Month: April 2016

Solving the Russian riddles

You’ve got questions ahead of F1 in Sochi this weekend? We’ve got answers.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Nico Rosberg is making maximum use of a very sharp instrument. Old qualifying formats are much better than new ones. And predictions that the usual pecking order amongst Red Bull’s two teams could be flipped this year have been proved to be off-beam. These are three things we know after the first three races of the 2016 Formula One season – but what are the questions we’re seeking answers to ahead of round four in Russia this weekend? Glad you asked.

1. Is this the race the world champ finally asserts himself?
It has to be, doesn’t it? Lewis Hamilton’s maturely pragmatic approach to his early-season travails has been admirable and, quite frankly, a little surprising – but after three races, he’s already 36 points behind Mercedes teammate Rosberg, who has won every Grand Prix since Hamilton wrapped up his 2015 title in Austin last year. Luck wasn’t on Hamilton’s side last time out in China, but it was a mild surprise that he only made it back to seventh from the back of the grid in a car that’s still the best in the business by some distance, as Rosberg proved with his sixth straight win. The three-time world champion has won both Russian Grands Prix held so far, and we’re predicting Hamilton’s title defence proper starts right here.

Front to back: How the F1 field fared in China

2. Can Ferrari stay out of its own way?
For the sake of some intrigue at the top of the 2016 drivers’ standings going forward, they have to. The Prancing Horse is clearly closer to Mercedes this season than last, but we’re yet to really see how close – a mechanical DNF sidelined Kimi Raikkonen in Australia, while a strangely conservative tyre strategy scuppered whatever chance Sebastian Vettel had of winning in Melbourne. An engine failure hit the German before the Bahrain race even started, and then the Ferrari teammates hit one another – thanks to some assistance (or not) from Daniil Kvyat, depending on your point of view – in Shanghai. A clean race with no self-inflicted wounds will give us an idea of Ferrari’s ultimate potential – and could give the Silver Arrows the hurry-up.

3. Is anyone driving better than Daniel Ricciardo?
Take a look down the drivers’ standings after three rounds. Rosberg has been unbeatable, Hamilton occasionally eye-catching, Vettel relentless, and Kvyat has a podium finish that owed itself to at least some degree to good fortune after a robust display in China. But have any of them outshone Daniel Ricciardo, given what he’s repeatedly done with the machinery at his disposal? Our man Josh Rakic made the case for the ‘Honey Badger’ earlier this week, and after a so-so 2015 following his breakout 2014 campaign, Ricciardo has been absolutely immaculate this season, his decisiveness in traffic and control under braking a standout. Three fourth-place finishes don’t tell the whole story for a driver who has considerably stepped up his game after being surprisingly beaten by Kvyat in the standings last year, while the man himself rated his race in China – where he started second, was in the lead by turn one, suffered an early puncture to drop to the back and still finished fourth – as perhaps the best of his career. Podium finishes – plural – can only be a matter of time in the unofficial ‘best of the rest’ race behind Mercedes.

4. Was China a blip or a sign of things to come for Haas?
We say the former. While some midfield rivals have bemoaned a relaxing of the rules relating to constructors that have allowed the American newcomers to piggyback off the work done by Ferrari to produce a very competitive maiden car, you can’t deny that what the new boys have done to date is very impressive. A disastrous outing in China – on a weekend where Romain Grosjean repeatedly railed against what he felt were unrealistically high tyre pressures mandated by Pirelli – was in stark contrast to their solid points hauls in Melbourne and Manama, but it’s hard to see that becoming a trend. With the team firmly behind him and his confidence at highs not seen since his stellar 2013 late-season run of podiums at Lotus, Grosjean has found a new level this year, one that has only helped his cause to be well placed for any vacancy at Ferrari that might emerge for next season. Expect he – and the team – to bounce back in Sochi.

