Month: September 2016

Miller Time: Thinking of home

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes from Aragon about setting his sights on a race closer to his heart.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

Yes, another weekend where I didn’t ride, but at least we knew that going in, so I didn’t get my hopes up and then get disappointed this time. I went to Aragon anyway because there’s always something you can learn, and it’s good to be around the team. Nicky Hayden was on my bike for the weekend and Nicky’s a good guy, and it was still important to be in all the debriefs and help where I could. I got out and watched from some different corners, helped out with some TV commentary, and managed to get a little bit healthier each day, which isn’t something I’ve said too many times at race tracks this year.

Really, it’s all about Australia and Phillip Island now. Not riding between Misano and Japan in a few weeks means I’ll have almost a month off the bike, and by the time I get back on at Motegi, the hand should be right and I should be ready to go. Motegi is going to be a test of course because of the big braking zones there, it’s a really stop-start track. But if I can get through that OK, then it’s the Island the week after, and that’s the one I really want to do.

It’s been a frustrating second half of the season, but the support I’ve had from home has been huge this year, and I want to repay some of that by being out there in my home GP. Someone told me that the ticket sales are quite a bit up on last year which probably has to do with a few things – last year’s race was one of the best MotoGP has ever had with Marc (Marquez), Valentino (Rossi), Jorge (Lorenzo) and (Andrea) Iannone all fighting up the front, and this year has been pretty amazing with all the different winners we’ve had. If me winning at Assen has helped that along as well, then that’s great. The fans always get behind the Aussies there no matter how they’re doing, so I can’t imagine what it’ll be like this time. They were cheering me in Moto3 in 2012 when I stuffed up the start and finished nowhere nearly as much as they did last year when I had my first MotoGP ride there. The Island and our bike should go well together, so I’m optimistic we can do a good performance there.

Hear from Jack on the Australian GP podcast

In the past I would have definitely tried to ride the last few races being injured, it’s something you just do and you especially do when you’re younger and trying to be noticed. We’re motorcycle racers and nobody is 100 per cent healthy, we’ve all got something we’re having to deal with. I took the smart option (I know, I must be maturing or something) and figured that if I’m not fighting for the championship (which I’m clearly not), then what am I doing out there? If I’m way less than fit, I don’t help the team, don’t help me, and I don’t want to be a danger to the other riders.

I would have been worried in the past that being off the bike might have seen me hang my head a bit or maybe get a bit too frustrated, but I reckon the extra fitness I’ve managed to get this year has helped me a lot. I’ve been completely bitten by the cycling bug and can’t get enough of it. I now understand why having a good bike makes such a difference – you get what you pay for and all of that. I’m nowhere near as good as I want to be on the bike but I enjoy the challenge, the fitness side of it and riding with mates who can push you along if you’re knackered or you can get competitive with. Sometimes you’re suffering when you’re out there and it hurts, but afterwards, it’s really mentally satisfying. And then you can eat! Getting fitter is addictive and you want more and more. You feel like you have more energy all the time (not that I struggled with that!) and it’s a massive benefit, I’m learning that all the time. I’ve made a big leap on that front this year. I’m blaming Cal (Crutchlow) for that. He’s got me hooked, for sure.

There’s not a lot planned for the next few weeks, the to-do list is pretty short. Keep the fitness up, stay healthy, don’t break stuff. Lay low and get ready for the three flyaways at some circuits I really like – Malaysia is the week after Australia and I did some of my first MotoGP laps there a couple of years back, so it’ll be good to be back there. But the Island is the focus and that’s what I’m hanging out for, being back home. I’ll see a fair few of you down there, by the sounds …

Cheers,
Jack

The Dan Diaries: Timing is everything

In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo talks Singapore and pays tribute to two old mates.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

How long is too long when it comes to staying in a top-line sport? Do you go out on top and then wonder one day if you should have kept going? Or do you keep going for as long as you can, maybe risking your reputation if your performances drop? And how do you know how to make the right call?

It’s something I’ve seen in so many sports that I’m a fan of, and I’ve often wondered what I’d do in that situation. I’m not sure yet, so hopefully I can be in Formula One a while before I have to make a decision! But it’s definitely something I’ve thought about lately since we found out that two of my better friends among the drivers, Felipe Massa and Jenson Button, won’t be on the grid next season. They’ve both had a great run and it feels like the right time, they’ve not cut their careers short by announcing that they’re stepping away. They’ve done it well to call it when they have, and I reckon their timing is just about perfect.

