Hungarian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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Practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix took place today at the Hungaroring on the outskirts of Budapest, and unsurprisingly, we once again saw Mercedes dominate proceedings.

Lewis Hamilton made a perfect start to his bid for an unprecedented fifth victory in Hungary by doubling up in practice and finishing both sessions as the fastest driver. Mercedes teammate and championship rival Nico Rosberg trailed him in both sessions by about two-tenths of a second, but the Briton was not 100% happy with his car, bemoaning a lack of grip on Friday.

Further back, we have quite an interesting battle for the final podium position developing between Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams. All four teams look capable of being best of the rest in Budapest, and it will be a close battle in qualifying tomorrow.

Off track, talk turned to the upcoming Russian Grand Prix and some of the problems in Formula 1 at the moment, with Red Bull team principal Christian Horner lashing out at journalists for focusing on the negative points in the sport. More on that in my Thoughts from the Track.

Here’s the full round-up from the Hungarian GP paddock today.

SESSION REPORTS

  • FP1 saw Lewis Hamilton finish fastest ahead of Nico Rosberg, with Kimi Raikkonen finishing in third place for Ferrari.
  • FP2 was a near copy: Hamilton again fastest ahead of Rosberg, but it was Sebastian Vettel who put Red Bull up into the top three ahead of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

If Lewis and Nico did really have struggles during practice today, they certainly didn’t show it. Both drivers looked at ease during practice when you go by the timesheets, yet their actual on-track form was a little more difficult. Hamilton complained of more brake problems during FP2, whilst Rosberg cried over the radio: “I need advice!” “For what, traffic?” “No, driving!” Isn’t that what you’re paid to do, Nico?

It’s pretty clear that the Silver Arrows will be juking it out at the front of the field once again, but the battle behind is a little bit more complex. Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren and Williams all appear to be in contention for a podium finish, with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel finishing third in FP1 and FP2 respectively. Williams drivers Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas confirmed that they expected to struggle more here, so to see them down towards the bottom of the top ten is hardly surprising. Spa and Monza should see the British team bounce back.

Instead, Red Bull and Ferrari will be making the most of this not being an engine-reliant circuit. The RB10 is well suited to this track, and if we can see another great fight between Fernando, Seb and Dan this weekend, that would be just swell.

Regarding silly season: it’s all smoke in mirrors. Marko says one thing, Vettel says another, Christian Horner and Niki Lauda give their pennyworth – and we still don’t know what’s going on. In truth, Seb doesn’t appear to be on the move.

If anyone is, it’s Alonso. The stories linking him with McLaren refuse to die down, and as Jenson Button continues to postpone any decision or talks about his future, the speculation will only continue to circulate.

Now for the political side of things. The team principals’ press conference was icy to say the least. Before, it has been dominated by concerns over the F1 Strategy Group, its work and its membership. This time around, things were a little more relevant to the ‘real world’ as concerns over the Russian Grand Prix came to the fore.

It was very difficult for any of the representatives in the press conference to take a stand on the matter. However, Christian Horner went on quite a rant about the attitude of the journalists in the press conference, saying how it was wrong that the focus was not in the good in Formula 1: the great racing of late; the championship tussle afoot; the emergence of some young stars. Why are we not focusing on that?

Let’s turn that around. Why, if F1 is in such a good place, are we bothering with double points? Or standing restarts in 2015? Or bemoaning the fact that only 52,000 came through Hockenheim’s gates last weekend? It seems to be a trait of the team principals that a difficult question can be avoided by turning it around on the journalist. We’re not promoting the bad aspects of the sport with these questions; we’re looking for answers. It was a quite uncomfortable atmosphere in the room following Horner’s tirade.

Horner said that we should be putting these questions to the two big power players in the sport: Jean Todt and Bernie Ecclestone. Why don’t we ask them? Well, access is limited. These press conferences present a real chance to talk to the team bosses, who ultimately are in charge of the drivers, who in turn put on the show for us. These matters may be uncomfortable to talk about, but we mustn’t avoid them.

The on-track action returns tomorrow; perhaps we’ll get some more answers then in the fight to finish behind Mercedes. We can hope for another great race to put the attention on that instead of the off-track dilemmas and dramas, and with Lewis and Nico battling at the front, a superb Hungarian Grand Prix may be in store.

Saturday TV Times

FP3 – Live Extra from 5am ET
Qualifying – CNBC and Live Extra from 8am ET

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).