The name Mario Andretti has become one associated with speed and passion throughout Formula One. As an Italian immigrating to the USA, Mario is the personified ‘American Dream’. Mario's dedication and passion led him to fame in the Formula One world.
Mario Gabriel Andretti, and his twin brother Aldo were born on February 28th 1940 in Montona, Italy. In 1948 the Andretti family were placed in a refugee camp for several years following the effects of World War II. While there, the family suffered through crowded conditions and food shortages before moving to Lucca, Italy.
Mario and Aldo’s passion for racing bloomed while living in Lucca. The twins would watch in awe as the high speed cars circle round the Mille Miglia road race not too far from their home. A visit to the 1954 Italian Grand Prix in Monza further encouraged his passion. Mario was completely transfixed on the roaring engines of Maseratis and Ferraris. While at the Grand Prix, Mario witnessed the brilliant skill of racing legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Alberto Ascari. The latter, often titled ‘Italy’s Great Champion’, quickly became Mario’s role model.
Early Racing Career
In 1955, the Andretti family immigrated to the USA where Mario’s passion for motorsport grew. The 18 year old twins living in Pennsylvania took up racing behind their parents' backs. The two took turns sharing and racing stock cars in competitive events. Mario especially enjoyed tearing round corners and revelled in the thrill of a controlled four-wheel drift at 120 mph. However it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In 1959, Aldo crashed and suffered injuries throughout his body. Despite the accident he decided to continue racing. After a number of incidents the following years, Aldo retired in 1969 following the advice from his brother Mario.
After a spectacular race at the Indianapolis 500 in 1965 where Mario finished 3rd. He was scouted by Lotus F1 team owner Colin Chapman. As a result, in 1968, Mario Andretti debuted at the US Grand Prix in pole position in a Lotus 49. The following years, Andretti appeared in Formula One races sporadically. Mario soon achieved his first victory in 1971 at the South Africa Grand Prix. At this time, Mario was racing part time with Formula One with much of his attention focused on American open-wheel driving.
Formula One Career
In 1975, Mario became a full time F1 racer and won his first F1 World Championship in 1978 in a Lotus. Although his relationship with Lotus team owner Chapman started to become unsteady, Mario continued to push forward. The 1976 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji was a great example of this. Almost frightened of the Lotus 77's twitchy and unpredictable nature, Mario still managed to snag victory and the first win for Lotus in 5 years.
As a result of the Japanese Grand Prix, Andretti helped to develop the Lotus 78 using the skills he attained during his modified car racing years. The Lotus 78 ground effect car had an improved underside shaping that provided better downforce generation. This change allowed for improved tire grip and handling. Essential to control a high speed car round the tight twists and turns of F1 circuits. The Lotus 78 ‘Wing Car’ was the most competitive car of the 1977 season. Andretti optimised his car with subtle changes in tire size as well as suspension set up on each side of the car. Subsequently, Mario Andretti's skill and intellect made him win 4 races, more than any other driver that season. However, the Lotus 78 suffered many reliability issues as well as collisions with other drivers which positioned Andretti in 3rd overall in the World Championship.
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Mario achieved little success after 1978 he briefly returned to racing in the USA. However, when the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 1982 rolled around, Andretti simply couldn’t resist returning to the place that first sparked his passion for racing as a teenager. Andretti completed the race in a Ferrari 126 Turbo in an impressive 3rd place.
After almost 5 decades of racing, Mario Andretti retired from the sport in 1994. With almost 900 completed races and 111 wins, Andretti earned the title ‘Driver of the Century’ awarded to him in 2000 by the Associated Press and RACER magazine. However, despite no longer racing, Mario is still connected to the racing world through his son and grandson Michael and Marco Andretti as well as serving as one of racing’s greatest ambassadors.
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