GP2, GP3 and Formula Renault 3.5 mid-season round-up

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Just as Formula 1 is breaking for summer at the moment, its feeder series are doing the same. The shutdown gives all involved in motorsport a chance to take a break and refresh ahead of the second half of the season, and in the junior series, it is just as important.

Following on from our in-depth mid-season Formula 1 review, here is a brief look at how things are standing in its three main feeder championships ahead of the second half of the year.

GP2

The GP2 Series has been dominated by one man in 2014: Jolyon Palmer. The 23-year-old British driver has scored points in every race so far this season, and has qualified outside of the top two on just one occasion. With two wins and six further podium finishes to his name, Palmer has moved into a 43 point lead at the top of the standings with four rounds and eight races remaining.

The only driver that appears to stand any chance of stopping Palmer from winning the title is Carlin’s Felipe Nasr. The Brazilian driver is balancing his GP2 campaign with a reserve role at Williams, and after so many years of being the bridesmaid, he finally claimed his first victory in Spain earlier this year. Two other wins have followed, but he still faces an uphill struggle to beat Palmer to the title.

McLaren junior Stoffel Vandoorne has had a mixed first half-season in GP2, winning two races to make up for a five race run without points. He has been the top rookie of 2014, although Campos driver Arthur Pic could also stake a claim to that moniker after making an impressive start following his move from Formula Renault 3.5. Ferrari junior Raffaele Marciello has shown signs of pace, but has often come unstuck on race day and suffered from some hard luck.

For the American drivers on the grid, it hasn’t been a great year so far. Alexander Rossi is currently without a seat following his move away from Caterham, but he does hope to secure a place for the remainder of the season after joining Marussia F1 Team as a reserve driver. Conor Daly has been luckless (to put it nicely), but finally scored some much-deserved points in Hungary.

GP3

In a flurry of déjà vu from 2013, a Red Bull junior looks set to win this year’s GP3 championship. British racer Alex Lynn joined the brand at the beginning of the year as a member of its junior programme, and he has flourished in his debut GP3 season after a successful year in the FIA F3 European Championship in 2013.

The Briton currently leads New Zealand’s Richie Stanaway by 31 points with eight races to go, with Jimmy Eriksson and Emil Bernstorff in third and fourth place respectively. German starlet Marvin Kirchhofer currently ranks fifth, whilst Dean Stoneman, Jann Mardenborough and Patric Niederhauser are the other race winners in a very open season.

Lynn’s lead is by no means secure, such is the unpredictable nature of the GP3 championship, but he is the favorite to win the title before a likely move up to GP2 in 2015.

Formula Renault 3.5

The Formula Renault 3.5 title looks to be heading the way of yet another Red Bull junior in the shape of Spain’s Carlos Sainz Jr. The son of the rally legend Carlos Sr., the DAMS driver is 39 points clear of Roberto Merhi at the top of the standings, and has won five races so far this year.

Just in case Red Bull needed yet another successful junior driver, series rookie Pierre Gasly is enjoying a very impressive debut season, currently sitting third in the standings, although he is yet to win a race. Sauber junior Sergey Sirotkin is fifth in the championship with one race win to his name, as he looks to secure a full-time seat with the Swiss team in 2015.

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).