AP

Stevens, Merhi making first Russian Grand Prix starts for Manor

Leave a comment

Manor’s inaugural visit to Sochi for the 2014 Russian Grand Prix, then known as Marussia, was a challenging one.

The team had only one entry in the race, Max Chilton. Meanwhile the team’s second car was withdrawn as a tribute to Jules Bianchi, who was suffering from eventually fatal injuries he received in the previous race in Japan. Alexander Rossi had been named as a replacement before the car was withdrawn.

Chilton wound up being the first car out of the race, finishing 21st after dropping out after nine laps for suspension issues.

It was also the team’s final start prior going into administration in the offseason, before it was saved prior to the start of this year and renamed as Manor.

The team returns to Sochi this weekend ready to field two cars, each driven by new drivers, Roberto Merhi and Will Stevens, the latter having served as a reserve driver in 2014.

“The debut race in Sochi last year was something of a voyage into the unknown for all of the teams,” said team principal John Booth.

“For us, it was an even greater challenge, given our difficult circumstances. For me personally, this will be my first visit, so, in many ways, we approach the race afresh this weekend.”

Sochi represents the first of Merhi’s last two races with Marussia this year. The Spaniard has competed in 12 of the first 14 races, and has a best finish of 12th.

“I can’t wait to be back in the car in Sochi this weekend. It’s the first time I have raced here, but last year I took part in the FP1 session, so I have some understanding of the circuit characteristics and this will be helpful for me after a couple of races out of the car,” Merhi said in a release.

“I’ve continued to work very closely with the team during track sessions and engineering meetings, so I have a very good appreciation of the work we have completed and I’m eager to get stuck into the program and to make the most of my two races, in Sochi and Abu Dhabi.”

Stevens, who finished 19th in Japan, is still looking for his first finish higher than 13th. He has finished 15th twice in the last three events.

“I was here last year in my role as reserve driver, so I walked the track and observed the task of getting to grips with it from afar,” Stevens said in a release. “It’s quite useful having two different drivers as a benchmark this past few races, and of course it is Roberto back in the other seat for this race, rather than Alex (Rossi).’

The Russian Grand Prix begins Sunday at 7 am ET on NBCSN.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

Leave a comment

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).