Plenty has been written about Michael Andretti’s decision to leave the CART IndyCar Series at the end of 1992 to compete for McLaren in Formula 1 alongside Ayrton Senna. It’s his desire to depart for Ferrari one year earlier, while on the road to capturing the 1991 CART championship with Newman/Haas Racing, where the real intrigue is found.
His desire to add to the family legacy at Ferrari, where his father raced and won across three F1 stints spanning 1971-1982, makes for a fascinating revelation as joining the Italian national team nearly came to fruition.
“It was ’91. We were at Elkhart Lake, and I had just signed a contract with [Carl Haas] for ’92,” Andretti said. “But there was a clause in there about Formula 1, that he said that he would never enforce, that if I [wanted] to go [to] Formula 1, he would never stop me. And so, in ’91, I happened to sign a contract. This is something that not too many people know. I signed a contract with Ferrari to drive for them in ’92.”
At the time, Haas was among the leading power brokers in the CART paddock. As one of IndyCar’s most successful teams, the duo of Mario and Michael Andretti brought immense funding from sponsors to the Illinois-based outfit owned by Haas and Paul Newman, which likely contributed to the change of heart by Haas. Also beloved for his occasionally hapless ways, Haas was quickly forgiven by Andretti.
“And so, when I brought [the Ferrari contract] back to Carl, he said, ‘I’m not going to let you do it,’” Andretti recalled. “I’m like, ‘Well you said you would!’ I was really, really mad at him. We were staying at the same hotel, and we’re heading out race morning, and I wasn’t even talking to him. He’s in the car in front of me, and we get in the car, and his coat’s arm sleeve was sticking out the side of the door when he closed it.
“So, the whole way [there], you see this thing flapping in the wind. And it’s like, God, I want to be so mad at him, but I just couldn’t stay mad enough.”
With his Newman/Haas contract set to expire, Andretti signed with McLaren and embarked on what he readily describes today as his worst year in racing. Haas, in turn, pulled off a whale of deal to back-fill Andretti’s seat for 1993 with reigning F1 champion Nigel Mansell where the Briton delivered the CART title.
Although the 1992 Ferrari F92A was among the Scuderia’s greatest modern failures in F1, the proposed pairing of Andretti and a certain triple world champion could have played a meaningful role as mentor to the Italian-American rookie, continues to pique the 57-year-old’s curiosity.
“I think it was a three-year deal that I signed,” he said. “And so, they knew that it would take some time for me to get going, and [Alain] Prost was going to be my teammate. So I felt like I was going to be able to learn a lot there. I thought it was a great opportunity. To drive for Ferrari right out of Indy cars would have been awesome. So, it’s something that was really disappointing.”
As the prospect of having Prost and Andretti in 1992 fell through, Ferrari stuck with the Italian, fired the Frenchman (after Prost made derogatory comments about his 1991 chassis), and inked Ivan Capelli to herd the twin-floor F92A. In retrospect, Haas might have done Andretti a favor at Elkhart Lake in 1991.
“It would have been cool, even though that year wasn’t very strong,” he said. “But, hopefully if I could have run with Prost… at that time you were able to do unlimited testing and things like that. I would have been able to be a lot more prepared. And I think it would have been less political with me going to do that, than it was when I joined McLaren. It would’ve been an interesting exercise, but unfortunately it never happened.”