McLaren made the most of Friday’s washout at Suzuka by conducting a number of reliability tests as it continues to iron out the problems in its Honda power unit.
Since rejoining forces with Honda at the beginning of 2015, McLaren’s hopes of returning to the front of the Formula 1 field have been blighted by a number of issues with the power unit.
Drivers Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button have been limited to just four points finishes in total so far this season, with their most recent chance of a top ten finish in Singapore being lost thanks to another technical issue.
With heavy rain hitting Suzuka on Friday and leaving the track wet for both FP1 and FP2, most of the teams ran a shortened practice programme and turned their attention to FP3 on Saturday when conditions are expected to be dry and sunny.
However, McLaren opted to make the most of the three hours of running as both Alonso and Button completed some tests to ensure that the problems from Singapore had not carried over to Japan.
“This wasn’t too much of an important day,” Alonso said. “The conditions for tomorrow and Sunday look to be dry, so today’s running probably wasn’t too representative. Nevertheless, we ran some reliability tests in order to try to understand the problems we experienced in Singapore.
“Now those checks are done, we’ll maximise our efforts ahead of FP3 tomorrow – that’ll be the only opportunity we’ll have before qualifying to push hard on a dry track.”
McLaren racing director Eric Boullier is anticipating another tough weekend for McLaren as the long straights at Suzuka work against the Honda power unit, but is pleased to see the grandstands filled with fans cheering the team on.
“We know that this will be another challenging weekend, but we’re buoyed and heartened by the groundswell of support from an incredibly enthusiastic and passionate bunch of Japanese fans,” Boullier said.
“Their innovative and creative ways of supporting and promoting McLaren-Honda is really breathtaking, and it’s given the whole team additional motivation for this race.
“For everybody out there in the rain, loyally waving a McLaren-Honda flag, wearing a McLaren-Honda T-shirt, or sporting a homemade McLaren-Honda DRS flap-adjustable helmet, you’re all part of the bigger McLaren-Honda family, and we’ll do our very best to give you something to cheer about this weekend.”
Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1
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.
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.
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.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
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.”
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;
–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.”