5. Can Russia serve up a decent race?
The jury is still out on this one. Hamilton has won both races around the 2014 Winter Olympics precinct at a canter, the first made simple after teammate Rosberg tried a clumsy pass at the first corner and flat-spotted his tyres, the second simpler still after Rosberg was an early retiree. The billiard-table smooth surface hasn’t offered too many strategic tyre options for teams in the previous two races, although the greater flexibility in compound choices this season might help in that regard. Watching cars on the limit through the never-ending ferociously fast Turn 3 never gets old, but is there another corner on the track that gets pulses racing for drivers and fans? The majority of the Sochi Autodrom has the feel of the old Valencia street circuit used for the European GP, a seemingly endless array of non-descript short chutes and 90-degree turns for the majority of the lap where it’s hard to differentiate one corner from another. Other than Mark Webber’s frightening flight at Valencia in 2010, can you remember another signature moment in five Grands Prix there before its demise? While Sochi and its bland layout has the potential to go down that road, it’ll undoubtedly last longer on the calendar than Valencia did. In a related point: count the number of TV shots of Bernie Ecclestone and Vladimir Putin in the coverage if the Russian race is less than riveting – again – at the front.

Miller time: Small steps

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller was thankful to see the end of the Spanish Grand Prix.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

It was hard to know how to feel after Jerez last Sunday – other than hot! Jerez is always pretty intense anyway as the first race of the European season and with all of the Spanish riders across the three classes, but this year it seemed even more full-on than usual because of the heat and the bigger crowd – I’d heard there were more than 100,000 people there, and it definitely seemed like it, the noise was incredible. In the end I finished less than two seconds outside the points in 17th and that was pretty frustrating, but the key part of that sentence was the first part – I finished, and I didn’t hurt myself again, so that was a massive positive to take out of the weekend.

More Miller time: Trouble in Texas

My crash in practice in Texas and the injury to my right foot threw everything into a bit of chaos. Instead of coming back home to Andorra after being away for the races in Argentina and then Texas, I stayed in America and got some treatment with Dr Andy Walshe and did a lot of work on my rehab. From there it was pretty much straight to Spain and what was a bit of a step into the unknown. I was nowhere near 100 per cent fit – maybe 50 per cent on Friday for the first practice – but I hate missing races and I needed to give it a go. I knocked over a second off my best time in FP2 on Friday, so it shows you what adrenaline can do …

Jerez has more right-handers than lefts so that didn’t help my foot much, and after I qualified 19th on Saturday I said to the media guys that my aims were to stay on the bike and ride smart on Sunday. I’m normally a bit less conservative than that! But I needed to do a full race distance, and we managed it which made the weekend a success in a way. I was really tentative in the slow-speed corners for the first four laps as I was trying to turn the bike with the full fuel load and my lack of feel, but I felt things improved as the race went on and I had some more confidence to take some more out of the tyres. I swapped places with Michele Pirro on the last lap but he ended up just beating me for 16th. Yonny (Hernandez) was not far up the road in 15th and the last point, but I couldn’t be too disappointed. I’m pretty keen to put these first four races behind me now and concentrate on what’s coming up.

I don’t get to go home just yet – we have a one-day test at Jerez on Monday where we’ll work on the bike for Le Mans, so it’ll be a priority to get those hairpins right. And then it’ll be working on the leg and getting it stronger, and spending a bit of family time – my mum and dad came over for the race last weekend and they’re staying for France as well, so it’ll be good to have an extra little bit of home in the paddock for the next one.

It’ll be strange doing a test at a pretty quiet track where 100,000 people were cheering the day before on Monday – speaking of the fans, it’s amazing that they didn’t get one home winner on Sunday, with Brad Binder winning Moto3, Sam Lowes taking Moto2 and Valentino Rossi winning MotoGP. I’ve known Brad for a while and his ride was pretty awesome after he came through from last after a penalty – 34 places gained in a race is a pretty amazing way to win your first GP! And Valentino … what can you say? Someone told me that it was the first time he’d won from pole and led every lap in his career – I wouldn’t have thought there’d be too many things he hadn’t done by now, but that’s a first. It’s definitely going to be a good fight at the front this year, and I’m hoping I can get a little bit closer to it and have a better view before too long.

