Entertainment

Can Mario Andretti Conquer F1… Again?

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1. MIAMI

In the paddock at the Miami Grand Prix, stars of Formula 1 and stars of American life who have recently caught the Formula 1 bug pass one another at close proximity and at great speed. There goes the British seven–time World Champion Lewis Hamilton on his Mercedes scooter. There goes Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda, taller than a third grader but sipping from a juice box nonetheless. Teams dressed in red flow this way, teams wearing white that way, looking like the lights on a highway.

Privileged patrons—among them Michelle Obama and LeBron James, Venus and Serena Williams, Michael Douglas and George Lucas, Americans all, some old fans, others new to the sport—scrum amid the mounting traffic and marvel that the great F1 circus has descended upon not just any part of America, but this America, for the first-ever Miami Grand Prix, just as interest has peaked among a burgeoning American race fan.

If you look past them all, past Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, beyond Bad Bunny and Pharrell, over the hip-high hedges of the team hospitality suites, around the fake palm fronds, and just beside those Ferrari mechanics sipping espressos in the 93-degree swamp heat, you’ll find a diminutive, olive-skinned man sitting in the middle of it all, an American, who has, it turns out, been around these F1 parts for decades, but is just now working out a more permanent return.

Mario Andretti, the greatest American race car driver of all time—a winner of the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Indy Car Season Championship, and countless other other contests involving speed in the 20th century—also holds the distinction of being the last American to win a Formula 1 World Championship. The last American, in other words, to capture the top prize in the top racing circuit on earth. This was 1978. Practically prehistoric times. At least for most of the 240,000 supercharged fans in Miami, many of whom got hooked on F1 via Netflix’s Drive to Survive and have grown accustomed to an F1 cast practically devoid of Americans. But in that ’78 season, Andretti took his fight to the greats of his era—to Fittipaldi and Villeneuve, to Hunt and Lauda—and bested them all. An American, then, was not just in the sport, not just on the grid, but was, for one season, its Verstappen, its Hamilton, its Senna and Prost.

Mario is in Miami in his capacity as the great connector between American race car driving and Formula 1. Indeed, he is an official ambassador of the Grand Prix and the most meaningful bridge between American racing fans and the globe-spanning racing series. But he is also there in a more surreptitious capacity to help ensure that he is not the last bridge, as well. In February, Mario shocked the racing world by announcing that his eldest son, Michael, had filed paperwork with the sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), to bring a brand-new American racing team and American driver to the F1 paddock in 2024. “His entry, Andretti Global, has the resources and checks every box,” Mario tweeted. “He is awaiting the FIA’s determination.” By Miami, in May, Michael and Mario were still waiting. But the convergence of all the F1 power brokers onto their home soil was an opportunity to make their case in person. The pitch was simple: A new American team featuring a star American driver (all under the banner of the great American racing name) would serve as the bellows to stoke the flames of the passionate new American fan base, a.k.a. the market that F1 had been trying to crack for practically its entire existence.

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