Month: November 2016

The 5 best F1 drivers of 2016

Who shone the brightest on four wheels in 2016, and why?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The stats will show Formula One in 2016 was a two-horse race between Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton that went down to the wire in the final event in Abu Dhabi, but to suggest that the continued domination of the Silver Arrows duo was the only storyline in the world’s premier four-wheel category this season is well off the mark.

One of the sport’s giants reverted to its bad old days, a new star emerged as someone who could become a multiple world champion before too long, and some big F1 and manufacturer names alike were outshone by rivals with smaller budgets and greater momentum.

A significant regulatory reset should ensure at least a partial shake-up of the established order for 2017, but that’s for the future. What about the past? Who were the best five drivers in F1 this year, and why? We’ve assessed the grid statistically and chronologically, let the drivers themselves have their say, and enlisted some expert analysis to break down the grid from five to one. Here we go.

5. Sergio Perez

The stats
Points/championship position: 101, seventh
Wins: 0
Podiums: 2
Poles: 0
Fastest laps: 0
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Perez 9, Nico Hulkenberg 12
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Perez 13, Hulkenberg 8
Points compared to teammate: Perez 101, Hulkenberg 72

The summary
The top four drivers on our list will come as no surprise, even if our order of them might raise an eyebrow or two. More on that later. Finding the right man for number five wasn’t as easy. Sebastian Vettel finished fourth overall, but Ferrari’s apparent resurgence of 12 months previously, when he won three Grands Prix, stalled in 2017, and the German managed just two podiums in the final 13 races. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished in the points every time he saw the chequered flag, but didn’t make the podium after round nine in Austria. Fernando Alonso drove the wheels off his McLaren, but barely made the top 10 in the championship. No, our No.5 is Sergio Perez, the Mexican whose F1 career looked set for the scrapheap after a miserable year at McLaren in 2013, but has become a driver who always seems to punch above his weight after three years at Force India. The 26-year-old had podiums at Monaco and in Baku, qualified on the front row in Azerbaijan before being demoted for a gearbox penalty, and finished all 21 races, 17 of them in the points, to crack the 100-point milestone for the first time. He spearheaded Force India’s charge to a best-ever finish of fourth in the constructors’ championship, ahead of the likes of Williams and Renault, and was always there to pick up the pieces when others dropped the ball.

The quote
“It has been an incredible year for us. We started the year lacking quite a lot of pace but we worked hard and developed the car. We have done an incredible job.”
– Perez at the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi

Expert view: Dan Knutson
“Sergio believes this was his best-ever season in F1, and I agree with him. The Mexican is a master with dealing with the current era of Pirelli tyres that need to be babied.”
Dan Knutson covers F1 for Auto Action (Australia) and National Speed Sport News (USA)

4. Max Verstappen

The stats
Points/championship position: 204, fifth
Wins: 1 (Spain)
Podiums: 7
Poles: 0
Fastest laps: 1
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Verstappen 6, Daniel Ricciardo 11 (at Red Bull Racing), Verstappen 3, Carlos Sainz 1 (at Toro Rosso)
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Verstappen 7, Ricciardo 10 (at Red Bull Racing), Verstappen 3, Sainz 1 (at Toro Rosso)
Points compared to teammate: Verstappen 191, Ricciardo 220 (in 17 races), Verstappen 13, Sainz 4 (in four races)

The summary
Where to start with assessing Max Verstappen’s second – yes, just second – F1 season? Memories such as his maiden F1 win on his first weekend for Red Bull in Barcelona, his sublime pass of Rosberg at Silverstone and his charge from last to fourth in Abu Dhabi would be showstoppers for any other driver, but what Verstappen did in horrendous weather in Brazil will live longest in the memory. Employing lines few of his rivals had apparently even contemplated, Verstappen stormed from 14th to third in 17 laps, producing a drive that evoked memories of Ayrton Senna’s second in a Toleman at a rain-lashed Monaco in 1984, or Michael Schumacher’s success at a sodden Spanish GP in a Ferrari in ’96. It was everything Verstappen has in spades – a calm head, sublime skill, total self-belief and a never-quit attitude – in one glorious 25-minute snapshot. Verstappen’s year wasn’t without its troughs – and his occasionally over-the-top defending irked several of his rivals – but for a teenager with 40 races under his belt, 2016 was quite something.

The quote
“I could hear the crowd going crazy when my engineer was on the radio, so I’m very thankful for the Brazilian fans for getting behind me. At the end when I crossed the line it felt like a victory, it was almost as beautiful as my race in Barcelona.”
– Verstappen after his stunning late charge at Interlagos

Expert view: Peter Windsor
“Verstappen never asks more from the car than he feels it can give. He perfectly manipulates the car in the braking/corner entry stage, creating a platform that makes the corner exit almost an after-thought: that’s why you rarely see Max (or Lewis Hamilton) with more than a few, subtle degrees of correction on the car as they leave a corner; that’s why from the outside, oblivious to the supple hand and foot movements going on in the cockpit, we’re lulled into the impression that Max and Lewis are making it look ‘easy’. It’s a product of their millions of unmeasurable, minuscule inputs through the steering, brakes (increasing and decreasing pressure) and throttle. Imagine trying to keep a set of billiard balls in the centre of a ‘floating’, constantly-moving table by very delicately changing the weight on each corner: that’s what Max and Lewis do better than any drivers on the F1 grid.”
– Peter Windsor is a long-time Formula One writer, broadcaster and analyst

3. Daniel Ricciardo

The stats
Points/championship position: 256, third
Wins: 1 (Malaysia)
Podiums: 8
Poles: 1
Fastest laps: 4
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Ricciardo 14, Verstappen/Daniil Kvyat 7
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Ricciardo 13, Verstappen/Kvyat 8
Points compared to teammate: Ricciardo 256, Verstappen/Kvyat 212

The summary
Ricciardo’s rise to third in the 2014 championship behind (you guessed it) the Mercedes drivers was an ascension that seemed ahead of schedule, but this year’s same finish behind the same Silver Arrows duo felt more sustainable after his 2015 blip. He had two more wins two years ago than his sole success in Malaysia this season, but with eight podiums, a further five races in fourth place and just off the rostrum and a perfect 21 for 21 in race finishes meant that 2016 was the West Australian’s best year yet. His pole lap at Monaco – the only pole not taken by Mercedes all year – was 73 seconds of ragged-edge genius, while the Singapore/Sepang double-header was the ‘Honey Badger’ at his dogged, persistent best. Now 27, next year’s rule reset comes an opportune time for a man in the prime of his career.