Catch you next time,
Jack

The magnificent seven

On the anniversary of Red Bull’s first F1 win, we recap the team’s seven biggest victories.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

April 19: it’s a special date for anyone involved with Red Bull Racing, because it was on a sodden Sunday in Shanghai on that very date seven years ago that the team took in the view from the top step of an F1 podium for the first time, Sebastian Vettel winning the Chinese Grand Prix.

It was the start of something big – since, the team has won four drivers’ and constructors’ championships and 50 Grands Prix, the most recent of which coming in Belgium 2014 at the hands of Daniel Ricciardo.

Seven years on from that momentous day in Shanghai, we recap the seven most important wins in Red Bull Racing’s history.

Win #1: Walking on water
Race:
2009 Chinese Grand Prix
Date: April 19, 2009
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Mark Webber (Red Bull), 3rd Jenson Button (Brawn GP)
Jenson Button and new team Brawn GP had swept to victory in the year’s first two races in Australia and Malaysia, with Red Bull’s only points in that pair of races coming from Mark Webber’s sixth place at Sepang. But as the rain poured down in China for round three, the Bulls found their wings, Vettel cantering to a second career win, Webber achieving a career-best second, and Button the best of the rest nearly three-quarters of a minute adrift. A team that had managed just three podiums in its first four years was off and running.

Win #9: Monaco pool party
Race:
2010 Monaco Grand Prix
Date: May 16, 2010
Podium: 1st Mark Webber (Red Bull), 2nd Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 3rd Robert Kubica (Renault)
Red Bull had made a splash in the Principality before – remember Christian Horner fulfilling a pre-race bet by jumping in a swimming pool clothed only in a Superman cape after David Coulthard took the team’s first podium in Monte Carlo in 2006? But Webber’s maiden win at Monaco four years later took the celebrations to a whole new level, Red Bull winning the sport’s signature race for the first time. Both the Australian and Vettel ended up in the team’s pool at the Energy Station after the race, and the drivers decided to jump in the harbour soon afterwards. It might have been Webber’s one wrong move of the day. “Mediterranean diesel,” was his colourful description of a harbour filled with the after-effects of people partying on boats for the weekend …

Win #15: Drama in the desert
Race:
2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Date: November 14, 2010
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), 3rd Jenson Button (McLaren)
Title-deciders don’t get much more tense than this. Both Red Bull drivers, along with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s championship leader Fernando Alonso, arrived at the final race of the year in mathematical contention for the crown; an early-race decision by Ferrari to pit Alonso to cover off Webber saw the Spaniard stuck behind the rocket-fast Renault of Vitaly Petrov for most of the race, allowing pole-sitter Vettel to escape at the front. Alonso finished seventh, Webber eighth – and Vettel cruised to victory to become the youngest world champion in F1 history. Remarkably, it was the only time he’d led the championship standings all season.

Win #41: Seb’s Singapore stormer
Race:
2013 Singapore Grand Prix
Date: September 22, 2013
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 3rd Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
Vettel did a lot of winning in six years at Red Bull – 38 of the team’s 50 victories, to be exact – but was he ever more dominant than on the Singapore city streets in 2013? A mid-race safety car caused by Daniel Ricciardo crashing his Toro Rosso saw Vettel stay out rather than pit for new tyres, and when the race resumed, he tore off at a rate two seconds a lap faster than anyone else. His winning margin – 32.627 seconds – was the biggest for more than eight years, and he achieved a rare grand chelem (grand slam) by winning the race after starting from pole and leading every lap while setting the fastest lap of the race. Under the floodlights, it was a case of Vettel first, daylight second.

Win #44: Awesome foursome
Race:
2013 Indian Grand Prix
Date: October 27, 2013
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 3rd Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
Vettel arrived in India needing just five points to secure a fourth world title, and off the back of five straight wins, there was never a surer thing. No cruise and collect mode here – the German took pole and fought his way back after an early pit stop to win by 29 seconds, celebrating on the start-finish straight on his lap back to the pits with a series of donuts. It was the last of three races at the Buddh International Circuit in New Delhi, Vettel winning all of them.

