Month: October 2016

Front to back: the Mexican Grand Prix

All the action and reaction after a controversial end to Sunday’s race in Mexico City.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 1st, finished 1st
Nico Rosberg: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd
While the Red Bull and Ferrari drivers (well, except Raikkonen) had plenty to say after the race, Hamilton kept his cool on and off track to chip away at Rosberg’s championship lead with his second win in seven days, and one that never looked in danger despite running wide at Turn 1 and taking to the grass on the opening lap. Hamilton has now won at 23 different circuits, equalling Michael Schumacher’s record, while speaking of the great German, Sunday’s victory was Hamilton’s 51st, tying for second with Alain Prost – but still a long, long way away from Schumi’s 91 wins. With two races to go, the Briton has the momentum, but is still 19 points adrift of his teammate after Rosberg banked another second place. Rosberg pulled out a mighty lap to get second on the grid after looking to struggle through the three practice sessions, and while he had a fraught moment in the race when Verstappen attacked him for second on lap 50 at Turn 4, 18 points were never under threat after that. The German has the comfort of knowing that if the results of Austin last weekend and Mexico this weekend are repeated in the final two races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi, he’ll be world champion by a margin of five points.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 7th, finished 5th
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 6th, finished 6th
Where to start with Ferrari? What isn’t in dispute was that Vettel was brought back into podium contention after running a long first stint on soft tyres, not pitting until lap 32, which proved crucial as he hunted down Verstappen on fresher tyres late in the race while keeping a watching brief on the flying Ricciardo behind him. With the Australian the quickest of the trio, Vettel was always going to be the meat in a Red Bull sandwich, and the three tyre strategies employed by the trio overlapped in the last four laps, Vettel incensed with Verstappen after the Dutchman missed the first corner and ran off onto the grass while retaining position, and then touching with Ricciardo at Turn 4 on the penultimate lap when the Australian spied a chance of a sneaky podium. With Verstappen given a five-second post-race penalty for “leaving the track and gaining an advantage”, Vettel was elevated to third and had to hot-foot it from the paddock to the podium, which in Mexico is located smack-bang in the middle of the packed stadium section at the end of the lap. But three hours after the race, the stewards assessed Vettel a 10-second penalty for moving under braking while defending against Ricciardo, dropping him to fifth and elevating the Red Bull driver to the podium. Raikkonen was a much quieter sixth and was the only driver in the top 10 other than Ricciardo to stop twice, as he was pitted on lap 52 for used medium tyres just when he was running ahead of his teammate on track. He was able to hunt down Hulkenberg for sixth, but was 28 seconds adrift of the Vettel-Verstappen-Ricciardo brawl at the finish. “Maybe the second stop was not the right thing to do,” he shrugged afterwards.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 9th, finished 9th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 8th, finished 8th
If straight-line speed is your thing, then Williams is the team for you – Bottas was fastest of all down the start-finish straight on Sunday (372.5km/h), Massa not exactly hanging around either at 371.7km/h. For all of that grunt, the team dropped a point to Force India for fourth in the constructors’ race to be nine points adrift with two races left, six points for Bottas and Massa matched by Hulkenberg’s seventh place for Force India, with Perez adding another point for 10th. Both cars made just one stop and ran the durable medium tyres to the end, Bottas finishing 10 seconds up the road from Massa, but both cars more than a minute behind race-winner Hamilton.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 4th, finished 3rd
Max Verstappen: qualified 3rd, finished 4th
Ricciardo secured third in the drivers’ championship and finished the best of the Bulls on Sunday after a weekend where he’d spent most of it trailing Verstappen. The Australian didn’t make a great getaway and dropped behind Hulkenberg on lap one, and played the long game by immediately pitting under safety car conditions to run a long second stint on the medium tyre, which gave him the advantage of a new set of soft tyres for the final 21 laps. He pitted on lap 50, set the fastest lap of the race three laps later, and screamed up behind Vettel before they touched two laps from home, Ricciardo less than impressed with his former teammate. “Seb did what everyone’s been complaining about lately, moving under braking,” Ricciardo said. “For me he doesn’t deserve to be up there (on the podium) with the move he pulled.” The stewards agreed, Vettel’s 10-second penalty elevating the Aussie to third, his eighth podium of 2016. Verstappen was the quicker of the Red Bull drivers all weekend and was ahead of Ricciardo on the grid for the third time in the past four races, and while his chance of second turned to dust after unsuccessfully attacking Rosberg on lap 50, it would have been galling to arrive at the green room ahead of the podium ceremony after crossing the line in third only to be told he had to leave with a five-second penalty and no trophy. He did have a few words for Vettel though, who gestured angrily to him after they crossed the line. “I don’t know how many times he is using very bad language in general, I think he has to go back to school or something to get some language,” Verstappen said. “I will speak to him because this is just ridiculous the way he is handling it.” Vettel’s penalty elevated him back to fourth three hours after the chequered flag dropped.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 5th, finished 7th
