Motor Racing: Andretti into the breach at McLaren

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The Independent Online
ANOTHER piece of the grand prix driver jigsaw fell into place yesterday when McLaren announced they had signed Michael Andretti, the reigning Indy Car champion, for next season. The picture could be clearer still later in the week with Williams-Renault apparently making moves to agree to a deal with Formula One's new champion, Nigel Mansell.

Andretti, the son of the 1978 world champion, Mario, has long expressed his desire to test himself in racing's premier category and Formula One has been equally keen to accommodate an American driver in the hope of rekindling interest in the United States.

McLaren's loss of Gerhard Berger to Ferrari and possible loss of Ayrton Senna provides the ideal opportunity for all concerned. The contract was signed in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, last Thursday. Andretti is a forceful, highly competitive racer, often likened to Mansell. He is one of Indy Car racing's most successful drivers, with 26 victories and 24 pole positions since 1986.

Doubts remain concerning McLaren's other driver, as well as their engine supplier, for 1993. Their present partners, Honda, are expected to make an announcement on Thursday, but Senna may require longer to decide whether the team will be sufficiently competitive to meet his demands. The Brazilian is also still monitoring the situation at Williams.

A McLaren spokesman said: 'The second position is still officially Ayrton Senna. We've heard nothing definite about his plans - lots of rumours, of course, but we don't know what his plans are for next season.'

The British drivers, Martin Brundle, released by Benetton- Ford to make way for Riccardo Patrese, and Mark Blundell, currently a test driver for McLaren, are obvious candidates for Senna's place in the Woking team.

Brundle and Blundell could also be on Williams's list if they have a vacant place alongside Alain Prost, who is all but resident at Didcot. Another driver being mentioned is Finland's Mika Hakkinen, who is having an excellent season with Lotus-Ford. The signs are, however, that Williams and Renault are anxious to break the deadlock in negotiations with Mansell.

There could be significant progress in the next 48 hours and perhaps a decision before Mansell attempts to achieve a record ninth victory of the season in Sunday's Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

Le Mans officials snubbed motor sport's governing body, Fisa, in Paris yesterday by announcing that next year's 24-hour race will be run as an independent event outside the Sportscar World Championship. The Automobile Club de l'Ouest said it was opening the French classic to virtually any sportscars, with entries invited from the world, American and Japanese championships. The 1993 race will be run on 19 to 20 June.