Mario Andretti: “Formula One should loosen up a bit”

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Formula One comes to Texas on the heels of distressing news involving Caterham and Marussia, who have both had to withdraw from Sunday’s United States Grand Prix.

Those decisions have reduced the USGP grid to 18 cars and have put something of a dark cloud over the sport as it heads for one of its most critical markets.

However, one of its former World Champions, Mario Andretti, has some advice for F1.

“Formula One should loosen up a bit,” he told the UK’s Guardian newspaper. “I think they’ve gone slightly overboard with the technical side of the engine. And we saw in [the Russian Grand Prix], teams backing off for fuel reasons just to make it to the end.

Andretti’s also keen on helping build interest by having teams field third cars for “a special event.”

“For the US Grand Prix, say, Mercedes could invite a third car, having groomed some well-known American driver in testing, to take part as a guest competitor,” he said. “Can you imagine what that would do for the promotion of the event? Every newspaper in the country would write about it.”

“There are ways of using a little bit of creativity to enhance and increase the interest. It’s all there for the taking. It’s just a question of looking at some of the stranger rules they have in F1. Some people might laugh at that, but what I’m saying is very valid. And as time goes by they may have to look at things like this. F1 should explore every angle.”

Andretti, who serves as an ambassador for the home of the USGP, Circuit of the Americas, isn’t the only COTA-connected figure sounding off on what can be done to strengthen the sport’s health.

Track co-founder Bobby Epstein thinks F1 can learn lessons from America’s most popular motorsport, NASCAR, and even Hollywood in making the sport more personality-driven (“People connect with people. They don’t connect with metal,” he tells the Guardian.).

And track president Jason Dial is pushing an emphasis on social media engagement with the fan base to make the sport younger and, in his words, “grow the pie.”

“I’d like to see F1 taken off the track and be more about engagement,” he adds. “There is real upside in the brand really growing, in terms of accessibility and digital social engagement. I think these type of things could really move the needle.”

Obviously, F1’s American contingent is being free with their guidance. But it remains to be seen if the sport’s power players will listen.

Watch the United States Grand Prix from Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas – this Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on your local NBC station.