Sergio Perez: qualified 12th, finished 10th
“Best of the rest” was Hulkenberg’s succinct social media summary on Sunday, and finishing behind the Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari drivers was as good as it was ever going to get for the German, who was arguably the star of Saturday as he qualified ahead of both Raikkonen and Vettel with what he described as “possibly my best qualifying lap of the season”. Hulkenberg held off Raikkonen for as long as he could on Sunday before the two came together four laps from home at Turn 4, Hulkenberg sent into a spin, but able to recover to take seventh with the Williams of Bottas some distance behind. Speaking of Williams, Perez would be sick of the sight of the back of Massa’s car after trailing the Brazilian for most of Sunday’s race, his car looking better in the corners, but lacking the straight-line punch to get by in his home GP.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 22nd, finished 14th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 14th, finished 17th
Palmer started from the pit lane after being unable to take part in qualifying, his chassis needing repairs after the Briton clouted a kerb too hard in FP3. The lap one safety car saw him dump his supersoft tyres and play the long game by running the mediums until the end, but it was a decision that was never likely to produce a points finish. Magnussen’s commitment couldn’t be questioned – he danced as close as you would dare to the outside wall at the last corner right through qualifying and the race – but grunt down the straight was in short supply, and he finished 14 seconds adrift of his teammate after making one more pit stop than Palmer. Off-track, the Dane’s name has been linked with Haas, team principal Gunther Steiner admitting over the weekend that the former McLaren driver is being considered to partner Grosjean at the American team in 2017.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 18th, finished 18th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 10th, finished 16th
Both Toro Rosso drivers incurred the wrath of the stewards on Sunday, Sainz for forcing Alonso onto the grass at Turn 3 on the manic first lap, and Kvyat for using all of the run-off at the outside of Turn 12 coming into the stadium section to pass Grosjean’s Haas later in the race. Five-second penalties for both mattered little as both were well outside the points, which compounded a difficult weekend for Kvyat after the Russian was sidelined with an electrical issue after his first lap in Q1 that saw him stuck in the pits. Sainz made the top 10 in qualifying for the second week running, but gearbox gremlins and a lack of straight-line speed was a problem over 71 laps in the race, the Spaniard the third-slowest driver through the speed trap at the end of the mammoth start-finish straight.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 19th, finished 15th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 15th, finished 11th
Ericsson was gutted to miss Sauber’s first points of 2016 after a comeback drive that seemed very unlikely when he was the innocent victim in the first-lap mess that sidelined Wehrlein’s Manor, and Sauber described the Swede’s recovery as “brilliant” despite him just failing to crack the top 10. Nasr started from 19th and ran the durable medium-compound Pirellis for a marathon first stint of 52 laps, which made for some amusing radio chat between the team and its drivers as the Brazilian was persuaded – eventually – to let his recovering teammate through on a completely different strategy. With just two races left, Sauber’s time to get off the mark in 2016 is fast running out.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 13th, finished 12th
Fernando Alonso: qualified 11th, finished 13th
After the optimism of a double-points finish for McLaren in Austin seven days ago, it was back to the anonymity of the Japanese Grand Prix earlier in October for the team in Mexico, with neither driver making Q3 nor finishing inside the top 10. Button was eight seconds up on Alonso after 71 laps and had the far quieter race, while the Spaniard had his now-customary rant over the radio to the team mid-race when he was asked to push, and was hampered by a slow pit stop on lap 48 when the left-rear tyre took an eternity to be changed.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 16th, did not finish
Esteban Ocon: qualified 20th, finished 21st
Wehrlein’s outstanding effort to make Q2 on Saturday for the fourth time this season counted for nought on Sunday when he got caught up with Gutierrez and Ericsson on lap one and became the first – and only – retirement of the race with broken suspension. Teammate Ocon admitted to being down on confidence and struggling on the low-grip surface through practice and qualifying, and duly finished last and two laps down of the 21 cars who saw the chequered flag.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 20th, finished 20th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 17th, finished 19th
A horrible race for Haas. Grosjean battled understeer and oversteer and admitted he “never knew what I was going to get out there” as he laboured to 20th, while Gutierrez’s home race wasn’t a lot better as he clashed with Wehrlein and Ericsson at the first corner and finished nine seconds and a spot ahead of his teammate.

