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Horner: Lewis Hamilton was ‘desperate’ to race for Red Bull

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Red Bull Racing Formula 1 chief Christian Horner has claimed that three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton was “desperate” to join the team prior to his move to Mercedes.

Hamilton ended a long-running relationship with McLaren in 2012 to join Mercedes for the 2013 season at a time when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull were dominating in the series.

After a quiet first season with Mercedes that yielded just one race win, Hamilton has since established himself among F1’s all-time greats by winning back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.

The Briton has hit new heights off-track as well, securing a staggering new Mercedes contract in 2015 and enjoying a celebrity status known by few in F1’s history.

However, it all could have been very different had Hamilton earned his desired move to Red Bull, as revealed by Horner to F1 Racing magazine.

“He wanted to drive for Red Bull,” Horner said. “He was desperate to drive for the team.

“In 2012, he wanted to come and drive for us, but there was no way we could accommodate him while Sebastian was with us.

“Then before he signed for Mercedes he was very keen to drive for Red Bull in 2013.”

Fascinatingly, Horner also revealed that he convinced Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda to sign Hamilton, believing that the Briton would be less of a threat to Red Bull if he wasn’t racing for McLaren.

“The McLaren had been very competitive in 2011 and 2012 and I thought it would probably be better for us for him to be at Mercedes than McLaren,” Horner said.

“In the event of us not being able to sign him I encouraged Niki Lauda to sign him to weaken McLaren, not envisaging that Mercedes would become the absolute powerhouse they are today.”

McLaren has not won a single race since Hamilton left and has scored just two podium finishes, and spent much of 2015 toiling at the back of the grid en route to ninth place in the constructors’ championship.

AN ALTERNATE HISTORY?

So what if Lewis Hamilton had joined Red Bull and not Mercedes for the 2013 season? (Assumptions follow…).

Firstly, it’s very plausible that Nico Rosberg could be a two-time world champion by now – more titles than Hamilton would have, assuming the Briton lost to Vettel at Red Bull in 2013.

Secondly, it would most probably have set the driver market into a very different motion. Mark Webber was approached by Ferrari to replace Felipe Massa for 2013, so that would likely have gone ahead if the Australian opted to give it another year before heading to WEC.

Webber would not have likely lasted too much longer at Ferrari, though, so a space may have been opened up for Kimi Raikkonen still. Similarly, Fernando Alonso would have bailed eventually, allowing Vettel to still make his dream move to Ferrari.

Hamilton joining Red Bull would have most probably delayed Daniel Ricciardo’s promotion to Red Bull until Vettel left. Would we rave about the affable Aussie so much had he debuted in the 2015 RB11?

Perhaps the biggest question unanswered is who would have joined Mercedes in Hamilton’s place. Michael Schumacher was keen to race in 2013, but would he have stayed on for another year or two beyond that to fight for an eighth world title?

Maybe a more likely answer comes in the form of Fernando Alonso. Tired with Ferrari, perhaps he would have jumped ship to Mercedes for 2014 and enjoyed racing with the best car on the grid for the first time since 2007.

The most interesting aspect of this is how a Hamilton/Vettel partnership would have worked. The two greatest drivers of the post-Schumacher era together in the same roost – what a sight that would have been…

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).