Month: August 2016

The Dan Diaries: Why old school still rules

In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo talks legendary tracks and heroes of the past.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It’s an unusual week this week because I get to drive to a Grand Prix rather than just at one – Monza is pretty easy to get to from Monaco, and it’ll be good to take a road trip before we race in one of the best atmospheres all year. Coming off a good one in Belgium, I’m pretty pumped we’re racing again this weekend – and hopefully we can make it four podiums in a row. But before that, Spa was a pretty sweet weekend.

There was a lot going on in a lot of other places last Sunday, so I’ll take second, as much as I’m always up for a fight. The race wasn’t exactly boring for me because I was trying to stay consistent and look after the tyres, and I had to keep an eye on what Lewis (Hamilton) was doing coming through from the back. In the end he wasn’t a threat but he’s in a Mercedes, so he was still always a threat, if you get me. In the end, 14 seconds off Nico (Rosberg) and a win, and 13 ahead of Lewis – it was all good.

Spa is such a pleasure to drive at any time, and I’ve been going there for a while and never known weather like it, it was pretty awesome. On that track, in conditions like that and with such a massive crowd – special. I found a few Aussie flags in all of that orange for my teammate Max (Verstappen) too. Thanks to both of you for coming out … 

Being between Spa and Monza makes me think of some of the places we go these days compared to where we’ve seemingly always been, places that I’ve been to ever since I first came to Europe to race. I like a bit of both, the new places and the old ones, but there’s definitely some more love for the traditional races. I’m up for going to new places and seeing parts of the world I’ve not been to, but when you’ve got Spa, Monza, places like Silverstone, Monaco … these places always have to be in F1.

It’s not just that they’re great circuits – there’s a feeling that’s hard to put into words, that’s hard to describe, but something you sense as soon as you arrive there. It’s something you feel in your stomach – they just feel important, and you feel like you’re participating in something that means so much to so many people. The passion, the history … at Monza this weekend, you know there’ll be people letting off red flares on the drivers’ parade, you know there’ll be crazily passionate fans, so much noise, so many traditions. It’s one of a handful of races that no matter what always need to remain in our sport.

The very first time I was in Monza in 2007, I went out onto the old banking because I’d been told so much about it, and I was just blown away. It’s just crazy – I thought I had an idea looking at pictures, but until I went up there to see it, I realised I had no clue. I could barely walk up it, so the thought of driving a car in the old times, the commitment and courage those guys must have had in cars that weren’t as well built and had the chances of, say, a steering failure, it just blew me away. Sure, back then they didn’t know better and I’d like to think I would have still wanted to be a racing driver if I was around, but looking back, wow. Compared to what we’re doing, they’re pretty heroic figures.

There’s something about circuits like Spa, like Monza, that does it for me. In terms of circuit safety and risk versus reward, I’m always up for the ballsy circuits, the old-school tracks. That’s not to say I’m complacent about safety, far from it. I’ve said numerous times that I’m someone who welcomes the discussion about extra head protection for us drivers and what not – I 100 per cent support the head protection discussion, the ‘halo’ or whatever we’re going to go with, for flying objects and that sort of thing, for the freak accidents. But part of what makes those older tracks and the more established venues so special, in my eyes at least, is that risk factor. Cockpit safety and the risk factor for some circuits are two different discussions for me.

At Spa last weekend, not every lap through Eau Rouge was full throttle – and when you do a lap when the car is still heavy with fuel and tyres aren’t quite at the right temperature, it scares you in a way. And that’s a good thing. Passing through there every lap and knowing you got through clean, it’s a rush and it’s quite a relief. If there was three acres of run-off either side at the top of the hill, it wouldn’t mean as much. Kevin Magnussen had his big crash there in the race and fortunately he seems to be OK, but you don’t need so much run-off at every circuit all the time like we have at some of the newer places.

I was definitely ready to race again at Spa after our long break, but I enjoyed the time away too. I spent a lot of it in America with some mates who’d come over from Oz, and we had a blast. Some of you would have seen the video we did driving around in some pretty cool cars in LA over the course of a day. I was pretty keen for a complete break, but when the chance came up, I couldn’t resist. I didn’t tell the boys what we were going to do either, so it was a pretty cool surprise.