When I first got into F1 – and this sounds ridiculous now – I was like “right, I’ll do this for a few years, get the job done and then I’ll get out and enjoy the rest of my life!” Easy, right? From the outside, getting out when you’re at the very top always seems like the cool option. People will always remember you as a champion. Look at someone like Alain Prost – won the 1993 world championship, and he was done. He could have kept going for sure, but we always remember him as that champion.

You always see the boxers, the footballers, people in other sports who hang around for one too many fights, one too many seasons, but for race car drivers I think it’s more straightforward. The day you feel you’re not willing to take the risks that the guy next to you on the grid is prepared to take, that’s the time to call it. If the young kids are doing some bold overtakes or holding it flat through Eau Rouge in the wet and you’re not, that’s the signal that it’s time. Like I said, I’m banking on that being a fair way off …

Anyway, I’ve got off topic, because I wanted to talk this week about Felipe and Jenson. From a personal point of view it’s a shame to see those two guys go, and it shows we’re going through a bit of a generation change at the moment. Back in ’06 when Michael Schumacher retired for the first time, there were a whole bunch of guys who came in over the next couple of years who stuck around for a while or are still going strong – guys like Lewis (Hamilton), Seb (Vettel), Nico Rosberg, Robert Kubica, (Heikki) Kovalainen. With JB and Felipe leaving, it feels a bit like that now. There won’t be too many guys who have been in F1 as long as me next year, which seems weird. There’ll definitely be more new faces than old faces on the grid.

Away from the track is where you really get to know someone, get to know the person rather than just the driver or the guy you’re racing against. Felipe and I live close to one another in Monaco, and that’s where we’ve got to know each other as people. We share a pretty similar upbringing and we place the same importance on family, which is something that’s helped our friendship. Just hearing him talking about why he enjoys going home to Brazil, why family matters so much to him and things like this, we have a lot of similarities. I think family has helped him to stay pretty grounded after all these years, and I definitely relate to that.

That 2008 title-decider in Brazil when he just lost the championship was something I’ll never forget watching. I mean, how could you? How he handled that moment … it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up thinking about that race even now. It was the most epic finish to a season ever, no matter who you supported. I was living in Italy at the time doing Formula Renault 2.0, and I was watching in my apartment with a Brazilian driver, so it was pretty intense! The way Felipe handled that, up on that podium touching his heart and how emotional he was, was just fantastic – he earned a lot of respect for that and he was a bigger man than most of us would have been in that situation. That was a tough moment and he handled it unbelievably well. It’s something pretty good to be remembered for.

For whatever reason, I’ve noticed that I do tend to get on with the older drivers, Jenson and Felipe and those guys. A big part of it is that by the time I became a bit more successful, say 2014 in the first year at Red Bull, they weren’t fighting for titles and were in that second phase of their careers, and we weren’t fighting for the same thing in some ways. That takes some of any tension that might be around out of the equation, and maybe if were at the same age and stages of our careers and going toe-to-toe for a world title, things would have been different. The travel to and from the races won’t be as much fun without those guys next year. Yep, I’m getting emotional … But massive respect to both of them, and we have six more races to enjoy with them before they step away.

I’m back home in Perth this week for the first time since the start of the year – it made way more sense to spend the week between Singapore and Malaysia in Oz than head back to Europe. Singapore last Sunday was one of the highlights of the year like it always is, and it could have only been better if I had another lap at the end to catch Nico. But I had no regrets afterwards.

That last stint on Sunday was a lot of fun. I think because Singapore is so physical anyway, being forced to push like I was at the end as opposed to being conservative and holding on to your tyres gave me some juice while it was happening. Knowing you’re catching someone like I was catching Nico in those laps when you’re two, three seconds a lap faster definitely gives you a jolt of energy! The adrenaline in those last laps was pretty big, and it was only after when I cooled down that I realised I was probably more shagged after a Singapore race than usual.

