Blood red brothers

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In a unique joint interview, Jacky Ickx and Mario Andretti recall their days as team-mates at the Scuderia
By Nigel Roebuck

Ferrari team-mates they were, and always on the best of terms, professionally and personally. Forty years on, Mario Andretti and Jacky Ickx came to London for Motor Sport’s inaugural Hall of Fame ceremony, allowing a rare opportunity to sit them down together, have them reminisce about the Maranello days.

Signor Sassi, a favourite Italian restaurant, seemed an ideal location, for everyone there – of course – loves motor racing in general, and Ferrari in particular. “I think I’ve been here before,” smiled Ickx as we walked in. “I came here with Frank Williams…”

Given that Jacky these days divides his time between Belgium and Mali, and that Mario – as ever – resides in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, they see each other rarely, and their delight on being reacquainted was evident.

“Where was it we met the first time?” mused Andretti, and Ickx had the answer immediately. “It was Acapulco in 1968,” he said. “Actually in a place called Las Brisas. I’d had my accident in Canada, and this was before the Mexican GP…”

“Yeah, that’s right!” Mario exclaimed. “We were vacationing there, I remember now. You’d broken your leg – you had these pins right down here on your shins…”

Jacky recalled that day at St Jovite in September of ’68, his first year in Formula 1, his first with Ferrari. “It was on the first day of practice. I’d been out earlier, found that the throttle was staying on the floor – in fact I nearly went off. I came in, had it checked, went out again, and the same thing happened – at the same place. I went in again, and the chief mechanic – Giulio Borsari, a wonderful man – checked it and said everything was OK.

“Out I went, and this time I crashed – at the same place! Sometimes you can grow up and become intelligent – that’s the difference between a young guy and an experienced one!

“In fact, it could have been a really naughty accident, because the car got rolled up in the catch fencing, I was trapped inside, and fuel was running out – and the pump was still working. But, you know, when it’s not your day, it’s not your day…

“Years later Borsari wrote a book, and he said that the worst moment of his career was that day he’d checked my car, and said OK. I’m not criticising him, not at all. It’s just an illustration of how your life can depend on little details – it can go this way, or that.”

“Catch fencing…” murmured Andretti. “At the time that was supposed to be the best safety thing we had…”

“It was a bad weekend for Ferrari,” Ickx went on. “I went to watch the race – with my leg in plaster – and Chris [Amon] was leading by a minute when his clutch failed at the end. Unbelievable.

“When I joined Ferrari, Chris was a hero to me. Such a lovely guy, friendly, always willing to give you information and help – and such a beautiful driver. He had pole positions, he led so many Grands Prix – but never won one, always because of the car. I was in the team for three or four races – and then I won the French Grand Prix. It should have been him…”

I asked Jacky to elaborate on that day – July 7, 1968 – at Rouen. The race, started at late afternoon, was run in damp, then torrential conditions, and took the life of Jo Schlesser. After Jim Clark, Mike Spence and Ludovico Scarfiotti, this was the fourth consecutive fatality on the seventh of the month.

“It was a terrible time,” said Ickx. “Chris suffered a lot – more than I did, because he’d known these drivers better than I had. I was new in F1. This was my first win, and at a wonderful circuit, but it was a tragic day. Schlesser was so happy at last to drive in a Grand Prix for the first time, but the end you know…

“At first the track was only damp – it got much wetter later. Ferrari started Chris on dry tyres – which were like today’s intermediates, I suppose – but the clouds reminded me of what I had seen many times at Spa, and I decided on wets. It was the right thing. The conditions were terrible.

“It was a sad evening, of course – and difficult for Chris in another way, too, because I had just arrived in the team, and I won, and he had been deserving a win for so long. It must have seemed unfair to him, in a way. Poor Chris… it was like that for him all those years…”

Andretti nodded. “Yeah, the guy was just totally unlucky. My first drive in a factory Ferrari was at Sebring in ’69, and Chris was my co-driver. We started from pole, and were leading with an hour to go, but then had to back off with overheating and finished second – to this guy here in his GT40!

