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Mario Andretti, 82, on His Recent McLaren F1 Drive: ‘It Gives Me More Life’

At 82 years old, Mario Andretti is likely the oldest driver to do laps in an F1 car—but not that you'd know this from his performance.

Mario Andretti doesn’t need an introduction. The Italian-American racing driver has won the F1 world championship, the Indy 500, and countless other races in a dizzying variety of racing disciplines. It’s because of this that it stands out to hear him so enthusiastic about turning a handful of laps around Laguna Seca in a decommissioned McLaren F1 car Saturday. In a way, it shows that despite having all the racing experience in the world, Andretti’s hunger for the fast lane is hardly satisfied—even at 82 years of age.

“At this stage of my life, to have this chance is huge. It gives me more life, probably again another 10 years,” Andretti told MotorSport in an interview. “I was in seventh heaven since May, and now it’s finally here. No one will ever understand how much I love driving a racing car.”

The outing at this weekend’s Velocity International was the result of an invitation McLaren CEO Zak Brown made to Andretti some years ago, when he invited the F1 champ to sit in a modern McLaren F1 car at Goodwood. Andretti made mention of his desire to drive the machinery, and Brown reportedly agreed to make it happen at the U.S. Grand Prix in Miami. By the time May came around, however, nothing concrete had been arranged. Andretti then reminded Brown of his offer on live TV while Martin Brundle interviewed the duo on the grid, ultimately leading to the the recent outing at Laguna.

The McLaren MP4/28 Andretti drove originally contested in the 2013 racing season under the hands of current Red Bull Racing driver Sergio Perez, and F1 champion and now former racer Jenson Button. The MP4/28 wasn’t exactly a successful car back in its day, managing some points but no podiums or wins, though this wasn’t an issue for Andretti. The driving experience was meant to give the 1978 F1 champion a slight idea of what a modern F1 car is like, complete with a mild-hybrid power unit and aggressive aero.

“There’s quite a bit that I left on the table,” said Andretti. “The car did everything that it’s supposed to do as far as the chassis and the handling, but at first I didn’t have the information on which gear I was in, especially on the downshift, and it’s so important to have the correct revs coming off a corner otherwise you’re off the range: the engine has a very narrow power curve. I would get three, four corners, right and then all of a sudden I’m coming off the wrong gear and just one gear would make a difference.”

The racing driver and team owner reportedly didn’t have time for a proper seat fitting, meaning that he wasn’t 100% comfortable inside the car. Andretti claims to have had some visibility issues and the steering wheel position wasn’t to his liking. With another possible outing at the Circuit of the Americas this weekend during the second U.S. Grand Prix in 2022, there is a chance some adjustments might be made to make him more comfortable.

“Zak Brown just gave me a gift that I can never I’ll never be able to repay him for to be honest with you,” added Andretti.

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