For One Andretti’s Dream, A Price Tag: $200 Million

For One Andretti’s Dream, A Price Tag: 0 Million

‘K’ Is For Kid ComebackWilliam Crooks

michael andretti

William Crooks

“He’s out of fuel!” the TV announcer screamed into his microphone. “[Michael Andretti] is out of fuel, dropping to the inside! And here comes the finish line! Who’s gonna win it?!”

This story originally appeared in Volume 13 of Road & Track.


Michael Andretti was in the No. 18 March 86C Cosworth, likely with every muscle in his body clenched. He was about to win the 1986 Portland Budweiser/G.I. Joe’s 200, over two seconds ahead of his father, Mario, on the last lap, when he ran out of gas coming out of the final turn. His father caught him, and the two cars flew by the checkered flag at almost exactly the same time.

“Unbelievable!” the TV announcer yelled. “Well, it’s perhaps the closest and best Indy-car finish in history!”

It turned out Mario beat Michael by about four inches. “That was so disappointing,” Michael Andretti says today. “It’s funny the way it worked out. That’s probably what cost me the championship that year.” The “funniest” thing of all? That race, where father beat son by those fateful four inches, went down on Father’s Day. Immediately after the finish, the cameras caught Michael’s then wife, Sandy, sobbing in the pit lane, while he stood with his father at the center of a mob of fans and TV cameras.

michael andretti

Michael and Mario at the 1986 Portland Indy-car race. Father beat son by four inches to snatch the victory—on Father’s Day.Road & Track – Hearst Owned

“Do you want to say anything to your dad right now?” the TV interviewer asked.

Michael turned to Mario and said, “Well, happy Father’s Day, Dad.”

When asked about it today, Michael can only chuckle. We’re sitting in the Andretti Autosport hospitality area in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, just before qualifying for the 2022 Gallagher Grand Prix on the track’s road course. “It’s such a cool story, but it was also incredibly frustrating,” he says. “When I offered him a happy Father’s Day, I wasn’t really sincere. It was really upsetting.”

It couldn’t have been easy growing up the racing son of the most famous racing driver of all time. But today Michael Andretti, 59, has fulfilled his destiny. He has had a fabulous career—statistically, he’s one of the most accomplished American open-wheel hotshoes of them all, with scores of victories and a CART Indy-car national championship under his belt (1991). As chief of Andretti Autosport, he’s won four IndyCar championships and five Indy 500s. Andretti Autosport fields teams in IndyCar, Indy Lights, Formula E, Extreme E, and IMSA. Twenty-four hours after our sit-down at the Brickyard, Michael Andretti would climb onto the podium with his driver Alexander Rossi—winners of the 2022 Gallagher GP.

michael andretti

Team owner Michael Andretti at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30, at the Gallagher Grand Prix, won by Andretti driver Alexander Rossi.William Crooks

But all of that isn’t enough for Michael. His name is, after all, Andretti. It’s in his DNA to chase that next victory and dream that bigger dream. By now it’s no secret that Michael Andretti is gunning to create a new Formula 1 team and succeed on the biggest stage in the world.

“Our goal is to be an all-American team,” he says with a calm, steady voice, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses. “To build a car over here on U.S. soil, with an American driver and an American team.” Not since 1967 has an American built his own car and won in F1—Dan Gurney at the 1967 Belgian GP in the All American Racers Eagle.

Andretti announced earlier this year that he wanted to build this new F1 team and even picked his lead driver: California-bred Colton Herta, 22, a second-generation IndyCar ace who currently races for Andretti Autosport and is the youngest person ever to win an IndyCar race. Immediately after Andretti’s announcement, powerful international racing impresarios split into two camps: those for and those against. Why? “Politics,” Andretti says. “F1 is full of politics.” And what is almost always at the root of politics, tacitly if not openly? Money.

michael andretti

Andretti Autosport officials problem-solving at the Brickyard in July.William Crooks

Technically, the F1 rulebook allows for 13 teams. Only 10 exist. Naysayers claim that bringing in an 11th would dilute the prize money. Toto Wolff, chief executive of the Mercedes F1 team, put it this way to the New York Times: “The 11th team means a 10 percent dilution for everybody else.” Another argument is that struggling F1 teams would be at even more risk. The only current American outfit, Haas F1 Team, has come out against the Andretti proposal. One can see how from Haas’s point of view, Andretti could be a threat. Now in its ninth season, Haas has earned zero podiums. To be overshadowed by an American F1 upstart would be humiliating and, potentially, financially painful. Meanwhile, F1 CEO Stefano Domenicali has taken an agnostic position, saying any proposal for a new team must benefit all teams.

From Michael Andretti’s standpoint, all of that naysaying is “shortsighted.” Formula 1’s popularity in America is exploding. Michael can bring the most iconic name in American racing back onto the international stage. That, he argues, would result in a boon of dollars and euros and yen. Andretti’s vision is ambitious as all hell and entirely different from what Haas has done.

“They don’t really build their own car,” he says, suggesting that Haas farms out a lot of that work. “We’re going to be building our own car. . . We want to build the nicest racing facility in the world, right here in Indianapolis.” Haas has two Euro drivers; Andretti wants to put only Americans in the seat. The amount of money needed to realize this dream is staggering. The up-front buy-in to put a team on the grid—not including what it would cost to build the “nicest racing facility in the world” and staff it—is $200 million. Where’s the money coming from?

“I have the best backers in the world,” Andretti says. “They’re thinking huge. They’re way on board. They’re not coming in just to be there. They want to go in and be competitive. They’re going to do everything they can on their side to make that happen.” Andretti is already hiring people, with plans to be on the grid in 2024. “We’re going down this road as if it’s happening. It’s going to take us awhile to get there. But I think where the series is going with the cost cap, you know, eventually, if we do our job right, we can be competitive. We can run up front.”

michael andrettis f1 stint with mclaren in 1993

Michael Andretti’s F1 stint with McLaren in 1993 did not go well. Could that be a reason for Andretti’s F1 ambitions today?F1 PHOTOGRAPH BY ERCOLE COLOMBO/STUDIO COLOMBO

Now stop and think about the bigger picture. Why is he doing this? Where is the drive coming from? The deeper you dig, the more interesting the story gets.

(1) Michael Andretti grew up in the Sixties, when the biggest news in international racing was the Ford-Ferrari wars. It’s a story about the Americans going over to Europe in the biggest David-and-Goliath sports story of all time—and winning. “Dad was a big part of that,” Michael Andretti says. “I’ve heard a lot of stories.”

(2) The Andretti family comes from Europe; Mario came to America as a postwar refugee in 1955. The desire to go back and succeed in Europe has always been part of the Andretti saga.

(3) Michael competed as a driver in Formula 1 with McLaren in 1993 and had little success. For decades there have been rumors that for political reasons, the McLaren team did everything it could to make sure he failed. “I could probably write a book about it,” he says. “I’m not going to, because it would come off as sour grapes. But there’s a lot of things that happened that should not have happened.” He says that has nothing to do with his desire today to launch the Andretti Global F1 team. As Doctor Evil would say: Riiiiiiiiiiiiight.

(4) The last American success story in F1 was, of course, Michael Andretti’s father. Mario was the last American to win the F1 world championship, with Lotus in 1978. For Michael Andretti, who is still young enough in this business to re-create himself, what better way to end his career than to do something not even the old man has ever done? To construct his own F1 car, here in America, and make Andretti a winner again.

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