F1 pre-season testing ends with Bottas fastest for Williams

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Valtteri Bottas has topped the timesheets on the fourth day of the final test in Barcelona as Formula 1’s pre-season came to an end on Sunday.

The Finnish driver posted a fastest lap time of 1:23.063 to finish four-tenths of a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at the top of the timesheets, with Sauber’s Felipe Nasr slotting into third place.

Today marked the twelfth and final day of test running ahead of the new season, which kicks off with the Australian Grand Prix on March 15.

In a last-ditch attempt to ready their cars for Melbourne, most of the teams opted to focus on race simulations and long-run pace, with some also performing a qualifying practice to try and find their place in the pecking order.

It was Bottas who set the pace on the super-soft compound tire, with his best lap time coming just before the lunch break in Barcelona. Williams enjoyed another trouble-free day, so much so that it opted to end its running with 90 minutes remaining in the session.

Sebastian Vettel also opted to use the quicker compound, but could only finish four-tenths of a second adrift of Bottas at the top as Ferrari balanced its running. The German driver was hoping to complete a full race simulation like teammate Kimi Raikkonen had on Saturday, but had his run interrupted by a problem on the car. He eventually finished with 129 laps to his name though, as Ferrari once again finished towards the top of the standings.

Like Ferrari, Sauber rediscovered some of its early testing form as Felipe Nasr finished third with a fastest time of 1:24.023 on the super-soft tire. The Brazilian completed more laps than any other driver as his final preparations ahead of his F1 debut went according to plan.

The same could not be said of Daniel Ricciardo and Red Bull, though. Just one hour into the day, the Australian ground to a halt at the end of the pit lane with an ERS failure. He was unable to get back out on track until the middle of the afternoon, but did enough to finish 1.5 seconds down on Bottas in fifth place.

Sergio Perez enjoyed his one and only run in the Force India VJM08 ahead of the new season on Sunday, and enjoyed a productive day. The Mexican was lapping consistently in the car and finished a solid sixth in spite of the numerous delays that Force India has suffered over the winter. However, it is likely that the true cost of the time lost will become clear later this month in Australia.

After topping the timesheets on Friday and Saturday, Mercedes had a far more understated day on Sunday as Nico Rosberg could only finish seventh. Last year’s championship runner-up posted his fastest lap time just one hour into the day on the medium-compound tire, before opting to focus on his long runs to end the day with 148 laps on the board.

McLaren’s hopes of finishing the winter on a high were dashed when a problem on the MP4-30 prevented it from getting out early in the morning session. Jenson Button eventually clocked up 30 laps in total, with his super-soft lap being some 2.2 seconds down on Bottas in P1.

Max Verstappen and Pastor Maldonado endured more difficult days, though, as both drivers were responsible for a red flag stoppage. Verstappen was forced to pull over at the side of turn 11 due to an engine problem, but did manage to get back out in the final hour of the day to improve his time, eventually finishing an excellent fourth.

For Maldonado though, his error was far more costly. Just after running had resumed after the break for lunch, the Venezuelan driver spun off at turn four, causing damage to his Lotus E23 Hybrid. He was unable to get back out on track thereafter, meaning that he finished the day with just 36 laps on the board at the foot of the table.

With pre-season testing now over, attention turns to the opening race of the year in Australia on March 15. Mercedes does appear to still enjoy a sizeable advantage over the rest of the field, but with Red Bull, Williams, Ferrari and Lotus closely knit behind, the stage is set for another thrilling season of racing.

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).