America is somewhere I’ve gravitated towards a bit more recently in my downtime and I’m loving it more every time I go over. Summer too, so being there in that time of the year was great – and I love the fact you can completely go under the radar there. I don’t really get recognised at all over there – over the course of the entire trip, I ran into a couple of Aussies at various stages, and I reckon one American guy recognised me – and even then he probably thought I was a NASCAR driver! Not sure any of us drivers will get away with that at Monza …

With my Italian background, I’ve always had a pretty good reception when I get to Monza – I’ll do a few more interviews in Italian over the course of the weekend and it’s one of the closest races to where I live, so with my family background and everything, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel more part of it than other places we go to. My Italian these days – for the last few months I’ve been in pretty good form for whatever reason, so hopefully that lasts for the week! I find that if I do interviews in Italian later in the day or if it’s been a long day, I drop off a bit. If I’m not tired, if it’s early in the day or I have some good energy about me, I’ll speak it pretty well. I’ve never been on that awesome podium there and I’m hanging to see what it’s like. Let’s hope I get to find out on Sunday.

Front to back: the Belgian Grand Prix

Reviewing every F1 team and driver from Sunday’s season resumption at Spa.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 21st, finished 3rd
Nico Rosberg: qualified 1st, finished 1st
Rosberg could have done no more on Sunday – he won from pole and led every lap en route to his first win in Belgium and his sixth of the season – but when the dust settles on 2016, this may go down as the race that Hamilton wins the world championship. Facing a critical shortage of fresh engine parts and subsequent penalties in future races, Mercedes elected to effectively bed in three new engines across the weekend for Hamilton to use for the remainder of the season, condemning the championship leader to a back-of-the-grid start and an eye-watering amount of penalties that required several calculators to work out. Yes, the Brit was aided to some degree by the red flag that halted the race on lap nine, but he’d worked his way from the back to fifth by then, setting up a salvage operation that could barely have been better, and was barely believable on Sunday morning. Rosberg was inch-perfect and dominant, but to gain just 10 points on his teammate on a day when everything was in his favour would have turned down the volume on his victory celebrations. For the statistically-minded, Rosberg’s 20th career victory saw him draw level with a pair of Finns in the all-time win list – Mika Hakkinen and Kimi Raikkonen.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 4th, finished 6th
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 3rd, finished 9th
A second-row lockout looked set to pay dividends on race day for Ferrari, especially given Raikkonen felt pole position on Saturday “was there” but for a mistake on his best Q3 lap. That all went by the wayside at the first corner of the race, the Finn squeezed between Vettel on the outside who turned in tightly, and Verstappen, recovering from a poor start from second, squeezing down the inside into a space that was either large enough or not, depending on whether your heart bleeds red or blue. What was blue was the air after Raikkonen’s response to some robust defending by Verstappen later in the race, the pair duelling over positions outside of the points for a time after Raikkonen was forced to stop for a new front wing after lap one, his car briefly on fire in the pit lane. Vettel was last after being turned around at the first corner, but mounted a superb recovery drive that saw him snatch eight precious points to pass his teammate for fourth in the drivers’ standings. The bad news was that Spa marked the fourth race where neither Ferrari driver made the podium – and Monza is coming up in a week’s time, only increasing the pressure on a team going backwards.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 10th, finished 10th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 8th, finished 8th
A disappointing Sunday after a dispiriting Saturday for Williams, who fell behind Force India for fourth in the constructors’ standings after both cars finished where they started. The problems started in qualifying, a software gremlin seeing both cars unable to extract the potential from their Mercedes engines around Spa’s sweeping layout, and while Massa managed to get to sixth before the early red flag, he spent much of the latter part of the race defending and snared just a single point. On his 27th birthday, Bottas finished five seconds and two positions further up the road, and despite his team telling him Alonso was a “sitting duck” with three laps to go, couldn’t muscle his way past the McLaren driver on the last of the 44 laps.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 5th, finished 2nd
Max Verstappen: qualified 2nd, finished 11th
Most of Raikkonen’s comments about Verstappen aren’t suitable for print on a family website, but the Dutch teenager was more quotable – yet still firm – after a disappointing result in a front of a record Spa crowd, most of whom seemed to be dressed in orange to support the Belgian-born teenager who races under the Dutch flag. “The start was not great, I dived in the inside and was easily making the corner, but they kept squeezing. Sebastian (Vettel) turned in on both of us and I had a lot of damage. He knows he was on the outside and he turned into the corner when there were two other cars there.” As for Raikkonen, Verstappen was blunt. “I’m defending my position and if someone doesn’t like it, it is up to them.” No points for the first time in seven races would have stung Verstappen, particularly after he became the youngest front-row starter in F1 history on Saturday when he qualified second, breaking Ricardo Rodriguez’s record that had stood since the 1961 Italian Grand Prix. Ricciardo was far happier – perhaps because he was able to find an Australian flag in the crowd – with his well-judged second place, where he avoided most of the chaos of the start, managed his tyres well across just two stops, and moved well clear in the battle between the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers for third in the championship with his third consecutive podium finish. A shoey champagne celebration on the podium with compatriot and post-race interviewer Mark Webber rounded out a day that could scarcely have been better.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 7th, finished 4th