The quote
“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, who was the defending world champion. But this year has been good because at the start of it, I didn’t expect to be able to finish third.”
– Ricciardo after the Mexican GP

Expert view: Tom Clarkson
“That solitary victory in Malaysia doesn’t tell the full story of Daniel’s 2016 season. He would have won Monaco, had it not been for a pit-stop blunder; ditto Spain, had the strategists on the pit wall reacted differently to the Mercedes collision on the opening lap, and he got ever-so-close in Singapore. The upshot is that for the second time in three seasons, Ricciardo was the first non-Merc driver in the championship standings. He must be doing something right. But don’t take my word for it; have a read of Fernando Alonso’s thoughts. “Daniel is always very committed to everything he does,” says the two-time champ. “On-track, you cannot see any mistakes when you are together with him. In the overtaking manoeuvres, probably he is the best out there. When he commits to one movement, 99 per cent of the time he will achieve the result he wanted. Obviously 2014, together with (Sebastian) Vettel, it was an amazing performance. He was way ahead of Vettel in every single point: in the driving, in the approach, in the starts, in the pit stops, in the overtaking; he was beating Vettel so easily.”
– Tom Clarkson covers F1 for BBC Sport and Network Ten in Australia

2. Nico Rosberg

The stats
Points/championship position: 385, first
Wins: 9 (Australia, Bahrain, China, Russia, Europe, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Japan)
Podiums: 16
Poles: 8
Fastest laps: 6
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Rosberg 9, Lewis Hamilton 12
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Rosberg 10, Hamilton 10 (neither finished in Spain)
Points compared to teammate: Rosberg 385, Hamilton 380

The summary
For Rosberg to bounce back from two years of being humbled by Hamilton showed strength of character and mind that perhaps wouldn’t have come to the fore had he not endured the indignity of being brushed aside by his Mercedes teammate in 2015. The final three races of last year – which Rosberg won when Hamilton’s focus seemed to waver after securing his third title – set the German up beautifully for this season, and four straight wins before the teammates smashed into one another in Spain earned him a 43-point lead after five rounds. Victory in Singapore gave Rosberg the series lead again even before Hamilton’s engine eruption in Malaysia, and while he never looked likely to beat Hamilton across the final four races, he didn’t need to, his consistency and good fortune on the reliability front seeing him to a title 34 years after father Keke won the 1982 world championship for Williams.

The quote
“He’s just an amazing driver and of course one of the best in history, so it’s unbelievably special to beat him. The level is so high and that makes this … so much more satisfying for me. I took the world championship away from him which is a phenomenal feeling.”
– Rosberg after denying Hamilton a third straight title in Abu Dhabi

Expert view: Jonathan Noble
“Determination and a cool head. They are the two characteristics that stand out when you think about how Nico Rosberg turned the tables on Lewis Hamilton this season. Yes, you cannot ignore the reliability troubles that hurt his teammate, but equally there were events like Singapore and Japan where Rosberg dug deep and performed better. And in the finale – to keep a cool head amid the chaos and pull off a move like he did on Max Verstappen – shows why he is a more than worthy champion.”
– Jonathan Noble is Formula One editor of motorsport.com

1. Lewis Hamilton

The stats
Points/championship position: 380, second
Wins: 10 (Monaco, Canada, Austria, Great Britain, Hungary, Germany, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Abu Dhabi)
Podiums: 17
Poles: 12
Fastest laps: 3
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Hamilton 12, Rosberg 9
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Hamilton 10, Rosberg 10 (neither finished in Spain)
Points compared to teammate: Hamilton 380, Rosberg 385

The summary
Was Rosberg a worthy world champion this season? Yes. Is Hamilton still the fastest driver in F1? Again, yes. There’s no denying that Hamilton endured the lion’s share of Mercedes’ unreliability woes this season – of the eight drivers supplied with Mercedes engines this season, Hamilton had more than half of their failures on his own – and the Briton had more victories, poles and podiums than the teammate who ended his two-year stranglehold over the sport. Hamilton twice won four races in a row this season, and there were races – Brazil in the wet as one example – when he was in a different league to Rosberg. Hamilton’s tactics in Abu Dhabi – backing his teammate into the pursuing pack to play his last card to keep his crown – wasn’t a matter of right or wrong, more a case of completely predictable. It didn’t work, but 2016 was a year where Hamilton overtook Alain Prost’s mark of 51 wins to become the second-most successful driver in F1 history, and he could well hold the all-time record for pole positions by the end of next year, finishing this one with 61, seven behind Michael Schumacher. F1’s best driver in 2016? Yes.

