by Russell Atkins

1978 Formula 1 World Champion and former Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti is a motorsport legend like few others, with more than 100 triumphs on major circuits over a career that has spanned the best part of five decades.

Appearing at the inaugural GPlive event at Donington Park - a nostalgic celebration of motor racing stars and cars both past and present - the Italian-born American reflected on memories brought back to life and gave his thoughts on the state of play in Formula 1 in 2007...

Q:
Mario, first of all how are you enjoying yourself here at GPlive?

Mario Andretti:
I'm enjoying it all very much - I just love these events. I'm happy (GPlive organiser) Richard Morgan invited me to come here and gave me the chance to revisit these old cars with so many fans. British fans are just the best; they are so knowledgeable. I've been meeting some new ones and have seen so many old friends as well.

Q:
You mention the fans. You've also been reunited with some old friends in the shape of both drivers and cars this weekend, haven't you?

MA:
Of course; I've been around a long time. Many of us grandfathers here were teenagers one day! Some of the Lotus mechanics here actually worked for the team when I raced with them. The chief mechanic Bob Dance and three or four others who were with me in best days with the team are still here. It's very nostalgic and just a wonderful feeling for me.

Q:
You've been driving a lot of machinery here that you used to race a long time ago. How has that felt?

MA:
They all feel just a bit strange at the beginning. Going out with the old Lotus 49B, I forgot it didn't have ground effect and I took it into the first corner really deep and immediately did a 360! That brought me back to some semblance of reality, but it's been fun being able to revisit how these cars felt. They are still beautifully-prepared and go very well. It does bring back memories for me.

Q:
You have had a long and successful career in motorsport. Looking back, what would you say you remember most fondly about it?

MA:
You always have to judge it by the successes, because those were the most joyful moments. There are also the team-mates I've been able to share the team with and all the friendships I've made over the years. Motor racing is like one big family ultimately, and when you come back to it that's really what it feels like. This has been my life.

Q:
You have taken part in a few one-off races in recent years. Does coming to events like this ever leave you tempted to get back in the car again and go racing once more?

MA:
It is tempting, I must admit, but I just try to do these one-off little spins to let some of the fans enjoy the action.

Q:
Obviously you have raced and won in Formula 1, your son Michael has raced in Formula 1 and your grandson Marco has tested a Formula 1 car. Do you think we will see Marco competing in grand prix racing in the future?

MA:
I personally hope so; I think that's where his mindset is ultimately. It will be a matter of timing and a matter of opportunity. We will see how it unfolds, but for me it couldn't happen soon enough.

Q:
As a former Formula 1 World Champion, do you still follow all the grands prix?

MA:
I always do, and with great interest. It's quite a mix now; I think it's very unpredictable. The jury is still out in every possible way in 2007, and that's not always the case in Formula 1. That has created some new excitement and interest in how things are going this season. Lewis Hamilton I think was expected to be on it, but not as much as this. Then at Ferrari everyone thought Kimi Raikkonen was going to take over as clear number one, but Felipe Massa has a had a resurgence of his own. It's all good stuff.

Q:
You talk about Lewis Hamilton. Obviously there's a good deal of interest in Britain surrounding him, especially after he seemed to have team-mate Fernando Alonso ratted last time out in Spain. What do you make of him?

MA:
What Lewis has done so far is just phenomenal. I think he is a rare talent, and that's the beautiful thing about it. Now and then you see talents like that surging through and it's just wonderful to watch. You can see he is enjoying it. Like he himself says, he is really living his dream.

Q:
People have even made noises about Lewis potentially becoming world champion in his maiden campaign. What's your take on that?

MA:
I think it's very possible. Obviously he is at the top of the points' standings right now, and I don't see him backing off at all. I see him just gaining more and more confidence, and for sure McLaren is capable of winning this year. They're looking good. I watched them at Jerez when I went to the test there recently, and they seem to have recaptured a lot of the reliability they were lacking before. Even last year they had the speed, but now it looks like they are reliable too. Both Lewis and Fernando Alonso are definitely going to be contenders right to the end.

Q:
Finally, as an American are you keeping a special eye on Scott Speed's progress too?

MA:
Of course I'm watching that with interest. Scott is having a bit of a tough time of things where he is at the moment, but I wish him well.

 

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