Andretti and Unser: The F1 debut that never was


Mario Andretti and the late Bobby Unser had once, quite literally, gone out of their way to make their F1 debut at the Italian GP in 1968.

But the event's organizers ultimately made the daring duo's trip to Monza a waste of a clean pair of overalls and a plane ticket.

Andretti and Unser had both secured drives for the ninth round of the 1968 F1 World Championship, the former with Lotus and the latter with the works BRM team.

The USAC rivals' season was still in full swing in the United States, with both men locked in a tight battle for the title. But when it came to their Grand Prix debut they joined forces and travelled to Italy together in a mad-dash transatlantic double round trip stint.

"Bobby and I were racing at the Hoosier 100 at Indy on the Saturday," Mario remembers, "so we were on an awfully tight schedule! I only got in about 20 minutes of track time in Friday's practice, but when I left, I was quickest at that stage."


Andretti's F1 baptism of fire, at the venerable cathedral of Italian motorsport where as a young teenager he was first bitten by the motor racing bug, had indeed been remarkable!

But his impressive laps times on his first official outing in a Grand Prix car were also his last of the weekend.

Both drivers did indeed race in the Hoosier 100 on Saturday, a sprint car dirt track event that counted towards the USAC championship.

But upon their tardy return to the Monza paddock on Sunday, they learned of their exclusion from the Italian Grand Prix as officials invoked an obscure sporting rule that prohibited a driver from taking part in another race within 24 hours of a Grand Prix!

"That was all political stuff, that crap they pulled on us in Monza," Unser recounted in the book American Grand Prix. "They let us fly all that way for nothing. And then, we drove all the way to the airport like idiots, maniacs, tryin' to make it.

"I risked both Mario's and my life just getting to the race track. We ran on sidewalks through towns, Italian cops were wavin' their arms and yellin' at us, we just went and went.

"Mario'd read the signs, tell me where to go, and I'm drivin'. Stupidest thing I've ever done. And all the time, we wasn't gonna have a chance to run anyway!"

However, both drivers were awarded another chance to make their entry onto the F1 scene a few weeks later at Watkins Glen.

Andretti made the most of the opportunity, snatching pole position and stunning his rivals before a mechanical issue on the Lotus put paid to his efforts while he was running second in the race, just behind Jackie Stewart.

Unser also lined up on the US Grand Prix grid, albeit with a broken ankle contracted the day before in a basketball game.

Although Unser was in considerable pain, BRM supremo Louis Stanley had urged the 1968 Indy 500 winner to drive so the team could collect some well negotiated starting money.

"The doctor at the Glen gave me some pills to kill the pain," Unser remembers, "but they must have been mighty strong 'cause I wrecked the car, tore all four corners off it! It was just a piece of junk.

"They gave me the spare for the race which was made up for Rodriguez, but the transmission didn't work. That's when I also discovered that the engine I'd been using had 30 percent less power than Pedro's.

"Lou had promised me equal stuff, so I told him I'd been had and walked away. That was my last deal in Formula 1."

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter