Vettel regrets getting too close on Belgian GP restart as F1 points lead shrinks

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Sebastian Vettel says his pace at the restart of Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix following a safety car period was “too good”, inadvertently costing him the chance to deny Formula 1 title rival Lewis Hamilton victory at Spa.

Vettel qualified second in Belgium and tailed Hamilton for much of the early part of the race, with a small gap emerging entering its final quarter.

A safety car period bunched the leaders again, with Vettel fitting the ultra-soft compound that looked set to give him a pace advantage.

A perfect restart allowed Vettel to draw right up toward Hamilton’s diffuser on the run down to Eau Rouge, only for the German to get too close and have to ease off, costing him straight line speed that may have allowed him to pass at the end of the Kemmel Straight.

Without this edge, Vettel could not find a way through, with Hamilton pulling clear to take his fifth win of the season and cut the gap at the top of the drivers’ championship down to just seven points.

“Obviously I knew that we had a tire advantage with the ultra-softs versus the softs for the first couple of laps and particularly the restart,” Vettel said.

“You could see exiting Turn 1 I was all over Lewis. It was not so hard to follow so close, maybe that was the problem, my restart in the initial part was too good, it was too close.

“For sure if I had to do it again, maybe I would try something different. We know that they have a very good straight line speed, and in qualy mode at the start of the race, I obviously felt how strong they were up the hill on the start. So I didn’t want to be too far either.

“Finding that optimum is difficult. Lewis also lifted a bit going down to Eau Rouge, which I think he could afford because he knows he’s got a very good top-end speed.”

While Hamilton and Vettel were not engaged in much direct battling on-track, the Ferrari driver enjoyed going toe-to-toe with his championship rival.

“Overall it was a very good race, very fun. Obviously not that exciting probably to watch because we were very close but nothing happened,” Vettel said.

“But good fun in the car because I was waiting for him to maybe have an error, he was waiting for me to maybe have an error, an off. It didn’t happen. The quality was very high I thought. Very consistent lap times despite the tires.

“[I] never really had a chance, so maybe half a chance, quarter of a chance. I think the positive thing is that we had very good race pace. It was very difficult to follow in the middle sector, but we stayed close, then we benefitted a little bit in the first and the last sector, but overall the car was very good.”

Ferrari had been expected to struggle at Spa given the similarities with Silverstone, another high-speed circuit, giving Vettel a boost after proving the critics wrong.

“I think we didn’t change too much compared to Silverstone, which shows on the one hand that Silverstone was just a bad weekend,” Vettel said.

“But it shows we improved the car also, especially race pace, very strong when we were on average a second off at Silverstone. So it’s a big step.

“So I’m very, very happy. I think we’re on the right track, and I don’t think we have a circuit we should fear going from now.”

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).