We were probably all expecting to go to the end on soft tyres, but then the call came that if Kimi (Raikkonen) pitted, we’d pit as well. At first I wasn’t sure why we were racing Kimi, I wanted to race Rosberg. But it was a free pit stop in a way, and we didn’t have much to lose so we could go for it. The last 15 laps with those tyres were like qualifying laps one after another, head down, radio chat low, full attack. With about five laps to go I came up behind Felipe and Esteban (Gutierrez) to lap them, and the tyres were starting to take a hit by that stage. I didn’t make much progress on that lap and I tried not to get frustrated, saying to myself that if I’d lost some time behind them, Nico probably had too. I was in a zone at that stage so I didn’t get distracted by it too much. In the end, we ran out of laps, but it was definitely a lot of fun even if we didn’t get right to the front.

Second in qualifying, second in the race … that’s four podiums in the last five races now and three of them second places, so hopefully we can get one step higher before the season ends.

Miller’s eyes on the Island

Australian MotoGP race-winner Jack Miller says sitting out this weekend’s Aragon Grand Prix gives him the best possible chance to be fit for his home race at Phillip Island next month.

The 21-year-old from Townsville stunned the MotoGP paddock with his maiden premier-class win in atrocious conditions at Assen in the Netherlands in June this year, but has missed three of the past four races after suffering back, wrist and hand injuries after a heavy crash at the Austrian Grand Prix in August.

Miller will sit out this weekend in Aragon to ensure he’s fully fit to tackle the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi on October 16, which comes the week before the Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island on October 23.

Speaking to the ‘Keeping Track’ podcast, the Honda rider said being able to compete in his home race was a priority with just five Grands Prix remaining this season.

“The hand is the main issue at the moment, but I’ve still got three broken vertebraes in my back as well,” Miller said.

“Not riding 100 per cent fit with all of the injuries I’ve got at the moment seems like an unnecessary risk. We’re not fighting for the championship – we’re always fighting to be at the front, but if you’re not 100 per cent fit it adds another element of danger into an already dangerous sport.

“We decided to sit out (at Aragon) to try to be as ready as possible by the time I get to Phillip Island for my home race. It’s one of my favourite tracks and somewhere I believe we can be really good at.”

Listen to the podcast in the player below. 

Miller became the first rider for an independent team to win a Grand Prix in 10 years when he took victory at Assen, and said the breakthrough result in just his second MotoGP season has cemented his standing in the sport.

“I think the whole year this year, the perception has changed a lot,” he said.

“I think people understand that my work ethic is the same as the other guys, that we are working as hard as any other guy and we do deserve to be there in the class of MotoGP, it’s not because I’m lucky.”

In an extensive interview with ‘Keeping Track’, Miller talked about his ‘shoey’ celebration that has since been emulated by the likes of Daniel Ricciardo and Valentino Rossi, the influence rival rider Cal Crutchlow has had on his career, and his hopes ahead of the Phillip Island round next month.