“I also shared with Chris at the Monza 1000Kms. In practice I collected somebody, and came in with the bodywork all over the place. There was Enzo, standing in the pits – and that was the first time I met him! He never said a thing about it…

“I was never going to be around at the end because I had to catch a flight for a race in the States the next day, so I agreed with Chris that I would start, and do two stints. During the first the left-rear tyre came apart, which really did a job on the bodywork, and we lost quite a bit of time, but when I gave the car to Chris we were in the lead again.

“Before the race I said to him, ‘If we win, call me collect. If we don’t win, and you call me collect, I won’t accept the charges!’ He called me collect, told me the engine had blown, and I said, ‘Screw you!’”

The Ferrari careers of Andretti and Ickx criss-crossed to some degree. Jacky joined the team in 1968, left for a year and then returned in ’70, remaining there until the end of ’73, while Mario, then fundamentally committed to the USA, drove for Ferrari as and when his USAC (Indycar) schedule allowed: sports cars in 1969 and ’70, F1 and sports cars in ’71 and ’72.

It was, they agreed, a romantic time to be at Ferrari. “Absolutely,” said Andretti. “When I first fell in love with this sport, it was because of Ferrari – and Maserati, too. In the ’50s they were like a national treasure, so to drive for them was a really great thing for me. It was still ‘old school’ Ferrari back then.”

“Yes,” said Ickx, “it was… the Italian way of seeing racing. You know, I always say that you cannot compare drivers from different eras – it’s not the same world. If you compare 1970 with 2010… any F1 team back then was purely amateur compared with the most anonymous F3 team of today.

“What was F1 then? One truck, with three cars in it, a few mechanics… you cooked the pasta in the truck, you cut the prosciutto, you drank your glass of Lambrusco – and you sat wherever you could. You changed into your overalls in your hire car, the surface of the paddock was grass… and, you know, it was romantic in a way, yes! And don’t forget the Parmesan…”

Both men have only good memories of the one for whom they drove. “I met Ferrari,” said Ickx, “for the first time in 1967, when I was driving for Ken [Tyrrell] in F2. I had a good race at the Nürburgring, and at Enna Franco Lini, the team manager, came to see me. At the time they were dealing with the other Jackie, but it didn’t work out – the story was that he went to Maranello with his lawyer, and Enzo didn’t like the idea of dealing with a lawyer. Whether or not it’s true, I don’t know, but even then Jackie always had a very professional way of doing things.

“I signed to drive for Ferrari in 1968, but I still wanted to drive John Wyer’s GT40 in sports car races. At that time Ferrari had no sports car to offer me, so he agreed, but in ’69 I didn’t renew the deal, because again I wanted to drive Wyer’s car – and now Ferrari had a sports car in competition with it. People said it was because I had a big contract with Gulf, but it wasn’t true – yes, I had a Gulf contract, but it was just a piece of paper and there was very little money involved. But with it I could drive for Wyer – and also for Brabham in F1.

“It really was an amateur way to drive. To drive for Ferrari was not a matter of money – racing was not a matter of money! Sponsorship was only just arriving, and although we were called professionals, it was an amateur world in a way.

“I was 22 when I met Ferrari – and it was impressive to drive for him at that age! A lot of emotion. Now, looking back, and having heard so many things drivers have said about Ferrari, I can only say that I was always treated very well by him. Often you hear that he put one driver against another, but I never felt that. I drove for him for five years, and I’m one of the very few who left, and went back again. After I left finally, at the end of ’73, I went back many times to see him, and I was always welcome. I only have good memories of Ferrari, and I think he was much more sensitive than people believe. I think he really cared about the people who drove for him – but he also knew how dangerous it was, and maybe he tried to stay a little bit away for that reason, so as not to suffer…”

Perhaps Ferrari mellowed as he got older. Over time many a driver, notably Juan Manuel Fangio and Phil Hill, has told me of the political machinations endemic in Maranello in earlier days. Tales of Enzo’s ruthlessness abounded, and I related one told to me by Peter Ustinov: “Peter Collins once told me the most terrifying story about the Commendatore. He was with him in the office, and the phone went. Ferrari picked it up, and said, ‘Pronto! Ferrari!’ Then he listened, and he became pale. ‘Non e possibile… Castellotti… Castellotti morto…’ A slight pause. ‘E la macchina?’”

