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Andretti: F1 sabotaged father's career

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

(Photo)
Marco Andretti (shown here at Indianapolis last week)?has no illusions about the cut throat nature of Formula One.
By CHRIS JENKINS

AP Sports Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Although Marco Andretti would jump at the chance to race in Formula One if the right team came calling, his eyes are wide open to the sport's dark side of politics and backstabbing.

And the third-generation member of one of racing's most famous families doesn't have to look far to find an example of F1's ruthless nature: His father, Michael, drove in the elite international series in 1993 and came away looking like a failure.

But Marco said the team his father drove for, McLaren, went out of its way to make sure he didn't get a fair shake.

"If you ask me, it was sabotage," Andretti told The Associated Press on Wednesday, as he prepared for Sunday's Indianapolis 500. "It was."

According to conventional racing wisdom, Michael Andretti didn't succeed in his lone F1 season because he wasn't committed enough, wasn't properly prepared or simply didn't measure up.

But Marco said people don't know "the real story" behind his father's poor performance that year, insisting the team tried to make his dad look bad so they could get rid of him and make room for a promising young driver -- Mika Hakkinen, who would go on to win two world championships.

"They wanted him to fail," Andretti said. "I don't know, it was a very bad deal. The reality of it was, they had Mika Hakkinen ready to come in for a lot less than what my dad was getting paid, and that's all it was. Right then and there, they had to make him look (bad)."

Andretti said McLaren's efforts to sabotage his father's career went beyond simply giving better cars and engines to his teammate, Ayrton Senna -- something that might be expected, given Senna's status as a three-time world champion. Andretti insists the team intentionally made his father's cars more difficult to drive.

"They would make the car do weird things in the corner electronically, stuff out of his control," Marco Andretti said.

The situation only improved, Andretti said, when Senna stepped in.

"And I think my dad's biggest supporter over there was Ayrton Senna," Andretti said. "Because he was one of the few who knew what was really happening in the team, and I think he believed in my father. It was Monza that he really said, 'Give him my car. Give him exactly what I had."'

Michael Andretti finished third in the 1993 Italian Grand Prix at Monza, his only top-three finish of the season. It didn't matter, as Andretti was replaced by Hakkinen in the final three races of the season and returned to race in the U.S.

A McLaren team official did not immediately answer a request for a response to Andretti's comments. Senna died in a crash at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.

Michael Andretti didn't want to go into detail about the '93 season, but didn't deny his son's version of the story.

"I'm not going to go into all of it," Michael Andretti said. "Let's just say it was not a pleasant experience. It was a time where I think I was sort of caught in a political battle of auto racing, and because of that wasn't a very good experience."

But Michael said he understood why Marco would speak out, saying he probably would do the same thing if something similar happened to his father, racing legend Mario Andretti.

"If my dad went through that, I would obviously probably approach it a different way and tell that story," Michael Andretti said. "But it sounds like sour grapes coming from me."

So given all that baggage, why would Marco Andretti want to try F1?

"Because I want to tackle it, you know what I mean?," he said.

Marco Andretti tested a Honda F1 car in 2006, but he isn't willing to make the jump unless it is with a team that can win. He believes the F1 establishment wants him to fail, too.

"I don't have any other mentality other than to go over there and win," Andretti said. "Because I think it's a bigger story if I go over there and fail, really. It really is. Because that's what people are waiting for, to be honest, over there."

Andretti, 21, enjoys IndyCar racing and says he could foresee spending the rest of his career in the series. But he concedes that IndyCar, which races mostly on oval tracks, isn't the best place to attract attention from F1 teams that race on road courses.

"The reason it's tough right now is, if I go win Kentucky, Ferrari's not going to come say, 'Hey, we want you,"' he said. "But maybe (winning) a series championship and the Indy 500, that could help."

Michael believes his son has the potential to race in F1, but also thinks he might find happiness by staying in IndyCar.

"He's one of the bright young stars here in America, and open-wheel racing I think now is about ready to rocket (in popularity)," Michael Andretti said. "I think there's something to that, for him to look at that, to think, 'Maybe I can help take IndyCar racing to the top.' I'm sure that's in the top of his mind."



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