Sergio Perez: qualified 6th, finished 5th
Force India has been threatening to surpass Williams for fourth in the constructors’ championship for some time, and did it in convincing fashion with 22 points between Hulkenberg and Perez, one fewer than the team managed at its best race in Monaco. Fourth for Hulkenberg equalled his career-best result (with Belgium 2012 and Korea 2013), and he could be excused for feeling a little aggrieved that it wasn’t better, as he was in third place behind Rosberg and Ricciardo and had already pitted when the race was red-flagged after nine laps, effectively relinquishing his pit-stop advantage over the leading duo. Perez was in more fights than his teammate for most of the race, and on a day when plenty of cars lost bodywork, was precise and clean in battle and showed his class. A very, very good day for a team that seemingly always shows well at Spa.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 14th, finished 15th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 12th, did not finish
Magnussen’s massive shunt on lap nine at Raidillon after he blasted through Eau Rouge and lost control was terrifying, not least because the headrest in his car came flying out as he ploughed into the barriers. The Dane suffered a left ankle injury in the incident that saw him taken to hospital, and while his involvement in next Sunday’s Italian GP is far from a certainty, he was fortunate that his injuries weren’t worse given the ferocity of the shunt. Regardless, there’s no way his badly-damaged chassis will be seeing any more track action any time soon. Palmer was a beneficiary of the opening-lap drama and was inside the top 10 when the race was stopped, but struggled with overheating tyres thereafter and could only manage to finish 15th. It was a shame for the Brit after he had a season-best qualifying on Saturday, and arguably looked more convincing than at any other stage during his rookie campaign.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 19th, finished 14th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 15th, did not finish
If you ever wanted evidence that progress in Formula One moves quickly, the struggling Toro Rosso cars – using the 2015 Ferrari engine, remember – were blown away down the straights at Spa, and the full-throttle nature of the circuit had Kvyat out in Q1 on Saturday and Sainz complaining of no power as he qualified 15th. Race day wasn’t a lot better, Sainz suffering a spectacular rear right tyre failure on lap two and retiring, and Kvyat going backwards the longer the race went to finish 14th after running a longer opening stint. Sainz said before the weekend that he expected Belgium to be “painful”, and more of the same is forecast at Monza in seven days’ time at a circuit that rewards straight-line speed – or punishes cars with a lack of it – even more than Spa.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 17th, finished 17th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 20th, did not finish
Sauber’s more stable financial situation saw some much-needed upgrades brought to Spa, including a heavily revised aero package. It didn’t help much in the race though; Ericsson started from the pit lane after an engine change and subsequent 10-place penalty, and lasted all of three laps before returning to the pits and retiring. Nasr picked his way through the first-lap carbon fibre shower well enough to get to 11th, but not so well to avoid a puncture, which saw him make an unscheduled early stop. The Brazilian later picked up a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage, and trailed home 17th and last.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 9th, did not finish
Fernando Alonso: qualified 22nd, finished 7th
A weekend of contrasting fortunes for Button and Alonso, the former of whom was happy on Saturday, the latter ecstatic on Sunday after a remarkable drive from the back into the points. Button was surprised to qualify ninth and said it was his best Saturday of the year so far and “one of the best laps I’ve ever done”, but that joy was short-lived on race day when he was rear-ended by the Manor of Wehrlein on lap one at Turn 6 and was forced to retire. Alonso, like former McLaren teammate Hamilton, took a brain-bursting tally of penalties into the race after multiple power unit changes, but stormed through in the early laps to be fourth by the lap nine red flag. Holding onto that was always going to be a hard on a circuit where sheer grunt is everything, but seventh and six precious points would have been unthinkable for the Spaniard and his team 12 months ago, and the result saw McLaren leapfrog Toro Rosso for sixth in the constructors’ standings.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 16th, did not finish
Esteban Ocon: qualified 18th, finished 16th
Wehrlein came as close as any F1 driver does to apologising for the lap one incident with Button, saying “I tried to avoid the crash but couldn’t make it. If you crash you always think you could have avoided it. There is nothing I can change, but I’m really unhappy about what happened.” The German had been the standout performer at Manor on a weekend where the backmarker team had plenty of eyes on it, with Mercedes protégés Wehrlein and Ocon going head-to-head as the French teenager made his F1 debut to replace Rio Haryanto. Wehrlein did a tremendous job to make Q2, while Ocon was very solid indeed for a teenager in his first F1 race. Their battle will be away from the front of the grid for the rest of the season, but it’ll be intriguing nonetheless.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 11th, finished 13th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 13th, finished 12th
Another race where points were – just – out of reach for the American newbies. Gutierrez was given what he felt was a “very harsh” five-place grid penalty for impeding Wehrlein in third practice, a sanction plenty of other drivers would have applauded after being critical of the Mexican’s on-track behaviour recently. Grosjean was one of many drivers to speak out vehemently about the tyre pressures mandated by Pirelli for the weekend, which he felt were too high and exacerbated further by the unusually warm weather for Spa.

