F1 Qualifying Analysis: Missed opportunities allow Hamilton to rule again

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Today’s qualifying session for the Singapore Grand Prix was something of an anti-climax. After all of the signs suggested that Mercedes may face some serious competition in the fight for pole position, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg resumed normal service by locking out the front row of the grid.

However, it wasn’t that the competition faded away in the final part of Q3. Instead, Mercedes did what Mercedes does best: dominate. Two fine final laps from both Lewis and Nico gave the Silver Arrows a well deserved front row, with just 0.007 seconds separating our championship protagonists.

0.007 seconds. In layman’s terms, that’s equivalent to 33cm on track – next to nothing. It is impossible to lynch Rosberg for not scoring pole, given that he was so close, so instead we should praise Lewis Hamilton. The Briton has a knack of pulling a rabbit out of the hat to get the upper hand over his teammate – a trait that all great champions have.

After locking up at turn one, his chances of pole seemed to be dead in the water – even Lewis himself admitted that he thought it was over. However, instead of throwing in the towel as he mistakenly did at Silverstone, he kept his cool to find just enough time to secure his sixth pole position of the season.

Nico’s response to losing out was telling. He shouting “dammit!” loudly over the radio, and in the post-race press conference was clearly frustrated. That said, it wasn’t malicious frustration. He appeared to find it almost funny that he had lost by such a narrow margin. When he and Lewis shook hands for the post race picture, it was very brief; but a second of eye contact before turning to third-placed Daniel Ricciardo. It’s a great rivalry for this year’s championship story.

So well done Mercedes. However, both Ferrari and Red Bull will know that a big chance went begging today – arguably the best that they will see all season.

Ferrari’s plight was a little less surprising given that, to be brutal, the team hasn’t been hot this season. In fact, when Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso led home a one-two at the end of Q1, many were taken aback. “Have Ferrari found the fix?” Some on Twitter snarked that the departure of Luca di Montezemolo was worth two seconds per lap…

Ultimately, Kimi’s charge came to an end thanks to a software issue on his F14 T. Despite not completing a second run in Q3, he still finished seventh, which is actually pretty good for Kimi in 2014. The Finn seems to have some of his old fire back, and a good run into the top five tomorrow would go a long way to silencing many of his critics. Fernando Alonso was surprisingly upbeat with P4, and as a man who is clearly at ease around the Marina Bay Street Circuit, he is certain to be in the fight for a podium finish tomorrow with the Red Bull drivers.

Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel locked out the second row of the grid for the defending champions, but their opinions on how qualifying went were very different. Ricciardo, unsurprisingly, was more upbeat, saying that it was all he could have managed. Vettel was less cheery, saying that pole was within his grasp – the two-tenth gap to the front will leave him dwelling on where that could have been made up, no doubt.

Both Red Bull and Ferrari missed opportunities in qualifying, yes. However, the opportunity wasn’t as great as many anticipated given that Mercedes was on-song in the final stages. Beating a Mercedes in the dry is a nigh-on impossible task. Getting within one-quarter of a second? Admirable efforts all round.

Sadly “admirable efforts” don’t give you world titles – pole positions do. With four of the six winners at Marina Bay having started from pole, Lewis Hamilton will have his tail up heading into tomorrow’s race. From P2, Rosberg will be looking for a repeat of last year’s start where he made a great start to pass Vettel into turn one. By turn two, he was back down in second place, though – that’s how Lewis would like the script to run again.

Missed opportunities at the front allowed Hamilton to make the most of it and secure pole in Singapore. As those who frequently start off the front row like to remind us though, there are no points for qualifying – all the more reason to join us for tomorrow’s Singapore Grand Prix, which promises to be a thriller.

You can watch all of the action live from Marina Bay on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7.30am ET tomorrow.

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).