“From my experience, that’s hard to believe,” said Ickx.

“Well,” Andretti murmured, “at least he was concerned about Castellotti first!”

In point of fact, Mario’s first Ferrari drive was not in a factory car, but in Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team 365P2 at the Daytona 24 Hours in 1966.

“I drove with Pedro Rodríguez, and I think we finished fourth, behind three Fords. Actually, what I remember most about it is driving back to the hotel in Ormond Beach afterwards – along the beach.

“In those days you had one driving uniform – and you drove the whole race in it, right? Well, we’re in this Ford Fairlane rental car, and I says, ‘Pedro, you stink!’ and he says, ‘Well, you stink too!’ The windows are open, and I’m driving right next to the surf, and I’m going along pretty good, trying to get spray into the car, and all of a sudden I’m just suckered into the sea – I mean, water up to here! I’m trying to back it up, wheels spinning like crazy – couldn’t get out. No money on me, so now I have to ask people for a dime so I can call up Hertz! When I get through to them, I says, ‘Your damn car! I’m tooling along on the beach, two miles an hour, and all of a sudden it stops, and now we’re up to here in water…’ And they’re going, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah…’”

They’re very different, these two. Friends, yes, and team-mates long ago, but so different in attitude to the job they did. At 14 Mario was taken by his uncle to Monza, and was ever after obsessed with becoming a racing driver. At the same sort of age Jacky went to Spa with his father, and was so bored that he asked to be taken home!

“Maybe I have always been a little bit unusual,” he smiled. “The truth is that I never wanted to be a racing driver – never thought about it. Yes, I went to Spa, but I absolutely was not interested! Because my father was a motoring journalist, I remember seeing Stirling and Fangio and others at home in Brussels, for a cocktail party before a race at Francorchamps. Even that didn’t impress me!”

While Andretti faced strenuous parental opposition – particularly from his father – to pursuing a career in motor racing, Ickx was rather luckier.

“Eventually,” he said, “my father came to hate racing, because he had seen so many friends… going away that it was hurting him. On the other hand, my parents, although they lost friends in racing, were not against competition. My father knew I was not good at school, but, rather than being punished for being bad, I was given a trials motorcycle, and at 16 for the first time in my life I had people saying, ‘Well done’. What is it, destiny? It’s the luck of being in the right place at the right time, with the right people – and making the right choice…”

Ickx says that the World Championship was never important to him, that winning races was always the priority. He could well have taken the title in 1970, but rejoices that he did not, for Jochen Rindt, his only rival, was killed in qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.

Can a racing driver ever have been in a more invidious position? On the one hand, Ickx was employed by Ferrari, and obligated to win if possible; on the other, who would have wished to defeat a man no longer there?

Following Rindt’s death, there were four Grands Prix to be run. At Monza, the next day, Jacky retired, but victory in the remaining three would take him past Jochen’s total, and by that stage of the season the Ferrari 312B had become emphatically the car to have. Ickx duly won at St Jovite, then took pole position at Watkins Glen – but in the race was delayed by a fuel leak, and finished only fourth.

“Not winning at the Glen – which I could have done – was such a release,” he said. “A giant release. How could you beat someone who was not able to defend his own chances? Where would the glory have been in that? The fact that Jochen Rindt won the World Championship in 1970 was the most perfect solution. He deserved it, and he got it. I think life is well made, in a way – there is a justice somewhere. If God exists, he made the right decision.”

His dilemma resolved, Ickx went on to win the final race in Mexico – and a Ferrari also won the opening race of 1971, in South Africa, this time in the hands of M Andretti.

“That was my first Grand Prix win, and my first race in a Ferrari F1 car,” said Mario. “You can’t design it any better than that, can you? Mind you, I only won because Denny [Hulme] had a problem at the end. The next race was the Questor GP at Ontario, and although it was non-championship there was a full F1 field there. Winning that race meant more to me than Kyalami, because I flat beat everyone.