Why Spa is sweet for Daniel Ricciardo

The Red Bull Racing ace walks us through the best bits of the Belgian GP layout.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The best thing about F1’s summer break? Its conclusion – and that the season returns with a race at one of the world’s truly great tracks this weekend. While every Grand Prix is, mathematically at least, worth the same as any other, there’s something about the spectacular Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the Ardennes that makes the Belgian Grand Prix one that every driver worth their salt wants to win.

Daniel Ricciardo knows that feeling; the Red Bull Racing star took the most recent of his three career wins at Spa two years ago, and savours every lap he gets to take of the longest (7.004km) layout on the F1 calendar. “Even thinking about a lap there puts a smile on your face,” he grins, and in 2014, that smile was wider than usual when he was the beneficiary of a controversial clash between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on lap two and careered to a coolly-taken victory.

La Source, Eau Rouge, Pouhon, Stavelot, Blanchimont – they’re some of the most evocative corner names in F1, and turns that have stood the test of time. So let’s hear from Ricciardo himself as he takes us for a fast ride on this rural rollercoaster.

Eau Rouge
“Last year in the race, that wasn’t an easy-full (throttle) corner at all, I was having some serious tank-slappers there early on when the car was heavy with fuel,” he says.

“It’s a place that can seriously bite you. Because it’s blind for a big part of it, if you turn in that little bit too early, then the car can get light at the crest and you get a decent bobble. That’ll get your attention!”

Pouhon
“Every driver loves Pouhon,” Ricciardo enthuses of the big-balls double left-hander down the hill at Turns 10-11.

“On the TV maybe it doesn’t look as good as it feels because of the bitumen run-off. Maybe it doesn’t look as fast. But it’s a massive corner. We arrive – downhill remember – in seventh gear, and it’s a small lift in seventh when we get through there at 250km/h. Pretty serious! You need to hold it tight and then only let the car run out after the apex.”

Blanchimont
“There’s a lot of run-off there now, but it’s still pretty cool,” Ricciardo says of the blisteringly fast left-hander towards the end of the lap at Turn 17.

“It’s easier than Eau Rouge in the dry, but in the wet, that’s the scariest corner on the track. It’s such a quick and short corner that you’ll always have snaps, always have oversteer, in that corner in the wet. And you know that it’ll rain at some stage over the weekend, because it always does there.”

Bus Stop
“You never feel like you get Bus Stop completely right,” Ricciardo says of the final complex of corners that bring the cars back onto the start-finish straight.

“It’s weird – it’s good for the fact that it’s an overtaking opportunity, but it’s a pretty ugly corner, off-camber, over a crest, the car always feels bad through there. It’s just a bit clumsy. But it’s a challenge every lap.”

Miller Time: Watching and waiting

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about playing the long game after missing Brno.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

There was some good news out of being at Brno last weekend and not racing – my body is starting to feel better after the crash in Austria and I should be close to being completely right for Silverstone in two weeks. But you can imagine what I’m like when I’m at a track and can’t race, and it was a shame to miss out, especially with it being a wet race in the end. The old wet races have been pretty good to me this year …

I’m getting better day by day, and it feels good to let the body heal. I can’t think too much about the two races I’ve missed; it’s more important to get ready and get better for Silverstone and take it from there.

I’ve got a hairline fracture in my right wrist which isn’t great, but the back injury is the worst of them because it’s affecting everything, which having three broken vertebras in your back would. Sleep has been pretty hard, and doing anything still for a long time makes me sore. It’s been more comfortable – slightly anyway – sleeping on the couch rather than the bed, so I’ve been doing that.

