If Mario Andretti wasn’t a world champion, and wrote his autobiography, there would be more chances of it turning into a mega blockbuster in Hollywood. His journey of life has all the ingredients it takes to make an epic film. Luigi Andretti and his wife Rina, on February 28, 1940, gave birth to twins, Mario and Aldo in Istria, Italy. Like in an intriguing start to an ethnic Italian movie, the family started small, with the gun fires of the World War II in the background and their part of Italy suddenly appropriated to become Yugoslavia. With the young twins, now 15, Luigi and Rina started their journey into a new life. In 1955, they moved to the Nazareth, in the state of Pennsylvania in the United States of America, with just $125, that admonished them of the struggle that would lie ahead.
Two years old Mario, along with Aldo, sprinting up and down the kitchen making “vroom vroom” sounds indicated that the boys had a keen interest in cars, and their mother knew it immediately. Mario Andretti pursued his hobby of working on cars and worked in his uncle’s garage. When he turned thirteen, he had already honed his skills at driving in the garage and for the first time ever, experienced racing, in the Formula Junior league in Ancona, Italy.
Sneaking out of home to race on a dirt track in Nazareth, or blowing up their hard earned money on a 1948 make Hudson Hornet Sportsman to race it there, the Andretti brothers would not stop at anything to get the thrills of motion. A plethora of avenues opened up for Mario Andretti from thereon. Andretti featured in many championships of varying nature that fine tuned his abilities. He raced in the USAC stock car and NASCAR in the stock car racing category and in the USAC sprint car and IndyCar in the sprint car racing category.
Andretti made his first appearance in Indianapolis 500 in 1965, when he went up to the Lotus Formula One team owner, Colin Chapman and expressed his desire to race in F1. Chapman, the gentleman he was known to be, asked him to approach again when he felt ready for Formula One. Andretti took every word of Chapman seriously and reprised him of his preparedness for F1 in 1968. Chapman kept his promise and Andretti got his hands on the Lotus49 in the 1968 USA Grand Prix. For four years, he kept his commitment to American racing championships while also shuttling to F1 Grands Prix. He raced for Lotus, Ferrari and March in these years and achieved his first victory on his debut with Ferrari in the 1971 South African Grand Prix.
Andretti started racing full time in F1 in 1975. In 1976, he joined the Lotus F1 team, who were struggling to make impact after changing their car. With Andretti’s expertise and experience in designing, Lotus managed to spiral its way back up the grid and he finished three times on podium with one victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
With invaluable inputs from Andretti, the Lotus team successfully built their most competitive, Lotus78 “wing car”. With this car, he managed to win four races that season but due to some sporadic glitches on the technical front, he finished third in the Drivers’ Championship. The Lotus79 was built for the 1978 edition of Formula One. Building up from the previous year’s car resulted in a brilliantly stable machine and Andretti was only glad to accept the gift of six victories topped with the World Championship title. Unfortunately, he could not celebrate his best racing moment because of Ronnie Peterson’s tragic death in the Italian Grand Prix.
After 11 years of being in the limelight, Andretti hit a bump in his career and failed to tract any victories till 1981. In the 1982 edition of Formula One, he raced only thrice, two times for Ferrari and once for the Williams team but managed only a single podium finish.
With 180 Word Championship points, 12 wins and one World Championship title, Mario Andretti is certainly a star in the Formula One constellation.