If Nico wins in Monaco tomorrow, the scales may tip back in his favor

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It’s been quite a week in Formula 1. Not only have we been in Monaco, which – in case you missed it – is quite a big race weekend for us, but the most explosive driver rivalry in years has sparked into life.

And one man has been at the heart of it: Lewis Hamilton.

Over the past few weeks, the mind games at Mercedes have certainly been brewing. Hamilton might have won the last four races, but he continually said: “Nico was quicker.” Essentially, it was a back-handed way of saying “I was slower, and yet I still won!”

All the while, Rosberg remained tight-lipped and said very little on the matter. He was quoted in one interview as saying that there would always be something in his fridge for Lewis. These two have been friends since their karting days, but now the cracks are appearing.

In qualifying, Nico went off when on provisional pole and brought out the yellow flags, denying his rivals of a better lap time. Frankly, it appeared to be an innocent error, and the stewards thought so too after investigating the matter.

Hamilton was less than convinced, though. He didn’t smile at all after qualifying despite securing a front-row start, and he said very little on the matter. Rosberg apologized, but in the press conference Lewis just muttered: “Yeah… I was up a couple of tenths… yeah.”

Then, in the FIA media pen after the race, Hamilton spoke to the media and made his true feelings clear. He was asked whether he thought the move was deliberate, à la Michael Schumacher at La Rascasse in 2006.

“Who knows?” Lewis replied. “I’m not saying anything.”

Mercedes soon began to dissect the matter, cancelling its usual press briefing in order to deal with the FIA. When the stewards decided that Rosberg had done nothing wrong, it was confirmed that he would start from pole position tomorrow.

Hamilton might have had the momentum coming into the race weekend, but if Nico can indeed win tomorrow, the scales will tip back in his favor. Not only will he regain the lead of the drivers’ championship, but he would also have beaten Hamilton in spite of his mind games. In the wake of everything, the questions about his hunger to win, the questions about his morality, he will have beaten him.

And of all the races, Monaco is the one that Lewis so dearly wants. He won here in 2008, but has not appeared on the podium since. Never before has a driver won five straight races and not won the title; Lewis currently stands on four. If Nico can spoil his party, it would be a sweet victory for the German.

Let’s just hope they keep it clean. Whoever has the lead heading up the hill from Sainte Devote tomorrow should take a huge step towards winning the race, and – who knows – maybe the championship.

Make sure you’re watching the Monaco Grand Prix live on NBC from 7:30am ET tomorrow. It has the makings of a classic.

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).