F1 Friday Analysis: Is Lewis the man to beat?

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After the sun went down in Singapore, the on-track action came alive on Friday with practice under the lights of Marina Bay. Championship contenders Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg both looked to make a good start to the race weekend, but come the checkered flag at the end of second practice, one man was P1 and the other was P13.

For Hamilton, the day was a successful one (on paper, at least). He finished second in FP1 and topped FP2, trailing and leading Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso in the respective sessions, and looked typically at ease in Singapore. The Briton has one race win here and a good track record, not to mention the fact that he is in the form of his life.

However, Lewis is a master of self-depreciation. He underplays just how good he is – either that or he genuinely does have a nightmare of a Friday before getting it right across the rest of the weekend. His comments after the second session were cautiously optimistic, but he said that bagging pole position was crucial to his hopes of a race win.

Nico’s views may appear to be a little too cheery, given that he did finish the second session down in 13th position. However, this was not by his own doing: Pastor Maldonado’s shunt (yes, another one) brought out a red flag that interrupted Rosberg’s run when he was well up on the quickest time. In the end, the German driver opted not to put in a quick lap on the super-soft tires, electing to focus on his race pace.

In terms of race pace though, Hamilton appears to have the advantage. Looking at the Mercedes drivers long-run times – that is, their longest sustained run – Rosberg was averaging a pace around the 1:53.6 region. Hamilton, on the other hand, was dipping into the ’52s on average, although he did alternate between hot laps and cool down laps (one lap in the ’52s, then one in the ’57s, and repeat). Rosberg’s pace was more sustained – take what you will from that. You can see the full lap classification here.

Hamilton (longest FP2 run) Rosberg (longest FP2 run)
1:52.239 1:52.838
1:57.613 1:53.386
1:52.962 1:53.815
1:57.680 1:53.483
1:52.513 1:53.518
1:52.660 1:53.676
1:53.822

Just behind Mercedes though, Red Bull and Ferrari appear to be jostling to complete the podium positions. Sebastian Vettel suffered a difficult Friday after an engine failure, but his team not only did a four-hour job in just three to fix his engine, but they managed to get him out in the final few minutes of FP2. Even though he completed just five laps, the three-time Singapore winner finished fifth, two places behind teammate Daniel Ricciardo.

Ferrari’s Friday pace is always something of an enigma. The Italian team has ran well in most of the early practice sessions so far this year, but eventually gone on to drop further down the order. Monza was a perfect example of that.

This time around though, Fernando Alonso – a Singapore specialist – and Kimi Raikkonen might stand more of a chance, having finished second and fourth respectively in FP2. Perhaps more important for Ferrari is the fact that Williams is languishing right down the order, even behind Sauber. Although its FP1 pace has, juxtaposing that of Ferrari, been poor before the team has fought back later in the weekend, this time around, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas are a little less optimistic. However, they should not be ruled out of the points this weekend.

Finally, we come back to Pastor Maldonado. Yet another crash for the Venezuelan, which will not ease any of the concerns (or jokes) about his driving ability. The Lotus E22 is certainly a troublesome car, but Romain Grosjean has been a little more dignified, shall we say, in his efforts this season.

There are a lot of questions still to be answered ahead of qualifying tomorrow. If you’re an early bird, be sure to join us at 6am ET on Live Extra for coverage of FP3. Failing that, we’ll see you at the slightly more leisurely time of 9am ET on NBCSN and Live Extra for qualifying from Marina Bay.

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).