Month: December 2015

16 fearless predictions for ’16

It’s a new year, and seeing as though every other sports writer seems to be doing a look back at what was, I’ve gazed into the crystal ball (recently re-serviced, shod with brand-new Pirelli ultrasofts and running a TAG-Heuer engine) to come up with 16 things that will be (or might be, we can assess them this time next year) in F1 and MotoGP for 2016.

Feedback, good and bad, is always welcome. In no particular order, here goes.

1. Two wheels first. Jack Miller is going to finish in the top 10 in the world championship this year. He’ll be fitter than ever (and needs to be, apparently), the new bike is the best he’s ever ridden, and the new Michelins will marry nicely with his style. We’ll find out this year if his stay in the top flight will be a long one or not.

2. Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement at Ferrari in 2017 will be either Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean or Max Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas is out. I know who my money is on.

3. Mercedes will romp to both the F1 drivers’ and constructors’ titles again. Ferrari (well, Sebastian Vettel) will give them more of a fight, but as Christian Horner rightly asserts, their advantage is so huge that stability on the rules front means more of the same, sadly for the spectacle.

4. Casey Stoner will make a wildcard appearance on a Ducati this year. Maybe even two. Watching ‘Hitting The Apex’ over Christmas reminded me of his genius. I still can’t see him ever wanting a full-time comeback though. Imagine how much he’ll hate the attention that comes with him doing even one race if his arm gets twisted hard enough to line up again?

5. There’ll be plenty of talk about Mercedes splitting Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for 2017, but it won’t happen. Rosberg is bright enough that he’ll stay where he is, drive a great car that he can win 3-4 races a season in, collect a decent salary and unofficially become his team’s number two while setting up his post-F1 career. It’s not a bad life. Filed under Webber, M.

6. McLaren will finish in the top five in the constructors’ championship next year and both drivers will finish on the podium at some stage. And not like this.

AlonsoButtonBrazil15podium

7. Much as I hate to say it (and he denies it), Valentino Rossi will never have a better chance than last year to win the MotoGP title again. For the sake of the sport, let’s hope he has another strong campaign in 2016.

8. Haas won’t embarrass themselves in their first F1 season. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if Grosjean is a regular points-scorer in the second half of the season.

9. For all the talk that 21 F1 races in 2016 is too many, we won’t have had 21 races by the end of the season.

10. The F1 champion will be Lewis Hamilton.

11. Hamilton’s third straight world title will cause me to reach for the mute button on Sky’s cheerleading/commentary more than once. Raise a glass at home every time he’s perceived to be “robbed” across the season.

12. The lead-up to the Australian Grand Prix will feature a photo/vision opportunity featuring bewildered local AFL players with equally bewildered international F1 drivers, with the attempted small talk some of the most awkward of the year. I hope nobody hurts themselves. This time.

13. More media will complain about having to go to Azerbaijan than any race in F1 history. Especially the ones who complain about going to most races anyway.

14. The MotoGP champion will be Marc Marquez, and I suspect it won’t be close.

15. For four drivers on the F1 grid, 2016 will be their final season. Not counting the Manor drivers in this, as there’s always someone with a bigger pile of money than the people with the big piles of money out there who drive for them, if anyone is paying attention.

16. I will make 17 fearless predictions for 2017 at this time next year (at least that’s guaranteed to happen).

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Doors open, doors close

It’s the end of an era, and the start of a new one. As a freelance, you become accustomed to change, and repeat business is always coveted and tightly-held. The past two years have been remarkably stable, but through my own actions and decisions of others, that’s all about to change.

For starters, I’m happy to announce that as of January, I’ll be taking over as motorsport editor of Red Bull Australia’s website. It’ll be a big challenge, but it’s one I’m up for, and a big thanks to those at RBA for their faith, and especially to Nikki for prising a few doors open from afar.

What I won’t be doing, as I flagged earlier, is working on The Inside Line next year. My choice, and a tough one as we’d taken the show a long way in the past two seasons, and 90 episodes feels a little bit like unfinished business. But the show will be in great hands next year, and I look forward to watching it without knowing what comes next.

Speaking of unfinished business, what I also won’t be working on for the first time since 1999 is the official event program for the Australian Grand Prix. Through various publishers, departments, cities and mentors (well, ‘mentor’, singular), it’s been a pleasure to work on the official magazine for the first Grand Prix of the year, and always pushing the boat out further than was needed editorially to set a challenge for those working on it and to set a standard for the international editorial colleagues I commissioned to write for it to compare to the equivalent magazines for their own home Grands Prix. “Excuse me Michael Schumacher – do you mind taking your shoes off so we can snap a pic of them? Yes, just put them there. Perfect.”

