MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Spanish GP

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MONTMELO – After a three-week break, the Formula 1 paddock reconvenes at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on the outskirts on the city this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix, marking the start of the European season.

With the first four flyaways now in the books and the early pecking order shaping up, the teams will be looking to take a stride forwards with the first raft of updates on the 2015 cars this weekend, serving to spice up the battles up and down the grid.

As a result, the predictions have become slightly more difficult to make for the Spanish Grand Prix, given that the teams may be further forward or back from where they were last time out in Bahrain.

Nevertheless, here’s the verdict that the MST team is delivering ahead of the race weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s impressive start to the season could well continue in Spain, given that a number of updates are due on the SF15-T car. That said, there appears to be little that can stop Lewis Hamilton at the moment. A fourth win in five races would make for even more ominous reading.

Surprising FinishDaniel Ricciardo. Red Bull has endured a thoroughly miserable start to the 2015 season, but this could be set to change. A raft of updates on the RB11 could allow Ricciardo and his teammate, Daniil Kvyat, to work their way further up the order and perhaps on to a level playing field with Williams.

Most to ProveMcLaren. McLaren may have a fierce new livery, but the real focus will be on the performance of the MP4-30 with its first major upgrade package. Despite making great strides so far this year, the team needs to end the rut and get on the scoreboard.

Additional Storyline to WatchForce India’s form. Given that the team enjoyed just two days of running with the new car ahead of the new season, Force India’s early season form has been mightily impressive. However, with the rest of the field now introducing a raft of updates, the team may be hit hard as it waits until Austria before making real changes to the VJM08, suggesting a backslide could be on the cards.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. Mercedes dominated on the long runs here in winter testing and there’s no reason to think the domination won’t continue here in the regular season. Rosberg still hasn’t shown he can beat Hamilton in a session that counts yet this year; I don’t think that changes this weekend.

Surprising FinishFernando Alonso. McLaren Honda is certainly talking of big gains heading into the weekend and Alonso was mightily impressive getting as close as he did to points and Q3 in Bahrain. It would be both a popular and improved result if Alonso cracks the top 10 and delivers the team’s first points of the season.

Most to ProveNico Rosberg. I’ll say Rosberg here more than others due to the fact this is the European season and a good spot for him to hit his stride and take the fight to his teammate. He’s won in Monaco before and a win here in Spain would do wonders for his confidence, psyche and the championship battle if he can put one over on Hamilton. I don’t see it happening, as mentioned above, but it would be good to see him exceed the expectations placed on him at the moment.

Additional Storyline to WatchBattle of the upgrades. The European season traditionally marks the start of upgrade season for all teams and manufacturers. Will any one team make a major performance jump or suffer a setback as a result?

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

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For full broadcast information on the Spanish Grand Prix, click here.

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).