“I always measured the success of a race by who finished second to me, and I beat Stewart in all three races – the Questor was two 100-mile heats. In practice a backmarker didn’t see me, and put me in the wall. That was the Friday – and then I had to miss Saturday because I had a race at Phoenix, so once my car had been fixed Jacky shook it down. On the Sunday I had to start dead last in the first heat, but I won it, and then also the second. That gave me great satisfaction, because I had the maximum regard for Jackie, who was the yardstick in F1.

“That Ferrari 312B was such a beautiful car, wasn’t it? There was something pure about it. Before I drove it, I’d see pictures of Jacky in it, and envy him. At the Questor race it was so balanced. I thought, oh man, this is the way a race car should be…”

Andretti’s greatest drive in a Ferrari – indeed the drive he considers the greatest of his life – came not, however, in a Formula 1 car, but in the brutal 512S at Sebring in 1970. Sharing a Spyder with Arturo Merzario, Mario led comfortably at mid-evening, but then retired with a gear selector problem.

“I was ready to go home,” he said, “but then [Mauro] Forghieri asked me to get into the surviving 512, the Vaccarella/Giunti coupé, to see if we could beat the Porsches. The factory 917s were having problems, too, but there was this 908 running like a train, and looking to win the race…”

Andretti admitted that his motivation that night – inspiration, if you like – came from an unusual place, for the 908 was owned by none other than Steve McQueen, who had hired Peter Revson to share it with him.

“I could picture,” Mario said, “how it would be treated by the press if they won. Here’s poor Revson, driving his heart out – he did at least nine of the 12 hours – and McQueen’s getting all the goddam credit! Peter gets in front, and the commentator says, ‘McQueen just took the lead’ – and there’s McQueen sitting on the pitwall! That really pissed me off…

“If it hadn’t been for that I never would have done it, because it had a lot of things against it: for one thing I knew I wouldn’t fit the car – everyone was always taller than me! They put a pad behind me, but I still couldn’t reach the pedals properly, and I ran with the belts loose, because we didn’t have time to adjust them. As well as that, the windscreen was really battered, and at night that was particularly bad, giving about a third of normal visibility… altogether it was kind of a makeshift situation!

“It was just pure adrenalin that did it. Once I got into the lead I had to build it up, because I knew I’d have to top up before the end. I think I killed about 20 photographers on the way out of the pits – no limit back then! I mean, I took off! Revson had gone by, but I caught him at the end.

“Like I say, I never would have gotten in that car if it hadn’t been for McQueen. Yeah, I know he had his leg in a cast at the time, but the fact is he was just f****** slow! And here he was, getting all the credit, which was so unfair to Revson.

“You know what? When I came in, after winning the race, he gave me the finger – just like he did to someone in the Le Mans movie. All right, I’m sure he was upset, but I’ll never forget that…”

“Did you ever speak to McQueen?” I asked.

“No,” said Mario. “Why would I?”

In 1972 Ickx scored the last GP win of his career, and did it emphatically, at his beloved Nürburgring. And that year, too, he and Andretti dominated the sports car scene, taking the sublime 312PB to victory at Daytona, Sebring, Brands Hatch and Watkins Glen.

“I loved driving with Jacky,” said Mario. “First, we got along so well, and physically we were very similar: we did a perfect compromise in the seat position – he gave up a little, I gave up a little. Second, he always let me qualify! When it came time to really go, he could go as quick as anybody – and safely, in that he’d always bring the car back. He was a dream as a team-mate.”

Ickx concurs: “Driving with Mario… what could have been better? We were the same sort of size, same driving position – and same philosophy. A perfect joint venture.”

Clearly they loved those times, when the other member of the Ferrari triumvirate was Clay Regazzoni, whose memory they hold in deep affection and respect.

“Ah, Clay…” Andretti’s face said it all. “There was something about the man that made everyone smile. He was serious when he needed to be, but he was such a free spirit. I think of him, and I think, ‘God bless him’.