I got to Brno from Austria and was pretty optimistic that I’d be cleared to ride, and that happened – sort of. One doctor said I could ride, but two others said that it was probably best not to. My team, my management and I then had to come to a decision as to what we did for the weekend. We had a meeting, me, Livio (Suppo) from HRC, my team boss Michael (Bartholemy) and my manager Aki Ajo. I wanted to ride and that was always going to be my decision if it was left completely up to me, but we made a group decision that I shouldn’t do this one because it was too much of a risk. One more accident with being as sore as I am, and that has a much bigger impact on the rest of my season. I didn’t like the call, but I get it. My vote was yes, but it was three against one, so there’s not much you can do there!

In a lot of ways, it was a boring weekend for me as you’re not on the bike for one, but also because you usually get into the rhythm of the weekend and they follow their own path with everything we do at the track. Being at the track, watching it all go on like usual and not being a part of it … it definitely sucked a bit. I went out on the scooter and watched different bikes from different corners, watched what the other riders do, looked at things from other angles – there’s always something you can learn. It’s always frustrating not riding, but you can get something else out of it, and I just have to be practical about it, be calm, and not get too down. I did some TV commentary too – I talked a bit of rubbish with BT Sport in the UK for FP4 and gave them some thoughts on the riders and what not, and then did an interview on the grid before the race with Cal (Crutchlow), which was a bit of fun. I’m taking no credit for his win, but I made a pretty good guess …

Unlike a lot of the other injuries I’ve had, especially with my foot earlier this year, there’s not a lot I can do besides rest and recover before Silverstone in two weeks – it’s not like there’s some extensive rehab plan I have to follow, it’s pretty easy. I’ll need to spend some time in the hyperbaric chamber, and unfortunately I have to wear a corset until Silverstone, if I can put up with it for that long. It’s not much of a fashion statement!

When my back feels a bit better I can up my training again, and I’m pretty confident that will be soon because I feel a lot better than when I first got to Brno in the middle of the week. If it keeps going like that, then I’ll be good for Silverstone for sure, and I’ll probably wish it’ll be next weekend and not the one after. I’ve got to be patient – it’s not something I’m great at, but it’s the right path for now. And then get back into it for Silverstone and hopefully find that momentum after the three top-10s and go from there.

Thanks for all the messages from back home, and catch you next time.

Cheers,
Jack

Miller Time: I’ll be back

Hear from Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller after injury saw him sidelined in Austria.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

Well, that’s the last time I talk about being at 100 per cent fitness going into a race weekend. I got to Austria last week really confident and feeling as good as I have all year with my leg, but in the end a couple of big crashes saw me on the sidelines again. I hate being at race weekends and not being able to race, and that’s twice this year with what happened to me at Austin. But sitting out on Sunday at the Red Bull Ring was the only sensible decision, especially after I’d been fortunate not to hurt myself 24 hours earlier.

Saturday’s crash in qualifying was a pretty big highside – I lost the front going into Turn 4 and then the rear came around, got some grip and then I was pretty much off to the moon after that. One of the bigger ones I’ve had in a while, and I was lucky to be able to get back out there on the second bike and get a qualifying lap in. It wasn’t great because the second bike had tyres on it that had done 17 laps already, but I still managed to get a lap in even if it was for 20th.

Sunday morning’s warm-up was going to be really important to make up for some lost time and get something out of such a low grid spot, but I hadn’t even done a proper flying lap when I had a fast crash coming out of Turn 8 and banged myself up pretty good. At first I thought I was mostly winded and bruised, but I got checked over at the hospital and they said I had a hairline fracture of a vertebrae in my back and my right wrist, and I was declared unfit to race.

I still definitely wanted to race and in the past I maybe would have tried to, but we have Brno next weekend and this part of the championship is really packed – we have four races in five weekends, and I couldn’t afford to risk another injury on top of the ones I had. I hated the call, but it was the right one. Pissed off, yes, but no more injuries this weekend is a small positive. Not being able to add to the three top-10s in a row was frustrating, but I can’t afford to compromise the rest of the season and I have to think of the bigger picture a bit. We’ve still got eight races to go and I want to finish as strong as I can.

Austria hadn’t been on the calendar for almost 20 years, and the people must have missed it judging by how many of them came out on Sunday. The stands looked completely packed and with 95,000 people, it’s no wonder. The place looked amazing in the good weather too after being pretty cold and miserable on Friday, so not being on the grid was even more frustrating.