The quote
“I’m losing the world championship, so right now I don’t really care whether I win or lose this race.”
– Hamilton to his team over the radio in the closing stages of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Expert view: Andrew Benson
“Apart from a couple of shaky weekends in Baku and Singapore, Hamilton drove as well as ever in 2016, which is to say he’s probably the out-and-out fastest man on the track. But some poor starts and a skewed reliability ratio unstitched his season. Without one or the other, he’d still have been champion. With both, it left him too much to do against Rosberg’s consistency, both of driving and reliability.”
– Andrew Benson is chief Formula One writer for the BBC

Front to back: the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Reviewing every team and driver as the F1 season comes to a dramatic conclusion in the UAE.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 1st, finished 1st
Nico Rosberg: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd
A podium finish in Abu Dhabi was all Rosberg needed to secure his first world championship irrespective of what Hamilton did in the race, and while what Hamilton did – back his teammate into the chasing pack while openly defying repeated instructions from his team to up the pace – will be debated for much of the off-season, Rosberg kept his cool to win the title by five points, and become the third German to take the crown after Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel. “That was definitely not the most enjoyable race I’ve ever had,” said an exhausted and emotional Rosberg afterwards, and it was no wonder – after making a safe start and slotting into second behind his teammate, Verstappen’s lengthy opening stint caused him no end of stress, and his lap 20 pass of the Dutchman given what was at stake was the move of a world champion. Rosberg became F1’s 33rd world champion, 34 years after his father Keke took the 1982 title for Williams. Hamilton’s fourth straight win to end the year and his 10th for the season in all was only ever in doubt by how slow he chose to drive – his final lap of the race, as he backed Rosberg into the clutches of Vettel and Verstappen, was nine seconds slower than his pole time 24 hours before. His response when he was asked by the Mercedes pit wall to drive to the potential of his car – “I’m losing the world championship, so right now I don’t really care whether I win or lose this race” – will prompt plenty of internal review at Mercedes in the weeks to come. In the end, Rosberg’s sheer consistency – he finished all but one race and 16 of the 21 Grands Prix on the podium – made all the difference.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 5th, finished 3rd
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 4th, finished 6th
Vettel absolutely flew late in the race after his second pit stop on lap 37, storming through from fifth to be all over Rosberg’s gearbox in the final laps, but not finding a way past. A long second stint brought the German right back into contention after he laboured in sixth in the opening laps, and at the circuit where he secured his first world championship in 2010, Vettel was back on the podium for just the second time in the last 13 races of the year. A seventh top-three finish of the season secured fourth in the drivers’ standings. Raikkonen made a superb launch off the line to mug Ricciardo into the first corner, but some battery issues and being placed on what turned out to be the least preferred strategy option saw him fall behind Ricciardo, and his final stint of the year was spent in a lonely sixth, 13 seconds behind the Australian, but more than half a minute ahead of the trailing Force Indias.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 10th, finished 9th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 11th, did not finish
It was almost fitting that Massa wrapped up his F1 career in his 250th race by finishing half a second ahead of Alonso’s McLaren, given the years they spent together at Ferrari in the past. The Brazilian made the top 10 in qualifying in his final race and finished right in Perez’s wheeltracks, and was 11th overall – one point and one position behind Alonso – in his last F1 season. Bottas couldn’t join his Williams teammate in the points after a rear suspension issue had him out just 13 laps into the race.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 3rd, finished 5th
Max Verstappen: qualified 6th, finished 4th
Red Bull chose to start its drivers on the supersoft tyres rather than the ultrasoft preferred by Mercedes (and the rest of the top 10) in qualifying, figuring that mirroring the same strategy as a faster opponent wouldn’t put it into the podium fight. The decision worked for Verstappen, but not in the way it was originally intended – the Dutchman was tapped into a spin at the first corner after contact with Hulkenberg, Red Bull then electing to leave him out on track for a marathon 22-lap opening stint that opened up the chance of a one-stop strategy. He closed up on Rosberg towards the end as Hamilton slowed the pace at the front to a crawl, but couldn’t fend off Vettel’s flying Ferrari with four laps to go as he wrapped up his first Red Bull season in fourth. Ricciardo made a sluggish getaway off the line and was zapped by Raikkonen into the first corner, and while the Australian was pitted for a second time on lap 24 to undercut the Finn, his older tyres didn’t allow him to get back into the fight for the podium, and he finished five seconds behind Hamilton in fifth after failing to clear his one-stopping teammate, and having nothing for Vettel on fresher rubber when the Ferrari attacked on lap 46.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 7th, finished 7th
Sergio Perez: qualified 8th, finished 8th
Hulkenberg emerged as the best of the Force India duo on Saturday and Sunday in his final race for the team before heading to Renault in 2017, qualifying and finishing in the same spot as Force India secured its best-ever finish of fourth in the constructors’ championship. The German and Perez had some wheel-to-wheel moments in the opening laps, but Hulkenberg had the Mexican’s measure, eventually finishing seven seconds ahead. Four points for Perez took him past the century mark for points in a season for the first time.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 15th, finished 17th
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 18th, did not finish
Magnussen was Sunday’s first retirement after a poor start and a damaged front wing, parking up after just five laps as he had an underwhelming end to his Renault career before heading to Haas. It wasn’t much better on the other side of the garage either, Palmer finishing last after having a five-second time penalty added after the race for locking up and clattering into Sainz at Turn 17 on lap 42.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 17th, did not finish
Carlos Sainz: qualified 21st, did not finish
Abu Dhabi was a nightmare for Toro Rosso, with Kvyat suffering two left-rear punctures in Friday practice, which prompted the team to pull both cars off the track as it attempted to find the problem, which was linked to overheating the rear wheel rims. With so little practice time, it was no surprise that the team had both cars eliminated in Q1 for the first time since the 2013 Belgian Grand Prix, while gearbox problems sidelined both cars on race day.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 19th, finished 16th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 22nd, finished 15th
Ericsson, who had his tenure at Sauber extended to a third season in 2017 in the lead-up to Abu Dhabi, apologised to the team for a scruffy lap in Q1 that left him last on Saturday, and he ran a 39-lap opening soft tyre stint on Sunday that had him nibbling on the fringes of the top 10 until the final laps. Teammate Nasr lost his primary sponsor Banco do Brazil, which makes his place on the grid in 2017 tenuous at best, and was second-last in what might be his final Grand Prix.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 12th, did not finish
Fernando Alonso: qualified 9th, finished 10th
Button ran a special eye-catching yellow helmet design reminiscent of his 2009 world championship-winning season for Brawn for what looks likely to be his final Grand Prix, but the form and fortune that propelled him to the top of the world seven years ago deserted him in the desert, the Briton breaking his front suspension after clouting a kerb on lap 13 and retiring to bring down the curtain on a 305-race career that began in 2000. Alonso produced an incredible lap to nudge Bottas and Williams out of the top 10 by four-hundredths of a second on Saturday, and finished 16 seconds ahead of Grosjean for the final point on offer in what he felt was his third-best season in F1, behind 2012 and 2014 with Ferrari, but ahead of his 2005/2006 championship campaigns.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 16th, finished 14th
Esteban Ocon: qualified 20th, finished 13th
Ocon wrapped up his Manor stint with 13th place after his season-best 12th in Brazil last time out, using a lengthy opening stint on the soft tyre to advance from his 20th spot on the grid in his final race before moving to Force India. Teammate Wehrlein was one place behind, the Manor duo squabbling fiercely late in the race, and the German shone once again in qualifying, hauling his car into Q2 as other bigger names in bigger teams fell by the wayside.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 14th, finished 11th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 13th, finished 12th
Yet another finish as close as you can get to the points without scoring any for Haas – 11th for Grosjean was the seventh time this year either or Gutierrez came home one spot outside of the top 10. Gutierrez started a place ahead of his French teammate but was 18 seconds behind at the flag as he completed – for the time being at least – his last race in F1. Grosjean scored all 29 of Haas’ points in its debut season, but just one of those came in the final 12 races.

