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Rosberg keeping feet on the ground despite flawless F1 start

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MADRID (AP) Nico Rosberg is trying to stay calm.

After a perfect start to the Formula One season, Rosberg heads into this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix seeking his fifth win in as many races – and eighth in a row going back to last year. He is coming off two consecutive pole positions and already has a significant lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

“Sport is all about ups and downs and being mentally prepared to bounce back stronger when they come,” Rosberg said. “With a season this long you have to just take things race by race. There are 425 points still up for grabs and anything can happen.”

Rosberg has been in top form since the end of last year, when he won three in a row to close out the season on his way to a runner-up finish behind Hamilton. He has continued to dominate in 2016 and is already 43 points ahead of his teammate, taking advantage of a series of mishaps that plagued the start of the season for the three-time world champion.

“It’s not something I could have expected, winning the first four races of the year,” Rosberg said. “It’s been a great start but I’m just enjoying the moment and the form I’m in, doing my best to keep it going and hoping I can carry it through the end of the season. I’m connecting really well with the car at the moment, which is great as it gives you this awesome confidence to push the limits.”

Hamilton is trying to remain positive despite his disappointing start.

“We’ve got the car in a good place setup-wise,” Hamilton said. “I just haven’t been fully able to exploit it. So the glass is half full for me. It will be a big challenge but there’s a long way to go with 17 races left and, if the last four are anything to go buy, there’s a lot more still to come from us.”

Hamilton had to deal with mechanical problems that kept him from competing with Rosberg in the first four races.

“The team has been on it 24-7 since returning from Russia so I’m confident they’ll get to the bottom of the problems we’ve been having,” said Hamilton, who finished second at the Russian GP two weeks ago. “I know I’m still quick. I’ve known that since Day 1 in testing. I head to Spain confident of a good weekend.”

Last week, Mercedes published an open letter to fans to dismiss speculation that it was favoring Rosberg over Hamilton. It said some of the mechanical issues happened because the team has been pushing the limits to ensure it remains competitive.

“It’s tough to ask for more (this season,)” Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said. “However, it has not been plain sailing and we have had problems that we are working hard to solve. We have rivals breathing down our necks who are relentless in their chase. If you push the limits, then at a certain stage you risk stepping over them.”

Ferrari appears closer to Mercedes in speed this season, but it has also been plagued by mechanical failures to both of its drivers. Kimi Raikkonen is third in the drivers’ standings, while Sebastian Vettel, who crashed at the Russian GP after twice being hit from behind by Daniil Kvyat, is fifth, 67 points behind Rosberg.

Teams will be at a familiar place at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya track, which is where preseason testing took place over eight days in February and March. It’s also where many teams start introducing significant upgrades to their cars, which could prompt a few surprises.

“Spain is always a track that most of the drivers know 100 percent because we are always testing there in the winter,” Williams driver Felipe Massa said. “I’d say that everyone pretty much knows the track. It is a circuit that a good car overall normally goes well because you have a little bit of everything, high-speed corners and low-speed corners. If the car works well here, it will work well on most of the tracks.”

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/tales-azzoni

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).