Front to back: the Singapore Grand Prix

Reviewing every F1 team and driver after Sunday’s steamy race on the Singapore city streets.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 3rd, finished 3rd
Nico Rosberg: qualified 1st, finished 1st
The look on Rosberg’s face was part elation, part exhaustion and part relief when he arrived back in parc ferme after his third win in succession and first on the Singapore city streets, his eighth victory of the season seeing him re-take the championship lead. All three emotions were justified, the latter being the most dominant after Ricciardo’s late charge fell just 0.4 seconds short after two hours of racing, Rosberg battling brake issues and soft tyres that were well past their best to the chequered flag. The German was flawless on Sunday after being mesmerising on Saturday, rating his pole lap as “one of my three top laps ever”, while Mercedes admitted his performance had exceeded their expectations. Rosberg’s win in his 200th career start made it seven victors from pole in nine races in Singapore, while every other winner of this race has been a world champion – perhaps a good omen as he takes an eight-point lead into the next race in Malaysia. Hamilton had one of those occasional Hamilton weekends when the planets never really align, and the 0.7sec gap to his teammate in qualifying was indicative of a Grand Prix when he was never quite on it as he can be at his best. A 99th career podium was something, but losing the series lead – and all of the momentum built up before the mid-season break when he won six out of seven races – would be a concern with six Grands Prix left this season.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 22nd, finished 5th
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 5th, finished 4th
Did Ferrari gift Hamilton a podium? It certainly seemed that way after Mercedes elected to pit their driver with 15 laps to go, meaning he would have had to make up 30 seconds to Raikkonen while battling brake issues that had plagued both Mercedes drivers for much of the race. It was an all or nothing call by Mercedes, but Ferrari dithered on the pit wall, Raikkonen had to ask if he was pitting or not, and when he did a lap later, Hamilton was through and the Finn was condemned to fourth. Vettel made a miraculous recovery to finish behind his teammate after a broken suspension saw him qualify last on Saturday; armed with a new engine and on the more durable soft tyres, the German needed an early-race safety car to unlock his strategy from the back, which he got on lap one when Hulkenberg’s Force India speared into the barriers. Vettel has always been superb on the Singapore city streets, and Sunday was no exception; while snapping a six-year run of finishing either first or second in Singapore, fifth was akin to a podium given how far back he started. That was the good news – the bad was that Ferrari has now gone a full season without a win since their most recent one in Singapore last September, and continue to find new ways to shoot themselves in the foot.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 12th, finished 12th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 11th, did not finish
A nightmare weekend for Williams, who failed to score points with either car for just the second time this season, and again fell behind Force India in the constructors’ race. Bottas had a left rear puncture in the first-lap melee that necessitated an early stop, and then had to pit later in the race as his seatbelts had come loose, the lengthy stop boiling his engine and forcing a retirement soon after. The Finn had seen the chequered flag in the past 17 races before his early bath on Sunday. Teammate Massa started 12th and finished in the same spot after 61 laps at a circuit where Williams struggled for car balance all weekend, and on a layout that is the very antithesis of Monza, where Bottas in particular shone a fortnight earlier.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 2nd, finished 2nd
Max Verstappen: qualified 4th, finished 6th
Ricciardo said ahead of the weekend that Singapore “is our chance” of a second win for the season, and he was very nearly right, finishing in Rosberg’s wheeltracks after an electrifying final stint on supersoft tyres over the final 15 laps. The Australian hacked a 24-second Rosberg lead to just five in seven laps after he pitted on lap 48, but some badly-timed traffic saw his progress stymied with five laps to go, and he ran out of laps to complete a Singapore sequence that saw him finish third in 2014 and second last year. Sunday’s podium was his fourth in the past five races, and the result gave the army of fans who made the short trip up from Ricciardo’s home town of Perth plenty to get excited about. “We will get a win this year, it’ll come,” was his optimistic outlook afterwards. Verstappen made a slow getaway from P4 and was arguably the reason for the chaos behind him that saw Sainz and Hulkenberg touch and the German into the wall within seconds of the start, the Force India spinning across Verstappen’s nose and miraculously missing him on its way to the fence. The Dutchman overtook plenty of cars in a feisty recovery drive, but getting bottled up behind Kvyat’s Toro Rosso in the second stint was costly, and he finished 71 seconds behind Rosberg on a weekend where a podium was a realistic target.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 8th, did not finish
Sergio Perez: qualified 10th, finished 8th