F1’s duel in the desert

Five storylines to watch as the curtain falls on the 2016 F1 season in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The longest season in Formula One history comes to a cracking conclusion under the desert stars of Abu Dhabi this Sunday, where Mercedes teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton will go head-to-head to settle the title of 2016 world champion. That’s the headline act for the 21st and final race of the season, but there are plenty more storylines to keep an eye on under lights this weekend. Namely these.

Hamilton’s hard task

We mentioned the other storylines, but let’s pause on the main one. Rosberg leads Hamilton by 12 points coming into the last race of the year, and if he can finish on the podium – which the German has done for the past 11 races – then the title is his no matter what Hamilton does on Sunday. Only once has Rosberg not finished this season – the Spanish Grand Prix, where the Silver Arrows teammates conspired to trip over one another four corners into the race – and the last time Rosberg didn’t make the podium was round nine in Austria, where another clash with Hamilton, this time on the last lap, saw him drag his broken car across the line for fourth.

Hamilton may only have one more non-finish on his 2016 stat sheet than Rosberg, but it was the second of those – an engine blow-up while comfortably leading in Malaysia – that might have been the final straw. Hamilton has had the worst of Mercedes’ unreliability issues this season – as well as Malaysia, he had engine dramas compromise his qualifying in China and Russia – which means he’s either been desperately unlucky, Rosberg is due for some pain of his own, or a mixture of both. Both drivers have won nine races this season, and while Hamilton comes in as the man in form after winning the past three Grands Prix, he’ll need a little help from his teammate if he’s to take the title for a fourth time.

Thank you, and goodnight

As the final race of the season, Abu Dhabi will be where several drivers say goodbye to their current employers this weekend. Nico Hulkenberg will drive for Force India for the final time before heading to Renault, while Renault’s Kevin Magnussen will step out in yellow for the last time before heading to Haas. The man he’ll replace, Esteban Gutierrez, hasn’t got his 2017 F1 future sorted out yet after being jettisoned by the American team, while young Frenchman Esteban Ocon will finish up his short stint at Manor to take Hulkenberg’s ride at Force India. But two bigger names making their farewells will hog the headlines this weekend, and with good reason.

Jenson Button will race for the final time for McLaren ahead of his 2017 sabbatical, and perhaps for the final time in F1 full stop. While the 2009 world champion’s future is unclear, what isn’t is that Felipe Massa’s 250th Grand Prix will be his last, the Brazilian veteran bowing out on Sunday night after racing for Williams one final time. It surely won’t be as emotional as Massa’s walk back to the pits after crashing out of his home race in Brazil a fortnight ago, but there’ll be plenty of people lining up to pat Massa (and Button) on the back after long, popular and successful F1 careers.

The fight for fourth

Daniel Ricciardo separated himself from the chasing pack to establish himself as the best of the rest behind the all-dominant Mercedes duo this season, his eighth podium of the year in Mexico two races ago ensuring he couldn’t be caught for third in the drivers’ standings for the second time in three seasons.

The three-way battle behind the affable Aussie for fourth has been harder to read, with Sebastian Vettel (197 points) coming to Abu Dhabi just ahead of Max Verstappen (192) after the Dutchman’s incredible performance in Brazil a fortnight ago. Kimi Raikkonen (178) might be too far back after coming a cropper at Interlagos, but has two Abu Dhabi podiums to his credit, his 2012 win for Lotus the occasion of his “leave me alone, I know what I’m doing” rant that almost broke the internet.

The long straights into slow corners of the Yas Marina circuit appear to play more into Ferrari’s hands than help the Red Bull, but who would dare underestimate Verstappen after his once-in-a-generation drive in Brazil?

Third time lucky?

Abu Dhabi 2016 marks the third time the title will be decided at Yas Marina, and we’re due a gripping race after the first two fell flat. The 2010 decider broke new ground in that we had four drivers (Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Vettel and Hamilton) in mathematical contention for the crown at the last race of the season for the first (and only) time, but the race never reached any great heights after Webber pitted early after a poor first stint, Ferrari covered him with an early stop for championship leader Alonso, and Vettel capitalised on his two title rivals being stuck in traffic and unable to overtake to cruise to victory and take the championship, leading the standings for the only time all season after the final race.

