With only 5 races remaining on the 2016 IndyCar schedule Marco Andretti is in a familiar position: winless, trailing teammates and languishing in the point standings. Is it time for the end of the Andretti and Andretti partnership?
Rookie sensation… back in 2006
Marco – in 17th place – is the lowest of the Andretti Autosport drivers in the point standings this season. Of the drivers below him, only 3 are in full-time rides. To make matters worse rookie Conor Daly is just 9 points shy of Andretti. At this point in his career he should be a bona-fide team leader, regularly competing with the likes of Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Power, Castroneves and Montoya for wins and championships.
From rookie sensation in 2006, Andretti has struggled to develop ever since. The transition from rookie potential, to race wins, to championship contender has not materialized for Marco. Instead he finds himself neither Andretti Autosport team leader – Ryan Hunter-Reay has grown in to that role superbly – nor star rookie (both Munoz and Rossi have fulfilled/are fulfilling that role). He is just a driver for team.
Andretti at Andretti: too cosy or weighed down by expectation?
Andretti may be too comfortable at his father’s eponymous team. Racing for his father’s team it seems has become like a comfortable groove; not really going anywhere but comfortable nonetheless. Conversely the pressure of being Mario’s grandson and Michael’s son may have been grinding him down ever since that stellar rookie season.
It is easy to forget that Marco stepped in to some serious race boots when he started in IndyCar – legendary boots. Whatever way you look at it, the simple truth remains: the Andretti/Andretti partnership is not working. For proof think back over the last few races of this busy IndyCar summer stretch and ask yourself: how many times have I heard Marco Andretti being mentioned by the commentary teams?
What are Andretti’s options?
Michael Andretti seems – remarkably – to be able to keep finding sponsorship for Marco’s car. Any other driver winless for 5 years would be seriously struggling by now, if not already racing somewhere else. On that basis, Andretti can continue to ply his trade in his dad’s team indefinitely it would seem. For both the team and the driver, that is just not the best option.
Honda still lag behind Chevrolet but the race seat held by Andretti is still a prime one. Based on the performances of Hunter-Reay, Munoz and Rossi there is potential there. The resources and engineering ability within Andretti Autosport are significant and the race seat is one many drivers would do pretty much anything for. Right now it feels like it is being wasted.
For Marco, moving to another, smaller team could be just what he needs to rekindle some of that rookie potential. At the moment he just a driver within a team – he is not team leader, nor learning at the foot of an established racer. Moving to a smaller outfit not run by his dad would require Marco to step up and bring a team together around him. The security of being in his dad’s organization would disappear and he would, to a greater extent than at present, have to perform to keep his ride. It would also provide the opportunity to step away from glare of expectation for a while that comes with running for one of IndyCar’s three ‘superteams’.
One final option for Andretti
There is of course a big, left-field kind of alternative which is NASCAR. It could be (and would be for some) viewed as sacrilege for the son of Michael/grandson of Mario to go race with the stock car boys. At a time when IndyCar is looking like a series properly back on its feet, the defection of one of its biggest names (though not biggest stars) would be a blow.
Putting all that to one side for a moment it does make a good deal of sense. With his name there is still potential to bring sponsorship to secure a seat with a good team and Marco has always been particularly good on ovals.
Andretti has the talent and ability to get back to winning ways in racing. Whether that comes with his father’s team, elsewhere in IndyCar or another series altogether remains to be seen.