Hulkenberg’s race lasted about as long as it takes to say his name after being nerfed by Sainz after the start and smashing into the inside wall, but Perez’s eighth place after an eight-place grid penalty at a circuit where overtaking is difficult at the best of times helped Force India back to fourth in the constructors’ race. The Mexican was furious on Saturday after he was penalised twice for yellow flag offences in qualifying, and points looked a long way off when he was demoted to 17th on the grid. The early-race safety car prompted Force India to try a two-stop strategy for a driver who is kinder on his tyres than most, and while Perez’s pace dropped away and he had to cede positions to Verstappen and Alonso late, he had enough in reserve to repel Kvyat to take four precious points.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 19th, finished 15th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 17th, finished 10th
Magnussen picked a good time to score points for the second time this season with an opportunistic drive to 10th, the Dane making the most of the early-race confusion to slot himself into the points, and staying on the lead lap the rest of the way. It was a welcome result given his 2017 contract situation remains unresolved, and with Ocon firming as one of Renault’s two drivers for next season. By contrast, Palmer was about as anonymous as you can be driving the brightest car in the field around the Singapore city streets under floodlights, and is running out of races to secure his first point, and out of time to keep his seat next year.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 7th, finished 9th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 6th, finished 14th
“I loved racing today,” grinned Kvyat after finishing ninth on Sunday, and well he might – two points for ninth was his best result since being demoted back to Toro Rosso in round five in Spain, and keeping Verstappen in his mirrors in the second stint of the race had to be as sweet for the Russian as it was awkward for some in the Red Bull garage. Singapore was Toro Rosso’s 200th Grand Prix, and its most convincing for some time, its lack of grunt from its undeveloped 2015 Ferrari powerplant less of a handicap on a circuit with few straights of note. Sainz was a brilliant sixth in qualifying on Saturday after what he called “one of the best qualifying sessions of my career”, but everything unravelled on Sunday when he clashed with Hulkenberg off the start and was forced into an early pit stop with a barge board flapping around as a result of the contact.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 18th, finished 13th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 16th, finished 17th
Nasr enjoyed his best result since Austria in round nine with a 13th-place finish, a timely return for the Brazilian whose future remains unclear; he’s being discussed as a candidate to take compatriot Massa’s seat at Williams in a possible return to the team where he was a test driver before heading to Sauber. Ericsson was the primary beneficiary of Vettel’s suspension failure in qualifying as he made it to Q2 for the first time since round three in China, but was the second-last finisher 24 hours later in his 50th Grand Prix, which he celebrated (as you do) with a watermelon adorned with Swedish flag-coloured balloons on race day.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 13th, did not finish
Fernando Alonso: qualified 9th, finished 7th
Alonso’s penchant for brilliant starts no matter where he’s qualified or what he’s driving came to the fore on Sunday, the McLaren man storming into fifth at Turn 1 through the midfield carnage. It was a getaway that set up his race; while the two-time Singapore winner was never going to be able to go with Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari over 61 laps, Alonso finished best of the rest in seventh, scoring six points for the third time in the past five races, and moving to within five points of old teammate Massa for 10th in the standings. Button had his third straight DNF in Singapore on a weekend that started badly with a fuel system issue in FP1 and never really improved. The Briton hit the wall in qualifying, lost part of his front wing on lap one of the race, and eventually retired on lap 45 with front right brake damage.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 20th, finished 16th
Esteban Ocon: qualified 21st, finished 18th
It was a baptism of fire (well, of heat and humidity) for both of Manor’s rookie drivers, neither of whom had driven in Singapore before the weekend. The sinuous layout took away Manor’s prodigious straight-line speed that was so evident last time out at Monza, and Ocon’s comment on Friday – “you never rest, you’re always turning” – summed up the team’s woes. The Frenchman copped a five-second penalty for overtaking under the early-race safety car and finished last in 18th, while Wehrlein hit the wall at Turn 11 in final practice and struggled to 16th in the race.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 15th, did not start
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 14th, finished 11th
Singapore was a nightmare for Grosjean; after an engine air leak saw him miss FP1, he spun into the wall in FP2, crashed in qualifying, took a five-place grid penalty for a new gearbox, and then had a brake-by-wire failure before the race even started on Sunday. It was left to teammate Gutierrez to get a read on the progress made by the team’s last big upgrade for the season, which featured a revised front wing, floor and brake ducts. The new kit produced, unfortunately for the Mexican, the same old result – Gutierrez was 11th on Sunday and just out of the points for, painfully, the fifth time this season.

