What happened at the Singapore Grand Prix?

A start-line smash hogs the headlines, as Daniel Ricciardo goes oh-so-close yet again to achieving Singapore success.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton: qualified 5th, finished 1st. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 6th, finished 3rd.

After qualifying fifth and over six-tenths of a second behind Vettel’s pole time, Hamilton felt Mercedes needed “a miracle” to stay in the same postcode as the Ferrari and Red Bull duos in the race, and that’s exactly how his start panned out. The Briton made a superb getaway to round up Ricciardo’s slow-starting Red Bull into the first corner, and was ahead of the Raikkonen-Verstappen-Alonso carnage that unfolded in the opening 10 seconds, and perfectly placed when Vettel hit the wall at Turn 3 seconds later.

From there, Hamilton was in control of the race in conditions wet or dry, and 58 gruelling laps later, had taken his third win in a row – and assumed a season-best 28-point championship lead on a circuit that shaped as Mercedes’ worst for the remainder of the year. Bottas was never a match for his teammate all weekend and suffered with a failed drinks bottle in his car for the two-hour duration, but rounded out the podium on a critical weekend that might just secure Hamilton the title once we get to Abu Dhabi in late November.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 3rd, finished 2nd. Max Verstappen: qualified 2nd, did not finish.

Verstappen shone in qualifying again, out-performing teammate Ricciardo when it mattered most and slotting into second behind Vettel, but it was that starting position that was the beginning of the end for the Dutchman 24 hours later. Raikkonen, immediately behind him, made a blinding start and stormed down the inside, and as pole-sitter Vettel came across to cover, the Red Bull was steaming towards a gap that was closing rapidly, the contact seeing both Verstappen and Raikkonen out on the spot and Vettel last only a few corners more. In 14 races this season, Verstappen has now retired on seven occasions, three times on the first lap. If it was a familiar tale for the teenager, it was much the same for Ricciardo, who finished second in Singapore for the third year in a row, and on the podium at a track where so many from his native Perth come to watch for the fourth year in succession. The Australian had every reason to be bullish for another race win when he dominated Friday practice, but this wasn’t the usual swashbuckling Ricciardo rostrum result – his poor getaway saved him from the first-corner carnage, and while he kept Hamilton honest, he never looked like challenging the Mercedes for the top spot as he pushed on despite an oil pressure problem with his gearbox. “I can’t win the bloody thing, but I’m trying,” he half-grinned afterwards.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 1st, did not finish. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 4th, did not finish.

Ferrari came to Singapore desperate to atone for being thrashed by Mercedes at its home race at Monza a fortnight before, and had every reason to be optimistic at a tight and twisty street circuit that most resembles Monaco of the other F1 tracks, where it finished 1-2 earlier this year. Instead, Singapore became a historical black eye for the Scuderia, who had two cars retire on the first lap of a race for the first time in its storied F1 history. While most pointed the finger of blame at Vettel, the team took a slightly different view …

Vettel said after the race that he was uncertain what happened at the start; what’s easier to ascertain is that with six races to go, the German’s chances of a fifth world title this year look more tenuous than ever. After his brilliant pole on Saturday with a lap many observers called one of the best of his career, it was quite the come-down.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 12th, finished 5th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 14th, finished 10th.

Things looked dire for Force India on Saturday, where the team failed to get a car into the top 10 on the grid for just the third time all year at a circuit that plainly didn’t suit the car’s slippery straight-line strengths. But Perez was his usual canny self in the race, and despite having never made Q3 in Singapore, he’s now finished inside the top 10 seven times, Sunday’s fifth his best effort yet. It capped off a great day for the Mexican, who signed a contract extension to stay with the team for 2018 on race morning. Ocon, on his 21st birthday, found himself in a furious fight on the fringes of the top 10 with Massa and Magnussen mid-race, and continued his perfect finishing record in F1 to date (23 races, 23 times seeing the chequered flag) as he joined Hamilton as the only drivers to complete every race so far this year.

Williams
Felipe Massa: qualified 17th, finished 11th. Lance Stroll: qualified 18th, finished 8th.

For Williams to make the points with one car and just miss with the other was something of a save for a weekend that started out poorly and then got worse when both cars were ousted in Q1 for the fourth time in the past six races. The attrition rate of faster cars ahead of them certainly helped, but in conditions that caught out plenty of more experienced rivals, Stroll’s eighth at a circuit he’d never previously driven was commendable. Massa was one of the first drivers to move to slicks as the circuit dried on lap 24, and it didn’t quite work out, the veteran Brazilian finishing less than two seconds behind Ocon for the final point on offer.

McLaren
Fernando Alonso: qualified 8th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 9th, finished 7th.

Vandoorne took a career-best result from his first visit to Singapore, which came after he and teammate Alonso had qualified inside the top 10 for just the second time all season. While the Belgian shone, it was yet another early shower for Alonso, who retired on lap nine after his car’s telemetry failed thanks to damage from the shunt at the first corner, the Spaniard finding himself in the firing line after a typically scorching start. Alonso has seen the chequered flag just once in the past six races, but at least has kept his sense of humour …

While Vandoorne’s Singapore race was strong and Alonso’s short, this will be a weekend remembered more for the divorce from a failed three-year marriage with Honda – and move to Renault power for 2018 – than anything McLaren’s drivers achieved on track. Convincing Alonso to stay is the next – and most vital – task.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 13th, did not finish. Carlos Sainz: qualified 10th, finished 4th.