I’m not going to over-react to this, because the time leading into Austria was really positive. It was the first time I haven’t headed back to Townsville in the summer break which was a bit weird, but there was still plenty to do as well as have a bit of downtime. My dog Bruce was able to come back to Andorra with me from Holland, and he’s going to come to a few races for the rest of the year – we drove from Andorra to Spielberg and he’s coming with me to Brno too. I did plenty of cycling in the break too, and one thing I can’t wait to do soon is to see Cal (Crutchlow) and Lucy, who become parents to their little girl Willow. ‘Uncle Jack’ will be making a visit soon. Really pleased for those guys, and Cal just seems to have a massive smile on his face the whole time.

The other thing that came out over the weekend was that my crew chief Cristian Gabarrini and I won’t be going on next year – he’s been with me for the first two years in MotoGP, but he’s off to join the red team (Ducati) next year to work with Jorge (Lorenzo). It’s a real shame because he and I have worked well together and he’s taught me a lot, and I feel I’ve learned a lot from him in the last 18 months, not just about MotoGP, but the paddock, life in general – he’s a smart guy. He’s got a great way of working with the rider, knowing what they’re experiencing and what they want, and I’ll definitely miss that. We’re working on a replacement now and I hope we can have someone in before the end of the year.

That’s a bit longer-term, but Brno is in seven days’ time and I’ll be there, and I hope to be on the grid this time. I’ll get checked out in the middle of the week and we’ll make a call from there. Catch you then.

Cheers,
Jack

All eyes on Austria

Can Honda and Yamaha repel Ducati’s charge as MotoGP returns to the Red Bull Ring?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

MotoGP heads to its first new track since Argentina in 2014 this weekend, when the world championship roars back into life at the Red Bull Ring in Austria for round 10 of the season. But it’s not quite a ‘new’ track – the world championship visited the Red Bull Ring, then under a different name, as recently as 1997.

Most of the teams and riders have sampled the 4.3-kilometre layout this season, Repsol Honda duo Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa in early July, and the majority of the rest of the grid later last month on what was, for most riders, their initial laps in anger of the circuit at a two-day test.

The MotoGP mid-season report card: who shone, and who bombed?

What did we learn from that first taste of MotoGP machinery in Austria for nearly 20 years? And who hits the ground running as they try to start the second half of the season with a strong result? Here’s what we know.

There’s nowhere quite like it
The Red Bull Ring looks like nothing else on the MotoGP calendar. Sure, there’s other tracks with plenty of elevation – Austin, Mugello, Brno and Sachsenring come to mind – but there’s nowhere that has just nine turns, and nowhere that has (on paper at least) such a relatively simple layout. Does that make it easy? Far from it. “Compared to the other circuits it has a lot less corners,” says Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi. “At the end of the lap you have done only nine or 10, normally there are around 15.”

For Suzuki’s Maverick Vinales, the Red Bull Ring is unlike anything he’s encountered in his world championship career. “It is a very unusual track; it’s a typical ‘on/off track’, with hard accelerations, three long straights and hard braking,” the Spaniard says.

Over to you, Ducati
Those very circuit characteristics point to Ducati finally being able to snap a win drought that has – unfortunately for fans of the red bikes – almost reached historically barren levels. It’s been 99 races since Casey Stoner took Ducati’s last win at Phillip Island in 2010; can a Ducati stop that unwelcome run from reaching triple figures? Andrea Iannone set the fastest time of the two-day test (1min 23.240secs), with factory Ducati teammate Andrea Dovizioso, Stoner (in his role as a test rider for the team) and satellite Ducati rider Hector Barbera rounding out the top four. Fellow satellite riders Scott Redding (ninth) and Yonny Hernandez (10th) made it six Ducatis in the top 10, their sheer grunt advantage down the straights plainly obvious. “These were two days of very positive tests for us,” said a grinning Dovizioso afterwards. “We can exploit our potential to the maximum, and I believe that we can be really competitive in the race.”

Yamaha is in damage control
When you trail series leader Marquez by 48 points (Jorge Lorenzo) and 59 points (Rossi) respectively, Austria is the race you don’t want as the first one back after the mid-year break. While Honda struggled at the test without Marquez and Pedrosa present, Cal Crutchlow its fastest rider and 1.2 seconds off the pace, Yamaha didn’t do a lot better, Rossi 0.929secs off Iannone’s benchmark, and Lorenzo a couple of hundredths slower still. It doesn’t shape as a race where Lorenzo and Rossi can take a significant chunk out of Marquez’s advantage, and the Yamaha riders know it.

“It’s a very particular circuit because it is really, really fast and you spend a lot of time with the throttle fully open,” Rossi says. “For us, personally, it’s not the best circuit because usually we suffer a bit on top speed.”