In 2014, with the dark cloud of double points threatening to turn the final race of the year into a farce, Hamilton came into the decider with a 17-point lead over Rosberg, but the German’s car was crippled with an ERS failure and he faded to 14th place, Hamilton taking an untroubled 11th win for the year and his second title in a largely processional affair. We can only hope for better this weekend.

Two is better than one

2-1 sounds more like a football score than a stat relevant to F1, but Felipe Nasr’s ninth place for Sauber at his home Grand Prix in Brazil last time out saw the Swiss squad score its first two points for 2016 – and edge ahead of Manor for 10th place in the constructors’ standings. Should Sauber stay there after Sunday’s race, the team will qualify for a championship payment of around 35 million Euros, a huge boost for a team that has struggled for financial stability in recent times, and went through a significant ownership re-structure before the Hungarian GP in July. For Manor, which headed Sauber from round nine in Austria onwards after Pascal Wehrlein finished 10th at the Red Bull Ring, Brazil was a cruel, cruel blow. Take a glance from the action at the front of the field to see what Sauber and Manor are doing in Abu Dhabi – and consider the enormity of what one point can mean.

The 5 best MotoGP riders of 2016

Who shone the brightest on two wheels in 2016, and why?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

It’s been the season to trump all seasons in the MotoGP world championship – 25 winners across all three world championship categories, with an unheard-of nine winners in the premier class alone. Decades-long droughts were broken, rising stars emerged, order was restored at the top of the standings, and a host of rider changes after the season finale in Valencia already have us licking our lips for 2017.

That’s for the future, but what about the past? Who were the five best riders in MotoGP this year, and why? We’ve looked at the grid statistically, chronologically and analytically, with the riders themselves weighing in on their seasons. Let’s count them down from five to one.

5. Cal Crutchlow

The stats
Points/championship position: 141, seventh
Wins: 2 (Czech Republic, Australia)
Podiums: 4
Poles: 1
Fastest laps: 3
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying/race: N/A (LCR Honda had only one bike on the 2016 grid)

The summary
Crutchlow’s 2016 started and ended with a whimper – he had just five points after the opening five races, and he crashed out of the last two Grands Prix in Malaysia and Valencia. But between the misery came occasional mastery – his wins at Brno and Phillip Island were from the top shelf – while from Germany in round nine to Australia in round 16, the Brit scored 121 points; only Marc Marquez (128) managed more in that same span. His victory at Brno – the first for a British rider since Barry Sheene in 1981 – was his day of days. While Crutchlow finished behind Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa in the standings, it’s hard to argue he didn’t have higher points than both.

The quote
“There have been a lot of races this year where I’ve been able to battle with the other factory guys. Looking at the other satellite bikes, they haven’t battled with their factory guys. So we have to take credit for that on a package that I don’t believe is good as the other satellite teams.”
– Crutchlow after the season

The expert: Chris Vermeulen
“Both ends of the season were about the same for Crutchlow, but the middle of it was really strong. To my mind he was the biggest improver of the year. At the start of the year, he was inconsistent and not quick, but he got things together after he started to do some testing, at the Red Bull Ring for Honda and a tyre test at Sepang and got to try some different chassis. To be first independent team rider, he had a good year.”
Grand Prix winner Chris Vermeulen is a TV analyst for Fox Sports in Australia

4. Jorge Lorenzo

The stats
Points/championship position: 233, third
Wins: 4 (Qatar, France, Italy, Valencia)
Podiums: 10
Poles: 4
Fastest laps: 2
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Lorenzo 9, Rossi 9
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Lorenzo 8, Rossi 9 (neither finished in Japan)
Points compared to teammate: Lorenzo 233, Rossi 249

The summary
Three wins in the first six races had Lorenzo’s title defence on track, but the cold and rainy European summer exposed his greatest weakness – a lack of confidence in the wet brought on by too many painful memories of painful crashes, and an inability to find the edge grip with Michelin’s tyres that makes him, on his day, untouchable. Tenth at Assen and a depressing 15th at the Sachsenring (where he finished 77 seconds behind race-winner Marquez and admitted he “didn’t feel safe”) were the low points, while crashing in Japan officially ended his title quest. He signed off on nine years in Yamaha blue with a signature lights-to-flag win at Valencia, where no-one could get near him. The challenge of dragging Ducati back to the summit, where the Italian manufacturer hasn’t been since Casey Stoner in 2007, is next.

The quote
“During the race you spend 45 minutes completely focused on what you are doing to dominate this bike, so when you cross the line you aren’t very emotional yet and you don’t think too much. After two or three minutes I started remembering the best moments in my career and also the hard moments, and in parc ferme it was very emotional with my team.”
– Lorenzo after his final race for Yamaha in Valencia

The expert: Chris Vermeulen
“It was more than just the rain with Lorenzo at Assen, Sachsenring and Brno, it was the cold as well. It’s all about temperature in the tyres for him. When it got cold and wet and they lost temperature out of the tyres, Lorenzo just couldn’t use his riding style. When he has that edge grip and the temperature is higher, he’s just so consistent, look at the last race at Valencia. When he has everything to his liking, he’s very, very hard to beat.”

