Month: October 2015

The Inside Line #124: Behind the news

TILI Logo PrintAhead of the fourth-last race of 2015 last weekend in Austin, an interesting little snippet of news emerged in a media cycle saturated with details of enormously important things like Lewis Hamilton’s latest back tattoos, assorted ramblings between a pair of old F1 stagers with a combined age of 160-odd, and wondering why Haas wouldn’t use an American driver in an American team next year.

Just quietly, Daniel Ricciardo signed with an external management company, Areté doing most of its previous work with English football stars, and diving into motorsport for the first time. Ricciardo has never had the need for a manager; as he said himself earlier this year, “up until this point of my career, Red Bull’s dominated a lot of the moves I’ve made and pretty much picked where I go”. But what if it’s Red Bull that’s doing the going at the end of 2015, actually going through with months of seemingly empty threats of quitting the sport because it doesn’t have a competitive engine and hasn’t won a Grand Prix for (gasp) 23 races?

I’m still of the opinion that the repeated quit threats are little more than petulant posturing wrapped inside a tantrum, but maybe Ricciardo is taking a pre-emptive stance by branching out on his own, considering life outside the Red Bull family he’s been cocooned in since he first had a foothold in Europe. With three races left this year, we still don’t know if Red Bull will be in the sport next season, what engine they’ll be running if they are, and how much later they can leave any decision to carry on or take their bat and ball and go home. If it’s the latter, then Ricciardo is a man every team will want. What better way to flag your possible availability than announce you have a new crew looking after your affairs?

The Areté announcement is surely to make the most of the affable Australian’s marketability – how does he not have a toothpaste sponsor yet? – but at 26, Ricciardo has clearly been giving the future some thought this year. The birth of Ricciardo Kart told us that much; taking greater control of your own destiny simply confirms it. Perhaps I’m adding one and one together and coming up with five. Perhaps it’s a sign that the leg rope to the only F1 team he’s ever known is being ever-so-slightly loosened. The next few weeks will be very, very interesting …

Ricciardo’s future will be dealt with however it breaks on future episodes of ‘The Inside Line’; this week in Episode 124, we review the US GP and talk rather too much about rain, with some justification. Check it out.

The Inside Line #123: The coronation awaits

TILI Logo PrintIt was 5am and four degrees outside, but I was steaming. The early hours of June 20, 2005 weren’t a good time to be an F1 fan or a person who worked in the sport, however sporadic that work was for me back then. The six-car United States Grand Prix had just finished at Indianapolis, and so angry was I that internal politics, point-scoring and vested interests had combined to basically take a dump on one of the world’s most important sporting and commercial markets had me seething. So, in the dark and cold of a Melbourne winter, I ventured outside for my usual 10km run a little earlier than usual. My fury dissipated with my sweat, but the US Grand Prix would never be the same.

Yes, F1 went back to Indianapolis two more times after the 2005 debacle, but you never felt it would stay long, nor excuse the American fans for never trusting the series again. After that 2007 race at Indy was the last, you’d have thought the sport could never go back. But then came the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, and F1 finally had a home Stateside after a nomadic, on-again off-again relationship.

The winner of that last race at Indy – and the first one at COTA – was one Lewis Hamilton, and while he’s been doing plenty of winning everywhere else since, it’s hard to imagine a country where he’ll be more comfortable as he attempts to wrap up his third F1 title this weekend. In four visits to the country where he spends so much of his time these days, Hamilton has won three times, and you’d find long odds on the 2015 title not being cemented this Sunday.

The man who made his F1 debut in Indy’s last race, Sebastian Vettel, might have something to say about that, but the German and Ferrari can only delay the inevitable for so long. You’d be surprised if modern-day F1’s Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg, could postpone Hamilton’s champagne celebrations, as Rosberg has proven this year that he’s a good driver (and a race-winning one) in a great car, but isn’t world championship material (news on whether he washes his hair is yet to be revealed – that’ll come two years after his retirement when he’s telling everyone he doesn’t care for F1 while staying in the news cycle).