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Miller Time: Wanting more

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about another top-10 result after Sunday’s wet race in Malaysia.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

We’re packing up to head back to Europe after what always seems like ages on the road when you do the Japan-Australia-Malaysia flyaways, and having a strong result in the last one of them is a good feeling to head home with. But it’s probably a good sign that I wasn’t massively happy about eighth in Malaysia on Sunday – the position was good, but it was one of those races that I never felt really came to me.

I was happy to have finished, because races like that and around Sepang in weather like that, it’s very easy to throw it down the road and make a mess early on. But in some ways eighth was bit frustrating, because I never really felt I had the feeling from the rear tyre that I wanted. Would it have made much more of a difference if I’d had that feeling? Hard to say, and I was fair way behind (Alvaro) Bautista anyway at the end, so maybe eighth was where I was going to finish. But I never really felt like I was able to push as much as I wanted to, so that was frustrating. It was a good day in some ways though because I was the first Honda home. Last time I did that was at Assen – that was first anything home, I know. But the rear tyre was a struggle the whole race on Sunday, so it was hard to be really satisfied with how things turned out.

Saying all that, when you look at how injured I’ve been and how many races I’ve missed this year, to come out of the triple-header with two top-10 finishes is pretty good, I would have definitely signed up for that before we headed out to Japan a few weeks ago. That and to stay healthy too, it’s been a decent three weeks with the flyaways when you think about it that way. I was really disappointed with myself after crashing in Japan, but other than that … I had a good fight with lots of guys at the Island and then today, so I can’t be too unhappy with how these last three have gone for me.

Starting from 14th and in that much spray is always tough at a place like Sepang, and I managed to get a good getaway and past some guys on the first lap to get up to 10th, so I was pretty pleased with that. But that lack of feeling with the rear tyre meant it was a challenge to hang onto that position, and I hovered around that eighth, ninth, tenth place for most of the race. In the end it came down to me and Pol (Espargaro) in the last couple of laps, and I had a second on him at the end and he never got to have a run at me out of the final corner, so that was good.

We saw enough rain at Phillip Island last weekend but got plenty more in Malaysia, and when it rains here, it’s not like anywhere else we go to. It just comes down so fast, but the new track surface at Sepang was a major improvement on what we had before, and the grip level is pretty good, when you can get the tyres working that is. It doesn’t dry too well after the rain stops even though it’s incredibly hot because of how humid it is, but the smoother surface is definitely a positive, all of the bumps that we used to suffer through aren’t there anymore, so that’s a major plus.

It feels like I’ve been away for ages when you consider that I was back home seeing the family and some mates in Townsville before Motegi, then to Japan, back to the Island and now Sepang, so I’m pretty keen to get back to base in Andorra and have a week or so there at home before we go to Valencia for the last race and then the test afterwards. I can take a lot of positives out of these last two races especially and I’m keen to finish the season off with another good one at Valencia.

Before then it’ll be some downtime at home, some training and getting back out cycling again, which I’ve definitely missed. If I could get another top-10 finish in the last race, that’d make me pretty happy.

Speak to you after Valencia.

Cheers,
Jack

The Dan Diaries: Bigger in America

In his latest exclusive driver column, Red Bull Racing star Daniel Ricciardo talks Austin, F1’s future and pays tribute to a fellow Aussie.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It’s official. America does it better. It was great to be back in Austin last weekend, and I couldn’t resist staying an extra day or two afterwards – there’s always more live music to see, and there’s always more barbeque to eat! And the Americans just do sport so well, so it was good to get another podium in the ‘States after getting one in 2014. It’s definitely one of the highlight races of the year.

Finishing on the podium was still pretty good with the Mercedes guys, even though I would have been happier if I’d split them, which is how it looked like panning out for a while there. To win at the moment and beat them is probably going to require a chunk of luck, so whether it’s second or third, at least it’s still a podium at this stage. At the time, during the race when the virtual safety car came out, I was frustrated that it made the back part of the race a bit predictable. I never did get to have the fight with (Nico) Rosberg for second that it looked like we might have. He probably would have caught me at some point, but we never got a chance to have the fight, and I never got the chance to get my elbows out. If we have the fight and he beats me, I’m not going to be happy about it, but at least we would have had the fight. The VSC changed all that, so third was as good as it was going to get.

The Evel Knievel helmet for the weekend was cool, don’t you reckon? A few months ago I spoke to the helmet painter and said that I wanted to do something cool for Austin, something really American, the stars and stripes or something pretty badass. And then we came up with the Evel Knievel style and I thought ‘yes, that’s perfect’. Really happy with how it turned out, and I definitely got some comments about it.

Third in Austin made it seven podiums for the year – I had eight in 2014 so there’s still time to beat that – and six of them in the last eight races, so it’s been good to be on a roll. I’m pretty close to wrapping up third in the drivers’ championship again, and while you never go into any season saying ‘I really want to finish third’, it’s good to be there. I finished third in 2014 as well and that was pretty significant because I was kind of unproven then, and that year it put me in front of Seb (Sebastian Vettel), who was the defending world champion, and a few others as well. But this year has been good because at the start of it, I didn’t expect to be able to finish third.

Of course you always want to win, but I’m kind of proud of being third, or being that next guy behind the Mercedes guys. If I was to lose third in the last few races for whatever reason, I would actually be quite disappointed. Third will be a pretty strong achievement from both sides, for me and the team. For moments, and the three wins, 2014 was bigger, but for myself and my self-evaluation, 2016 has been better. Third is pretty decent when you consider what Mercedes has been doing to everyone else – someone told me that they’d won 48 out of the 56 races so far since the start of 2014! Four for me, three for Seb, one for Max (Verstappen), and they’ve got the rest!

The Austin podium was cool, but the other thing that got me before the race was the national anthem – it’s one of the more powerful ones there is, and once the guy finished singing it last Sunday, I gave him the nod, like ‘yep, you nailed that’. It fires you up, for sure. I’m a big fan of UFC, NASCAR, other American sports, and they just do the whole ‘show’ side of sport so well. As a kid, at least for me, a lot of the big sporting events I watched were American events, so when you grow up and see them yourself, or be in the middle of them, then that’s pretty cool.

It’s that ‘show’ side of things that makes me interested in what impact Liberty Media coming in on the ownership side of things will have because of their involvement in American sport. I’m not going to pretend I know all of what’s going on behind the scenes with Liberty Media – I’m aware of it – but I’m definitely curious to know what ideas they have. I think there’ll be a couple of changes here and there, and I’m optimistic that they’ll be for the best.

One thing that might come up for discussion is the length of races, and I saw that Jenson (Button) came out last weekend and said that maybe F1 should consider shorter races. It’s something I used to think about early in my F1 career when I was at the back and driving around by myself – some of those races definitely seemed too long then! If they were a bit shorter, I can’t see a downside to it. Say if a 50-lap race became 40 laps, that wouldn’t be a problem at all, and maybe the spectators would get more out of that. Look at something like MotoGP, which I’m a big fan of – their races go for 45 minutes or so and they’re super intense, so maybe there’s something in that. Very rarely do you ever feel like a MotoGP race is dragging. With a shorter F1 race you could increase the intensity – I can’t see any downsides to it. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any changes down the track, but if that happened, I’d be up for it.

It’s off to Mexico now, and it’s hard to choose which podium would be the best to be on in F1 – it’s either there or Monza, and I’ve not been on either of them! Mexico looked phenomenal last year and if I could get a podium there, I’d be pretty pumped. The stadium section there is ridiculous. The drivers’ parade there last year was something else – I wanted to soak it in, but I felt I needed to record some of it too so people could see what it was like from where I was sitting. Just insane. Really looking forward to it, as it felt like the whole country gave us a huge reception last year.

One quick one before I sign off for this week – I wanted to say a few words about Mark Webber, who announced he was stepping away from the World Endurance Championship since I last wrote. I was in the crowd as a little curly-haired teenager when he made his F1 debut in that Minardi in Melbourne back in 2002, so to be on the grid with him a few years later, then to take the seat at Red Bull that he had for so long – I’m proud to have taken that seat and done well with it after what he’d done for himself and for Australia. He got so much support from Australia, and then I was able to carry on with that. It’s not often people have a successful career after F1, so for him to take that WEC championship last year, he couldn’t have asked for much more. I’m sure he has a lot to do after his career, and I definitely wish him all the best. He has a lot to be proud of.

Front to back: the United States Grand Prix

Every team and driver reviewed after Daniel Ricciardo takes third in Austin.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 1st, finished 1st
Nico Rosberg: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd
“Immaculate” was Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff’s succinct summary of Hamilton’s US Grand Prix, where the reigning world champion delivered a performance that showed he’s not going to relinquish his crown to his teammate without one hell of a fight. Hamilton set up his fourth win in five races at the Circuit of the Americas and his 50th F1 victory in all with a monstrous lap in qualifying on Saturday, becoming the first driver ever to lap COTA in under 95 seconds, his speed in the first sector utterly mesmerising. The Briton controlled the start and was untroubled from there, although he admitted to having his mind drift back to Malaysia two races ago when he led with a similarly comfortable margin only for his engine to blow up. Rosberg’s championship lead was trimmed to 26 points with his second place, but if Mercedes are able to build on their five 1-2 finishes this season and Hamilton wins in Mexico, Brazil and Abu Dhabi, Rosberg will sneak the title by five points. With the way this season has gone, you’d be surprised if it was that straightforward, though.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 6th, finished 4th
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 5th, did not finish
Fourth for Vettel, the only other driver besides Hamilton to win at COTA (2013), was flattering in the extreme – the German qualified behind Raikkonen, trailed him in the early going, and inherited two spots when his teammate and Verstappen’s Red Bull retired before the end. A late-race pit stop saw him record the fastest lap of the race on lap 55 of 56 (nearly two seconds quicker than anyone managed all afternoon), but the four-time world champion was 23 seconds away from the podium and more than 50 seconds ahead of Alonso’s McLaren, in no man’s land. Raikkonen was the feistier of the Ferraris in Austin and went for an aggressive three-stop strategy, but it was that final stop on lap 39 – when the right rear wheel wasn’t affixed correctly – that saw the Finn park up at the end of the uphill pit lane exit, his race only over after he rolled back down into the lane itself, a bizarre sight that cost Ferrari 5000 Euros for the unsafe release from the stop. Ferrari now trails Red Bull by 53 points in the constructors’ race with a maximum of 75 available from the final three Grands Prix.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 9th, finished 7th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 8th, finished 16th
Masa had scored just five points in the past nine races leading into Austin, so was relieved to get back inside the top 10 again after a strong drive. It could have been better too, as a late-race clash with Alonso left him with a front left puncture and a harried pit stop on the penultimate lap, but he had enough of a margin over Perez’s Force India to bank six points. Bottas’ race all but came to an end after he clashed with Hulkenberg at the first corner, a puncture seeing him have to limp back to the pits, and he struggled around outside the points thereafter, the floor of his Williams damaged in the melee. Massa’s six points saw Williams narrow its deficit to Force India for fourth in the teams’ race to eight points.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 3rd, finished 3rd
Max Verstappen: qualified 4th, did not finish
Ricciardo’s seventh podium of the season was meritorious and frustrating in equal measure. The Australian started the race on supersoft tyres in a show of aggressive intent, split the Mercedes duo into Turn 1 to sneak up to second, and had that spot under control until the mid-race Virtual Safety Car caused – ironically – by his teammate’s demise gifted Rosberg a free pit stop and left Ricciardo back where he started. Finishing well ahead of Ferrari after the Italian team turned the tables in Japan a fortnight ago gives him plenty of optimism for the final three races, while third place in the drivers’ championship is getting closer by the race. Verstappen’s gearbox gave up on lap 29, which wasn’t long after he came into the pits for his second pit stop, but the team didn’t know he was coming in until he appeared in the lane … The non-score was Verstappen’s first DNF since Monaco in round six, and snapped his two-race streak of second-place finishes on a weekend where he could never quite get on terms with his teammate.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 7th, did not finish
Sergio Perez: qualified 11th, finished 8th
All of the good news out of Austin happened to Hulkenberg before the race; the German signed a deal to move to Renault for next year after the race at Suzuka, and then hauled his car into seventh on the grid with a superb lap on Saturday that was half a second faster than anyone not driving a Mercedes, Red Bull or Ferrari. His race was over in no time, the crash with Bottas at the first turn breaking his suspension, and leaving Hulkenberg less than impressed with Vettel, saying “sometimes (he) is quite aggressive, and sometimes he forgets there are other cars.” Perez salvaged eighth on an afternoon that looked to be going the same way as Hulkenberg’s when he was turned around by Kvyat’s Toro Rosso at Turn 11 on the first lap, the enraged Mexican calling the Russian a “f**ing idiot” over the radio as he re-joined at the very back. “I think we could have finished fifth today,” was his lament afterwards.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 15th, finished 13th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 18th, finished 12th
Hulkenberg’s signature for 2017 means one – or both – of Magnussen and Palmer won’t be back in yellow next season, which gave their frequent on-track stoushes on Sunday in Austin all the more weight.  Magnussen finished the better of the pair by just five seconds after the Dane was given a five-second time penalty for shoving Kvyat off track late in the race, and Palmer was frustrated that the team didn’t swap its drivers around on the opening phase of the race with the cars on different tyre strategies. “I was on the radio in the first stint saying I was quicker, but nothing happened,” Palmer said. “I was pushing like hell to pass him and overheating the tyres and ultimately I dropped back. I felt like it wasn’t the best call in the interests of the team.”

