Team: McLaren Car No.: 14 Races: 19 Wins: 0 Podiums: 0 Best Finish: P6 (Hungary) Pole Positions: 0 Fastest Laps: 0 Points: 17 Championship Position: 15th
Fernando Alonso’s 2017 Formula 1 campaign was the same old story we’ve grown accustomed to during his second stint at McLaren: a mix of frustration and exceeding expectations.
The writing was on the wall for McLaren and Honda in pre-season, with the Japanese manufacturer’s decision to redesign its power unit layout backfiring dramatically, denying the team both performance and reliability.
Retirements in the first two races were followed by a lonely run outside of the points in Bahrain, with Alonso retiring late on due to a claimed engine problem. The paddock generally believes the engine was totally fine; it was a statement from Alonso.
But the Bahrain weekend heralded arguably the biggest news of Alonso’s season: that he would be entering the Indianapolis 500. The difficulties with Honda meant McLaren was happy to appease the Spaniard, giving him the chance to put in a stunning debut display at the Brickyard where he led early on before retiring with – guess what – an engine failure.
Things began to pick up from then on. Honda did make great strides late in the season, while the strength of the McLaren MCL32 chassis was undeniable. In the Hungarian Grand Prix where engine power meant little, Alonso was able to win the midfield fight and finish a remarkable sixth.
McLaren rose towards the front of the midfield by the end of the season, but it was far too late to save the Honda partnership. The decision to switch to Renault power for 2018 did help ensure Alonso would stick around, though, as he signed a new multi-year contract.
Alonso proved yet again in 2017 he remains one of the most gifted racers to have graced F1 in modern times – but now over a decade has passed since his last title. Will the Renault switch for 2018 help deliver that elusive third crown? Or do the problems run deeper than just Honda?
Season High: Taking P6 in Hungary at the front of the midfield.
Season Low: Failing to even make the grid in Russia after an engine failure.
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.
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.
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.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
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.”
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;
–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.”