Lotus’ Twitter hilarity powers through a challenging Renault sendoff

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Lotus hasn’t won a race since the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, but it basically won the Internet during today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

It was the team’s uproarious Twitter account – one that often is self-deprecating, full of snark and sass yet still full of engaging, important insights – that may have been the fuel that kept it going in the wake of a challenging season finale, and one that served as the Enstone-based team’s final race with Renault power units after a 20-year partnership.

The problems started for Lotus before the race even got going, because Romain Grosjean was slapped with a 20-spot grid penalty for exceeding the maximum power units.

Grosjean couldn’t even take all those positions off, so he had to serve a drive-through penalty within the first three laps to make up the difference.

That resigned Grosjean to 20th and last with Pastor Maldonado not much better in 17th.

Then Lap 27 happened, when Maldonado had a massive engine failure. There were flames. Maldonado’s race and season were toast.

And that’s when Lotus invoked one of its commercial partners – Burn Energy Drink – in a Twitter stroke of genius.

Burn was impressed, even after being beat to the punch at its own joke.

Shortly thereafter, Lotus reached out to @Charlie_Whiting – the fake race director and version of the real one on Twitter, as expertly played by Canadian Mark McArdle – asking if further penalties were coming to Grosjean. Here was that exchange:

Lotus paid tribute to Grosjean’s penalty in a series of tweets that, in true Lotus fashion, mentioned goats and yet made it not seem completely random.

The hilarity wasn’t done yet. Earlier this weekend Lotus revealed a video whereby one of its team transporters launched over one of its F1 cars. So Lotus had an opportunity to poke fun at that next.

Grosjean made it home to the flag in perhaps the most fitting position of all – unlucky 13th, and outside the points. The team’s post-race release had the headline of “Disco Inferno.”

“We did the best we could today,” said a diplomatic Grosjean. “My race wasn’t that eventful and unfortunately it came to an early end for Pastor, so I think that we are all glad that the season is now over.”

Added Maldonado, who was OK after his own fireball, “That was a surprising race for me. Our race pace was actually pretty good and I was able to fight with the Ferraris as well as enjoy the feel from the car. I was able to push and the car worked well on both tyre compounds. Unfortunately, my race had to end early. The flames showed the engine wasn’t working too well which also mean it was getting quite hot in the car!”

So Lotus ends its character-building season eighth in the Constructor’s Championship with just 10 points – two eighth-place finishes for Grosjean and a single ninth for Maldonado. A year ago, the team ended fourth with 315 points.

What a difference a year makes.

Hopefully, as has been the case for Williams this year, Lotus will be able to turn it around with a new chassis and a new engine, a Mercedes, in 2015.

In any event, we continue to thank Lotus for their continued brilliance on social media. If you can’t laugh at a day like today Lotus had, you’ll cry. And it’s good to see Lotus choose the former.

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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).