For American Formula 1 fans, the dream of seeing one of their own in the driver's seat has been unfulfilled since 1993. In short, a full dozen years have passed since Michael Andretti's disastrous foray into Formula 1, where he drove a twitchy McLaren with customer Ford engines and had a teammate who was looking to prove himself once again: the late, great Ayrton Senna. The IndyCar star was tailor-made for a mismatch of supreme proportions.
Andretti just hoped to carry his IndyCar success across the pond, but not moving to Europe affected his ability to fit in with the team, provide information, or make testing sessions.
That year was interesting in that three-time champ Alain Prost had returned following a year's hiatus after a not so pleasant breakup with Ferrari in 1991. He joined the Williams-Renault outfit, which had won ten races and the title the previous year. Prost would prove to be Senna's greatest rival for the World Championship. Andretti's greatest challenge was simply getting to grips with Formula 1.
Andretti's first start came at the South African Grand Prix, where he qualified ninth but crashed out after four laps. He wasn't alone; of the twenty-six cars that started, only five finished. Senna drove a clean race to second, impressive but for the notable fact that he didn't beat Prost. At Brazil, Andretti had gained four positions on the grid, starting a season-best fifth. That lasted all of one corner, whereupon he collided with Gerhard Berger's Ferrari, and the two smashed into the barrier. When Senna won his home grand prix, it showed what everyone had expected: the American simply was not Senna.
A third event was held at the Donington Park circuit in England when plans for an Asian grand prix failed to materialize. While Andretti again qualified well, in sixth, he crashed out for the third race in a row, this time colliding with Karl Wendlinger's Sauber-Illmor on the first lap. In changing dry, wet, and wetter conditions, Senna drove what some called the best race of his career en route to his second win in a row. McLaren's team boss, Ron Dennis, considered replacing Andretti with Lotus refugee and McLaren test driver Mika Hakkinen, whose own future F1 career would yield two World Championships.
Michael Andretti's third place at Monza (above) was the only podium appearance of his 1993 campaign.