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 13th, finished 11th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 10th, finished 6th
Sainz equalled a career-best with sixth place at COTA in a race that exceeded his wildest expectations – pre-race projections had him sliding out of the points despite an excellent qualifying effort on Saturday that produced what he felt was one of his best-ever laps. The Spaniard expected to be exposed on Austin’s long back straight, and while attrition ahead had him in fifth place and in a fight with compatriot Alonso in the latter stages, eight points was a superb return. It was announced Kvyat would be staying at STR for 2017 in the lead-up to the race, ending a period of uncertainty for the Russian that had clearly impacted his results since stepping back from the senior Red Bull squad. Any chance of points on Sunday was scuppered by a 10-second penalty for the Perez incident on lap one, but having his future finally secured after months of speculation means Kvyat will leave Austin in a decent state of mind.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 21st, finished 15th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 16th, finished 14th
Ericsson looked like getting Sauber into the points for the first time all season when he ran 11th late in the race, but faded to 14th by the flag as the Swiss team’s nightmare run continues. Nasr, who is being linked with the Force India seat to be vacated by Hulkenberg next year, started the race on medium-compound tyres for a marathon first stint, and while a late-race pass of Bottas would have raised a smile, it was another frustrating afternoon for the Brazilian and his team.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 19th, finished 9th
Fernando Alonso: qualified 12th, finished 5th
Anyone who wondered if the fire still burns for Alonso needs to re-watch the final stint of Sunday’s race, when he chased down, caught and passed old Ferrari teammate Massa and fellow Spaniard Sainz with some of his feisty best. His yelled “yeeha!” when passing Massa two laps from home showed how much he still relishes the wheel-to-wheel combat, and his first laps of races are must-see TV – he’s now made up 42 places on the opening lap from where he started (while dropping none) since round three in China. Teammate Button joined him in the points after a clean and composed race that made up for a fraught qualifying 24 hours earlier that left him way back on the second-last row of the grid. Off-track, the future of chairman and long-time McLaren figurehead Ron Dennis made the headlines, the BBC reporting that Dennis’ position is “under threat from his fellow shareholders”.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 20th, finished 17th
Esteban Ocon: qualified 22nd, finished 18th
There wasn’t much to write home about for Manor, whose drivers were the last two across the line for the third race in a row. Wehrlein just missed out on passing the compromised Williams of Bottas on the last lap, and while Ocon made a superb start to gain six places, he started on the medium-compound tyre, quickly fell back, and was two laps behind race-winner Hamilton at the finish.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 17th, finished 10th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 14th, did not finish
The first points in nine races for the American team couldn’t have been better timed at home, and finishing anywhere near the top 10 looked very unlikely after both Grosjean and Gutierrez had their cars shed bodywork in Friday practice, the kerbs and high downforce of Austin’s first sector seemingly too much to cope with. Gutierrez was out after lap 16 with brake failure, but Grosjean was able to finish 10th in his 100th F1 start to give the team and its home fans plenty of cause for celebration. “It’s been a long time since we scored,” he said. “It’s obviously a great thing to be able to score points at the end of the season.”

Miller Time: A big step

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about being right back in the fight at Phillip Island.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

It’s Sunday night at the Island and – almost predictably! – the weather is better than it has been at any time over the weekend. I always joke you can’t count Phillip Island as part of Australia anyway because it’s not attached to the rest of it – once you cross that bridge from San Remo, it’s like you’re in a different country sometimes because of the crazy weather. But all in all I’m pretty happy, because I’ve managed my first points in a long while and was fit and fast enough to be in a fight the whole race, which is a massive step from where I’ve been lately.

It was pretty hectic in the lead-up to my home GP like it always is, but this year it was even more because of the win at Assen and what not earlier in the year. I’m fine with that because it’s better than being completely invisible at your home race, and I know what that was like when I was in Moto3 and coming 20th and nobody really said a lot. I did a lot of interviews, signed a lot of autographs, met heaps of fans and generally did a lot of talking this weekend. Malaysia might be a bit quieter, I reckon! But all in all it was a good weekend.

I targeted a top-10 finish for the race because I felt the track would suit our bike. Our weakness tends to be getting out of the slow-speed corners and we know Phillip Island is fast and flowing and has very few of those, so I felt it would suit the Honda and the way I like to ride. It’s funny when you come to Australia and people who maybe don’t follow the series that closely see that you’ve won a race and expect you to instantly be a podium contender just because you’re at home. In normal conditions our bike isn’t going to be able to do that, and as far as the home thing goes, there’s a lot of guys on the grid who’ve ridden a lot more laps of the Island than me. I felt top 10 would make me happy, and top eight would feel a bit like a podium or even a win when you think how injured I’ve been lately.