07SchumiShoesOpener

Times change in the publishing world, and the new crew will do it their way and arrive at a result. I’m intrigued to see how it all shakes out. It feels like the end of an era and there’s far too many people that need to be acknowledged after a 17-year run working on something, so that’ll be done privately rather than publicly. But they’ll be strange conversations to have.

The way forward is to look forward, and crack on with it. I look forward to finding a home for the revelatory Ricciardo feature that will come from a quite amazing interview last weekend in the near future. It’ll be fun. Always is.

This is the final blog post for 2015, so for those of you who read occasionally or religiously, thanks for the time and the feedback. Over and out.

Golf cart ex Travis Hayto

The Inside Line #130: The finish line

TILI Logo PrintYes, the 2015 Formula One season has finished – and not a moment too soon unless you happen to be driving a Mercedes.

Compared to 2014, this season hasn’t been as memorable, but there have been bright spots. Max Verstappen’s arrival onto the scene and knowing that we have a decade or more of him up the front to come. Sebastian Vettel’s recovery after an anomalous year in 2014 and leading a Ferrari resurgence in a way that his great mentor Michael Schumacher would approve. Kimi Raikkonen’s management continuing to get Kimi employed by Ferrari for reasons that don’t appear to be entirely clear. And the afore-mentioned Mercedes, who came as close to perfection as any team in F1 history.

While the monotony of another Silver Arrows 1-2 finish tested everyone’s patience towards the end of the season, Mercedes shouldn’t be criticised for what they’ve achieved, more celebrated for it. It’s up to the rest to do better, catch up, work harder and smarter. They will in time – stability in the rulebook will help to narrow the gap between the best and the rest – and the spectacle will improve. Formula One has peaks and valleys of seasons, and next year should be better.

Me? I won’t be around, at least not on The Inside Line, to write about it. After two years, 90 episodes, prequels good and bad, a million uses of ‘penultimate’ and ‘back to the front’ and various other go-to lines and at least 50 ham and cheese toasties, this week’s episode (number 130) of the show reviews the 2015 season, and is my last. It’s been a mostly enjoyable journey for the past two years and I’ve learned a lot, and I think it’s been a relationship that has been mutually beneficial for all parties.

Thanks to Tim for the patience and passion for those prequels, Pete for taking a shot on someone who had barely written for TV before, Paul for his voice of gold, Andrew and Peter downstairs for their constant enthusiasm, and plenty of others who I’ve forgotten. And thanks for watching.

I have new pastures to go to/new challenges ahead/insert your favourite ‘moving on’ cliché here – and I’ll be at liberty to reveal them in due course.

So, for now. The Inside Line. Episode 130. Check it out.

The Inside Line #129: All’s well that ends …

TILI Logo PrintSome years, you get to the final race of an F1 season and are sure that it was only five minutes ago that everyone was gathering in Melbourne full of energy and optimism; other years, like this one, the end of the season can’t come soon enough for most.

An endless stream of Mercedes 1-2 finishes, the British media not covering itself in glory when it reports on races that Lewis Hamilton doesn’t actually win (the boys at Box of Neutrals didn’t miss them last week), the second-best car on the grid being driven hard by one driver and like an indifferent superannuant by another (my weekly Raikkonen whack), and no local interest for Australian fans at the front of proceedings … it hasn’t been a banner year for F1, which was always likely after last-season’s tension-filled finale under lights in Abu Dhabi.

If it’s been a long season for many F1 fans in Australia, you can only imagine how Daniel Ricciardo must feel. Abu Dhabi last year might have produced the best drive of his F1 career, even in a year where he won three races and stood on the podium eight times. After Red Bull had both of its cars excluded from qualifying for running an illegal front wing last year, Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel both started from the pit lane, and Ricciardo finished an incredible fourth – and even more incredibly, 35 seconds ahead of the four-time world champion in the sister car. Ricciardo felt it was his most complete effort of the season, and it made for riveting TV at a track that’s never going to set pulses racing (insert your favourite variation on the ‘lipstick on a pig’ joke here). Ah, those were the days …

In some ways, Ricciardo’s 2015 season is the campaign I expected him to have last year, where the Red Bull was slow and fragile in pre-season testing before unexpectedly coming to life when it mattered most. That such a compromised season has come so soon after his breakout campaign has been a test of character, and he’s passed that with flying colours despite the massive frustration hidden beneath that perma-grin. As a leader, he’s grown immeasurably in the past 12 months, and at some stage that’ll come back to benefit him. It didn’t happen last weekend in Abu Dhabi, and might not happen next year either. One wonders whether he’ll still be driving a Red Bull by the time the team is ready to fight for something meaningful again, but that’s another story.

The final race review of the season is the focus of Episode 129 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, and it’ll be right up your street if you like silver-liveried cars that win a lot. Check it out.