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United States GP: Veteran Mario Andretti thrilled by new American Formula One home


By Berthold Bouman

One of the greatest drivers in Formula One, Mario Andretti, who won the Formula One title in 1978 for Lotus, is thrilled to see Formula One has finally found a new home in the United States. He was the man to drive the first lap in a Formula One car at the Circuit of the Americas a few weeks ago, and is of course a great fan of Formula One racing. Andretti was the second American after Phil Hill to be crowned Formula One World Champion, Hill won the title in 1961 driving a Ferrari 165.

Andretti in his Lotus 79

About his time in Formula One the now 72-year old Andretti said, “I was very fortunate that when I did Formula One I did it with Lotus, I did it with Ferrari. I did it with top teams. Even if I did it on a part-time basis, I was still with a team that was capable of winning, and that makes all the difference in the world.”

But first and foremost, Formula has finally found a home in America, and Andretti is very pleased with that, “America did not have until now a permanent facility that was up to world standard for Formula One. This is what was needed. Now we can compete with the rest of the world and some of those new venues that have gone up in the last few years in the Middle East and Asia. That’s the ingredient that was sadly missing here in the United States.”

Asked to describe the circuit he said, “It’s purpose-built, properly, by known standards, it’s got great features, elevation — drivers like that — and a nice, long lap with 20 corners,” he said. “It’s got everything that’s needed to make it interesting, and a lot of attention was paid to great viewing as well — there isn’t a bad seat in the house!”

Andretti also hopes young American drivers will also get interested in Formula One, the last American driver to participate in the sport was Scott Speed, who drove 21 races for the Italian Toro Rosso outfit in 2006 and 2007, but returned to the United States to participate in several NASCAR Championships.

“I look at Formula One like the Olympics,” Andretti said, adding, “There’s a lot of national pride with it. When you stand on a podium on the top step they play your national anthem. I was in Argentina, and they were playing the U.S. national anthem. I was in Italy, and they were playing the Italian and the American national anthems.”

And with a smile he said, “And that’s what’s beautiful about the fact that we’re going to have, with pride, our home Grand Prix to increase the possibility of our own talents being involved. I just love the idea that all of this is happening. I love the sport so much and I think it’s going to have a wonderful home now.”

Alexander Rossi, Caterham

Two of those young talented American drivers are Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi. Asked about the popularity of Formula One in the United States Daly said, “There are a lot more people in America who care about it and who do want to see it succeed than people think. The United States Grand Prix will be really cool because Austin has done an incredible job with the track and everything there. They’ve put a huge effort in, and for Formula One — teams, sponsors, everyone — not to realise that would be a shame.”

Rossi is already test driver for the Caterham Formula One team but he will not be in the car during the first free practice session on Friday morning, as the regular Caterham drivers need all the track time they can get, “What I think the Circuit of the Americas is doing is creating a track that’s not only a great course for drivers but also a facility that will get Americans interested in Formula One.

“The team in Austin understands that for Formula One to succeed in a place like the United States you have to make it a sports and entertainment event — that’s the right approach to attract a U.S. audience.”

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