Top gun

THIS STORY APPEARED IN THE OCTOBER 2016 ISSUE OF INSIDE SPORT MAGAZINE

Let’s get this out of the way early, shall we? Yes, Maverick Vinales has one of the best names in world sport. Yes, he’s named after Tom Cruise’s character in ‘Top Gun’, despite the 1986 movie hitting our screens nine years before his birth. And given his choice of professional sporting endeavour, Vinales clearly feels the need for speed. We done? Good.

What’s also good – better than good – is this young Spaniard’s CV after just two seasons in the world’s premier two-wheel motorsport category, MotoGP – and what’s even better than that is what likely lies ahead. The man from Figueres outside of Barcelona is the second-youngest rider in MotoGP (Aussie Jack Miller is six days his junior), and has made most posts a winner in his five years on the world championship scene to date. But it’s next year – and his move to Yamaha to partner none other than Valentino Rossi – that marks Vinales as a name Australian mainstream sporting audiences will become increasingly familiar with.

vinales_is_spread

It’s not the name that stays with you after an audience with Vinales. He greets you with a strong handshake and a brief raising of his prominent eyebrows, a crooked grin momentarily visible before his face tightens in characteristic pose. His English, improving all the time, comes at a rush, occasionally punctuated by pauses as he searches for the right word in his non-native tongue. On the scale of Spanish two-wheel personalities, he’s more Jorge Lorenzo – serious, brooding, impatient – than the high-wattage smile of Marc Marquez. Vinales in a word? Intense.

When it’s put to Vinales that his career started towards the top and has stayed there ever since, he’s not buying it. On reflection, perhaps he should.

In his first year in the world championship, in the entry-level 125cc category in 2011, the acne-riddled 16-year-old took all of four races before winning for the first time at Le Mans for a team backed by, bizarrely, Paris Hilton. Two more wins that year saw him finish third in the world championship, and he won five Grands Prix a year later to again finish third overall. Ironing out the inconsistencies that had plagued him in 2012, Vinales then took the Moto3 title the following year in a thrilling three-way shootout with compatriots Alex Rins and Luis Salom in Valencia, a championship won against the backdrop of 104,000 rabid fans, all of whom had seemingly brought firecrackers to the circuit to celebrate a local champion.

A move to the world championship’s intermediate class beckoned, and Vinales was snapped up by the Paginas Amarillas Moto2 outfit run by former Spanish rider Sito Pons in 2014. The 600cc 148kg bikes were unlike anything he’d ever ridden, and with control Dunlop tyres and the same Honda engine powering the entire field, it was expected Vinales would take time to get up to speed. Forget that: by round two in Austin, he’d taken his first Moto2 win, and after winning three of the final five races of the year to finish third overall, he was off to MotoGP as Suzuki’s figurehead as the Japanese manufacturer returned to the series after a four-year hiatus.

Two years on from beating the world’s best teenagers, Vinales was suddenly brawling against the likes of Rossi, Lorenzo, Marquez and the rest on 1000cc 350km/h monsters only months after his 20th birthday. His 2015 had fleeting high points – a front-row start at his home race in Catalunya turned heads – but on a bike that struggled for straight-line speed relative to the competition and was lacking for rear grip, 12th overall was all he could manage. It was a position that was explainable, but not one that he enjoyed.

“For me, when I look at this and see 12th position, I get a bit crazy because in my first four years in the world championship, I finished in the top three,” he says, his face breaking into a brief grin.

“But last year, I knew what would happen in my first year of MotoGP because the bike was not ready, and there was a lot of work to do for the team in the first year and for me as a rookie. When I see 12th I get a little bit angry, sure, but I know there was a lot to do from behind the scenes.”

While Suzuki struggled to find its feet, Vinales began to outperform the machinery at his disposal more regularly the longer the season went. And it was his performance here in Australia that truly marked him as a man to watch. In a Grand Prix described as one of the best in world championship history, Marquez emerged triumphant from a furious four-way fight with Lorenzo, Rossi and Ducati’s Andrea Iannone to record a famous win, the quick quartet separated by 1.058 seconds in a manic race that featured 52 changes of position among the top four and 13 lead changes. On a bike that had no business being in the same postcode, Vinales finished sixth, just six seconds behind Marquez.

“It’s always one of the most beautiful tracks to come to – it works well with my riding style and I always seem to be strong,” he says of Phillip Island, where he was the fastest rider in pre-season testing in February this year.

“When I come, it’s like an extra motivation because I like the track, and as much as that I understand how to go fast at this track, so I always feel very confident. Last year in Australia was by far the strongest race I had as a rookie, and to finish so close to the front in a race that was so fast made it my best performance.

“With Moto2 I win in 2014, and I nearly win in Moto3 in 2013. Most times this track has been really good for me and the riding style that I have.”

It’s a style that’s Vinales’ own, but one that angles more towards Marquez’s acrobatics than Lorenzo’s metronomic precision. Standing trackside, nobody matches Marquez for lean angle and body positions that seemingly defy the laws of gravity, but Vinales takes similar lines, albeit with a bit of a built-in safety net that’s perhaps a result of riding a Suzuki than a full-factory championship-winning Honda.