Win #47: End of an era
Race:
2013 Brazilian Grand Prix
Date: November 24, 2013
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Mark Webber (Red Bull), 3rd Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Vettel equalled Alberto Ascari’s 1952-53 record of winning nine straight races, while Webber joined him on the podium in his final race before retirement in the perfect send-off to their wildly successful – and sometimes acrimonious – five-year run as teammates that produced 47 wins and four constructors’ titles. It was their 16th 1-2 finish together and a fitting way for the Australian to finish his 12 years in F1, Webber driving back to the pits after crossing the finish line with his helmet off, soaking up his final lap.

Win #50: Ricciardo raises the bat
Race:
2014 Belgian Grand Prix
Date: August 24, 2014
Podium: 1st Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), 2nd Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 3rd Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
Ricciardo’s first two wins in Red Bull colours in Canada and Hungary in 2014 owed themselves to dramatic late-race overtakes to secure the lead; he had no such worries in Belgium after Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg tripped over one another on lap two, the Aussie cruising to a three-second win over a closing Rosberg after completely controlling the race. That Red Bull’s landmark 50th win came at one of the sport’s signature circuits made it even sweeter. “There’s definitely a few races on the calendar that stand out more than others, and Spa is one of them,” Ricciardo grinned afterwards.

Front to back: the Chinese Grand Prix

How every F1 team and driver fared in an action-packed race in Shanghai.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 22nd, finished 7th
Nico Rosberg: qualified 1st, finished 1st
Rosberg left all of the drama behind him as he assumed the lead when Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull slowed with a puncture on lap three, and on the more durable soft compound Pirelli for his opening stint, simply did as he pleased as he romped to a 37-second win, his sixth victory in succession. Only three other drivers in F1 history – Sebastian Vettel, Alberto Ascari and Michael Schumacher (twice) have reeled off six straight, and all three of them won at least one world title. Hamilton’s race was always going to be tougher after starting dead-last following an ERS failure in qualifying, and losing his front wing in the manic first few corners meant he could only nurse a damaged car to the tail-end of the points. Ominously for the world champ, he’s 36 points behind his teammate after just three Grands Prix.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 4th, finished 2nd
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 3rd, finished 5th
Ferrari would have taken second and fifth for its two drivers after the madness of the opening corners, where Vettel took avoiding action from Daniil Kvyat’s Red Bull and clattered into Raikkonen, damaging both cars. Vettel called Kvyat’s move “suicidal”, while the Russian said he was merely “racing”. Whoever was at fault, Vettel showed superb pace in a compromised car to be best of the rest, but a very distant second to Rosberg. After leading Friday practice and looking odds-on for pole on Saturday, fifth for Raikkonen was underwhelming, but a good recovery considering he was sideways at the second corner without a front wing.

Front to back: what happened in Bahrain?