The whole race I was in a fight with a lot of guys – Scott (Redding), (Danilo) Petrucci, Brad (Bradley Smith), (Hector) Barbera and Nicky (Hayden). None of us with the exception of maybe Scott could get away, and we swapped positions a lot. Turn 3 was pretty hairy a few times for me as I felt the bike was trying to high-side me, there were a few scary moments there for sure. I felt like I was coming on well the longer the race went, but I ran out of laps in the end. It didn’t help that Brad and Petrucci got me on the line as well, eighth was definitely there. But that’s the way the cookie crumbled for me today. It was pretty hectic out there from start to finish and no real chances to rest, so it was good to have a big old battle with a bunch of the boys because it had been a while.

I felt bad for Nicky because we touched on the second-last lap at Turn 4 – I put my bike under him and I don’t know if he didn’t see me, but he just kept turning across me. I’m sorry to have hit him, but that’s racing – but I did go and see him afterwards. The other guy I wanted to see soon afterwards was Cal (Crutchlow) of course, I was stoked to see him win again. He’s won my home race, so I reckon I should be able to win Silverstone next year – I’ll talk to him about that …

Before I sign off, I have to say something about the fans. Seriously, they were amazing this weekend. The weather on Friday and Saturday was ridiculous and they stayed out there, cheered all of us riders, and stuck it out. I was glad the sun came out on Sunday because they’d been freezing their arses off for two straight days. I was probably driving everyone in the team crazy because I was late to everything all weekend. I tried to sign as many autographs as I could, do selfies, all of that – even a marriage proposal!

It’s awesome to have a home GP and not every rider has that, so you have to embrace it. The fans are a big part of making this race what it is, so for all of you who came out, thanks from all of us.

We head straight to Malaysia now, so that jacket I’ve been wearing all this weekend has zero chance of coming out of the bag I take up there! It’ll definitely be good heading into a race weekend off a good result, and I’m glad we don’t have to wait too long for the next one. Hopefully we can be in the same fights once we get to Sepang. I’ll speak to you after that.

Cheers,
Jack

All eyes on the Island

Five things to watch as the MotoGP world championship explodes into life in Australia this weekend.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The one downside to this weekend’s Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island? That we don’t have a live championship fight on Aussie shores, after Marc Marquez took advantage of a rare double DNF for Yamaha teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to seal his third MotoGP world title at Motegi in Japan last Sunday. That’s one way of looking at it; another is that with the tension of a title fight released, the Island should be a no-holds-barred affair between the best riders in the world on one of the world’s great racetracks. Everyone wins.

Who can forget last year’s epic MotoGP race at the Island that featured 52 overtakes between the top four of Marquez, Lorenzo, Andrea Iannone and Rossi and 13 changes of the lead? Australia 2015 is regarded by many of the sport’s insiders as one of the best races in world championship history, and there’s no reason to suggest that this year’s spectacle will be any different, if (and that’s a big if) Phillip Island’s notoriously fickle weather plays nice for a change.

What are the main talking points ahead of round 16 of the world championship this weekend? These.

1. Marquez will be unleashed

Eugene Laverty’s fall in the early stages of last weekend’s race at Motegi brought Marquez’s season into sharper focus; it meant the Repsol Honda man became the only rider to have finished every race this season, his championship owing as much to consistency as the speed that has become his calling card.

It’s a development that you would have thought unlikely after 2015, where the Spaniard’s title defence evaporated in a cloud of dust as he repeatedly tried and failed to wrestle his Honda into the podium places, crashing out of six races. Marquez learned his lessons, scaled his all-out style back a little bit, and reaped the ultimate reward. Not that he’s forgotten who he is or what he does, mind you. One comment in the post-championship euphoria in Japan last Sunday was revealing: “Now we can just enjoy it and go into the last three races with maybe a more ‘Marc Marquez’ style,” he said. That style plus Phillip Island and no championship pressure? Sounds like a recipe for an explosive performance to us.

