GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #21 - Mario Andretti

23-02-2020 19:00
by Adam Newton
General
GPBlog's Top 50 drivers in 50 days - #21 - Mario Andretti

Welcome back once again to GPBlog and can you believe it, it’s just three weeks until racing returns and we see the 20 drivers leave the grid and battle for victory at the Australian Grand Prix. So that means we’re now at number 21 on our countdown of GPBlog’s top 50 F1 drivers of all time! Yesterday we profiled Jochen Rindt and today we’re looking at another one-time champion, Mario Andretti.

Born in Italy, Andretti moved to America as a teenager and had success in the States, winning the USAC Championship three times and the Daytona 500.

He made his F1 debut with Lotus in 1968, taking pole position before a clutch problem forced him out of the race.

He returned for three races in 1969 before picking up a podium with March at the 1970 Spanish Grand Prix. His appearances in F1 were occasional, but he picked up his first win when he drove for Ferrari at the season opening 1971 South African Grand Prix.

He only raced seven times in the following three years, before signing a full time deal with the American Parnelli team for 1975. Andretti didn’t have a great season with the short-lived team and joined Lotus for 1976.

His performances improved across the season and podiums in the Netherlands and Canada showed he had ability; a theory confirmed when he took his second F1 win in the dramatic season ending Japanese Grand Prix.

Lotus were about to enter one of their classic golden periods in F1 as they developed the competitive Lotus 78. Andretti took victories in the US Grand Prix West, Spain and France to sit just one point behind Niki Lauda in the middle of the season.

Unfortunately, engine problems in all of the next four races meant Lauda and Jody Scheckter. Victory in Italy and P2 in the US Grand Prix showed he would’ve been capable of challenging, but Lauda had already taken the title.

In 1978 Andretti was joined by the talented Ronnie Peterson, with the Swede set to be Andretti number two.

Andretti won the first race of the season in Argentina, but was trailing Patrick Depailler after five rounds. This was when Lotus introduced their new car, the ground effect 79.

Andretti was superb in the 79, taking pole and victory at the next two races in Belgium and Spain. After retirement in Sweden he returned to winning ways in Germany.

Peterson closed the gap in Austria as he took victory whilst Andretti retired, before the American led Peterson home for a fourth one-two of the season – all of them with Andretti leading.

Peterson sadly died following a crash at the start of the Italian Grand Prix, meaning that Andretti could not be caught and was therefore champion.

Lotus had less success in 1979 as other teams copied their ground effect idea. 1980 and 1981 passed without success and Andretti opted to leave F1.

He filled in for one race at Williams after Carlos Reutemann’s sudden retirement and then replaced the injured Didier Pironi at Ferrari for the final two races of 1982, taking P3 in Italy.

Andretti went on to have a successful IndyCar career and took victory in the 1995 24 hours of Le Mans, making him one of the most decorated drivers in the history of motorsport.

There’s only 20 drivers to go in our countdown, reckon you know them all? Comment with who you think is coming up soon!

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