Singapore was a big weekend in Sainz’s career, confirmation coming that the Spaniard will be loaned to Renault for next season as part of the engine musical chairs that saw Toro Rosso’s Renault powerplant supply heading to McLaren, and Honda switching to STR. Sainz qualified 10th and felt he’d be fighting a rear-guard action in the race; instead, he was superbly opportunistic and finished a career-best fourth, making the most of a day where numerous big names barely lasted a few corners. His continued success contrasted sharply with Kvyat’s repeated woes, the Russian furious after missing Q3 on Saturday, and then stuffing his car into the fence at Turn 7 in the wet after 11 laps in the race, prompting the second of three safety car interventions. The last time Kvyat scored points? Barcelona, way back in May.

Haas
Romain Grosjean: qualified 15th, finished 9th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 16th, did not finish.

Things looked grim for Haas when the American team could only outpace backmarkers Sauber on Friday, and when Grosjean barely scraped into Q2 and Magnussen failed to join him, points looked like a pipedream. Plenty of incidents and accidents ahead of the pair changed all of that on Sunday, and Grosjean persevered to nab two points, while Magnussen had an MGU-K failure eight laps from the end that saw him become the eighth and final retirement of the race.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer: qualified 11th, finished 6th. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 7th, did not finish.

It’s been a miserable year for Palmer, outqualified by teammate Hulkenberg in every race and failing to score a point before Singapore, and his tenure in F1 was ended in the lead-up to the race when it was announced Sainz would take his seat for 2018 at the latest, and perhaps as early as the next round in Malaysia. The Briton’s response was impressive and surprising; after just missing Q3 on Saturday, Palmer was an excellent sixth on Sunday for a career-best result, his assuredness in the wet at the start a standout. Will it be his final race? Only time will tell. The news wasn’t as positive for Hulkenberg, who, after being pumped up by qualifying ahead of both McLarens on Saturday, had to retire with a hydraulics issue late in the race when running strongly inside the top 10. Speaking of bad news: the non-finish meant Hulkenberg broke the record for most starts in the history of F1 without a podium finish (129), previously held by his compatriot Adrian Sutil.

Sauber
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 20th, did not finish. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 19th, finished 12th.

Ericsson and Wehrlein continued their season-long race within a race at the back of the field, the Swede clouting the wall in practice and needing a new gearbox (the subsequent five-place grid penalty meaning little given he qualified last anyway), and then causing the final safety car period of the race when he crashed on the iconic Anderson Bridge with 20 laps left. Wehrlein was two laps down and last, and with Vandoorne’s seventh place extending McLaren’s lead over Sauber for last in the constructors’ championship to 12 points, it seems the Swiss squad is certain to finishing at the foot of the table.

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The Dan Diaries: Flying solo

Daniel Ricciardo writes about why coaching has little place in F1, where to draw the line on routines, and why the omens are good for Singapore this Sunday.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

September in Australia means footy finals – no matter what type of footy is your footy – and for me, last Saturday afternoon at home in Monaco was spent getting my heart rate up watching my West Coast Eagles in their AFL elimination final against Port Adelaide. It had everything – extra time, crazy momentum shifts, and a match-winning goal after the final siren (for the good guys, naturally). Awesome. But something I noticed after the game as the players were going nuts and all the team’s support staff spilled onto the field was just how many coaches an AFL team has, and the same applies for most other types of team sports.

Compare that to what I do? Us drivers have personal trainers who help to shape our bodies (and sometimes our minds) to get us ready, and my long-time trainer Stu Smith has had as much (if not more) impact on my career than anyone. But as far as coaching for actual driving goes, there’s nothing. It’s on you. To anyone on the outside, it must seem odd to think that you get to the main motorsport category in the world and you’re mostly on your own, but that’s the way it is – and the way it has to be.

When I first came to Europe to race, I went to a few driver coach days and had some more experienced people than I was teach you some techniques and some approaches to things. I figured that was what you were supposed to do. But the further I got into my career and especially once I got to F1, I realised I had to learn things for myself. I’m the one in the car and things change every year – different rules, different tyres, different teams – so it’s hard for anyone to advise you, you’re the one in the hot seat. So you’re faced with a choice – commit, invest the time and learn for yourself, or you’ll probably soon be an ex-F1 driver.

F1’s a unique sport in that if you’re, say, a tennis player, you can go and practice serving or returning or whatever as you try to work on your game. As an F1 driver, we get very limited test days and simulator time, and it’s not like you can go and “practice” F1 away from race weekends, is it? So how do you get better as an F1 driver?

Data and dissecting it – and then learning not to over-do it – has been a big thing for me. You’ll always take, say, your best lap and compare that to your teammate’s best lap – I was quicker here, he was quicker there – but I don’t think many people want to do a longer dissection and look at, say, 20 random laps in the race. Who was better on older tyres and why? Is your teammate coming off the brakes earlier than you at a certain corner? Which of you is keeping the rear tyres cooler and why? What can your engineer identify for you from looking at the data and give you something to work on? There’s always something to learn, and that’s a part of being an F1 driver that I’ve always enjoyed.