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 11th, finished 6th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 5th, finished 10th
A salvage job for one side of the Williams garage, a disappointment for the other. Massa ran as high as second in the topsy-turvy opening laps but could do nothing to repel the charging Ricciardo and Raikkonen late, but some canny defence kept Hamilton’s Mercedes in his mirrors as he took sixth. Bottas was mugged by both Toro Rossos in the final laps and backed into the final point on offer, confirming that Williams has fallen from last year’s highs of being clearly the third-best team on the grid.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 2nd, finished 4th
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 6th, finished 3rd
Kvyat’s second career podium owed plenty to his suicidal/racing move on lap one, and the Russian kept a consistent pace from there on to make amends for a slow start to the season, and didn’t blink when Vettel questioned his tactics in the post-race green room before the podium ceremony. It was a podium that Ricciardo had every right to feel aggrieved he wasn’t on; after a brilliant start, he described his puncture and the resultant safety car as “like being punched in the stomach by a heavyweight”. Ricciardo was immaculate afterwards to storm back to his third straight fourth-place finish to start the season, and sits an impressive third in the drivers’ standings. A first rostrum visit for 2016 won’t be far away after a recovery drive the Aussie described as “one of the best of my life”.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 10th, finished 15th
Sergio Perez: qualified 7th, finished 11th
After a Saturday of so much promise, leaving Shanghai on Sunday with no points was a bitter pill to swallow for Force India, especially after both cars made strong starts. Perez was eight seconds outside the top 10 after starting from seventh on the grid, and finished 11th in China for the fourth time in five visits. Hulkenberg’s wild weekend featured a three-place grid penalty for an unsafe release from the pits when the left front wheel fell off his wagon in qualifying, a penalty in the race for driving too slowly coming into the pits, and finally the fastest lap of the race on lap 48. Too slow, too fast, too few wheels … and no points.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer: qualified 19th, finished 22nd
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 17th, finished 17th
Renault’s wait for its first points of 2016 will continue to Russia in a fortnight’s time, but the Enstone team looks further away than ever after a forgettable weekend in Shanghai. Palmer suffered the ignominy of finishing last in a frantic race where all 22 starters remarkably saw the chequered flag, while Magnussen ran inside the top 10 as a lot of the front-runners pitted in the early-race safety car period before reality ensued thereafter. Neither driver could crack Q2 on Saturday in by far the team’s worst weekend of the season.

Toro Rosso
Max Verstappen:
qualified 9th, finished 8th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 8th, finished 9th
The junior Bulls were in close proximity once again at the end of a race that looked textbook on paper, but was anything but. Verstappen had searing pace late in the race and seemed certain to pass Hamilton for seventh but just ran out of laps, while Sainz doubled his points tally on the final lap when he squeaked past Bottas’ Williams.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 16th, finished 20th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 15th, finished 16th
After a fortnight of conjecture on whether Sauber would be in Shanghai at all, the team did well to get both cars into Q2 on Saturday, with Nasr’s late lap in Q1 consigning Magnussen to the back three rows of the grid. The Brazilian inadvertently clashed with Hamilton in the first-lap mess and was fighting a losing battle after picking up a puncture, while Ericsson found himself unexpectedly battling with the likes of Raikkonen and Hamilton for position in the early stages before finishing 16th.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 13th, finished 13th
Fernando Alonso: qualified 12th, finished 12th
No points for McLaren in China, but the team is, bit by bit, inching forwards. Both Alonso and Button were caught out by the timing of the red flag in qualifying for Hulkenberg’s three-wheeled Force India, and the Spaniard ran as high as third in the early laps of the race as he stayed out where those around him pitted. Alonso tried a two-stop race and Button made three stops as the team split its strategies, but both drivers ended up finishing in the same positions they qualified in.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 21st, finished 18th
Rio Haryanto: qualified 20th, finished 21st
Wehrlein learned a harsh lesson on Saturday when he opened his DRS flap as he splashed over a puddle on the main straight in Q1; the resultant spin off a bump on the circuit spat him into the barriers and caused a red flag (and no doubt a red face) as he didn’t set a time. The German ran as high as fourth after the early pit stops, but fell back towards customary Manor territory thereafter. Haryanto kept his nose clean on a track he was familiar with and completed another race distance for the sport’s smallest squad.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 14th, finished 19th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 18th, finished 14th
Grosjean’s 30th birthday was quite the comedown after his superb points-scoring finishes in Australia and Bahrain; the Frenchman was critical of what he felt were mandatory tyre pressures that were too high for the majority of the weekend, and any chance of a surge into the points from 14th on the grid was scuppered by losing part of his front wing on the opening lap. Gutierrez at least saw the chequered flag after non-finishes in Melbourne and Manama, and was the last car to be lapped by the all-conquering Mercedes of Rosberg.

Who crashes the MotoGP podium party?

