2015 Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

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With the ‘first day of school’ vibes now softening following the season-opener in Australia, Formula 1 is ready to well and truly get down to business at the Malaysian Grand Prix this weekend.

The first round in Melbourne yielded a continuation of many of 2014’s running themes: Mercedes dominance, political turmoil and impending financial doom.

The end result was a race that left many far from satisfied, with just 15 cars lining up on the grid and only 11 seeing the checkered flag.

Held in monsoon season, humidity is a serious problem for all at Sepang, whilst the possibility of a thunderstorm at any time means that the engineers and strategists must always keep one eye on the sky.

Lewis Hamilton will be looking to continue his perfect start to the season with another win in Malaysia, but teammate Nico Rosberg is not going to back down without a fight, having lost to his teammate at seven of the last eight grands prix.

The battle at the front will be complemented once again by a number of intriguing storylines up and down the grid, ranging from Ferrari and Williams’ battle for second place to the war of words that is currently ensuing between Red Bull and engine supplier Renault.

2015 Malaysian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Nico have an answer for Lewis?

Lewis Hamilton’s win in Australia may only have been by 1.3 seconds, but it looked pretty comfortable. The Briton simply had to monitor his pace in comparison to that of his teammate, and turned up the heat when necessary to bag his seventh win in the last eight races. Rosberg knows that he cannot go down in a similar fashion once again in Malaysia, for if Hamilton can put together a streak of crushing wins, the championship may be over psychologically by the time we hit Europe.

Alonso and Bottas return from injury

The long-running saga surrounding Fernando Alonso’s testing accident appears to have finally come to a close, with the Spaniard putting to bed any final conspiracy theories during the FIA press conference on Thursday. He is now fully fit and ready to race once again, and it will be fascinating to see how the Spaniard fares on his McLaren return in Malaysia, the site of his first victory for the team back in 2007. Combined with Valtteri Bottas’ return from injury, the F1 field is ‘back to normal’ this weekend, which should help to improve the on-track spectacle.

Manor’s drive to get racing continues

Manor came under fire for failing to get its cars out on track in Australia, but the FIA cleared it of any wrongdoing after accepting that the team did all that it possibly could to take part in at least one of the weekend sessions. The team claims that it is in a far better position heading to Malaysia, meaning that we could see its cars finally get out on track. This by no means guarantees it will qualify for the race, but by simply getting Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi out in practice, the team’s remarkable comeback story will continue.

The gloves are off for Red Bull and Renault

Red Bull’s threat to quit F1 after just one disappointing race may smack of sour grapes, but in truth, there is some sense behind it. The engine-focused nature of F1 now means that any team with a dud engine stands little chance of working its way up the field, hence why Red Bull is so furious with Renault. The French marque has insisted that its engines are not the only problem, and even accused Red Bull of lying. With the bosses of each brand going head-to-head in the FIA press conference on Friday, you can expect sparks to fly: it’s good to know that Cyril Abiteboul already has his boxing gloves.

Strength in numbers

The most disappointing part of the Australian Grand Prix weekend was the paltry grid that went racing. If 18 cars starting in Austin was bad, then just 15 was an embarrassment, as was the fact that only 11 finished. So Malaysia is all about F1 getting back to its usual self: 20 cars on the grid, the majority of which see the flag. Questions still hang over Manor’s head, but with more cars, we are bound to be treated to a more exciting and entertaining race on Sunday.

Malaysian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Sepang International Circuit
Laps: 56
Corners: 15
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:24.125 (2004)
Tire Compounds: Medium (Option); Hard (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:59.431
2014 Fastest Lap: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:43.066
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T15 to T1); T14 to T15

Malaysian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 10p ET 3/26
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 2a ET 3/27
Free Practice 3: NBCSN 2a ET 3/28
Qualifying: NBCSN 5a ET 3/28
Race: NBCSN 2:30a ET 3/29

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).