3. Valentino Rossi

The stats
Points/championship position: 249, second
Wins: 2 (Spain, Catalunya)
Podiums: 10
Poles: 3
Fastest laps: 2
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Rossi 9, Lorenzo 9
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Rossi 9, Lorenzo 8 (neither finished in Japan)
Points compared to teammate: Rossi 249, Lorenzo 233

The summary
A third straight year as the bridesmaid rather than the bride for ‘The Doctor’, as he was championship runner-up again, that 10th world title remaining agonisingly out of reach. Four non-finishes, three of them from self-inflicted crashes in Austin, Assen and Japan, were very uncharacteristic of the super-consistent Italian, but it was his engine blow-up at Mugello where a win looked very likely that saw him fall more than a race win’s worth of points from the series lead, and he was on the back foot thereafter. While Rossi bounced back from his home heartbreak to win next time out at Catalunya, Yamaha managed just one more victory (Lorenzo in the season finale at Valencia) in the final 11 races, and 249 points was Rossi’s lowest haul since 2013.

The quote
“2016 brought a lot of positive things; second place in the championship, a lot of podiums and front row starts. Next year I want to try to win more races, more than two, but we are always competitive. Unfortunately I made some mistakes and I was a bit unlucky with the engine in Mugello so I was a bit too far behind in the championship, but anyway it was a good season.”
– Rossi after Valencia

The expert: Mick Doohan
“I haven’t seen him this enthusiastic about going racing since I first saw him come into MotoGP – he’s not getting any younger, but he’s not getting any slower. I’ve got no idea why he’s that keen to be pushing himself this far after 20 years at the top end of the sport, but whatever it is, it’s good for the sport. He’s certainly why everyone turns on the television or shows up at the gate to buy a ticket.”
Mick Doohan is a five-time 500cc world champion and winner of 54 Grands Prix

2. Maverick Vinales

The stats
Points/championship position: 202, fourth
Wins: 1 (Great Britain)
Podiums: 4
Poles: 0
Fastest laps: 2
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Vinales 13, Aleix Espargaro 5
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Vinales 16, Espargaro 2
Points compared to teammate: Vinales 202, Espargaro 93

The summary
Vinales ahead of Rossi and Lorenzo? The second-best rider in a season where he won one race? We say yes, and yes. Vinales had never stepped onto a MotoGP podium before this season, finishing 12th in the 2015 standings as he cut his premier-class teeth while Suzuki found its feet on its return to the top flight. But this year, his star shone. Vinales was set to take a maiden MotoGP podium in round two in Argentina but crashed, but third in round five at Le Mans quickly fixed that. He absolutely annihilated teammate Espargaro on the same bike (only once, at Jerez, did the older Spaniard beat the younger one in a race where Vinales finished), and his win at the British GP seemed a long time coming, a strange thing to say about a rider who was making his 30th MotoGP start at Silverstone. Vinales standing atop a MotoGP podium just looked normal, and like something we’ll see many times in years to come. It’ll be fascinating how the 21-year-old gets on with new teammate Rossi when he takes the Yamaha ride vacated by Lorenzo for next season.

The quote
“Overall, think I have grown up a lot as a rider. And also, the first year was really difficult, really tough and hard for me. But this year, we could demonstrate that we improve the level a lot, I improve a lot as a rider. Not only on the bike, but also in the box, working harder. Being fourth in the championship, we did really well.”
– Vinales after Valencia

The expert: Kevin Schwantz
“To put the Suzuki up front was a major accomplishment for him, but when he gets to Yamaha, he’s going to be expected to be at the front. It’s going to be more pressure on him, and I think being in the garage next to Valentino is always going to be something that could intimidate you. But it’ll be interesting to see, because I think Maverick is a huge talent. I wish he would have stayed at Suzuki, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can make everything work at Yamaha.”
– Kevin Schwantz is the 1993 500cc world champion

1. Marc Marquez

The stats
Points/championship position: 298, first
Wins: 5 (Argentina, USA, Germany, Aragon, Japan)
Podiums: 12
Poles: 7
Fastest laps: 4
Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Marquez 17, Dani Pedrosa/Hiroshi Aoyama/Nicky Hayden 1
Head-to-head vs teammate in race: Marquez 15, Pedrosa/Aoyama/Hayden 3
Points compared to teammate: Marquez 298, Pedrosa/Aoyama/Hayden 156

The summary
You’d have got better odds of being hit by a meteorite than Marquez winning the 2016 title with consistency rather than sheer speed, or winning it at all after Honda struggled big-time in pre-season testing. But the 2016 version of Marquez wasn’t the one who would win it or bin it the year before, when six non-finishes scuppered his title defence. Victories in Argentina in round two and next time out at Austin (he’s a perfect eight-for-eight for wins in MotoGP races in the US) gave him a championship lead he barely relinquished, and he dropped the hammer on the rest at the Sachsenring, judging the switch to slick tyres on a drying track to perfection and making the rest of the field look second-rate as stormed to a 48-point championship lead at the mid-year break. From there it was a matter of when, not if, he’d win his third MotoGP title in his first four seasons, but it surprised everyone, not least Marquez himself, when Rossi and Lorenzo both crashed in Japan to gift him the crown on Honda’s home soil.

The quote
“It’s been a great year. You always have weak points that you can improve, but if I have to give myself a grade I would say 9.5. The half-point off might be because of Le Mans, I made a mistake where I should’ve avoided it. Another mistake was to push too much where I shouldn’t have, like at Silverstone, even if I managed to save it and finished fourth. This year has been really good!”
– Marquez after winning the title in Japan

The expert: Mitchell Adam
“Title number three was very different to Marquez’s second in 2014, when he got the ball rolling with 10 straight wins. He set the title up with a big points haul in the mixed-weather Assen, Sachsenring and Brno races where his rivals came unstuck, and turned on devastating speed when he wanted to after that to have things wrapped up by the time he headed to Phillip Island.”
– Mitchell Adam covers MotoGP for Autosport

