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Mario gives something back



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Mario Andretti


Ferrari 126C2




1982 Italian GP


Experiencing Saturday qualifying at Monza is a joy any F1 fan will relish. But 1998's reaction by the fanatic tifosi to Michael Schumacher's pole-winning effort was nothing compared to the reception Mario Andretti received when, in his last-but-one Grand Prix, he stole pole for the Prancing Horse in the dying minutes of the session.

It had been a tough season for the Scuderia, for in a year in which they undoubtedly had the best car in the field, the Drivers Championship which would have been rightfully theirs was taken away by dramatic practice crashes. In the first Gilles Villeneuve was lost to the world, after the second Didier Pironi would never return to an F1 cockpit again.

What started off the team's bad karma was the acrimony of Pironi ignoring team orders at the FOCA-boycotted Imola race. Villeneuve was furious with the Frenchman's behaviour, believing it was his turn to become World Champion after having given way to Jody Scheckter in 1979. Gilles' fury hadn't ceased when the circus reached Zolder.

Pironi then looked likely to coast to a sad World Championship, only to slam into the back of Alain Prost's Renault, which went totally unsighted in a rain-soaked practice session for the German GP.

Both accidents had been unnecessary to say the least and while Patrick Tambay upheld Maranello honours at Hockenheim, it was a hollow victory indeed. For the final two races the Old Man asked oldtimer Andretti to step in for Pironi and the Italian American, maybe acutely aware of the meaning of his F1 swansong, pulled something special out of his hat. The race may have gone to Arnoux but Mario's Saturday performance was more than enough to make many a Ferrarista burst out in tears...