2. Miller’s mind on home

Jack Miller has had this weekend circled for months; the proud Aussie loves his home Grand Prix at any time, but coming to the Island as a premier-class Grand Prix winner after his success at the Dutch TT earlier this year will be something special. Miller has been battered and bruised for most of 2016 – the one time he was relatively injury-free was before the Austrian GP, and he duly had a massive off in Sunday morning warm-up that left him with back, hand and wrist injuries and meant he missed four the next five races. Four falls across the Motegi weekend and an early bath last Sunday wasn’t the ideal preparation for his home race, but he couldn’t be more up for it. “The pressure of a home GP can do funny things to people, but I love it,” he says. “I mean, you’re in your own country, there’ll be more support than you get all year anywhere, you love the track – that all sounds pretty good to me.” He has good form at the Island too, winning the Moto3 race two years ago and finishing in the points and as the leading Open-class runner 12 months ago. He – and we – are expecting a big performance.

3. Best of frenemies

The tenuous Rossi/Lorenzo ‘partnership’ at Yamaha was always going to fray the longer the season went after Lorenzo announced he’d be leaving for Ducati in 2017 back in April; their press conference spat in Misano after Rossi made a strong passing move stick on his teammate early in that Grand Prix revealed the tension behind the scenes that has lingered since last year’s tense title run-in, which was sparked by the race here in Australia and exploded with the Marquez-Rossi on-track shenanigans a week later in Malaysia. With three races left as teammates and no title to chase, the inter-team rivalry could heat up significantly at a circuit where both riders have achieved success; Rossi has won the premier-class race in Australia five times and as recently as two years ago, while Lorenzo won the chaotic tyre lottery of a race in 2013, and was pipped at the post by Marquez 12 months ago.

4. Mack attack

Maverick Vinales loves the Island, and you can see why; the Suzuki rider put in one of the performances of last season when he finished just six seconds behind the all-out brawl at the front of the race in sixth place on a bike that had no business being in the same postcode. The Spaniard was fastest of all in February’s pre-season Island test, and comes to Australia fresh off his third career podium last weekend at Motegi, when he muscled past teammate Aleix Espargaro late in the race to snatch a rostrum spot.”When I come here, 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,” he told us back in February, and with a win in Moto2 back in 2014 to go with last year’s stellar performance, it’s easy to see why. Of the three races remaining in 2016 in Australia, Malaysia and Valencia, this is the one that represents Vinales’ best chance of a final Suzuki podium before moving on to Yamaha next year.

5. Wildlife winners

Iannone’s charge to the podium here last year was all the more meritorious given the Italian’s Ducati did most of the race with a seagull-sized hole in its front fairing, courtesy of ‘Crazy Joe’ cannoning into a slow-to-move seabird at the bottom of Lukey Heights in the early stages. Iannone took a heavy tumble in practice at Misano back in round 13 and hasn’t been able to race since with a back injury, meaning Avintia Ducati rider Hector Barbera will deputise for him at the Island this weekend – and the local seagulls can breathe a sigh of relief.

Miller could be ‘one of the best’: Schwantz

Kevin Schwantz, the 1993 500cc world champion, has lavished praise on Australian MotoGP rider Jack Miller ahead of his home Grand Prix, saying the 21-year-old Australian has all of the attributes to make it to the top of MotoGP.

Miller took his maiden premier-class victory when he won in dreadful conditions at the Dutch TT in June, becoming the first Australian MotoGP race-winner since Casey Stoner won at Phillip Island in 2012, the penultimate race before his retirement.

Ahead of this weekend’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix at Phillip Island, Schwantz, who won the premier-class title 23 years ago for Suzuki, told the ‘Keeping Track’ podcast that Miller has big things ahead of him.

“I really like Jack and I think he’s got the talent to be one of the best,” Schwantz said.

“It was great to see him win in Assen and I’m sure that really helped his confidence, and it’ll be interesting to see him back, even more so at Phillip Island. He’s got to remember when he gets there that there’s going to be all the pressure of a home Grand Prix and not let that get to him, but I think that Jack has got a really bright future.”

Listen to the podcast in the player below. 

Schwantz, who won 25 Grands Prix for Suzuki between 1998-94, also spoke about the maturation of Marc Marquez, who won his third MotoGP world title in the past four seasons after taking victory in last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

“Whoever he’s working with, whatever he’s doing race strategy-wise, he’s a whole lot smarter racer than he was in the beginning,” Schwantz said.

“Fast is one thing, but to be able to assess ‘I’ve got something I can win with’ and go for it, or ‘I don’t have anything I can win with and I need to just get some points’, that’s a hard thing to figure out. That’s one of the things that makes Marquez so exciting to watch, because he thinks every race he starts he has the opportunity or the possibility to win it. I’m impressed with Marc Marquez so far this season.”

Schwantz also spoke about Suzuki’s return to the winner’s circle this season, while ‘Keeping Track’ previewed all the action at this weekend’s Michelin Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix with MotoGP race-winner and Fox Sports analyst, Chris Vermeulen.