Front to back: the Brazilian Grand Prix

Reviewing every F1 team and driver after a chaotic rain-lashed race at Interlagos.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 1st, finished 1st
Nico Rosberg: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd
Perhaps it was the Ayrton Senna tribute helmet, perhaps it was needing to win to keep his title hopes alive; whatever the case, Hamilton finally broke through at what has typically been a bogey track despite winning his 2008 world title in Brazil, mastering the ever-changing conditions to take his third Grand Prix victory in succession, this time by the decisive margin of over 11 seconds. The only bad news for the Brit was that Rosberg – again – managed to finish second, keeping one hand on the title trophy despite yet another race weekend where he was no match for his teammate. To Rosberg’s credit, he banked 18 points in conditions that could have easily tripped up his championship quest, and survived a half-spin in the treacherous final sector that wrecked the races of so many of his rivals. The mathematical permutations of the season finale in Abu Dhabi in two weeks’ time are many, but the simple one is this – if Rosberg manages to finish on the podium, which he’s done for the past eight Grands Prix, the championship is his no matter what Hamilton does in the desert.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 5th, finished 5th
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 3rd, did not finish
Starting and finishing fifth reads, on paper at least, as a routine afternoon for Vettel, but his race was anything but, the German sliding off and spinning as the field scrabbled for grip once the safety car came in on lap eight. Vettel fell to the tail of the pack, but muscled his way back through in the latter stages, and despite some disapproval with a robust passing move by Verstappen, had far less to say over the radio than he did in Mexico two weeks previously as he banked 10 points. Raikkonen outqualified Vettel on Saturday with a lap he described as “average”, and the Finn was incredibly fortunate not to be collected by the chasing pack as he aquaplaned and spun into the wall on the start-finish straight on lap 20, his crash prompting a safety car and then a red flag. It was just the second time in the past 14 races that Raikkonen, who secured his 2007 world title at Interlagos, failed to score points.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 13th, did not finish
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 11th, finished 11th
There may not have been a more emotional moment in Formula One this year than Massa’s return to the pits after his crash at the last corner on lap 47; in his second-last race and at the circuit where he so nearly won the world title in 2008, the proud Sao Paulo native couldn’t contain the tears as he walked down the pit lane to a guard of honour from mechanics of several teams, the Brazilian flag draped over his shoulders and with his wife and son in tow. “I will never forget this day,” he said. A classy tribute to a class act. Teammate Bottas finished the race but outside of the points in 11th after trying to make a gamble on intermediate tyres pay off, almost certainly consigning the team that has finished third in the constructors’ race for the past two seasons to fifth with only the Abu Dhabi GP to come. Off-track, Williams confirmed during the week that 18-year-old Canadian Lance Stroll will take the seat vacated by Massa for next season.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 6th, finished 8th
Max Verstappen: qualified 4th, finished 3rd
Verstappen signalled his intent as soon as the race got underway properly on lap eight, storming past Raikkonen into the first corner once the safety car left the field their own devices and giving pursuit to Rosberg. He brilliantly passed the championship leader around the outside at turn three soon after the re-start following Raikkonen’s monster shunt, but his podium chances looked done when he pitted for wet tyres after an earlier stop for inters proved to be the wrong call when the rain increased. No matter; Verstappen re-joined in 14th with 17 laps to go and made it all the way to third, a result he described as “almost as beautiful as my race in Barcelona”, referring to his Spanish GP win earlier this year. Teammate Ricciardo finally added another points finish to his CV at a track that, statistically at least, is his worst in F1; the Australian always seemed to be on the wrong tyres at the wrong time on Sunday, and while he was also able to make ground after a late stop for wets, a fogged-up visor played a part in him not advancing further. A combined 19 points for the Bulls saw the team wrap up second place in the constructors’ championship over Ferrari.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 8th, finished 7th
Sergio Perez: qualified 9th, finished 4th
Force India all but secured fourth place in the constructors’ title over Williams on Sunday in Sao Paulo, with a combined 18 points for Perez and Hulkenberg to zero for the Bottas/Massa pairing seeing it head to the season finale in Abu Dhabi with a 27-point advantage. Perez showed his typical prowess in tricky conditions and used his feel for being on the right tyres at the right time to put himself in podium contention, but was denied by the flying Verstappen on the third-last lap. Hulkenberg, at the site of his shock pole position for Williams back in 2010, was desperately unlucky when he had to pit for new tyres under safety car conditions when running fourth after picking up some debris, and while he ran out of laps to overhaul Sainz, he was able to keep Ricciardo behind to snare six valuable points.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 16th, did not finish
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 18th, finished 14th
How bad were the conditions at Interlagos on Sunday? Here’s Palmer’s take, after the Briton had to retire just before the first red-flag period of the race on lap 28 after clattering into Kvyat. “I couldn’t see past my own steering wheel,” he admitted after becoming a spectator for his first non-finish in six races. Magnussen had nothing to lose starting so far back, and rolled the dice with intermediate tyres before most of his rivals in what amounted to a futile attempt to sneak into the points. Both drivers had their 2017 futures confirmed during the week, Palmer staying at Renault next year to partner Hulkenberg (and to keep a seat warm for Bottas in 2018 if informed paddock speculation is on target), while Magnussen, unhappy with the lack of a long-term offer from the French manufacturer (perhaps for that very reason), is off to Haas next year.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 14th, finished 13th
Carlos Sainz: qualified 15th, finished 6th
Sainz joked that he was contemplating a rain dance on Saturday night to get his Toro Rosso up the order from a lowly 15th-place return in qualifying, and it must have worked, the Spaniard equalling a career-best result by finishing in the same position he crossed the line in at the Spanish and United States races earlier this season. He was unlucky it wasn’t even better, as he managed his tyres superbly in the crazy conditions and ran as high as fourth before being demoted by the charging Verstappen and Vettel in superior machinery late in the race. Kvyat’s soggy Sunday afternoon was less straightforward, the Russian having to make two pit stops within the first 17 laps because of a slow puncture, and then making do with an ill-handling car after his big contact with Palmer.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 22nd, finished 9th
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 21st, did not finish
Sauber were arguably the biggest winners of all in Brazil – the Swiss team has never finished last in the constructors’ championship, and two points for Nasr at his home race spared their blushes after things looked dire on Saturday, when Sauber qualified on the back row of the grid, Nasr slowest of all. Nasr kept his head when plenty of more experienced drivers were losing theirs, and while he fell back through the field late as faster cars simply overwhelmed the Sauber, he kept it on the island to snare two precious points and spark jubilant scenes in the Sauber garage. Ericsson caused a safety car intervention on lap 12 when he crashed heavily at the final corner; the Swede was unhurt, but the same couldn’t be said for his chassis, which came to a smoky halt in the middle of the pit lane entry road.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 17th, finished 16th
Fernando Alonso: qualified 10th, finished 10th
Alonso salvaged a point for McLaren at a circuit that brought up an unwelcome reminder of its days as an F1 powerhouse – it was at Interlagos in 2012 where teammate Button won his and McLaren’s most recent race. The Spaniard was mighty to drag his car into Q3 on Saturday, and dropped to the back of the field with 15 laps to go after a spin on Sunday before storming past seven cars before the end to snatch the final point on offer. Button spent much of Saturday moaning about understeer, oversteer and everything else in between, and didn’t do a lot different on Sunday as he finished plumb last in his penultimate GP.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 19th, finished 15th
Esteban Ocon: qualified 20th, finished 12th
Manor had doggedly hung on to 10th place in the constructors’ championship since Wehrlein scored a point in round nine in Austria, but Nasr’s ninth place for Sauber combined with Ocon falling out of the points late saw the sport’s minnows sink to the tail of the teams’ race once more. Both drivers kept their heads in the chaotic early stages and moved up inside the top 10 when others pitted, and Ocon did remarkably well to avoid Raikkonen’s stranded Ferrari as the field piled through the mist on the lap 20 re-start. Off-track, the young Frenchman – not his slightly older German teammate – was preferred as Force India’s second driver for 2017 with Hulkenberg’s departure to Renault, Ocon set to re-join the team he worked for as a test driver last season.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 7th, did not start
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 12th, did not finish
There were apologies and anger on the two sides of the Haas garage, as Grosjean didn’t even manage to start the race after crashing on his reconnaissance lap to the grid in the treacherously wet final sector. “I feel so bad for the team,” he said. “I was just doing laps to the grid, not even flat out. I picked up wheelspin like an on-off switch, not pushing at all. Very strange.” Gutierrez, told earlier in the week that he’d be getting the boot for Magnussen next year, retired nine laps from home with electronics issues, and made his displeasure very clear in an animated discussion with team principal Gunther Steiner. With just one points finish in 58 career races, the Mexican didn’t exactly make a compelling case to be retained.

