Nico Rosberg tops Day 1 of Bahrain in-season test

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Three days after his near-miss in the Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg led the way Tuesday as the first of four Formula One in-season tests got underway at the Bahrain International Circuit.

Rosberg, who won the season opener last month in Australia, not only set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 35.697 seconds, but also turned the most laps on the 3.36-mile course with 121 circuits.

“Our main aim today was to try different directions with set-up and to get to know the tyres a bit better,” Rosberg said in a release.

“You never stop learning how to get the best out of the tires, so it has been a productive day from that perspective. We also did a bit of work on the brakes as this is an area I’m not one hundred percent happy with at the moment.”

“We’ve had a good few weeks on track but you are never at the maximum level of performance. There is always more to be found and we are constantly pushing to improve the car and ourselves as drivers.

“Having said that, the team is doing a fantastic job with this car from every perspective. Reliability, car performance, power unit performance: It’s all there and it’s a pleasure to be a part of a team with such positive momentum.”

Considering that Force India was ‘best of the rest’ in last weekend’s Grand Prix with Sergio Perez hitting the podium, it was fitting that the Silverstone squad tailed Merc again today with Nico Hulkenberg setting a P2 time of 1 minute, 36.064 seconds.

Hulkenberg logged 69 laps as the team’s focus progressed from short runs in the morning to longer stints in the afternoon. Perez will take over the VJM07 tomorrow in the desert.

Third on the time sheets belonged to Fernando Alonso of Ferrari (1 minute, 36.626 seconds), which struggled mightily last weekend with Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen coming home ninth and 10th.

The Spaniard also logged his own set of 69 laps as the Scuderia worked through various electronic and aero-measuring projects on their F14 T, whose reliability has been undone so far by a markedly slower pace compared to its rivals.

McLaren rookie Kevin Magnussen was the only other driver to break the 100-lap mark Tuesday, turning 102 laps and posting the fourth-fastest time of the day at 1 minute, 36.634 seconds.

Behind K-Mags was Williams pilot Valtteri Bottas, who was P5 on the day (1 minute, 37.305 seconds) despite running just 28 laps.

“Overall it was a good day as we managed to complete the program as planned,” Bottas said. “We then worked on set-up and we were quite experimental, so hopefully that will help in the next few races.”

Several other young guns also got in a good share of laps today in Bahrain. Russia’s Sergey Sirotkin logged 76 laps for Sauber, while Caterham’s Robin Frijns netted 63 before a hydraulic system leak ended his day early.

The toughest outing of the day belonged to Lotus and Pastor Maldonado, who could only grab 16 laps on the track before a pair of power unit-related issues stopped his progress.

“This is what testing is for, even though we would have preferred to have been able to complete more laps today,” said Maldonado. “I hope that Romain [Grosjean] can continue to work on our testing program tomorrow and hopefully have a more positive day.”

FORMULA ONE IN-SEASON TESTING – BAHRAIN, DAY 1
Unofficial Times
1. Nico Rosberg, Mercedes – 1 minute, 35.697 seconds, 121 laps
2. Nico Hulkenberg, Force India – 1 minute, 36.064 seconds, 69 laps
3. Fernando Alonso, Ferrari – 1 minute, 36.626s, 69 laps
4. Kevin Magnussen, McLaren – 1 minute, 36.634 seconds, 102 laps
5. Valtteri Bottas, Williams – 1 minute, 37.305 seconds, 28 laps
6. Max Chilton, Marussia – 1 minute, 37.678 seconds, 60 laps
7. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull – 1 minute, 38.326 seconds, 91 laps
8. Sergey Sirotkin, Sauber – 1 minute, 39.023 seconds, 76 laps
9. Robin Frijns, Caterham – 1 minute, 40.027 seconds, 63 laps
10. Pastor Maldonado, Lotus – 1 minute, 40.183 seconds, 16 laps
11. Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso – 1 minute, 40.452 seconds, 67 laps

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).