F1: In wake of Bianchi crash, Malaysian GP may shift to earlier start time

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The boss of the Sepang International Circuit, home to Formula One’s Malaysian Grand Prix, says he is seeking an earlier start time of the event in order to avoid the area’s tropical storms.

The possibility comes after last October’s devastating accident at a rainy Suzuka involving Marussia’s Jules Bianchi, who suffered severe head injuries when he skidded off-course and hit a recovery crane. The French driver remains hospitalized.

In the FIA’s panel report on the accident, one of the recommendations listed was that the start of a Grand Prix should not be less than four hours before either sunset or dusk (except in the cases of night-time races).

With that in mind, Sepang boss Razlan Razali has told Reuters that he and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone have discussed shifting the start of the Malaysian GP from 4 p.m. to 3 p.m. local time.

“Mr Ecclestone mentioned that because of the Suzuka incident, the FIA has some time limit,” Razali said. “So he is reviewing to move the start to the original time, maybe this year.

“For us, it’s good. It’s a safer time bracket…so now people can come in for lunch, watch the race and about five o’clock, they can go back [home]. He [Ecclestone] mentioned the possibility [of an earlier start]. We said, ‘If you want to go back to 3 p.m., we fully support it.'”

The Malaysian GP has had issues with weather over the years. Downpours have impacted several race weekends at Sepang, and even when conditions are dry, the race is usually one of the hottest on the F1 calendar.

In addition to commenting on his own race – which he expects will soon have a multi-year extension – Razali also talked about how he has come around to the quieter, V-6 hybrid engines that took hold in F1 last year.

He mentioned that he had been worried after Australian Grand Prix organizers complained loudly about the lack of noise from the new motors. But when F1 came to Sepang last year, Razlan noticed something: The families in the grandstands were more able to enjoy the race.

“I can remember in the past where a dad would put headphones on the kid and hold it, or a kid would be too scared and start crying, wanting to go home,” he said. “I think it attracts a new breed of fan base now. And that’s what you want.”

 

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).