Marco Andretti pleased with Friday practice

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Marco Andretti gave his 2017 season an early shot in the arm by turning the fastest lap in opening practice for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. He backed it up with the eighth fastest time in the second practice, which put him eighth fastest overall for the day, a solid start after a dismal 2016 season.

Andretti commented that his performance was a result of the Andretti Autosport team getting to grips with the track. He explained, “I just think we did a good job chasing the track. I mean, the track is very low-grip, which is not what we were expecting. We were expecting the new pavement to be higher-grip. Everybody’s sliding around a lot and I think we just did a good job of chasing it.”

Andretti was also quick to credit new technical director Eric Bretzman for improving the team’s engineering efforts. “He’s fantastic. It’s what we needed. I talked to him all through the off-season. I talked to him every week. He really updates me, includes us in development, which is very important. So, it’s very good.”

He was also pleased to run the softer “red” tires on Friday afternoon, a change in policy for Friday practice sessions. “It takes some of the guessing out of it,” he asserted. “A lot of the time, you’d guess wrong on the balance for qualifying. I don’t think it should be a guessing game. So I think that’s good to get a run on them before qualifying.”

One element that could throw a wrench into things is weather. Rain is a possibility for Sunday’s race, but Andretti did not express concern, referencing the need to adapt to changing conditions and the influence teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay has on his mindset. “It’s the same for everybody. We know in Florida sometimes it’s just humid and it goes away,” he said of the weather. “But, we just have to adapt. That’s what Ryan is good at. Where I used to get worked up about things, like (changing) Turn 3, I’d be like ‘Oh man, they’re changing Turn 3,’ and he’d be like ‘I don’t care if tomorrow we run this track upside down. We’re going to conquer it.’ So, it’s a good mindset to have: make big problems into little problems. He definitely helps turn mountains into molehills for me.”

In all, Andretti is confident at the conclusion of Friday’s practices. “I think I’ve made gains. I think Honda has made gains. Our team approach has made gains. If we each make small gains, it could be a big (gain).”

Saturday practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg begins at 10:50 a.m. ET.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.