Hamilton’s title chances compromised after rough start in Japan

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Lewis Hamilton’s won the last two Formula 1 World Championships and three overall, but the Mercedes AMG Petronas driver’s chances at his first career title three-peat have taken a hit following a third place finish in Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

Hamilton went into Suzuka, a place he’s won the last two years, needing to win his third straight at the circuit to regain any momentum versus teammate Nico Rosberg and cut into his 23-point deficit.

He leaves the race now 33 points back, having had to play catch-up during the race as he recovered from eighth back to third, while Rosberg won again.

Hamilton’s race pretty much went away from him before it even got going. He bogged down off the line from second on the grid, which was surprising to witness considering it looked as though his grid position was cleared from earlier dampness.

Anyway, the Englishman fell to eighth by Turn 1, and hadn’t even moved forward one spot until a few laps later when he dispatched of Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India.

Where Hamilton got ahead of Sergio Perez, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen was on the first pit stop sequence, getting up to fourth after switching from softs onto hards.

Hamilton then jumped Sebastian Vettel for a podium position in the final pit sequence, just past halfway, with the pivotal decision by his team to keep him on hards while Ferrari gambled to put Vettel on softs. Vettel was faster initially but lost the pace, while Hamilton set sail looking to catch Max Verstappen, and came up short.

Hamilton didn’t have much to say on the podium but did say thanks to his crew for their efforts, as he helped Mercedes clinch its third straight Constructor’s Championship. He was much more succinct about the start.

“Firstly, a big thank you to everyone who came out. So thankful for this team to get them points, congrats to everyone at the factory at Brixworth and whole of Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“I did the best I could with where I was in the race. I’ll give it everything I got and we’ll see what happens (from here),” he added.

Hamilton expanded in a separate post-race interview with NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“Yeah it was from the get-go, lots of wheel spin. I lost ground as everyone else gained traction. Could have been the wet patch but in general, the getaway was not good,” he admitted.

“It was really hard. There wasn’t a lot I could do. I didn’t have the pace in front of me so I didn’t try to attack them. The second half I could put better times in. After that, generally happy with it.”

Vettel and Ricciardo told Buxton post-race they figured Hamilton had had an issue on the damp line of the track, and that was why he fell back.

“It was a fantastic start… too good again! I couldn’t make use of it. Lewis had an issue,” Vettel explained.

Ricciardo added, “The Raikkonen gearbox penalty was the opposite of a blessing in disguise. It put me in the wet side of the grid. And Hamilton suffered a bit with the wet patch.”

Vettel said of his team’s call to try to beat Hamilton, “We tried to do something else to increase our chances at the end. A risk we took but it didn’t come up.”

Hamilton nearly edged ahead of Verstappen, but opted not to comment on when he ran wide at the Casio Triangle as he hadn’t seen the replay. He did admit his engine power was at full tilt.

“I was at max chat on my engine, so I didn’t go up anymore,” Hamilton told Buxton. “But at the end Nico was cruising. He had a Sunday drive after getting the gap.

“I don’t feel like commenting on it (Max). It didn’t feel ideal at the time, but I’ll watch the replay. Fortunately we didn’t hit and we move forwards.”

Hamilton now sits 33 points with four races remaining, and his championship destiny is out of his hands.

Even if he wins out, the most points he could gain would be 28 if Rosberg finished second in each.

It caps off a second successive frustrating weekend for Hamilton, whose weekend began with “Snapchat-gate” as he used the social media app during Thursday’s press conference, featured a media conference walkout on Saturday and then today’s race.

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).