Hamilton escapes one of his “worst races” to extend championship lead in Hungary

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Lewis Hamilton escaped what he called “one of the worst races I think I’ve had” in the Hungarian Grand Prix on Sunday to extend his lead at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Starting from pole position, Hamilton had his sights firmly set on a record fifth victory at the Hungaroring. After finishing fastest in every session over the weekend, it seemed that no-one could rival him for the race win.

However, a poor start saw the Briton drop to fourth off the line, and a lock-up on the first lap caused Hamilton to go off track to avoid hitting teammate Nico Rosberg. By the end of lap one, he was tenth.

Despite fighting back through the field to get within sight of race leader Sebastian Vettel under the safety car, Hamilton was forced to pit for repairs after hitting Daniel Ricciardo off the restart. He was also given a drive-through penalty for causing a collision.

With title rival Nico Rosberg running second, Hamilton looked set to not only finish outside of the points but also relinquish his lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in 2015.

However, just as he began to fight back up the order, Rosberg suffered a puncture following a run-in with Daniel Ricciardo, causing the German to drop down the order.

Hamilton eventually finished the race in sixth place, and with Rosberg in eighth, the British driver extends his lead in the drivers’ championship to 21 points.

“That was a very tough afternoon,” Hamilton said. “The team did everything right and the car clearly had the pace – I just had a very bad day at the office.

“It was one of the worst races I think I’ve had and I don’t really have any explanation for it at the moment. All I can do is apologize to the team and work hard to make amends at the next race.

“I just made too many mistakes today. In the end, it’s damage limitation in terms of points for the championship so I just need to take the positives into the summer and bounce back in Spa.”

Hamilton was happy to accept the blame for the collision with Daniel Ricciardo that saw him receive a drive-through penalty, and explained how he remained calm to fight his way back up into the points.

“My start wasn’t ideal and the Ferraris were really quick off the line, so suddenly I was under attack from both sides,” Hamilton said.

“It was tight with Nico later in the lap where I locked up and went off, then of course there was the incident with Daniel. It wasn’t deliberate but it was my fault. He took a tight line around the outside and I just lost grip, ran out of road and understeered into him.

“That meant a drive through which dropped me right back again after all that work to make it back through. From there I just had to tell myself to calm down and not give up so I could fight back for some points.

“You could see in that phase that the pace of the car was really strong and the pace was really there all weekend.”

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).