Two former F1 drivers are celebrating their respective birthdays today, with the winner of the first Grand Prix for Ferrari, José Froilán González, turning 88 today, and former McLaren driver Michael Andretti turning 49 today.
Today’s birthday boys: José Froilán González (above left) still enjoys a cult following long after retirement, while Michael Andretti’s F1 career was rather more stillborn (above right).
A contemporary of his compatriot Juan Manuel Fangio, González was a top-shelf all-round sportsman in spite of his incredibly bulky frame. Known as ‘The Pampas Bull’ by his English fans and the rather more crude ‘El Cabazon’ (which translates to ‘Fat Head’) among his fellow drivers, González was identifiable due to his enormous bulk overhanging the side of his F1 cockpit as he furiously wrestled his car around the circuit.
Having made a couple of appearances in 1950-1 in a Maserati and a Talbot, so impressed was Enzo Ferrari – after González beat the almighty Mercedes W163s on Buenos Aires’ Costanera street circuit in 1951 – that he signed the Argentine up to his F1 outfit, and González promptly delivered, finishing second on his Ferrari debut at France, and taking the marque’s first win at the following round at Silverstone.
By the end of the 1951 season, González had finished an impressive third in the championship, finishing on the podium in every race he contested. In doing so, González achieved a host of ‘youngest driver’ records, including the being the youngest to start a race, achieve a pole position, a podium finish, a fastest lap, and a race win.
The remainder of González’s career was spent in F1 sporadically, and he again was a frequent podium finisher in 1954 – winning at Silverstone again with Ferrari – en route to second overall in the championship.
Thereafter, he contested one F1 race a year – typically his home race – with his final podium finish coming at Buenos Aires in 1955 in front of his adoring fans.
Still active in motor racing circles, González is a frequent visitor to the F1 paddock, ever-smiling and ever-willing to demonstrate one of the veteran cars that he piloted with such verve.
By contrast, Michael Andretti’s F1 career is a rather brief blot on the landscape of the host of American and IndyCar/CART drivers who have attempted – and failed – to cross the pond into Formula 1.
The son of 1978 World Champion Mario, Michael had an impressive CV in the United States’ motor racing circles, with championship titles in Super Vee, Indy Lights and CART before he was given the opportunity to test for McLaren in 1991.
After finishing runner-up in the 1992 CART championship, Michael was signed to McLaren as Ayrton Senna’s team-mate for the 1993 season. A raft of rule changes restricting testing and his insistence of commuting from the United States meant he never gelled with the car or the team, and after the first three rounds he had competed just three racing laps.
Indeed, his F1 season was seemingly punctuated by a host of clumsy spins and collisions with Karl Wendlinger. He finally finished a race (Spain) and in the points, but made the points just twice more, and left the team by mutual consent after picking up a surprise podium at the Italian Grand Prix.
Michael returned to his beloved CART championship in 1994, signing on with the Ganassi team and giving the Reynard chassis its first CART win at the Gold Coast round. He rejoined Newman/Haas team for 1996, finishing runner-up to Jimmy Vasser, but then suffered a thin three seasons as the team used the Swift chassis. The team switched to a Lola chassis in 2000, and he returned to race-winning form again, and switched teams when Newman/Haas refused to join the IRL during the split with ChampCar. He later bought out the Team Green operation, and renamed in Andretti Autosport, where he now oversees the career of his son, Marco.