If there was a criticism of Vinales in his maiden MotoGP campaign, it’s that he often went backwards on the first lap of races; part of that was his producing one blinding lap in qualifying that wasn’t repeatable on a Suzuki lap after lap in a 45-minute race, but he often made tardy getaways from high grid spots, getting beaten up in the opening turns by his more experienced rivals. At 21, he knows there’s still much to learn.

“You see MotoGP from the outside when you’re riding in Moto2, Moto3, but when I get there, the thing that surprised me the most was the level of the riders, the level of the performance,” he admits.

“The level last year was higher than it has ever been in MotoGP. The standard is so high now.”

Vinales set his own standards earlier this season when he finished on the podium for the first time in the premier class when he was third at Le Mans. His consistency – he finished seven of the first 10 races inside the top six – was notable in a championship where Yamaha and Honda set a searing pace, and Ducati finally won for the first time since the Casey Stoner era when Iannone saluted in Austria in round 10. On the fourth-best bike on the grid, Vinales cemented himself inside the top five in the championship by the mid-point of the season, and took his maiden Grand Prix win at Silverstone in September. But it’s next season where we’ll get a better picture of where he truly stands.

At the Italian Grand Prix in May, Vinales announced he’d be jumping ship to Yamaha to replace Lorenzo for the next two seasons, with the reigning world champion heading to Ducati. Like so many other riders on the grid, Vinales has looked up to Rossi – ‘The Doctor’ was winning 125cc races when Vinales was barely a year old – and a common sight this season in qualifying has been the future teammates taking turns to provide a slipstream for one another. The relationship between the two riders – separated in age by 16 years – is good, but will that evaporate as soon as they’re both dressed in Yamaha blue?

“Valentino is my childhood hero,” Vinales told motorsport.com in July.

“What’s good about Valentino being there is that I will learn a lot. He’s now 37 and he’s still winning, there is something in his way of working which is giving him success.

“But in the end, when you join a team, you have your own crew, you work and you try to win. That your teammate is a legend doesn’t change anything.”

That’s to be determined – it’s hard to forget Marquez admitting he still had posters of Rossi on his bedroom wall in Cervera in his rookie season before they came to blows just two years later – but what’s not up for debate is that Vinales belongs in the top echelon of riders in the top class of two-wheel road racing. Chances are you’ll always remember the name – how could you not? But by the time MotoGP returns to Phillip Island for the Australian Grand Prix this time next year, expect Vinales to be a thorn in Rossi’s side, a multiple race-winner and, should Yamaha build a bike that can combat Marquez’s ragged-edge genius on a Honda, a chance to be MotoGP’s top gun.

Daniel Ricciardo’s Singapore secrets

How to nail a red-hot lap of scorching Singapore with the Red Bull Racing star.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

We know how tough the Singapore Grand Prix is physically – Daniel Ricciardo told us just last week – but how do you put all of that aside to extract the optimum lap around one of the most difficult circuits on the Formula One calendar? Fortunately, we’re asking the right man.

Surviving Singapore: Dan’s grand plan

Ricciardo has thrived in Singapore ever since he graduated from Scuderia Toro Rosso to Red Bull Racing, coming third on his first visit to the island city-state with the senior Bull squad in 2014, and going one better last year, finishing second to old teammate Sebastian Vettel on a weekend where the usual front-running Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were nowhere. What’s more, Ricciardo set the fastest-ever race lap of the 5.065-kilometre Marina Bay Circuit on lap 52 of 61 last year, a 1min 50.041secs scorcher that was one of the reasons he was just 1.4 seconds off a race win this time 12 months ago.

“It’s a busy lap there, there’s not many straights, so it’s tough on the neck and tough on your left leg because you’re always braking,” Ricciardo says of the sinuous 23-turn layout, which runs past many of Singapore’s most famous buildings, traverses the century-old Anderson Bridge, and uniquely runs beneath one of the grandstands towards the end of the lap.

Why old school still rules: Daniel Ricciardo’s exclusive driver diary

Third two years ago, second last year … it’s a promising trend for Ricciardo ahead of this weekend’s race in Singapore, round 15 of the marathon 21-race Formula One season. Before number 3 gets set to tackle the city streets, here’s his three Singapore sections to keep an eye on.

