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Zander: Sauber more motivated for 2017 following takeover

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Recently-appointed Sauber technical director Jörg Zander says that the team is “much more motivated” following the takeover by Longbow Finance last year that secured its long-term future.

Sauber endured a difficult 2016 season that was largely beset by financial concerns, with the ship being steadied when investment group Longbow took over the operation in July.

The deal allowed Sauber to push on with upgrades that helped it overtake Manor in the constructors’ championship and gain a boost in prize money in the process.

The injection of cash also gave Sauber the chance to go on a recruitment drive, with Zander joining after Audi’s decision to end its LMP1 program, having previously served as its technical director.

Speaking in an interview on Sauber’s website, Zander said that he found the F1 team to be much more motivated following the takeover, and expressed his confidence in the operation at Hinwil.

“The impressions are positive. I have received a warm welcome and felt comfortable early on in a well-known environment,” Zander said.

“I am pleased with the attitude of my team. After the frustrations and fears of the recent turbulence, everyone is now much more motivated. There are obviously expectations; the team wants change, stability and direction and that is what we strive to achieve together.

“The technical conditions are ideal. In terms of the development and production we are independent, which enables short development cycles and flexibility. The Sauber wind tunnel is one of the best aerodynamic development sites in professional motorsport.”

Zander has set his sights on a “clear improvement” from Sauber in 2017 after it scored just two points through the 2016 campaign courtesy of Felipe Nasr’s ninth-place finish in Brazil.

“Our objective is to establish ourselves in the midfield,” Zander said.

“In comparison to last year, we will implement our development plan for the whole season, but we have to be realistic as our reference is at a lower level than the ones of our competitors.

“We are on plan with the C36 and we are optimistic that our current development is heading in the right direction. At the moment it is impossible to make any predictions compared to our competitors due to the new regulations.

“Overall, 2017 will be an important year for us. The structure and process optimizations have to be defined and implemented. These are not procedures that can be implemented through literature or instructions – these are individual adjustments in which human attributes and culture play an important role.

“The team has to accept those changes and get comfortable with the new circumstances. That takes time.”

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).