That included the Ford-backed Holman Moody team Andretti drove for when he won the 1967 Daytona 500 – one of just three NASCAR races he competed in. At one stage they held him in the pits to hand the lead to regular driver Fred Lorenzen – yet Andretti still won.
“I felt very alone, in that respect,” recalls Andretti. “But that’s the way the culture was then. Michael runs his team differently. As a veteran driver, I’m not sure I’d welcome that – I always had proprietary knowledge that I liked to keep to myself.”
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How Mario Andretti switched from Indy to F1
While Alonso is switching – albeit as a one-off – from F1 to Indy, Andretti went the other direction in his career. Italian-born Andretti’s motorsport passion began watching grand prix racing at Monza before his family emigrated to the USA in 1955. He began racing on Pennsylvania’s dirt ovals, but always dreamed of reaching F1.
It was as an Indy 500 rookie, in 1965, that Andretti built his first links to F1. The dominant winner of that year’s event was Jim Clark, running in a works Lotus, part of a mid-1960s F1 invasion that sparked a switch from front to rear-engined racing cars at the Brickyard (notably, Clark skipped the Monaco Grand Prix to race at Indy that year).
“All I wanted to do was meet [Lotus boss] Colin Chapman and Jim," Andretti says. "I did well as a rookie in the race, and that last word I had with Colin was ‘some day I’d like to do F1.’ He said ‘when you’re ready, call me.’
“I came away that year feeling good, and challenged myself to get road racing experience. When it was time for my first Formula 1 grand prix [the 1968 US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in a Lotus-Ford] I qualified on pole.
“In comparison to an IndyCar at that time, the F1 car felt so right, so perfect. But when a car feels good you don’t care what it is – you feel good and go fast.”
After occasional outings with Lotus between 1968 and 1970, Andretti switched to Ferrari, winning his first grand prix in South Africa in 1971. He also drove for American team Parnelli but returned to Lotus in 1976, and in 1978 won six races on his way to the world championship.