Bridging the gap
“Getting onto the Anderson Bridge and the tight left afterwards, Turns 12 to 13, is tricky,” Ricciardo says.

“Braking at that hairpin left before the back straight is a place where you can definitely lose a lot of time, and you can ruin your whole qualifying lap if you get it wrong there.”

Get it stopped, keep it straight
“The other section that’s hard is after the right-hander at the end of the back straight at Turn 14,” he says.

“The circuit flows on through 15 and then Turn 16 – you’re braking and turning left through 15 and then dipping right into 16, so you can’t afford to lock up there.”

Watch the wall
“The other corner that’s a bit frustrating in a way is when you go under the grandstand at Turn 18 – and that’s not just because I crashed in the race there in 2013,” Ricciardo laughs.

“Technically, that section – Turns 18 through to 21 – is tricky, but it’s also a point of the lap in qualifying where the tyres are starting to overheat, so they’re giving you a hard time.

“Under the grandstand between 18 and 19, you always think you could have gone quicker, and you never feel like you’ve gone quick enough there the whole weekend. But it’s one of those corners that you’re better off surviving than trying to gain too much in.”

Miller Time: Missing in Misano

Shoeys, being sensible and sitting out – Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about the San Marino GP.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

I tell you, this is starting to get a little bit old. You turn up at a race track, can’t wait for the weekend, feel really positive, and then you end up missing the race. That’s three out of the last four that I’ve had to miss after sitting out on Sunday at Misano, and I’m going to do something about it this week.

More Miller Time: Hanging in there

Silverstone was hard after I’d discovered that I had the small fracture in my right hand from the Austrian crash on the British GP weekend – it hadn’t been a problem until I got on the bike at Silverstone and tried to get the bike stopped in those heavy braking zones on that track. I got through that race, and it was as much fading tyres as the hand injury that saw me fall to 16th at the end.

I was optimistic Misano would be better with seven days to get my body right, and it was at first, FP1 on Friday went really well. I was about seven-tenths off top spot and 13th and felt pretty good, but then the track temps went up about 18 degrees between that and FP2 and I went backwards. I was nine-tenths slower and I felt like I couldn’t have pushing harder, I was giving it everything and I was 20th, which was massively disappointing. With the hotter track, my confidence in the front-end of the bike was pretty low, and my hand was really sore.

We made some pretty major setting changes for Saturday after going through all the data the night before, and I was busting my arse to get a better lap time, but 17th on the grid in qualifying was as good as I could do. All my better laps were within three-tenths of each other, which shows that I was probably getting the best out of what I had and with how I felt. I gave it all I had. The hand just kept getting worse, and by Sunday morning, the thought of doing 28 laps in the race around a place as tight and twisty in Misano made pulling out the only sensible decision.

The team were completely supportive, HRC too, and it’s the only way to properly feel better and not just soldier on race by race so far from my best. They just want a fully-recovered rider, and that’s all I want too. I can’t wait to get back into the fight properly with these guys because the season just gets better every weekend. Dani (Pedrosa) was incredible on Sunday, and that’s eight different winners in the last eight races if you can believe that. The popular local bloke at Misano was pretty happy with second too. This shoey thing seems to be catching on!

Anyway, this week. We have a weekend off between Misano and Aragon and I’ll be using some of that to go to Barcelona to get an MRI scan with Dr Xavier Mir – you would have heard his name before as he’s the top doctor all of us riders go to when we hurt ourselves, which for me has been way too often lately. I’ve got to get to the bottom of this and get right again. There’s only five more races left this year, which is crazy when you think about it. I need to be in all of them and in a position to race and race like I want to.

That’ll be this week, but last week wasn’t all bad as I spent some time in Italy with Cal Crutchlow and his wife Lucy at their place there before we headed to Misano. We flew straight from Silverstone to Italy with Maverick Vinales after Maverick won his first GP in England. It’s been an amazing year generally but for me to win my first race and two of my better mates in the paddock in Cal and Maverick to do the same thing, it’s been awesome. I took control of the BBQ at Cal’s and we had a good few days. I’ll be at a mate’s wedding next weekend, and then it’s eyes forward for Aragon and being right for that. I hope I’ll have some racing to tell you about after that one …

Cheers,
Jack