MANAMA, March 13 (Reuters) - American Mario Andretti, the last driver to win a Formula One title for Lotus, is considering getting involved with the marque again now that they have returned to grand prix racing.
“I have been asked to be part of that and there might become a little bit more of an involvement on my part, because they (the team) seem to be very proud of the brand that obviously they are there representing,” he told reporters at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Asked how he might become involved, he replied: “We’ll see. stay tuned.”
“(Technical head) Mike Gascoyne has done a phenomenal job to bring it here and this is for real,” added the 70-year-old, standing on front of his 1978 title-winning JPS Lotus at a function bringing together most of the surviving world champions.
“They are for real. The commitment is also long term, that’s the other thing.”
The Malaysian-backed team have been more than five seconds off the pace in all the practice sessions at Sakhir and qualified for Sunday’s race near the back of the 24 car grid.
Italian Jarno Trulli will start 20th and Finland’s Heikki Kovalainen one place back.
Saturday marked only six months since the team was given the green light to compete by the governing body, and their presence in Bahrain as one of the best of the three all-new teams is remarkable in the circumstances.
Andretti felt Colin Chapman, the late Lotus founder whose team won seven constructors’ titles and 79 races, would have been proud.
“In the first few races, they obviously won’t be on the pace but they have two very experienced drivers who can give good feedback and it’s going to be an honest ongoing development,” said the Italian-born driver, who started his F1 career in a Lotus in 1968 and won 11 races with them.
“I think by mid-season you will see probably quite a surprising improvement there, where the team will be a force to be reckoned with with some pride before the season is over.”
Editing by Neil Maidment; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org