No, this weekend looks like the time we’ll be writing about Hamilton matching childhood idol Ayrton Senna with his third world title – the man may polarise opinion, but he deserves credit where it’s due, no matter what you think of him off the track. My view: sure, a bit scattered and a bit vain, but in an environment where, ahem, internal politics, point-scoring and vested interests are enough to fatigue even the most loyal F1 followers, he’s someone who races the right way, is passionate about what he does and draws attention to his sport for mostly good reasons. Unlike what happened at Indy in 2005 …

A comprehensive preview of the US GP features on Episode 123 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week – check it out.

Keeping Track #44: Rossi v Lorenzo a battle for the ages, say Aussie greats

 

RossiLorenzoAragon15podiumA trio of Australian world championship motorcycle race-winners have declared this year’s MotoGP title fight between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo as too close to call.

Nine-time world champion Rossi leads Yamaha teammate Lorenzo by 14 points with four Grands Prix remaining in 2015, one of that quartet of races coming at the Pramac Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island from October 16-18.

Speaking to the ‘Keeping Track’ podcast, Australia’s 1987 500cc world champion Wayne Gardner, along with compatriots and MotoGP race-winners Troy Bayliss and Chris Vermeulen, believe the battle for the championship will rage until the final race of the season in Valencia next month.

“I’ve been in this game 40-odd years, and I’ve never seen it so close before,” Gardner said.

“If there were two different manufacturers and different bikes, you might be able to read it a bit better.

“I’d like to see Jorge win because he’s the most incredible rider in smoothness and talent, but you can’t underestimate Valentino and the push in the last few races. It’s really flip a coin on this one. I think it’s going to be a nail-biter down to the last race.”

Bayliss, who will host the Australian Motorcycle Finance Troy Bayliss Invitational GP flat track event to accompany next week’s 16th round of the MotoGP championship, feels the 36-year-old Rossi can secure his first MotoGP title since 2009.

“Personally I’d really like to see Valentino have a win as he’s getting late in his career, and he’s proved to everyone that he’s still actually got it,” Bayliss said.

“He’s certainly on form, but it’s not going to be easy for him.”

Lorenzo has beaten Rossi 7-6 in the 13 races where both riders have finished this season, and Vermeulen believes that outright pace will see the Spaniard overhaul ‘The Doctor’.

“When (Lorenzo) is dominant … he’s been leading races from start to finish, and we have to expect another one or two of them this year. If you asked me to put my money on someone, I’d say Lorenzo by the end of the season.”

Episode 44 of the ‘Keeping Track’ podcast also saw Vermeulen assess Jack Miller’s maiden MotoGP campaign, while Gardner spoke about the immediate future of his 17-year-old son Remy, who is competing in Moto3 this season.

Listen here – and leave your feedback.

The Inside Line #121: Off the mark

TILI Logo PrintThe glowing career reviews were written, his professional obituary already published. And then a funny thing happened on the way to Jenson Button’s retirement. He didn’t retire. Not in the Thursday pre-event press conference in Japan, the day after the Fleet Street hacks had missed the story by a gap bigger than McLaren’s deficit to the sharp end of the F1 grid. Not the day after the Japanese Grand Prix, where McLaren was, to use Fernando Alonso’s assessment, “embarrassing”. And not four days after that race, when Button announced he was staying for 2016.

There’ll be all sorts of reasons for Button electing to continue his career into a 17th season next year – some financial, some honourable, some personal – but you can’t help but wonder how that season will be spent after the other big news of late last week, that Manor will use Mercedes engines from next year onwards. With Manor the only team behind McLaren in the constructors’ standings this season, might the arrival of the best engine in the sport move the minnows above the once-mighty McLaren next season if Honda’s powerplants don’t make a dramatic improvement? It’s almost unthinkable, but it is in play. The extra $5 million or so Button will make by staying next season can buy only so much happiness …

McLaren will arrive in Sochi for this week’s Russian Grand Prix as, unusually for a team languishing in ninth in the teams’ race, the centre of attention as F1 moves from arguably its best circuit at Suzuka to one of its worst. Why did Button stay? Is Alonso going? What of Ron Dennis? When will Honda make gains? It’ll be fascinating to find out, and equally fascinating if anyone writes any prediction stories beforehand. Some of them might even be right …

A Russian Grand Prix preview features this week on Episode 121 of ‘The Inside Line’ – check it out.