The trick when you’re a younger driver is working out how much analysis is enough. Because I was interested in those early F1 years, looking back at it now, I did a lot of poring over the numbers, probably too much. There was a bit of paralysis by analysis for me early on, and I needed to scale back or I was just going to send myself around in circles looking for tenths of a second that might not be there. I just thought that was what you needed to do to be an F1 driver, and if going over data meant two hours’ less sleep, that’s what I did. You learn over time that more isn’t always better, and as you gain trust in your engineer – and that takes time – they can help you narrow things down, and that’s what Simon (Rennie) does for me.

Developing a routine – and one that has some flexibility in it – is massive for us too when you consider the travel that we do, the time zone changes and all of that. Working out what works for you takes time, but it’s time you have to spend. Looking back again to when I first came to Europe, I didn’t really have an eating or training routine that I followed, and it showed. By my second year, I began to learn what I needed to do away from the car to get me in the best place to operate my best, and then the year before my first full year of F1, 2010, I realised what sleep did for my performances, and became very aware of my sleep patterns, sleep quality and hours as I built up to a race weekend. By my second year of F1, I was much more aware of how to manage my energy and be ready to peak at the right times.

The trick with a routine, at least for me, is not to get so caught up in the order of things or when things have to happen that you get knocked off-balance when strange things happen, like weather delaying qualifying for hours like in Italy in the last race (when I grabbed a camera for a bit!), or somewhere like Melbourne when things are pretty hectic for me and there’s always a last-minute request to do this or that. If I had a set routine that had to be followed to the letter, I’d never get through that Australian weekend because of how busy it is. More strict routines work for some top-line sportspeople – look at Valentino Rossi’s rituals as he leaves the pits on his bike, or the way Rafael Nadal prepares to serve or what he does when he rests between games. But just because a rigid routine works for them, it doesn’t make it right for you. Mine is less strict than that, but I do have a checklist of things I like to do to get me completely at my peak for the most important part of the weekend, Sunday afternoon.

I mentioned Rossi and Nadal and their routines, and while F1 and what we do is so unique, I love looking at other sports and other athletes to see what they do to prepare and whether that can translate, can maybe help me in some way. I’ve probably learned more from other sports than my own, to be honest. Seeing how other athletes perform in the moment and trying to find out why, or how they prepare – I can’t get enough of that sort of thing. You don’t want to get too specific with it because some of it might not apply to your sport, but you can learn so much from watching and listening, and I think that’s why I’m such a sports enthusiast generally, there’s always something you can take away from someone else’s approach.

Other than watch footy last weekend, it was time to think about packing my life into a bag and being on the road for the rest of the year. The last seven races of the season are all outside of Europe, and the main focus after Monza was to ramp up the training and get some work done in the heat for the next two races in Singapore this weekend and then Malaysia two weeks after that. There’s no sugar-coating it, these two are just brutally hard, and I’ve tried to smash myself a bit with the training over the last week but keep myself fresh enough so I’m ready for Sunday in Singapore. You need to be in proper nick for these two.

For the team, Singapore is obviously one we’ve had our sights on for a while, and while it won’t be the only other race we have a chance at winning this year – who would have thought I’d have won at Baku with the characteristics of that track? – Singapore is one race where we have a great chance.

It’s good to head there off the back of a couple of pretty good races, including the podium at Spa which we didn’t expect. That safety car for the Force India boys crashing into each other was handy, for sure. We had a new set of ultrasoft tyres, and I was pretty surprised Mercedes went to the soft tyres, particularly with Valtteri Bottas ahead of me. Fourth would have been good, but the podium was there to be taken, and I had to have a go. I had Kimi (Raikkonen) hovering behind me ready to attack, so the best way for me to defend from him was to attack Bottas, and I had one shot at it after the re-start and nailed it. Pretty sweet.

It would have been awesome to get onto the podium again at Monza too – that’s one podium I’ve still not been on and one I want because that has to be the best podium in all of F1 – but in the end I ran out of laps to get to Seb (Sebastian Vettel) after starting down near the back because of penalties. It’ll happen one day.

That was a fun race and there was plenty of overtakes, everyone saw the one with Kimi and the one with (Sergio) Perez at the second chicane. I’d also managed to pass (Kevin) Magnussen at the same chicane with the same move earlier in the race, but I don’t think it made the TV broadcast. So, a shame to not be on that awesome podium, but good to string a couple of good ones together after coming back from the break.

Hopefully we can make it three this weekend. Singapore has been good to me the last three years – third, second, and second again (and fastest lap) last year, so there’s only one step to go from there …

Miller Time: It’s good to be back

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about shining in the rain at Misano, and ending a run of results that saw his season stall.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

It’s good to be back. Seriously good. I’d had a few ordinary races since Assen when I came sixth back in June, and I’d only managed three points since then, and none at all in the last two races. But Misano on Sunday was just what I needed to get some confidence back and take the pressure off myself with a decent slab of points.

There’s usually a few moments after a race like that when it’s wet and a bit sketchy where you wonder if you could have done better and maybe pushed up to the podium, and when I was right on the back of Maverick (Vinales) early on, you do start to get a bit greedy when you think “he was on pole position, so if I pass him …”. But sixth in a race where the conditions were really bad, there was so much standing water, so many guys made mistakes or threw it down the road … 28 laps around there in those shitty conditions was a big concentration test, so it was good to get through it with a strong result. I’ll take a sixth place over anything, and it was good to be back in some form, finally.