Lorenzo, who comes into round 10 desperate for a good result after diabolical races at Assen and the Sachsenring, was even more pessimistic. “Some of our rivals are fast, it looks like the track is giving them a big advantage, especially in braking stability, acceleration and top speed,” he says. “They can put in all the power they have at this track, and the difference is huge.”

Miller’s ready for more
Jack Miller’s Assen win came from nowhere, but the Australian backed that up with another fine performance in the final race before the mid-year break at the Sachsenring, where he ran convincingly in the top five before finishing seventh. He’s one of the few riders to have experienced the Red Bull Ring before this year, racing at the circuit in the German 125cc championship in his early days in Europe in 2011, and Marc VDS team principal Michael Bartholemy expects the 21-year-old Australian to be “fired up” for this weekend. Miller is injury-free, confident and ready to go after racking up 151 laps across the two days last month. “This test was really important for us after missing so many tests at the start of the season,” he said afterwards. “It was great just to get a whole heap of dry laps in where I could just go out and ride the bike.” Another top-10 finish is definitely in play.

The hills are alive, and the walls are close
Expect the track – and its surrounds – to get plenty of air time this weekend. The picturesque setting is undoubtedly spectacular – “every direction you look is like a postcard, but the only way it gets this green is with a lot of rain,” joked Stoner at last month’s test – but it’s the scenery closer to the track that caused some consternation amongst the riders. “In terms of safety, I think there are a few spots with very little space and close to the walls,” Aprilia rider Alvaro Bautista said, echoing the thoughts of several of his colleagues. “Before the race it would be good to think about a few solutions, especially given the high speeds.”

The F1 report card

It’s the F1 mid-season break – so let’s assess who has shone (or bombed) in 2016.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

We know, we know. Yes, it’s not technically the F1 half-term report – the halfway point of what will be the longest season in F1 history actually came on lap 26 of the British Grand Prix last month. But with the season in recess, factories shut down for their compulsory break and the drivers ensconced in their various tax havens or swanning around after supermodels (or maybe both), it’s time to press pause and run the rule over the season that has been in 2016.

But first, by way of explanation: we won’t be labelling drivers or teams ‘winners’ or ‘losers’. You can score a lot of points and be the latter, or barely get noticed in the TV coverage and be the former. It’s all about expectations, perception versus reality, and context. So with that in mind, here’s who sits where with school being out until the Belgian Grand Prix in three weeks’ time.

Dux of the class

Nico Rosberg won the first four races of the year (and seven straight dating back to the end of last season), but has coughed up his hefty championship lead rather too quickly and been nowhere when it’s rained this season, so it’s not him. Lewis Hamilton started the season slowly, made some mistakes and had some rotten luck, but has flipped a 43-point championship deficit into a 19-point lead with six wins in the past seven races. But it’s not him either. No, the dux of the 2016 class is the Mercedes W07, the car that threatens to redefine the very meaning of the word ‘dominance’ by the end of 2016. At the halfway stage, Mercedes has won 11 of 12 races, taken 11 poles, recorded 16 of a possible 24 podiums and led 588 of a possible 682 laps (86 per cent) – we’re not counting Barcelona, where the Silver Arrows smashed into one another four corners into the race and had a dreaded double DNF. The scary part for the rest of the field is that as the new-for-2017 rulebook looms ever closer, teams will largely leave their 2016 cars as they are – meaning we could have a repeat of 2013 all over again, when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull won the final nine races of the year before the rule reset of 2014. Can Mercedes win 20 of 21 races this year? To answer one question with another, who or what stops them?

Teacher’s pet

When you win your first Grand Prix at an age where you could still almost be in school (18 years and 228 days), is there any other candidate for this spot? Max Verstappen’s composure when given a chance to win his maiden Grand Prix in Spain in round five – on his first weekend for Red Bull Racing, no less – was almost as impressive as his speed, and he’s barely looked back since. Multiple podiums, a detached calm over the radio in the heat of battle and scant consideration for the reputations of his opponents when in a fight prove that Red Bull was right to promote him – and that he could be doing this for the next 10-12 years at least. For all of his feistiness in wheel-to-wheel battle, you get the sense that someone might lean on Verstappen before too long to prove a point, as Martin Brundle suggested after Hungary and his fight with Kimi Raikkonen. “Max’s defensive technique is too junior-formula for my liking,” the respected TV pundit said. “When he’s defending, he tends to loiter in the middle of the track and then at the last moment move to the side of the track where his opponent attacks, and cut them off. It’s asking for trouble. It’s clear the other drivers are becoming frustrated with it to the point that one of them will have him off to teach him a lesson. It’s what a (Nigel) Mansell or an (Ayrton) Senna used to do whenever they thought a young driver wasn’t showing due respect.” No matter what you think of his style, Verstappen deserves huge credit for what he’s done so far.

