United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

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As the boom for Formula 1 in the United States continues, this weekend’s grand prix in Austin, Texas is set to be a fantastic event that is loved by both the fans and the F1 paddock as a whole.

The Circuit of the Americas is a superb facility, already establishing itself as a firm favorite for the drivers thanks to its exhilarating yet challenging sections, punishing any errors and rewarding the brilliant and the brave in the field.

Practice today saw Lewis Hamilton dominate proceedings, finishing quickest in both of the sessions on Friday at COTA. However, his margin of victory in FP2 was quite literally a matter of inches: 0.003 seconds across a 5.5km lap equates to just 6.7 inches between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg at the top of the timesheets.

Besides the on-track action, the debate about the F1 cost crisis continued in the team principals’ press conference, and once again it went around in circles. The recent demise of Caterham and Marussia appears to have done little to change the perspective or opinion of the major manufacturers in Formula 1, much to the sport’s detriment.

Here’s the complete paddock notebook from Friday at the Circuit of The Americas.

SESSION REPORTS

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

It’s been a very interesting day at the Circuit of The Americas. Although the on-track action did not exactly stir much in the way of shock and awe, a good number of fans still turned out to see both practice sessions on a warm day in Austin.

Yet again, it was Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes who led the way, with Nico Rosberg clinging desperately to his coattails in this championship chase. The German driver did run him very closely in the second session on Friday though, finishing just 0.003 seconds behind the world championship leader. Whichever way you look at it, the fight at the front is going to be a close one.

However, the Mercedes cars once again proved that they are not infallible. Both Hamilton and Rosberg were reporting gearbox problems on their W05 Hybrids, with a fuel leak then forcing the Briton to box and bring his session to an early end. As a result, his times are difficult to understand in terms of a sustained long-run pace.

Rosberg needs to win this weekend’s race in Austin. If he doesn’t, not only will the mathematical difference leave him with a mountain to climb, but his psychological demons that continue to dog his bid for a maiden world title will only grow stronger.

Further back, Ferrari, Red Bull and Williams appear to be locked in a close battle for third place this weekend behind the two Silver Arrows. Although both Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo hit trouble during practice today, both showed some good, sustained long-run pace during FP2. Williams was less hot, but it always seems to struggle on a Friday before coming alive later in the weekend. Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen should also be in the mix for Ferrari at COTA.

Since getting the drive with Red Bull for 2015, Daniil Kvyat has been in a fine vein of form, qualifying an excellent fifth for his home race in Russia last time out. In practice today, he was brilliant once again, finishing fourth in FP1 and seventh in FP2, not letting 17-year-old Max Verstappen upstage him. That said, Verstappen did hold his own once again, and is quickly proving his critics wrong ahead of his F1 debut next March.

Lotus’ day was a bit of a disaster in terms of pace, but with the trial of the 2015-style nose, it was never really about setting the timesheets ablaze. Interestingly, it was Romain Grosjean and not Pastor Maldonado who suffered a few spins today, appearing to lack front-end grip.

In the team principals’ press conference, the big questions about costs were asked once again, and once again they appeared to fall on deaf ears. Toto Wolff and Eric Boullier sat on the front row, saying how a cost cap was unviable, whilst the three representatives from the teams facing financial challenges all pleaded the exact opposite. One journalist perfectly pointed out that the very fact that they couldn’t even agree on one simple topic in the media conference proved the instability harming F1 at the moment.

With the collapse of two teams in the past week, the sport is facing a crisis. The saddest part is that it is not great enough to really prompt change from the powers that be in F1.

Qualifying tomorrow should be an interesting affair, with the FIA sensibly deciding to knock out four cars in both Q1 and Q2 to make up for the absence of Caterham and Marussia. Sebastian Vettel will start from the pit lane, but Red Bull has confirmed that he will still take part in Q1 to ensure that he meets the 107% rule and does not risk being forced out of the race by the FIA stewards.

We’re in for another almighty scrap between the Silver Arrows, but for the time being, Lewis seems to have the advantage – even if it is only by a matter of inches.

NBC/NBCSN SCHEDULE FROM UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX

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).