Analysis: F1 would welcome young Andretti
|By Alan Baldwin||Thursday, December 14th 2006, 17:01 GMT|
Nico Rosberg made a stunning Grand Prix debut with Williams this year, Nelson Piquet junior is testing for champions Renault, and now Honda are giving Marco Andretti his first run in a Formula One car.
It is not too hard to imagine a time, maybe just a few years down the road, when all three motor racing scions are racing together - just as their world champion fathers and, in Andretti's case, grandfather were 25 years ago.
Rosberg, son of Finland's 1982 world champion Keke, is 21. Brazilian Piquet, whose father and namesake won three titles in 1981, 1983 and 1987, is the same age. Andretti, grandson of 1978 champion Mario, is 19.
Andretti's outing on Friday at the Jerez circuit in southern Spain is a reward for a stunning rookie season in the Honda-powered IRL championship, in which he finished runner-up in the Indy 500 at the first attempt.
Honda say it is no more than that at this stage, and being just a one-day test it can hardly be taken as a serious evaluation, but the teenager is clearly someone they want to keep an eye on.
"Clearly if he enjoys himself and we think there's a spark there, there's the opportunity to do more," Honda team boss Nick Fry told Reuters. "But really that's going too far at the moment."
That said, Formula One is going through a generational handover with a wave of young drivers coming in and the over-30s nearing the exit door that seven times champion Michael Schumacher went through this year.
Briton Lewis Hamilton, 21, is making his debut with McLaren next year while Finnish rookie Heikki Kovalainen, 25, steps into world champion Fernando Alonso's shoes at Renault.
Poland's Robert Kubica, 22 last week, moved up to the race seat in August with BMW-Sauber, the team that also have 19-year-old German Sebastian Vettel as a highly-promising reserve and test driver.
"Formula One does need a new influx of young people," said Fry, whose own team has one of the older drivers in 34-year-old Brazilian Rubens Barrichello. "We've got that with Lewis, Kubica and Kovalainen.
"But there's a number of drivers in Formula One who have been there a long time, and I wouldn't anticipate that a number of them are going to be there much longer.
"If we can have an influx that includes someone from America and maybe the Far East as well, I think that would be absolutely sensational."
Andretti is the kind of US driver that Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone dreams of recruiting - young, talented and with a surname that rings bells all over the world, let alone Middle America.
Mario is one of the greats while Marco's father Michael, less successful with McLaren in 1993, is a former CART champion and winning team owner.
Mario says Marco has what it takes and is not shy of singing his grandson's praises. Not that he needs to. The teenager made a huge impact at Indianapolis this year and also in winning the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Gil de Ferran, an Indy 500 winner in 2003 and now the Honda team's sporting director, first met Marco when he was a boy and the Brazilian was racing against his father.
"He's clearly a very talented young man," De Ferran told Reuters. "He's one of the promising young talents that are out there.
"Certainly as a young kid I had a great admiration for his grandfather and once you meet Mario, you love Mario for ever. Mario is Mario. He's a great guy," he added.
De Ferran said Marco's Indy 500 performance was impressive but what really made him sit up and take notice was the youngster's subsequent performance at Watkins Glen, even though he did not finish the race.
"Many of his experienced competitors were making many more mistakes than he was," he recalled. "I watched that race and thought that was quite impressive.
"From that point on, I really started paying attention to what he was doing."