Bernie Ecclestone offered Al Unser Jr a Brabham Formula 1 drive in 1986, according to A Checkered Past. Little Al had just missed out on a first IndyCar title – by one point to his dad! – and declined the offer because he was driven to win the Indy 500. But F1 came calling again at the end of 1992, after Unser had won his first 500, when he was offered the chance to test for Williams at Estoril. It was not a happy experience – and the team’s co-founder and technical director Patrick Head isn’t someone Little Al remembers fondly.
As he says in the book, “Emerson Fittipaldi had warned me: ‘You don’t want to go F1. It’s not like over here. Here, we look out for each other. In F1, it’s really cut-throat, even on your own team. They will stab you in the front, they will stab you in the side, and they will stab you in the back. And that’s your own team. Al, don’t go to F1.”
But the chance to test for Williams, which had just dominated the 1992 season with Nigel Mansell and the brilliant FW14B was too good to resist. The trouble was it appeared to Unser that Head didn’t really want him in the car. He flew to England, had a seat fitting, then jetted straight to Portugal and jumped in the Williams with severe jet lag. Unser struggled with his neck and adapting to the performance of a car that was nothing like his Galmer Indycar – and he never got to test the car with all the electronic ‘gizmos’. It was a harrowing and deeply hostile experience, as Fittipaldi had warned.