rights holder and put those opposing in a bad light, so this is also a great move from Andretti.

    1. Making this interest in participating in F1 public, will pressure commercial rights holder and put those opposing in a bad light, so this is also a great move from Andretti.

      I wonder if this is a cultural thing, that some people seem to believe that antagonizing the very people you need to be swayed in your favour for your big payday to come to pass is helpful in any way, much less a “great move.”

      1. Well , maybe that’s the nature of F1, if you want to play in the shark club that’s how needs to be done, or else you will only be hard done by the likes of Wolff. I reiterate that it’s a great move from Andretti. But who am I to know? I suppose time will tell.

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