“I remember Monza in ’71. On Saturday we’re having lunch – and there’s Clay with a glass of red wine! This is right before qualifying! Today I guess there would be great horror at that. I’m looking at him and thinking, ‘Madonna!’ For the Italians, though, it was just normal…”

“Well, you know,” Ickx laughed, “there are plenty of doctors who say that a glass of wine doesn’t hurt – now everyone lives on yoghurt!

It was part of the training – at every lunch with Enzo Ferrari there was, OK, maybe not a bottle, but certainly a glass…”

“You know,” Mario went on, “it doesn’t follow that just because a guy’s your team-mate you want to go to dinner with him, but Clay was someone you wanted to be with – you always had to watch for the practical jokes, but he was one of those guys I just simply loved. An absolutely pure racer, through and through.”

“I never knew anyone,” said Jacky, “who enjoyed life as much as Clay. A really hard racer, but relaxed, cool – a wonderful person altogether. No envy in him, no jealousy – never tried to do anything nasty, never worked to get people ‘on his side’.

“After his accident he went through difficult times – I think for a long time he didn’t want to live. He was almost recovered, you know – I saw him walking – but then he had another operation, and… it was finished. But then he found another way to live – maybe not as he would have wished – but he seemed to enjoy it, once he’d got over the depression.”

And, of course, there was Forghieri, the Italian’s Italian. Niki Lauda, I said, once described Mauro as ‘a mad genius’, and both my lunch guests nodded in vigorous agreement.

“Absolutely,” said Andretti. “I’ll buy that. Very good in some ways, and molto casino in others! Lovely guy, but I remember overhearing him on a hallway phone in a hotel somewhere, talking to the Old Man – and of course he was blaming the drivers for everything! I thought, ‘OK, so now we know…’”

“Niki was completely right,” said Ickx. “In those days you could do a good car one year, and the next year a terrible one! Forghieri’s ’70 car, the 312B, was fine – but the B2 was so bad that at Watkins Glen I went back to the old car, which had been taken only as a spare. It wasn’t easy because no engineer wants to admit that his car isn’t as good as his previous one – the temptation is always to blame the drivers. Mauro was a good man – but don’t forget that we all have egos! Maybe my ego is totally reduced today, but at the time it was not…

“Think about Forghieri, and you have to think about wings – the small wing on Amon’s car at Spa in ’68 was the first in F1. And look at the fins they have today, from the back of the cockpit to the wing – you can find that on a Ferrari 40 years ago!”

At the end of 1973 Ickx left Ferrari for Lotus, and it was with Colin Chapman’s team, too, that Andretti later struck gold in F1, winning the World Championship in 1978.

For Mario, though, it wasn’t quite the end of the Maranello saga. By 1982 he had put F1 behind him, and gone back to his American racing roots, but late in the year there came a call from the Old Man. In a season which had seen the death of Gilles Villeneuve and grievous injuries to Didier Pironi, Ferrari had need of a team-mate for Patrick Tambay at Monza.

“I’d turned down a full-time Ferrari drive at the end of ’71,” said Mario, “and never regretted it, from a results standpoint, because although I loved the 312PB sports cars of that period, the ’71 and ’72 F1 cars were usually diabolical! Then, at the end of ’77, the Old Man asked me back, but if I’d left Lotus, I probably would have given up the World Championship.

“I never did drive full-time for Ferrari, but at least I was with them enough to get the flavour of it – and to be called back for Monza in ’82 was really something. I knew I was taking a big risk, because I’d never driven a turbo F1 car, but everything worked out.

“The weekend before the race I took an overnight flight to Milan, and the idea was that on the first day I was just going to get familiarised, make sure the seat was good and so on, but I started running at Fiorano, and did 87 laps. Forghieri kept saying, ‘D’you want to stop?’, and I said, ‘No, let’s keep going – I’m sort of in the zone’. At the end of the day we set a new track record, and I said, ‘I’m ready’.”

So he was: the following weekend, amid the most emotional scenes I have ever seen at Monza, he put the car on pole.

“When I think of Ferrari,” said Andretti, “I remember Daytona in ’72, where Jacky and I shared a 312PB. It was a six-hour race that year, and on the first lap the car went onto 11 cylinders – and we still won! It ran all day like that, and survived. Only a Ferrari…”

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