Five experts assess who will break through for a maiden podium in 2016.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Quick quiz: just nine riders have won MotoGP races since the start of the 2007 season. Reckon you know them all? After you’ve read our story (no cheating), check the bottom of the page for the full list. We’ll even give you a clue …

The fact that just nine riders have seen the view from the top step of a MotoGP podium in close to a decade is testament to a few phenomena: the longevity of Valentino Rossi, the ability of Casey Stoner to make the Ducati do things that nobody else has managed, and the sheer difficulty of taking on the world’s best on two wheels and beating them. Even making it onto a podium is tough with the dominance and reliability of the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha factory squads, who have annexed every world championship since Stoner bulldozed the field for Ducati in that 2007 season.

Every year, fans debate who’ll come up from Moto2 to make it into the top three in a race, which established rider could have made the right move at the right time to join a MotoGP team in podium contention, and which race will offer the mix of crazy weather and a rider taking their chances to gatecrash the top trio.

So who’ll emerge from the shadows to spray the champagne of success this season? Can Suzuki get back on the rostrum? Can a non-factory rider muscle in? Who is most likely to come from nowhere and achieve that one-off freak result? Luckily, help is at hand.

In the final instalment of our ‘Burning Questions’ series, we quizzed our panel of assembled MotoGP insiders.

Our experts:

Nick Harris: the voice of MotoGP on the world TV feed, and a hugely experienced authority on the sport for more than three decades.
Matt Birt: Nick’s offsider on the MotoGP world feed coverage, and a journalist with more than 20 years of experience in the paddock.
Chris Vermeulen: the MotoGP race-winner now excels in his off-track role as a MotoGP analyst for Fox Sports in his native Australia.
Dylan Gray: MotoGP’s premier pit-lane reporter and on-the-ground newshound.
David Emmett: editor of motomatters.com and one of the sport’s most prolific and authoritative voices.

The Burning Question: Which rider do you see being the biggest surprise visitor to the podium this season?

Chris Vermeulen: At the moment, when you get anyone outside of the top four – the two Repsol Hondas and the two factory Yamahas – on the podium, it’s a surprise and makes headlines. Of those riders, we may see Cal Crutchlow up there – he’s got speed but just doesn’t seem to have it consistently – and we may see Bradley Smith, as he’s very consistent and could be there when things aren’t going right for other people. And Danilo Petrucci – he’s another one.

Dylan Gray: I’m going to go completely out there, and say Hector Barbera. He’s always been one of those guys who has been underrated and has generally been using machinery that’s been below par. He’s said the electronics that every rider has to use now are a major step up from what he’s had before. There’s lots of people who are stepping back, but he’s really enjoying them. His bike has tons of horsepower, so for me, he could be one of the surprises out there.

Matt Birt: I’m going to say Maverick Vinales, and that’s based purely on the equipment underneath him rather than any judgement based on his talent. I don’t think there is any shadow of doubt that if Vinales were on a Honda or a Yamaha this year that he would be joining that elite group at the front. When Valentino Rossi identifies Vinales as the next big star of MotoGP, you’d better stand up and take notice. Suzuki seems to have upped its game with a more powerful engine and seamless shift gearbox for the GSX-RR this season. The big question is whether it will be enough to get Suzuki only its second win in the modern four-stroke era. Vinales is definitely going to be hot property in the rider market and Suzuki’s biggest challenge of the season could be off the track and convincing him to stay – his name is being linked with moves to Honda and Yamaha next year. If Suzuki has got it right, then I think there’s no doubt that Vinales will be breaking his podium duck.

David Emmett: To be frank, predicting surprises is hard. We all expect Vinales to make it onto the podium. Danilo Petrucci and Scott Redding look to have a good shot at a podium, as do Bradley Smith and maybe Cal Crutchlow. But the biggest surprise will be Loris Baz. He is a lot more competitive than he was, and is using the stings of ‘too tall’ to motivate him.

Nick Harris: If it remains dry I don’t envisage too many surprises – but in mixed weather, Vinales will be close.

(Your nine MotoGP race-winners since 2007: Loris Capirossi, Andrea Dovizioso, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Ben Spies, Casey Stoner and our very own panellist, Chris Vermeulen).