I’m sure some people will point out that it had to be wet for me to get a decent result, but even on Saturday when it was sunny, I’d found some pace from Friday practice. I got done by track limits in qualifying and had my best lap time cancelled that would have got me into Q2 which was a shame. In the dry the pace was really good, and I felt for the first time since near the start of the season where the momentum was on my side that things were working well. The pace was consistent, I felt like I could really push, and the lap times came out pretty smoothly, it wasn’t like I was overdoing it to do the times we were chasing.

Maybe the one surprise was that it was here in Misano in the dry that the feeling I had near the start of the season came back – I was still pretty beaten up at this stage last year from the Austria warm-up crash I had, and my right hand was too bad for me to race here, so I had to pull out on the Sunday morning. I haven’t done a lot of laps here for a while, so maybe that was the surprising bit. I was just glad the feeling came back anywhere really …

The start was the thing that set the race up for me. I was 14th after missing the chance to get into Q2 and not exactly happy about it, and on the warm-up lap you could see how wet it was, but there was a chance at the start to make up a lot of places if people were going to be cautious. I felt like I nailed it when the lights went out and picked my way through pretty well, but I did have a pretty big moment around turns two and three and came close to going down. But by the end of lap one I was seventh and had picked up seven spots, so it was eyes forward from there and latch onto the back of Maverick.

In the end I had to give up the fight with him – he was riding really clean and didn’t make mistakes, and I felt my tyres were going down, I had no drive in the middle of the tyre at all and my lap times blew out a bit. I lost a spot to (Michele) Pirro who was just plain faster than me at that stage, and he clearly had plenty of tyre left as well. Every time I hit a puddle or some standing water, the rear would just light up, which definitely wasn’t ideal. I was in a position to back it off a bit because of the good start I had, and I knew I could get home sixth if I just used my brain a little bit (yes, a little bit). So I let Pirro go and concentrated on bringing it home.

Some of the teams had their second bikes ready for their riders in case the track dried out really fast in the last 10 laps, but there was absolutely no way you could have gone for slicks, it was way too wet out there. Maybe it was some bluffing to make teams think their riders were pitting, who knows. But there was only one thing that would have happened if you’d gone for slicks – you’d be on your arse. It was 100 per cent not worth the risk, and definitely not for us after putting ourselves in a good position.

It’s been a fair while since I’ve been that competitive in a race, so there’s some relief there for sure, but mostly really happy. The one shame is that we have to wait two weeks until the next one in Aragon, because you always want another race quickly after things have gone better for you. I haven’t ever had a good race there yet, so hopefully this is the year. I’m 31 points off the top 10 in the championship, which was the aim at the start of the year, but I finished ahead of the five guys ahead of me in the championship at Misano, so I just need to string a few more of those together. We’ll give it a good shot, that’s for sure.

Catch you from Aragon.

Cheers, Jack

What happened at the Italian Grand Prix?

Grid penalties get out of control and Daniel Ricciardo unleashes a stunning drive, but it was Mercedes who produced a masterclass at Monza.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, finished 1st. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 6th, finished 2nd.
On a weekend where the F1 penalty system made a complete mockery of qualifying – Hamilton was the only driver to line up in the position he qualified in after nine drivers were hit with penalties for changing gearboxes or engines, or both – the Briton made the red-clad Ferrari fans see blue after his most emphatic performance of the season. Hamilton’s 69th career pole on a rain-delayed Saturday broke Michael Schumacher’s long-standing record, and on Sunday, the three-time world champion aced the start and drove off into the distance for Mercedes’ fourth win in Ferrari territory on the bounce, a victory that saw Hamilton take the championship lead (by three points) for the first time this season. Aside from his trophy nearly being spilled before it was handed to him on the podium, Hamilton’s day was as perfect as you could get. Bottas’ race was less straightforward initially after the Finn didn’t shine in the Monza gloom in qualifying, but he was up to second by lap four and kept a sensible distance between his teammate and the rest of the field to give Mercedes its third 1-2 of the season. More worryingly for the rest is that two of those 1-2 finishes have come in the past four races.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 3rd, finished 4th. Max Verstappen: qualified 2nd, finished 10th.
Finishing one place behind where he qualified doesn’t sound like much to get excited about for Ricciardo, but when you consider he took an engine penalty after qualifying that dropped him to 16th on the grid, finishing just four seconds from the podium showed why the Australian was voted as driver of the day by the sport’s fans via social media as the chequered flag flew. Monza was Ricciardo at his incisive best; after a circumspect getaway from near the back of the pack on the soft-compound tyre, the Red Bull driver began to pick off his rivals at a rapid rate, gaining seven places in the opening seven laps. Overtakes of Perez on lap 17 at the Turn 4-5 chicane after a brilliant dummy, and an audacious mugging of Raikkonen’s Ferrari at the first corner on lap 41 were from the top shelf, and despite setting the fastest lap of the race with five laps remaining, he just ran out of time to knock Vettel off the Monza podium. Verstappen qualified a superb second in a deluge on Saturday before he too was pushed back with an engine penalty, but the Dutchman’s dream of a top-five finish was quickly extinguished when he had a clumsy clash with Massa at Turn 1 on lap three, a right-front puncture seeing him limp back to the pits and re-join in last place. From there, getting back into the points was the best Verstappen could do, but 10th only came after brushing with Grosjean and Magnussen in the closing laps as he finished a lap down.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 8th, finished 3rd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 7th, finished 5th.
Ferrari banked 25 points from Monza and Vettel got to stand on the year’s best podium, but make no mistake – Italy was a massive wake-up call for the men in red, who haven’t won at home since 2010. Mercedes were always expected to have the upper hand on Ferrari’s home ground, the straight-line speed of the Silver Arrows unsurpassed at the ultimate power track once again, but the extent of Hamilton’s margin over Vettel – 36.3 seconds at the finish – was alarming for the tifosi and the team they support. The German’s race was clean and largely lonely after he worked his way up to third after eight laps, while Raikkonen’s Grand Prix petered out after he let Vettel past him on lap four. The Finn then struggled with an unspecified problem at the rear of the car before finishing more than a minute behind Hamilton. Singapore should suit Ferrari more, but getting thrashed by Mercedes on its home deck would have hurt.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 11th, finished 9th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 5th, finished 6th.
All the pre-race chatter about Force India at Monza focused on the antics of its drivers a week earlier at Spa-Francorchamps, where Perez and Ocon came together multiple times and cost the team a swag of points. Team management told the drivers they couldn’t race against one another from now on and threatened to sit them out of future races if the skirmishes continued, and Perez and Ocon did their best to defuse any tension in the pre-race press conference. The pair were rarely together on track to see if that peace could last in Italy, with Ocon qualifying a brilliant fifth in the rain on Saturday, starting third and running strongly in the early stages before regressing to the mean to finish sixth for the third time this year. Perez just missed Q3, took a five-place gearbox penalty yet started 10th after the ridiculously lengthy list of other penalties were taken into account, and finished at the back of the Ocon-Stroll-Massa train for best of the rest status behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

