Formula E: Trulli rolling with changes in owner/driver role, last minute driver swap

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MIAMI – The last two Italian race drivers in Formula 1, Jarno Trulli and Vitantonio Liuzzi, are now teammates in the Trulli GP lineup this weekend for the Miami ePrix, the first U.S. race for the FIA Formula E Championship.

Both are at different stages in their career, with Trulli now adjusting to his new life as the championship’s lone owner/driver.

Trulli, now 40, is four years removed from his last season of F1 in 2011 with Lotus (which became Caterham, and is now defunct), which also marked his last full-time racing appearance.

It was his past driving history, he said, that allowed the Trulli Formula E team to even happen, as it was a fairly last-minute replacement for Drayson’s entry on the inaugural FE grid in June 2014, just four months before the season’s first race in China.

“Being the driver was the key to launch the team at the beginning, given my experience and helping set up everything around what is a formula team,” Trulli told MotorSportsTalk. “I’ve learned many things. It’s a good challenge. I hope we will be successful.

“But it’s quite a big commitment to be honest. It’s tougher than expected. But it’s good to have a team. In my position, I feel more a team owner than a driver. I’m really focusing on the future of the team.”

The team has a definitive, distinctive Italian flair compared to the rest of the grid, even though the team is entered as a Swiss entrant.

The standard Italian blue and white colors also have some green and red elements on the car as well.

The team has also ensured two Italian drivers stay in the driver lineup, with Trulli now joined by longtime friend and fellow ex-F1 driver Vitantonio Liuzzi this weekend.

Liuzzi steps into the seat vacated by Michela Cerruti; the timing was perfect for Trulli and Liuzzi to work together.

“To be honest, I’d always contacted ‘Tonio’ since the beginning, but he was busy in Japan,” Trulli said. “When I had the chance, it was on the Monday, and they knew it was here. I was very lucky; it was coincidence.

“But for him to be here, and me knowing he was here, made it a good move. Obviously it’s not ideal for him or me as it was a very last minute call. We couldn’t prepare much in terms of feeding him all the information of the car. With his experience and talent, I’m sure he’ll do a proper job.”

Liuzzi downplayed expectations this weekend, but is still grateful for the opportunity. He too last raced in F1 in 2011, with the HRT team (like Lotus/Caterham, also no more in F1).

“This was the best end of our beautiful holiday,” Liuzzi said Friday during the FIA Formula E press conference. “I was supposed to fly away yesterday night, but after a nice lunch with Jarno on Tuesday when he arrived, we had a talk, and we heard maybe Michela was not supposed to come.

“Jarno told me to stay and stand by. My flight was Thursday night, but I got the great news that I’m able to race with this team. I respect him a lot as a person and a driver. It’s my job to help this team go forward.”

Indeed Trulli, the driver has admitted that being Trulli, the owner, is a tough prospect. The team currently sits ninth in the Team’s Championship, with only 12 points accrued from Trulli’s single fourth place finish in Round 3 at Uruguay.

Still, he enjoys the fact he’s in at the ground level of the series as it looks to gain prominence on a world stage for years to come.

“The series in my opinion has some potential,” Trulli said. “It brings some important messages, sustainability, green power. It’s getting stronger around the world.

“It’s the perfect base and motorsport series to be able to develop all those technologies, now appearing on road cars, that will become all day driving cars in the near future.

“We have seen already some manufacturers manufacturing a hybrid car. But they are planning full electric cars for the next five years. Developing these technologies, and racing in this series, helps drive the development.”

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).