Five Shanghai surprises

Relive a quintet of F1 moments in China that nobody saw coming.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Things just happen at the Chinese Grand Prix. In good weather and bad, in early-season scene-setters or end-of-year title run-ins, F1’s annual stop in Shanghai has rarely failed to throw up something unusual in its 13-year history. From its debut late in the 2004 season to last year’s inter-team controversy at Mercedes, there’s always plenty of talking points at the race held in the world’s most populous country.

How weird can things get in China? Consider some of the races that didn’t make our list of five Shanghai surprises.

2004: In a year where he won 12 of the first 13 races and his fifth straight world title, Michael Schumacher didn’t even finish on the podium in the first Chinese GP, with teammate Rubens Barrichello winning it.

2005: Schumacher bizarrely crashed with the Minardi of Christijan Albers on his reconnaissance lap to the grid, while later in the race proper, the McLaren of Juan Pablo Montoya came off second-best when it clouted a manhole cover that had worked its way loose.

2014: The chequered flag was waved to race-leader Lewis Hamilton as he crossed the line to complete lap 55 – of a 56-lap race. Whoops …

Those three oddities didn’t make our shortlist of Shanghai surprises, but what did?

2007: Hamilton’s gravel rash
Arguably the most famous moment in Chinese GP history. McLaren rookie Hamilton arrived for the penultimate round of the season in Shanghai leading the championship by 12 points over teammate and bitter rival Fernando Alonso, and by 17 points from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen. A third place would secure the crown, and after he dominated the early stages from pole in the wet, the title looked a formality. But as the track dried, Hamilton’s intermediate tyres wore fast, and he slithered off into the tiny gravel trap in the pit lane entry on lap 31, his day done. One of the few gravel traps on a circuit dominated by tarmac run-offs had turned the title race upside down. Raikkonen won the race and the season finale in Brazil a fortnight later, where seventh for Hamilton at Interlagos saw him lose the title to the Finn by a solitary point.

2009: Bulls shine in the gloom
After five years as a fixture at the tail-end of the championship, China’s calendar slot moved from October to April in 2009, and the spring rain duly teemed down on race day. Not that Red Bull cared – Sebastian Vettel scored the team’s first-ever F1 win with a peerless drive, and teammate Mark Webber took the best result of his career in second as the Brawn of Jenson Button was 44 seconds adrift of the winner in third. It was the first of four 1-2 finishes and a second-place finish in the constructors’ championship for a team that would achieve much bigger things in the following four years. But at the time, a Red Bull win was a novelty.

2010: Buemi’s lucky escape
Imagine you’re travelling down the longest straight on the F1 calendar at well over 300km/h, you pick your braking marker, you hit the stop pedal and then … bang. The front wheels of Sebastien Buemi’s Toro Rosso flew off the car as the Swiss driver braked for the hairpin in Friday practice, and he was fortunate to escape injury as his car made a beeline for the barriers. A right front upright failure – on a part that was being used on the car for the first time – was the culprit, allied to the bumpy track in the braking zone. “There’s not much to say about what happened – I braked, the wheels came off and that was it,” shrugged Buemi afterwards.

2012: Mercedes wins!
Remember when Mercedes winning a single Grand Prix was big news? The team that has won (gulp) 34 of the 40 races since F1 embarked on its V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014 hadn’t managed a single podium finish in 2011, but Nico Rosberg put that right in a big way in China the following year when he cantered to a 20-second victory from pole to win the first race for a works Mercedes works team since 1955. Coming after a year where Red Bull had won 12 of the 19 races on the calendar, Rosberg’s win was welcomed as something different – it was the only victory for the team that year. They’ve more than made up for it since …

2015: Pit straight shenanigans
While last year’s Chinese Grand Prix was remembered more for the post-race spat between Mercedes teammates Rosberg and Hamilton, the former accusing the latter of backing him into the clutches of Vettel’s Ferrari in the race, the weekend wasn’t without its unusual moments. During Friday practice, a spectator ran across the start-finish straight from the main grandstand and leapt the wall into the pit lane, waving his ticket and explaining that he wanted to try a car for himself. And then on race day, Max Verstappen’s Toro Rosso expired on the start-finish straight with a blown engine in the closing stages; the five marshals dispatched to retrieve it managed to get it inside the pit wall eventually, but only after comically smashing the right front of the car against the wall as the team’s mechanics looked on helplessly, forbidden to touch the car until it was off the race track. By the time Verstappen’s car was removed, the race finished behind the safety car.