Williams
Felipe Massa: qualified 9th, finished 8th. Lance Stroll: qualified 4th, finished 7th.
Williams has struggled in the wet in recent years, which made technical director Paddy Lowe’s comments so refreshing when both cars qualified inside the top 10 in weather better suited for boats on Saturday. “I’m not going to pretend I have any idea why a car is strong or weak in the wet,” Lowe shrugged. Stroll was overjoyed with a fourth-place effort which became a front-row start when both Red Bulls were demoted through penalties, and while the Canadian teenager was understandably cautious off the line and soon overtaken by the recovering Ferraris, he showed plenty of fight when under pressure late in the race from his teammate to record the fourth points finish of his rookie campaign. Massa had enjoyed plenty of prior success at Monza – the long-time Ferrari driver had taken two podiums in the past three years for Williams – and finished six-tenths of a second behind his teammate after clashes with Perez at the first corner and Verstappen towards the end of the race. Ten points for Williams – on a day where its nearest rivals in the constructors’ championship didn’t score – might end up being significant in the fight to finish fifth in the teams’ race.

McLaren
Fernando Alonso: qualified 13th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 10th, did not finish.
Will they or won’t they? Will he or won’t he? They were the questions McLaren faced at every turn at Monza, where more time was spent talking about matters on track than anything the team did on it. Would McLaren really sever ties with Honda? Would Alonso leave? The two questions aren’t mutually exclusive, and Honda’s plight was best reflected by Alonso needing a 35-place grid penalty for new engine components one race after Vandoorne had the same at his home GP in Belgium – and then Vandoorne taking another 25-place penalty on race morning for yet more engine part replacements. Alonso’s Sunday started badly when the historic car issued to the Spaniard for the pre-race driver parade broke down, and besides a rant after being overtaken by Palmer’s Renault – the race stewards penalised the Briton five seconds for leaving the track and gaining an advantage – Alonso’s race was pretty pedestrian before he retired three laps from the end. Vandoorne was back in the garage himself by then, his car crawling back to the pits with 19 laps remaining with “no power”. Is a switch to Renault power for 2018 on the cards, and will that convince Alonso to stay? We should know before Singapore in a fortnight.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 14th, finished 12th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 15th, finished 14th.
Toro Rosso had a rather anonymous weekend at the scene of its greatest triumph, Vettel’s victory at Monza in 2008 the team’s sole success in F1. Kvyat started from eighth on the grid after penalties scattered the usual suspects at the front, but couldn’t sustain it and finished a lapped 12th as his run without points extended to eight races. Sainz copped a 10-place grid penalty for an engine change, had an engine blow-up in Friday practice, started towards the back and didn’t advance much further as the team made the short trip home to Faenza with zero points for the third time in the past five races.

