Vettel leaves Red Bull with incredible legacy, even after tough 2014

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The reality, and finality, of Sebastian Vettel leaving Red Bull Racing has started to set in.

Earlier this week, the four-time World Champion said his last goodbyes to the team where he, along with Adrian Newey’s designs and the entirety of the crew’s efforts, performed a four-year assault on the record books.

As my MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith noted when Vettel made his announcement to leave Red Bull during the Japanese Grand Prix weekend, a move that turned the Formula One silly season on its axis, it could well mark the making of the man.

But while his final season with Red Bull will go down as perhaps his most frustrating yet in seven full seasons in F1, we must not forget what he did accomplish during those four title-winning glory years and his first season with the team the year previous. Remember only 12 months ago, the majority of F1 pundits were penning articles about what Vettel had accomplished, and in the wake of the Mercedes domination this year it can be easy to forget.

Here are some of the moments where we learned the most about Vettel, or saw him achieve such utter great heights during his time in Milton Keynes:

2009 CHINESE GRAND PRIX, FIRST RED BULL WIN

As he did in Monza the previous year with Scuderia Toro Rosso, Vettel made the most of mixed, cloudy and challenging conditions to drive to an authoritative victory in Shanghai. The STR win put the team formerly known as Minardi officially on the scoreboard, while his first Red Bull win was the first for the team since the former Stewart Grand Prix’s shock triumph in the 1999 European Grand Prix with Johnny Herbert driving. Vettel led teammate Mark Webber to Red Bull’s first 1-2 result, and set the initial footprint for the beginning of a five-year psychological war with his Australian teammate.

2009 BRITISH GRAND PRIX, DENYING BUTTON HOME GLORY

Brawn GP’s surreal start to the 2009 season was expected to see eventual World Champion Jenson Button have a home coronation at Silverstone. It didn’t happen. Vettel crushed the opposition with a dominant win from pole over Webber, with the best Brawn third-placed Rubens Barrichello, some 41+ seconds back. Button was sixth, never a factor.

2010 TURKISH GRAND PRIX, WHEEL-TO-WHEEL CONTACT WITH WEBBER

This was arguably Vettel’s most memorable Red Bull drive where he didn’t win. As he battled Webber for second place, the two collided on the backstraight. Neither took responsibility, but Red Bull management famously backed Vettel. Vettel was out on the spot while Webber, who wore the number two tag as his badge from that point forward, limped home to third behind the two McLarens.

2010 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, A DECISIVE WIN TO KEEP TITLE BATTLE ALIVE

Webber had four wins to Vettel’s two from the first 15 races. Vettel was on the fringe of championship elimination but a key win at Suzuka ensured he had a shot going into the final handful of races.

2010 ABU DHABI GRAND PRIX, THE FIRST TITLE WIN

Another Vettel win at Brazil meant both Red Bull drivers had a shot going to Abu Dhabi. Webber and Fernando Alonso’s respective strategies fell flat on their faces and Alonso had a race full of Vitaly Petrov’s Renault in front of him, Vettel cruised to the win and his first World Championship.

2011 MONACO GRAND PRIX, THE TIRE GAMBLE

A radio communication mishap cost Vettel the lead and meant he’d run the last 56 laps on soft tires, and Alonso and Button behind him were stuck despite having faster cars and fresher tires. Still, he held off his rivals. A late red flag though was Vettel’s saving grace, with all teams able to change. From there, a win was assured.

2011 CANADIAN GRAND PRIX, THE RARE UNFORCED ERROR

The closest thing F1 has had to an endurance race in recent years, Vettel was poised to survive the madness, red flags and rain deluge with yet another win. But a rare mistake on the final lap, when he ran wide in a corner, allowed Button to slip through and claim one of his most popular victories.

2011 INDIAN GRAND PRIX, BEGINNING OF TOTAL TRACK DOMINATION

Pole, win, fastest lap, led every lap for his first career “grand slam.” The groundwork was laid in 2011 for Vettel’s three straight triumphs at the now off the calendar Buddh International Circuit in India.

2012 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, ANOTHER GRAND SLAM AND MOVE TO TITLE THREAT

The race that swung the pendulum of that year’s World Championship. Vettel had only two wins in 2012 prior to Suzuka, but with Alonso’s first-lap retirement and Vettel’s domination, the German closed down 25 points.

2012 BRAZILIAN GRAND PRIX, THE COMEBACK POST FIRST-LAP SPIN

Spin at the first lap? No problem. Vettel rebounded to sixth, in the wet, to secure a dramatic third straight championship.

2013 MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX, MULTI 21

It was arguably one of the stories of the 2013 racing season – Vettel’s blatant disregard of team orders to pass Webber, take the win, and give birth to the “Multi 21” phrase uttered by Webber post-race. It was the single psychological knockout that pushed Webber over the edge, and established Vettel – smiling on the outside – as a take-no-prisoners assassin with his helmet on.

2013 JAPANESE GRAND PRIX, THE WIN THAT HELD A RECORD STREAK TOGETHER

With poles, rapid first lap getaways and flag-to-flag domination, most of Vettel’s nine wins in a row in the second half of 2013 were never in doubt. Suzuka wasn’t that way. Webber took the pole and he, Vettel and Romain Grosjean were all in victory contention depending on pit strategies. Vettel seized the advantage that way in a comeback drive for his fifth win in a row at the time. Turns out he needed it to make for his record string of consecutive victories, in what was one of his best wins at Red Bull.

Although his 2014 season lacked wins, it marked the closing of a chapter of success that saw Vettel and Red Bull go on quite a tear. Can either driver or team recapture the magic apart they achieved together? Only time will tell.

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).