Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff says the team is braced for a “big strategic battle” with Red Bull in Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix (NBC and NBC Sports app, 2:30pm ET).
Mercedes scored a record-equalling 18th pole position of the season in qualifying at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez as Lewis Hamilton set the pace in Q3.
Hamilton will be joined on the front row of the grid by teammate Nico Rosberg, who continued his streak of qualifying either first or second that dates back to the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix.
“We might have both cars on the front row today but that was a really tough qualifying session, and it took some special laps from Lewis and Nico to put us there,” Wolff said after the session.
“Lewis had the performance in the car all day and was able to deliver it when he needed in spite of the threat from Red Bull and Ferrari. This is a tricky circuit for putting together a clean lap but he managed two laps good enough for pole in Q3 and did it by a decent margin.
“As for Nico, he was having a tougher time through practice and the early parts of qualifying, struggling to get the tires into the right window for his quick lap. He found half a second of performance on his first run in Q3, then another three-tenths on the final lap to really pull it out of the bag and put himself P2. It was a great response under some big pressure.”
Both Hamilton and Rosberg will start the race on soft tires, but will need to be wary of the threat posed by Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, who qualified third and fourth on super-softs.
With the softer compound, Wolff expects the Red Bulls to pose a threat in the early part of the race, and is ready for a fight between the pit walls.
“Looking at tomorrow, we will start on the soft tyre with two Red Bulls behind us on the super-soft,” Wolff said.
“Maybe we will have a small disadvantage off the line, so it will be a very interesting run to the first corner and a big strategic battle after that.”
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.”