Haas
Romain Grosjean: qualified 20th, finished 15th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 16th, finished 11th.
Grosjean started dead-last after the Frenchman aquaplaned off the circuit in torrential rain in Q1 and glanced the outside wall on the start-finish straight moments after he’d made it very clear over team radio that conditions and visibility were too poor to continue. “You couldn’t see anything, you couldn’t drive in a straight line,” Grosjean fumed afterwards. With Grosjean last on the grid, Haas took the opportunity to fit a new gearbox that came with a five-place penalty that dropped him to … last. An early pit stop for a damaged front wing thwarted any chance of moving up from there in what was, for most, a one-stop race. The news wasn’t much better for Magnussen, who finished one place out of the points and seething after coming off second-best in his late-race fight with a recovering Verstappen.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer: qualified 17th, did not finish. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 12th, finished 13th.
Renault’s points totals in the four races before Monza – 0, 8, 0, 8 – should have given us some idea of what to expect in Italy, and the team played the long game for the remainder of the season by installing new engines for Hulkenberg and Palmer, taking the pain of penalties at a track where they expected to struggle to be more ready to race at circuits that better suit them. Hulkenberg beat Palmer in qualifying again – that’s 13-0 for the season over his British teammate for anyone still counting – but a very early pit stop for the German in an attempt to vault into the top 10 didn’t pay off. Palmer hovered around the fringes of the top 10 while he was still in the race (and Alonso was ranting about him to his McLaren engineers), but was retired by his team on lap 31 with a technical problem.

Sauber
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 18th, did not finish. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 19th, finished 16th.
Forget the present; it was all about the future for Sauber in Italy, with the announcement that the Swiss team will run Ferrari junior and Formula 2 series leader Charles Leclerc in first practice sessions in Malaysia, the USA, Mexico and Brazil in the second half of the season, a move that was anticipated after the team elected to use Ferrari engines for 2018. With Ericsson’s backers heavily involved in the ownership of the team and Wehrlein a Mercedes-supported driver, it’s almost certain that the German will be the driver to have his preparations for those four races compromised by missing out on track time. Back to the ‘now’, temporarily; Ericsson (11th) and Wehrlein (12th) started from season-best grid slots after all of the penalties for the rest were handed out, but quickly returned to the back of the field for their customary inter-team fight for last spot. Ericsson was last when he was asked by the team to retire the car with three laps left, leaving Wehrlein to prop up the pack after 53 laps.

Miller Time: A bumpy ride at Silverstone

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller recaps a tough British GP weekend that made for plenty of frustration, but zero points.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Well, that was a rough one. Finishing one place outside of the points like I did at the British Grand Prix on Sunday is never easy to take, but to leave England with nothing to show for a weekend I was pretty optimistic about before we started was even worse when only 17 of us managed to finish the race. Definitely a good chance that we didn’t make the best of, so that’s doubly frustrating for me and the team.

Silverstone can be a fun track in some ways for us MotoGP guys because of the speed and the changes of direction, but it’s not somewhere that’s been very good to me over three years in MotoGP, and Sunday’s result means I still haven’t scored a point in the top class there yet. I didn’t do a lot there in Moto3 either besides one strong qualifying in 2013, so it’s not a place I’ve gelled with for whatever reason. Yes, it’s windy – being an old airfield means it’s pretty exposed, and all of us riders know it’ll be one of the bumpier tracks we go to because they’ve held Formula One races and tests there forever. Saying all that, Sunday was still a bit of a head-scratcher.

We started from 16th and I felt after qualifying that I had pretty good race pace; my lap in qualifying was pretty good but with a few mistakes, which you’ll make on a circuit this long and with the lap lasting over two minutes. But Sunday just didn’t work out. I got an average start and just couldn’t go with the guys around me, and even with a few retirements ahead of me, I was still 10 seconds off the points and only beat Bradley Smith’s KTM home at the end. Definitely not a good one for us, and we need to get to the bottom of why because I had some pretty high hopes for the race. It’s one of those races where you wish you had another one the next day to erase it from your mind, but Misano isn’t for another two weeks, so I have to live with this one until then.

Between Austria the last time out and Silverstone, I actually got back into something like a ‘normal’ life because I was in Andorra and my base there for the first time in literally months, got back into some cycling and generally didn’t do a lot besides train and catch up on life. The back-end of the season for us is pretty hectic with a lot of races in a short time, and of course there’s the Japan-Australia-Malaysia triple-header in three weekends that’s always one you need plenty of energy for with the travel time and time differences to Europe. So to get some downtime was pretty important.

Things have dried up a bit for me since Assen when I finished sixth, and I don’t want 2017 to end up like last year did when the points were hard to come by in the second half of the year, mostly because I missed quite a few races with injury after the summer break. We definitely have the potential and we have some good sessions, but just haven’t been stringing a full weekend together, and that needs to change. We’ll spend a far bit of the time between here and Misano unravelling things so we can come up with a solution. I’m pretty confident we can do that, but pretty impatient for it as well. We’ll press on and get to the bottom of it so we can get back to scoring solid points basically every race like we were doing up to Assen.

Thanks for the support when things have been a bit average lately, it always gets noticed, trust me …

Cheers, Jack

Mark Webber’s ticks and crosses for F1 2017

Which driver is ‘special’, and who was ‘weak’? Who is mentally tough, the most reliable, and the best racer of the lot? The Aussie ex-F1 ace has his say.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Mark Webber was always a racer who left nothing on the table; the man who goes by the apt Twitter handle of @AussieGrit determinedly squeezed every drop out of his 12-year Formula One career, which produced nine victories for Red Bull Racing. And he did so in a style that was so refreshing for those who watched (or covered) the sport in his heyday, being as forthright as it gets, pulling no punches and pissing in no pockets. Want a perfectly banal soundbite that says nothing in as many words as possible while sitting on the fence? You’ve come to the wrong place.

