F1 flashback: Mario Andretti wins on debut for Ferrari

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Mario Andretti made history on this day in 1971 when he scored his first Grand Prix victory in the South African Grand Prix at Kyalami (see video below).

Fittingly, the Italian-born American’s first victory came at the wheel of a Ferrari. Andretti cemented his position in the team’s history by winning on his debut for them.

Team mate Clay Regazzoni led the early running having passed pole sitter Jackie Stewart’s Tyrrell. But Denny Hulme was working his way through the field, passing Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacky Ickx. He took the lead off the Ferrari driver on lap 17.

Meanwhile Andretti had moved up from his seventh place on the grid to hold second. Hulme’s lead looked secure until a suspension part failed with four laps to go, allowing the flat-12 engined Ferrari 312B to sweep by.

This was a double American triumph, for Andretti’s victory came on Firestone tires. The Ohio company, prior to its purchase by Japanese giant Bridgestone, had won all bar two of the previous year’s races.

But it was to be Andretti’s only victory for the Scuderia. At this stage in his career he only competed in world championship events sporadically, prioritizing competitions in America. His greatest F1 successes including his 1978 championship triumph came with Lotus.

However he returned to Ferrari in their hour of need in 1982 when the team had lost both its drivers during the course of the season. On his comeback at Monza he was quickest in qualifying, and so Andretti’s first victory and last pole position both came with Ferrari.

Mercedes power: Hamilton, Bottas fastest during 1st French GP practice

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LE CASTELLET, France (AP) — Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas posted the top two times during the opening practice for Formula One’s French Grand Prix on Friday.

Defending champion Hamilton clocked the best lap time at 0.140 seconds faster than Bottas.

Red Bulls’ Daniel Ricciardo had the third best effort, followed by Ferrari pair Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

Vettel leads Hamilton by one point atop the standings after seven of 21 races.

The session had one red flag near the end when Marcus Ericsson spun out of control and slammed into the barrier on Turn 11. The right rear of his Sauber burst into flame before the Swede got out. Sauber said he was unharmed.

Hamilton also had a scare when forced to swerve off course to avoid ramming a slow-going Stoffel Vandoorne and slalomed around two rows of bollards before returning to the flow. Hamilton said on his team radio the McLaren driver was going “dangerously slow” when he came upon him.

Later, Hamilton complained his Mercedes was having trouble turning. After coming back out, the four-time world champion quickly went to the top of the timesheet.

This was the first chance drivers had to run on the 5.8-kilometer (3.6-mile) Paul Ricard Circuit, as F1 makes its return to France for the first time in a decade.

The track resting in wooded hills just inland from the Cote d’Azur was basked in the Mediterranean sun and subject to moments of gusting winds.

Raikkonen, Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso), Esteban Ocon (Force India) and Vandoorne all spun their cars onto the blue-striped run-off areas at Turn Six because of a tricky tailwind but managed to stop before hitting the barrier.

Charles Leclerc (Sauber) twice spun to a brief stop, while Max Verstappen drove wide on consecutive corners and had a near-miss with Sergio Perez of Force India.

Vettel took the lead in the standings two weeks ago in Montreal where he won the Canadian GP after starting from pole position. That victory erased a 14-point lead held by Hamilton after he could manage only a fifth-place finish.

There will be two more practices on Friday and on Saturday before qualifying for Sunday’s race.

The last time a F1 race was held here at Le Castellet was in 1990 when Alain Prost won for Ferrari.