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Better reliability and team harmony keys to Hamilton’s title

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PARIS (AP) Lewis Hamilton credits improved reliability from Mercedes and a better relationship with his teammate as key factors behind his fourth Formula One championship.

He scored points in every F1 race this year, a first for him. He won nine, and broke Michael Schumacher’s record for pole positions. He has 72 to go with his 62 race wins, second only to Schumacher’s 91.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the team, we’ve had the best reliability,” Hamilton said on Friday. “I don’t remember another team having this reliability.”

Hamilton finished 46 points clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who won five races but capitulated in the second half of the season.

Hamilton has won the F1 title in three of the past four seasons with Mercedes, losing out to former teammate Nico Rosberg last year.

The two were teenage friends from their karting years, but the relationship turned increasingly sour from 2014-16. Rosberg was twice runner-up. Then, the German driver clinched his only F1 title in the final race of 2016.

Hamilton’s bitterness toward Rosberg seemingly lingers. He described him in minimal terms on Friday as “a member of the team last year.”

Hamilton much prefers fighting Vettel than Rosberg, who has retired.

“This year is the best year. I knew I would be fighting against Ferrari,” Hamilton said. “I wanted to bring a positive, rebuilt (and) re-structured me into the team.”

Rosberg stunned F1 by retiring days after securing his 2016 title, leaving Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff to scramble for a new driver. He hired Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas from Williams.

“For me it was a lucky moment,” Bottas said on Friday at an event hosted by FIA. “I called Toto. I just wanted to make sure they knew I wanted to be in this team.”

Hamilton claims to enjoy “perfect harmony” with Bottas. When asked to compare him with Rosberg, Hamilton was curt.

“I wouldn’t compare them, I have no plans to,” Hamilton said.

On Bottas, he added, “There’s an incredible amount of respect between us. Ultimately we want to win the right way by being the fastest on the track. There’s nothing happening in the background, he’s not trying to do it any other way.”

Bottas won three races and finished 58 points behind Hamilton in third place.

“He’s very strong in his mind,” Hamilton said. “I’m anticipating he’s going to be even stronger next year, so I had better stay on my toes.”

Although Hamilton’s winning margin over Vettel was comfortable, the contest was tense until Vettel’s unexpected dip.

Hamilton trailed Vettel at the summer break and, after moving narrowly ahead, looked set to fall behind again in September at the Singapore Grand Prix. Vettel was starting from pole alongside teammate Kimi Raikkonen on a sinewy street circuit more suited to Ferrari. Furthermore, Hamilton was starting fifth.

It was the perfect scenario for Vettel to regain the championship lead.

But Vettel crashed trying to cut off Max Verstappen, causing a four-car collision that took them both out along with Raikkonen and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

It was the soccer equivalent of Vettel, a four-time F1 champion, scoring an own goal.

Hamilton won to move 28 points ahead overall. Vettel was then hampered by reliability woes, finishing fourth in Malaysia and failing to score in Japan.

“I don’t know whether or not if we would have won the championship (otherwise),” Hamilton said. “They lost a ton of points in those races, and at the race in Baku (Azerbaijan) where (Vettel) lost a potential win.”

Although Vettel finished fourth in Baku in late June and Hamilton was fifth, he wasted valuable points after being hit with a time penalty. Irritated by what he perceived to be Hamilton’s deliberately slow driving behind a safety car – known in F1 as brake-testing – Vettel accelerated and swerved into the left side of his Mercedes.

“I’m sure he’s learned a lot,” Hamilton said of Vettel. “I can’t expect him to make the same mistakes next year.”

Vettel said on Friday his Baku rashness left him feeling worse than his Singapore slump.

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).