Mario Andretti joked about returning to the track with McLaren CEO Zak Brown in recent years, but it became a reality on Saturday.
Andretti, the most successful American driver in Formula 1 history and one of the most recognizable names in motorsport, climbed back into a cockpit at the age of 82 to take a lap in a modern F1 car.
“My bucket list is pretty satisfied” Andretti told RACER after the session. “Everything we do after that will be the icing on the cake.”
Brown, who oversees the McLaren F1 team and other company activities, arranged for Andretti to drive the 2013 model McLaren MP4-28a at Laguna Seca in Salinas, California. The two previously discussed the session during an on-air interview at the 2022 Miami Grand Prix in May.
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Returning to the site of his last IndyCar race in 1994, Andretti had a joy ride on Saturday.
However, in typical Andretti fashion, he thought he had lost some time.
“It’s sweet, but obviously I left a lot on the table,” Andretti said. “It’s all about getting the gear right and part of the problem for me was the way my helmet was versus my steering wheel. I couldn’t see the numbers when downshifting. In some corners I got it right and tricked others I didn’t.
“But in general it’s what I expected. It’s a sweet feeling as a driver, so satisfying. The car just does what it is supposed to do.”
Andretti’s F1 career spanned from 1968 to 1982. He won 12 races in 128 starts and won the 1978 World Championship.
Andretti also had an illustrious IndyCar career, winning four championships. His son Michael Andretti is the owner of Andretti Autosport, which competes in IndyCar and various other racing series.
Andretti Autosport has tried to join the F1 grid in recent years but to no avail. According to RACER, the Andretti are tried to buy the Alfa Romeo F1 team in 2021, but the deal fell through. Andretti Autosport has since applied for an expansion spot in the F1 grid for the 2024 season. The decision of the FIA, the global governing body of motorsport, is still pending.
If Andretti Autosport made the F1 leap, could there be a triumphant return to the track for the elder Andretti?
In addition to his racing days likely to be behind him, a driver must accumulate a certain number of points from races in other series and/or testing in F1 cars to be eligible to compete in F1 – a system it has drew heavy criticism after being denied the seven-time IndyCar race winner.
Although Andretti said with a wry smile that he was “trying to get points for my super license” by driving the McLaren around Laguna Seca.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mario Andretti drives a McLaren Formula 1 car at the age of 82