was out on track, then returned it to the
mandated position in the pits.
Andretti later said that the team
experimented with a lower ride height in
testing and immediately went faster, but
in the races, he and Giacomelli spent
most of the season being hammered into
the ground. Or walking back to the pits –
the 179 was almost as unreliable as it was
slow. Andretti endured eight DNFs that
year, including one at Silverstone that left
him a spectator when the McLaren
MP4/1 – a car that could have been his
– took John Watson to victory.
The mid-season arrival of designer
Gerard Ducarouge from Ligier helped
somewhat, but Andretti had already run
out of patience. The 1981 season would
be his last as an F1 full-timer.
At least that experience ended on his
terms. Years earlier, his dream of
campaigning in F1 with an American car
was tempered by the reality that Vel’s
Parnelli Jones Racing was vastly under-resourced for its transition from USAC.
Andretti raced with VPJ through most of
1975 – but only learned that the team was
pulling out early in ’ 76 when he was told by
a journalist on the grid at Long Beach...
Colin Chapman produced
some of F1’s most iconic
cars, but the Lotus 63
was not one of them.
Designed for the 1969
season, its all-wheel-drive layout contributed
to the car being hard to
set up and even harder
to drive: Graham Hill did
one test run and refused
to step into it ever
again. Andretti raced it
in the German (ABOVE)
and U.S. Grands Prix
that year, but a crash
and a suspension
failure translated into a
combined total of just
20 racing laps.
THE OTHER SIDE
f there’s anything in the alarming
McLaren-Honda slide that Fernando Alonso
can take solace from, it’s this: he’s not
alone. Just as future generations will more
likely associate the Spaniard with Renault
glory than McLaren misery, the Formula 1
chapters of Mario Andretti’s career tend
to conjure thoughts of black and gold
Lotuses, or perhaps a Ferrari 312.
But Andretti, too, had his share of
“McLarens” – and, ironically, one of the
worst was a car that he chose over an
actual McLaren. When the 1978 champ’s
frustration at Lotus’s decline through ’ 79
and ’ 80 prompted him to look elsewhere,
he turned down a chance to join McLaren
in favor of a drive with Alfa Romeo for ’ 81.
There was a certain logic to the
decision: in the hands of Bruno Giacomelli,
Alfa’s 179 had looked promisingly quick
during the final races of the 1980 season.
But it didn’t take long for Andretti to
realize his mistake. During the off-season,
the FIA had moved to neutralize
ground-effect by banning sliding skirts
and imposing a minimum ride height. Alfa
followed the new rules to the letter, but
its rivals fashioned workarounds that
compressed a car’s ride height while it
Andretti’s five STP-backed outings in the
undercooked March 701 in 1970 yielded four
DNFs – and a first F1 podium at Jarama.
A linkup with Parnelli helped Andretti realize
his dream of racing in F1 with an American
team, but the VPJ4 had many shortcomings.
Andretti would later
describe his decision
to join Alfa Romeo
for 1981 (LEFT) as
the “choice that
drove me out of
Formula 1.” Worse,
the car he could have
been driving instead
– the revolutionary,
McLaren MP4/1 –
was a GP winner
WHAT MARIO ANDRETTI’S GRAND PRIX MISSTEPS WHERE FORMULA 1 WHEN EARLY 70S, EARLY 80S.