The Aussie keeps up to speed with the sport in which he made his name by working for Channel 4 in the UK, and with his knowledge of how F1 works and access to the heavy-hitters within it, Webber’s opinion on any number of subjects makes him compelling listening. So, with that in mind, we pressed ‘record’ and let Webber have his say on the drivers, teams and issues that have caught his eye as we get set for the season to resume with this Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix at the venerable Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Webber on … Lewis Hamilton

“Both he and Seb (Sebastian Vettel) have driven awesome this year, and Lewis particularly in qualifying has been very strong. He’s the best since (Ayrton) Senna over one lap – he’s very special on Saturdays.

“I think he has respect at the top level for two to three guys on the grid because he’s on such a high level – Seb and Fernando (Alonso) probably, maybe two or three others.

“He’s in the peak of his career, the hunger and passion is at its maximum, and he likes to put a bit of drama, a bit of heat on himself to go and deliver. He enjoys that and it seems to bring out the best in him.”

Webber on … Vettel and Ferrari

“Baku (when Vettel clashed with Hamilton under the safety car at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix) was a crazy rush of blood with the re-start procedure, and there were obviously some mind games going on that day, which is totally standard. He had a weak moment where he elected to pull alongside Lewis and give him a little rub. It wasn’t ideal and didn’t look great, and he certainly regrets it. But at the end of the day, it was not exactly dangerous, it just wasn’t a great example. You’d be in more danger crossing the street in Italy than that …

“I think Ferrari have done a great job this year. Operationally they’ve made a big step, because I think they’ve been very flaky on that in the past. The performance is there at a lot of tracks – it’s all well and good being strong on a few circuits, but the car doesn’t seem so temperature-sensitive for it to perform this year. I think Kimi (Raikkonen) likes these regulations as well, the previous regs weren’t something that he enjoyed. It’s great for Ferrari that they have two guys up there going pretty quick. Can they sustain it for the rest of the year? I reckon they can.”

Webber on … where Red Bull sits

“Both of the guys have driven well this year, but Max (Verstappen) has probably been a bit flaky in terms of the build-up to the races through the weekend, he’s been going off the road a lot on Friday and Saturday, which puts pressure on mechanics getting the car ready. I’d like to see him on the road a bit more, but he’s pushing the limits. When it comes to Sundays, he hasn’t made many mistakes at all, it’s been a lot of high-profile reliability retirements where he’s lost a truckload of points, so that’s been hard for him to swallow.

Daniel (Ricciardo) is just so solid on Sunday afternoons, he’s the most reliable driver in F1 in that you know what he’s going to deliver week-in, week-out. He’s always got the most out of what they’ve given him and it’s hard to see how he could have done much more.

“We all expected such great things from this car this year, but it came out the box very poorly. They had a lot of catching up to do. With Renault (engines), it’s unfortunately a little bit of a broken record, ‘we haven’t got this, we haven’t got that’ – it’s been going on for five years. (Red Bull) have to make a car a second faster than everyone else, maybe.”

Webber on … Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes

“He’s had a good year – new environment, new team and all that. And Lewis is no angel when it comes to testing the boundaries of it being all about him, which is what you expect at that level, it has to be all about you, you have to be selfish. So Valtteri has done a good job. He lost a lot of points in Barcelona (with a retirement), but he’s been very steady, and there’s been so many opportunities for him to make some screw-ups, and he hasn’t. He got absolutely tonked in Bahrain when Seb and Lewis put 30-40 seconds on the rest of the field, but then Russia, he was magic there and he just cleaned up.

“I’ll be fascinated to see how he goes in the back part of the season. There’s a lot of circuits and a lot of travel and it is different when you’re at the front, but he’s very good mentally. He’s not going anywhere.”

Webber on … Fernando Alonso and McLaren

“It’s been a big shame for Formula One, a big shame for Honda, a big shame for McLaren. They loaded their guns up and got Fernando back there waiting for the engine to fire, but it hasn’t happened. He’s been biting his tongue for the last 24 months, and he can’t drive the thing any harder. His stock is still incredible, and on Sundays he’s probably the best in the world. That’s the frustrating bit.”

Webber on … the new-breed 2017 F1 cars

“I think we definitely had to do something to help the drivers – it was like they were trained to fly F/A-18s but flying for Qantas the past few years, and that was extremely boring for them. We had to find a way for them to be stimulated again and be tested, be off the road, have the odd shunt here and there, be pushed. We can’t have guys doing full Grands Prix at seven-tenths. If we’re not engaged, it’s hard for the consumer to be connected. If we didn’t have, say, a net for Roger (Federer) and Rafa (Nadal), then we wouldn’t be engaged, would we? You want to have something that makes it testing for them.

“These cars are definitely a step forward in terms of stimulation for the drivers, but as far as the racing goes, it depends on what your definition of great racing is. Barcelona this year – it was between two guys in Seb and Lewis and there wasn’t a huge amount of passing, but it was pretty phenomenal with the pressure and intensity. Lewis on the radio that day was blowing hard, he needed every tenth (of a second) he could get.”