On the teams’ side, Force India do too, the Indian-owned British-based squad on track for the best season in its existence, and with fourth-placed Williams in its crosshairs as it routinely does the best it can with what it has. Speaking of making the most out of the least, Raikkonen’s management deserves a special shout-out for convincing Ferrari to re-sign their driver for another year …

Encouragement award

Let’s split this one in multiple directions. Sergio Perez has led Force India’s rise beautifully, combining his customary tyre-saving genius with bursts of stunning speed, and scoring podiums at Monaco and in Azerbaijan. Carlos Sainz didn’t hang his head after Verstappen was promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull, and has enjoyed a steady stream of points-scoring finishes in a car propelled by last year’s Ferrari engine that is clearly down on grunt. McLaren racing director Eric Boullier’s claim that his team has the third-best chassis in F1 would have been ridiculed a year ago, but the Honda-powered MP4-31 is a dramatic improvement on its predecessor, even if scrapping for points seems wrong for a team with McLaren’s pedigree. Sauber gets a gold star for simply staying on the grid and shoring up its previously tenuous financial future after doing a deal with Swiss investments company Longbow Finance before Hungary. And Pascal Wehrlein’s point for Manor for 10th in Austria was proof that the hype about the 21-year-old is very real, and that bigger things surely loom on the horizon for the talented German.

Could do better

Williams’ 1980 Formula One world champion Alan Jones never pulls any punches at his most diplomatic, and didn’t take long to respond when asked before the season what his old squad needed to improve on its third-place constructors’ finishes the past two seasons. “I think it’s called a budget,” Jones said, and as the season has gone on, the Grove-based outfit has found itself under increasing pressure to retain fourth overall from Force India, with third-placed Ferrari a whopping 146 points in the distance at the mid-point of the season. Valtteri Bottas has finished all 12 races but been a bit-part player in most of them besides Canada when he finished third, while Felipe Massa is on track for his worst season in seven years, and seems unlikely to be retained in 2017. With most eyes now focused on the new rulebook, Williams’ predicament doesn’t look likely to improve unless it can make a splash at circuits like Monza and Mexico, where its prodigious straight-line speed can be unleashed.

Needs a strong second semester

It’s amazing what one win by a teammate – who was, as it turned out, placed on a clearly advantageous strategy in Spain – can do for perception. But the reality for Daniel Ricciardo paints a different picture. He sits third in the championship, has a form line that reads as a good omen (his last four race results: fifth, fourth, third, second), has dominated his teammates in qualifying like no other driver (11-1 in 12 races), and took pole position at Monaco with what might go down as the best single lap of 2016. But with Verstappen the undisputed new darling of the sport, Ricciardo needs to continue to assert himself against his teenage teammate and take the momentum from his podiums in Hungary and Germany into the final nine races. Anything less, and those with short memories will continue to raise their voices. He seems like he’s more than up for the fight, and third in the championship is a must in the race for best of the rest behind the Mercedes duo.

Elsewhere, Massa’s afore-mentioned woes might mean it’s a case of Renault or bust next year, while Esteban Gutierrez’s return to F1 has been underwhelming, Haas teammate Romain Grosjean scoring all 28 of the new team’s points in the opening 12 Grands Prix.

Extra detention

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Ferrari, which came into 2016 confident it could take the fight to Mercedes, and has instead found itself lagging further and further behind. Things looked good when Vettel led for a lot of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix before an overly-conservative strategy call allowed Mercedes to swoop, and while he made the year’s best start in Canada, Ferrari couldn’t hang with Hamilton in Montreal when it mattered most. Technical chief James Allison is gone, chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne’s voice is growing ever-louder, and Vettel’s frustration was evident in his decision to so publicly question Ferrari’s strategy call at Hockenheim, choosing instead to run the race his own way. After three wins for Vettel last year, 2016 has been a massive let-down.

On the drivers’ side – and we hate to kick a man while he’s down – Daniil Kvyat’s freefall after being sent back to Toro Rosso after his error-strewn display in Russia has been painful to watch. That he was on the podium in round three in China seems inconceivable, and his reaction after his Q1 exit in Germany was quite harrowing to watch. Pierre Gasly’s name has been mentioned with increasing volume as Sainz’s teammate next season, and Kvyat’s F1 future may come down to what he’s able to produce in the upcoming quartet of races from Spa to Sepang.