Today marks the 22nd anniversary of Michael Schumacher’s first podium finish in Formula 1 at the 1992 Mexican Grand Prix – a feat that he would go on to repeat a further 154 times across the next twenty years of his illustrious career.
The seven time world champion remains in a medically-induced coma following a skiing accident in December 2013, and is still in the wake-up phase as his sedation is reduced. The last official statement from his management said that he was showing “encouraging signs” in his battle back to health.
Back in 1992, the fresh-faced 23-year-old driver was entering his first full season in Formula 1 following a handful of races with Benetton in 1991. The Italian team had retained him for 1992 alongside Britain’s Martin Brundle, and had high hopes for the new sensation.
At the opening round of the season in South Africa, Schumacher finished in fourth place behind the all-conquering Williams and McLaren’s Ayrton Senna, but he wasted little time in breaking into the top three.
As was customary in 1992, the Williams drivers romped to a 1-2 finish, but Schumacher held his own to finish just nine seconds behind Patrese and cross the line in third place, and was just one of three drivers to finish on the same lap as winner Nigel Mansell.
From this moment on, it was clear that a new star had arrived in Formula 1. In the rest of the year, he claimed a further six podium finishes and one race win (pictured) to finish the championship in third place, rocking the F1 establishment by outscoring triple champion Ayrton Senna by three points.
The rest, as they say, is history. He won his first two titles with Benetton in 1994 and 1995 before moving to Ferrari, with whom he dominated the sport between 2000 and 2004 to claim five consecutive championships. He then retired in 2006, but returned to the sport with Mercedes in 2010 before finally hanging up his driving gloves at the end of the 2012 season.
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”