Miller time: Trouble in Texas

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller reflects on a painful visit to Austin.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

It’s been a fairly crazy week since Argentina last weekend, and it’s hard to believe everything that has happened in just a few days. Even getting out of Argentina to get to Texas was a story in itself – I’ll get to that – but it was so disappointing to injure myself in practice on Friday and have to miss the race in America. I love the track in Texas and I’ve had some good results there in the past, so getting back on the bike after Argentina and letting a good result slip there was something I was looking forward to. In the end, I had to watch the race like everyone else.

My crash in Friday practice was one of those you play through your mind a lot afterwards. It was right at the end of the lap, Turn 18, where you’re leaned over on the right side of the tyre for a long time. I was on an out lap to start a new run, the tyre was a bit cold, and I was just pushing that bit too hard, and you saw what happened next. A big old highside and a pretty fast one too. It shows you how fine the margins are and I paid a big price for stepping over it.

I tried to keep going on Saturday but the risk was too big, so I pulled out just before qualifying and spent a fair bit of Saturday afternoon in the Clinica Mobile at the circuit. Because I already had the injury with my ankle before the season, the foot swelled up like a balloon, and when it was in the boot when I was riding on Saturday – it’s such a physical track anyway in Texas and the changes of direction were pretty difficult, so there was no sense in making it worse. The biggest thing now is being patient enough to let it heal, and get as much physio on it as I can this week. I don’t want to make too many predictions about Jerez and the next race yet, because we need to see how the rehab is first.

The plan was to head back to Europe after two weeks away straight after the race on Monday, but because of the accident and how badly my foot has swelled up, I’m staying in America this week and going across to Los Angeles. I’m going to work with a physio and doctors there and not attempt to fly back to Europe until the swelling has gone down, more swelling at the moment isn’t something I want to risk with a long flight. I’ll be in LA for the next week most probably, and then head back to Europe and probably go straight to Jerez.

So much has happened over the past few days that I’d almost forgotten about how long it even took us to get to Texas from Argentina and the last race last weekend. Maybe that’s not a bad thing! The weather was bad on the Monday after the race in Argentina, and it was a bit of a nightmare to be honest. I was with the whole team and we were booked on a charter flight, but the weather hit and we changed airports. Then the weather followed us, we couldn’t fly, we were on buses … it was one thing after another, and it wasn’t only us – so many people in the paddock had stories about the dramas they’d gone through just to get to Texas. I know it took us three days to do one day of travelling, and I lost count of the amount of times we got on and off buses and planes. After all that, we make it there, and then I don’t end up riding …

It was pretty weird to be at a track and not be racing on a Sunday, but I ended up being asked to do some TV for BT Sport, which was actually pretty fun. Saying that, I swear being a media person is the easiest job in the world. Sitting around nice and comfortable, talking about bikes … no, I’m joking. I actually quite enjoyed it but I hated having to watch the race and not ride in it, so I hope I don’t get to have another go at doing TV too soon.

Being injured again – my first thought was frustration more than pain or even anger to be honest. The bad luck with injuries just seems to keep dragging on and on. It sounds like such a small thing, but I can’t wait to actually feel healthy again and not feeling like I’m riding around an injury or in rehab. That has to be the focus now because we’re three races in and I don’t want this to drag on and on. It’s disappointing to just get a couple of points out of these first three races because I know we can do a lot better, so the main thing is to get my body right, stay as positive as I can and then get back to Europe and hit the reset button on the season and start again. The season gets into a real rhythm once you get back to Europe, so I’m looking forward to that.

Catch you next time,
Jack