As Marco Andretti gears up for his Formula E debut this weekend in Argentina, a strong performance will be important to the Verizon IndyCar series’ continued resurgence.
Despite the importance of the opportunity, the circumstances of Andretti’s entry are not ideal. Whether it has been publicly stated or not, his last-minute announcement was conspicuously close to news that Formula E regular Franck Montagny had failed a drugs test. With little time to prepare and no pre-event testing, the American is already facing a significant challenge beyond adapting to a completely new type of open-wheel racing. A poor showing by Andretti will almost certainly harm IndyCar’s reputation, even given the testing circumstances, for a few reasons.
World class drivers
Formula E’s driver line up is not the best of the best but they are certainly a very talented and in many cases, a very experienced bunch. From former F1 drivers – some very recent – and current F1 testers, to DTM and sports car stars, this is not a gimmick field for what some consider a gimmick series. Despite Oriol Servia and Takuma Sato having participated in the series already, for the US media and many fans this will be the first proper IndyCar driver to take on the challenge.
Regarded as one of the leading names in the IndyCar field, a poor performance will not reflect well. Amongst the most ardent fans there will be an appreciation of the circumstances of his entry but beyond that, finishing well down the order will not reflect favourably on a series that claims to have the world’s most versatile and fastest drivers.
Worth his ride
Given his very mixed results in recent seasons, the longevity of Marco’s presence in his father’s IndyCar team has come under increasing scrutiny. His is a plum drive and failure to capitalise on his brilliant rookie season leads many to assume his retention is mostly due to family ties.
I for one believe he does have the talent to win IndyCar titles but needs to move elsewhere to achieve that. In the interim, an underwhelming drive in Formula E will give more ammunition to those – perhaps even sponsors and backers of Andretti’s own team – pushing for change. That in itself may be no bad thing for the Andretti’s based on my earlier musings but for IndyCar it would be a blow if a leading name came home with his tail between his legs.
A big name?
Which leads on to the final consideration – America’s obsession with winning. The USA is used to producing world-beaters and champions. From Ali to Michael Johnson, Nastia Liukin to Michael Phelps success is demanded and those that do not make the grade are quickly discarded.
For a series trying desperately to win back old fans and attract new ones, how would a humbling of one of the top American drivers be received? While the concept of all-electric racing might not naturally register in the public consciousness, two races in Miami and Long Beach will certainly get people talking. With no IndyCar race clashes and Montagny likely to face a long ban, Marco’s participation in both US rounds seems quite likely.
I hope that Andretti performs to the best of his ability. The situation he finds himself in makes that difficult to achieve but both Marco and IndyCar deserve the wider motor racing world to take note of their talent and status.