Vettel ‘unfortunate’ on safety car, feels Hamilton deserved China F1 win

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Sebastian Vettel believes it would have been a close Formula 1 race between Mercedes and Ferrari in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix had it not been for a badly-timed safety car period that left him with “too much to do”.

Vettel won the opening race of the season in Australia two weeks ago, ending Ferrari’s 18-month win drought, and qualified second in China on Saturday behind pole-man Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel made an early pit stop under the Virtual Safety Car to switch from intermediate tires to slicks, being the first of the leading drivers to do so.

However, a full safety car period gave the likes of Hamilton and Max Verstappen a free stop, leaving Vettel fifth on-track once the race resumed.

The Ferrari driver was able to battle back to second place, finishing six seconds shy of race winner Hamilton, and while he felt his British rival deserved victory in China, he thinks it would have been a closer race without the strategy faux pas.

“I’ll just go with the fact of who won the race, they deserve to win. I think every race we do, the race winner deserves the win,” Vettel said.

“They did a better job. Obviously we were a bit unfortunate with the safety car early on, but if it wasn’t there, you never know how it would’ve impacted on the race. Was it enough? I thought yes, but it’s a long race from there and it could’ve been a different outcome.

“It was really good fun. Obviously I had a bit too much to do in the race than [Hamilton] had, I saw he was controlling the pace probably from the beginning, and then once I got past Kimi [Raikkonen] and Daniel [Ricciardo] I obviously tried to hunt him down but knowing that it would be too difficult with that car.

“In the last couple of laps I asked the team to give me an average on what we needed to catch up, to know what I have to do, and when they came to the conclusion that if it’s a bit more than 0.5 seconds per lap, I would keep pushing. Because you never know if Lewis would make a mistake or has an issue with the car, so I wanted to keep the pressure on.

“I enjoyed the fact we are racing them even if not side by side or right behind each other but 8s apart and we knew he was pushing as well so I think we are matched on pace, probably sometimes a little bit faster. Overall it’s good fun.”

Vettel and Hamilton head to next weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix tied on points at the top of the drivers’ championship, with the Ferrari driver hopeful of being back in the fight for victory.

“I think if we can challenge Mercedes it should be very good news. They’ve had a very very strong run in the last couple of years there,” Vettel said.

“I think we need to look after ourselves and work on the stuff that we can do better, must do better. We can improve so I’m happy if we can surprise them but we have to be patient.”

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).