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F1 Preview: 2018 Italian Grand Prix

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The final race of the European portion of the 2018 Formula 1 season comes this weekend with the Italian Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza…or just “Monza” for short.

Recent history at Monza, perhaps the fastest track on the calendar, has favored Mercedes, who have produced the fastest car since 2014, and their entries have always been well-suited to the high speeds of Monza – Mercedes has won every race at Monza since 2014.

The 2018 go-round could be much different however, given the prowess of Ferrari, especially at power tracks – Sebastian Vettel won at Spa-Francorchamps last week, a power circuit similar in nature to Monza.

As such, Mercedes could see its first Monza defeat since 2013. By coincidence, Vettel won that year, with Red Bull Racing, and he is likely the best positioned driver to unseat Mercedes.

Talking points ahead of the Italian Grand Prix are below.

Ferrari Looks To Reclaim Home-Soil Glory

MONZA, ITALY – SEPTEMBER 12: Fernando Alonso of Spain and Ferrari celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza on September 12, 2010 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

The last time Ferrari won in front of the loyal tifosi was in 2010 – Fernando Alonso beat then McLaren driver Jenson Button, with Alonso’s Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa finishing third to put both Ferraris on the podium.

However, a home victory has eluded them ever since, with Mercedes winning every Italian Grand Prix since 2014.

Lewis Hamilton has three of the last four races in Italy, and four of the last six dating back to 2012. He also enters this weekend with a 17-point lead over Sebastian Vettel.

However, Vettel’s victory in last weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix was a needed momentum boost for Ferrari after tough outings in Germany and Hungary saw Hamilton distance himself somewhat.

Vettel is unlikely to regain the championship lead in Italy unless Hamilton falters, but a Ferrari triumph at its home track would not only continue their momentum but also send a further message to Mercedes.

Ferrari’s extra speed at Spa-Francorchamps got Hamilton’s attention, and though the brief war of words between them was quickly extinguished, Mercedes’ reign as the dominant team in F1 is very much in jeopardy.

If Ferrari can return to Victory Lane on home soil, then it could give them the momentum they need for the remaining fly-away races.

Red Bull’s Top-Speed a Real “Drag?”

SPA, BELGIUM – AUGUST 26: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps on August 26, 2018 in Spa, Belgium. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Top end speed has long been the weak area for Red Bull Racing, and their combative technique against to help was on full display at Belgium – their RB14 sported the smallest of rear wings to reduce drag and increase straight-line speed.

Monza should see a similar concept for the Red Bull outfit, though they still may be vulnerable to the top teams in the midfield. Haas has been fast all year, even though the results don’t necessarily show it. And the newly renamed Racing Point Force India squad is coming off their best weekend of the season, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon finished fifth and sixth after qualifying third (Ocon) and fourth (Perez) respectively.

To make matters worse, Daniel Ricciardo is due to receive a grid penalty and will start at the back of the grid, per Formula 1’s website – Ricciardo will be using the latest Renault “Spec C” engine.

As such, Red Bull’s status behind Mercedes and Ferrari could be threatened at Monza.

Misc.

  • McLaren will look for better results after a dismal outing in Belgium saw both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne fail to advance out of Q1. Vandoorne finished 15th, while Alonso recorded a DNF after being collected in a Lap 1 crash with Charles Leclerc and Nico Hulkenberg.
  • The futures of Williams and Force India will be interesting side stories to keep track of this weekend. The consortium that now runs Force India is headed by Lawrence Stroll, father of Williams driver Lance Stroll. Rumors suggest that Lance could move to Force India, possibly as early as this season, displacing Esteban Ocon. Announcements about their future are unlikely to come during the weekend, but it will remain a noteworthy story to follow in the coming weeks.

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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).