INTERVIEW

Michael Andretti

You wouldn't wish Michael Andretti's first season in F1 on anyone. It has been miserable. In the first three races he had three accidents and completed just four laps. The San Marino GP ended in a sandtrap after 32 laps, but in Spain he finished fifth. The Monaco and Canada were annoying because of a first lap incident and a mechanical problem. After seven races, therefore, the 1991 Indycar champion has scored two points, 40 fewer than his McLaren team mate Ayrton Senna.

"The only race I finished in the points was when my car was the worst it has been all year," Michael explains. "If I had finished the others I could have been on the podium in most. I know the results are there. I just have to put it together one of these times."

There are times when Michael seems from afar to be very down and lethargic. But he is laid back by nature and when you talk to him the inate confidence, built from years winning in America, quickly resurfaces.

"Senna has a lot of confidence," he says, "and that is why he is quick. There are two ways to look at me working with him: the down side and the up side. I look at the up side. It is good for me because he is a great benchmark. I know where I need to go. He's been a big help, very open and there whenever I needed help. The way I am looking at this year is that it is character-building. Sooner or later I am going to pop out of it. My rookie year in Indycars went really smoothly, but the next year everything went wrong. I think I became a better person and appreciated the better times when they came. It opened my eyes. You have to look at things rationally and not emotionally. In the eyes of a lot of people this is probably a major failure. I wouldn't give myself an A grade, but I wouldn't have an F either. I am doing okay and I have faith that it will all come together."

Michael says that Formula 1 was pretty much what he expected it to be.

"Things would have been better if they hadn't introduced the new rule restricting practice laps," he says. "That really affected me and has put a damper on the whole thing. And I haven't done much testing because of the rules restricting that. There aren't tracks to test at except Silverstone. I'm looking forward to that because at least I know the track."

To some observers Michael's lack of testing and his constant travelling back to the US, indicate a lack of dedication to F1.

"The worst thing for me would be to live close to the shop in England. What am I supposed to do there. I spent a few days and I was getting under everyone's skin. It is better to get away. The travel is not hard on me. The way I have it set up, flying on Concorde, it only takes a few more hours to get home than it would if I was racing in the States.

"And when I am home I am home."

And what does he do there?

"I try to make up for lost time with the family. We have businesses and I train."

Before the Canadian GP Michael went to Indianapolis to see what was going on in his old stamping ground.

"That was strange," he admits. "It wasn't natural to be watching the race, although I'm not sure I wanted to out there. The way the track configuration was people were scaring themselves all day long. There was a lot of grey hair manufactured that day. On the other hand I saw the car I used to drive was the best handling one out there. I think with my experience at Indy I would have won that race. Nigel (Mansell) didn't have the experience of the restarts and the pits stops and that catches up with you. I've had my problems there in the past so I can understand. I think if I had been in his situation I would have done things a little differently ."

Has he been impressed by what Mansell has been doing in America?

"He's not surprising me," says Michael. "I knew he'd be competitive. I knew the team was really good. I knew the car. When you are World Champion you are a good driver. It doesn't matter what you are driving you are going to be good in it. If he went NASCAR racing he'd be quick. It is just a question of getting experience."

Michael has experienced F1 and Indycars. How does he compare them now?

"They are both very competitive," he says. "I wouldn't say one was much more competitive than the other. In Indycars you might have maybe six guys who can win instead of the four in F1. In America everyone has basically the same equipment so you are always going to have a guy who hits it right on a given weekend. You don't have that too much in F1. The thing that is different is the technology in F1."

All things considered, if Michael could make his decision to switch again would it be the same choice?

"If the rule about practice had been in place I would have looked at it a little harder than I did. Maybe that would have changed my mind. It wouldn't have been the cut-and-dried deal. What happened just devastated me."

But he hasn't lost the will to succeed in F1.

"No," he says grimly. "I want to stay in F1."

And then his face lightens up.

"If anyone will have me and be patient with me. That's what it is all about right now..."

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