Romain Grosjean closes out first Barcelona test fastest

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Romain Grosjean has made the most of his one and only day behind the wheel of the Lotus E23 Hybrid in Barcelona this week by finishing as the fastest driver.

The Frenchman posted a fastest lap time of 1:24.087 on the super-soft tire to finish ahead of Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg and Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, completing a hat-trick of P1 finishes for Lotus in Barcelona.

Six red flag periods created a truncated day of running, with the big story being Fernando Alonso’s crash at the end of the morning session.

The Spaniard was airlifted to hospital for precautionary checks, where a CT scan confirmed that he was not severely injured following an off at turn three.

Stoppages for Nico Rosberg, Valtteri Bottas, Carlos Sainz Jr., Felipe Nasr and Nico Hulkenberg meant that their teams had to contend with minor problems and interruptions in their testing programme, whilst Ferrari and McLaren also had trouble with their cars, limiting their running.

Following Alonso’s accident, McLaren opted to end its running in Barcelona and scrap the plans to run Jenson Button in the afternoon. A third problem in four days with the Honda engine meant that the team was limited to just 20 laps in total on Sunday.

Williams opted to focus on its long-run pace on Sunday as Bottas propped up the timesheets, but made a late charge to finish fifth. By getting 128 laps under his belt, the Finn managed to gain plenty of data ahead of the final test in Barcelona next week.

With just four days remaining in pre-season testing after today, many of the teams opted to push their cars a little bit harder in search of the optimum lap time. Seven drivers occupied top spot across the course of the day, but it was Grosjean who ultimately won out with a lap time that was two-tenths of a second faster than Nico Rosberg’s. However, the German did post his P2 lap on the medium tire, whilst Grosjean was on super-softs.

After Pastor Maldonado finished fastest on Thursday and Saturday in Barcelona, Grosjean’s result capped off a good week for Lotus. The British team will be hoping to put the misery of 2014 in the past and head to the first race of the season in Australia with renewed vigor and pace.

The teams will begin the final four-day test at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya next Thursday, and most are expected to bring a raft of upgrades that could help to define the pecking order for the new year.

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 “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).