5 MotoGP stories to shape the rest of 2017

What’s happened in MotoGP this season that reveals plenty about what’s about to?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Where did the MotoGP season go? It seems like only yesterday that the field lined up under lights at Losail to take the start of the Qatar Grand Prix; now, after the breathtaking race around the Red Bull Ring in Austria last Sunday, there’s just seven Grands Prix remaining before the chequered flag falls on the 2017 campaign in Valencia.

With 11 races in the books, what have we already learned that can paint a clearer picture of what’s to follow? We’ve scanned up and down the grid and found five storylines that could prove be a portent of what’s to follow between now and November.

1. Brno showed who’s boss

And we thought last year – nine different winners and four first-time victors – was gripping; at the halfway mark of this year’s world championship, the top four in the standings were separated by just 10 points, and all four – Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales – had led the title chase at one stage or another. But it was the race immediately after the mid-season break in the Czech Republic that showed that one of that quartet remains ahead of the rest.

In sketchy half-wet, half-dry conditions at Brno, Marquez took the early gamble to switch from wet-weather tyres to dry – and simply took off, carving upwards of nine seconds per lap out of the rest of the field immediately after his bike change and doing as he pleased en route to a 12-second victory. Flag-to-flag races are Marquez’s domain – in five of the past six races where the field has been allowed to pit and swap bikes at the riders’ discretion (Assen 2014, Misano 2015, Argentina 2016, Sachsenring 2016 and Brno 2017), the Spaniard has won, often emphatically as he relentlessly pushes in difficult conditions where others can only survive rather than thrive.

It’s that ability to make the best of the worst that sees the Repsol Honda rider as the man most likely to win this year’s crown, which would be the fourth in five years since he joined the premier class in 2013. The table may be tight, but Marquez’s best is still a class above anyone else’s.

2. Marquez vs Maverick is about to get real

All season, and with apologies to Dovizioso, Vinales has looked the man most likely to stop Marquez’s march to a quartet of MotoGP titles. The Yamaha man was untouchable in pre-season testing, and after winning three of the first five races of the year to enjoy a 26-point championship lead after Mugello, Vinales looked in control. But since, one podium in five races has him being the chaser rather than being chased, as he’s faltered while Marquez has flown.

The two Spaniards – who have been rivals from way back in their pocket bike days 15 years ago – have largely circled one another all season without engaging in a head-to-head stoush for a race win; bizarrely, Brno, round 10 of the season, was the first time they’d even appeared on the same podium together.

Vinales and Yamaha will surely get it together after their mid-season slip, and Marquez – if the past four years are any guide – isn’t going anywhere. Expect more one-on-one duels between this duo than we’ve seen so far before the season is out.

3. ‘Dovi’ and Ducati are in for the long haul

Dovizioso’s win towards the tail-end of the 2016 season in Malaysia was a nice story – it snapped a seven-year drought for the likeable Italian – but not one most people expected to be sustainable in 2017, when most of the off-season chat about the Italian factory centred on the arrival of three-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo as Dovizioso’s teammate. But the 31-year-old is a new man this season, taking back-to-back wins at Mugello and Catalunya within a week in June, and then holding off Marquez in a frantic end to the Austrian Grand Prix, a race so fierce that it is already being considered one of the best of all time.

Vinales still looks to be the rider who can best match Marquez for sheer speed, but Dovizioso is always there, makes few mistakes, rarely beats himself and sits just 16 points behind Marquez with seven races remaining. Whether he can win the world championship is uncertain, but whether or not he’ll be there fighting for it right until the end is easier to ascertain.

4. Rossi’s chances aren’t up to Rossi

It says much for the (entirely appropriate) reverence Rossi is held in that he’s still being discussed as a championship threat despite being 33 points – more than a race win – off the lead with seven Grands Prix left. We’re right to hold ‘The Doctor’ in high esteem, but would we rate any other rider as having any chance whatsoever if they’d won one of the past 22 races, which is Rossi’s record after the Austrian GP?

The Italian’s victory at Assen in June was one from the top shelf, but with Ducati surging, the satellite Yamaha (Tech 3) and Ducati (Pramac) teams stealing occasional podiums, and greater depth at the front than ever, gone are the days when you can turn up on a factory Yamaha, be off the pace and still finish fourth at worst at the back of a two-team fight with the Repsol Hondas.

Rossi remains in the mix for now, but how long he stays there has as much to do with Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales et al stumbling than simply his own results.

5. The ‘Samurai’ could play spoiler

Somewhat lost in the chat about the magnificence of Marquez, the instant success of Vinales on a factory Yamaha and Ducati’s emergence as a genuine threat has been the season of Dani Pedrosa, who already has more podium finishes to his name (seven) after 11 races than he managed in the whole of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The ‘Baby Samurai’ is at the back of the five-rider group from which this year’s world champion will surely be crowned, and with three podium finishes on the bounce, is well placed for a charge across the final seven Grands Prix.

The Spaniard’s durability is always a question-mark – he’s not completed a full season in three years thanks to myriad injuries from crashes or recovery from surgery – and it’s hard to imagine that the rider who has been in Honda’s factory outfit for 11 previous seasons without winning title can flip that script this year. But could Pedrosa’s pace have a say in who does salute if he doesn’t? Absolutely yes.