Miller Time: The finish line

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller reflects on 2016 after signing off with a points finish in Valencia.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

I’ll be honest, that wasn’t the most exciting race to end what has been a pretty good season for me at Valencia on Sunday. Sometimes when you look at the race results and it shows you finishing in the same position that you started, and that doesn’t tell the story of the race as you can be in some big old battles and have some fun out there. Sunday, not so much. But in truth Valencia can be a bit like that, and starting 15th and finishing in the same position after 30 laps wasn’t the most thrilling race I’ve had all year. But it was good to finish in the points again, that’s three times in a row to end the year, and I can’t complain about that.

Our bike tends to struggle a bit with traction out of the slow-speed corners and Valencia has plenty of those, so it was probably no surprise that we couldn’t keep the top 10 run going after Australia and Malaysia. I made an OK start and got past the Pramac Ducati guys (Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci), but that wasn’t going to last for long with the speed those Ducatis have down the straight, you could see that up towards the front with Vale (Valentino Rossi) not being able to keep (Andrea) Iannone behind him, that thing is like a rocket. But I was able to keep 15th and Eugene Laverty (Ducati) behind me more or less for the last 13 laps, and it was good to get another point.

I ended up finishing in the points seven times this year compared to six last year, so that probably doesn’t sound like a massive improvement in some ways. But compared to last year, I feel like I’ve taken a step up and become a different rider, a better one too. Yes, there was the win at Assen and all of that, which was amazing and something that will always be the first thing I think of when I think of 2016. But we had strong pace in some other races too, I was right up there at Sachsenring, which is a track I really like, I was fast right through the weekend in Austria before I came off in warm-up and hurt myself, and I was in a big fight with a lot of the guys when I came 10th at Phillip Island, so there were times when we were really strong.

The other thing that will always be in the front of my mind about this year was being injured all the time, which sucked of course. I never really felt like I got a good run with it, right from when I had my motocross accident before the season started and messed up the pre-season. I hated missing races too – just ask the team, they’ll tell you that! – and only doing 13 out of the 18 races was a shame. That’s a big priority for the off-season when it eventually comes, get healthy again and get back to 100 per cent before we get into 2017. I feel like I’ve been dealing with various things all year, so it’ll be a relief to get back to proper fitness again.

That off-season doesn’t last long, we’re back testing on Tuesday for the 2017 season which is always a bit weird two days after you do your last race of the season before. You’re back at the same track with the same garage and a fair few less people, and you know that everyone will be looking at the guys like Jorge (Lorenzo), Maverick (Vinales) and the others who are changing teams. We’ll do our job and keep it pretty low-key, I think. We have a test at Jerez too, and then I need to get my foot looked at, get the plates taken out of it. We have a team wrap-up in Belgium for Marc VDS, then it’ll be time to come back to Australia for some warm weather in early December for a while before we hit the pre-season training hard for 2017. I’ll be pretty hungry for it by then.

Thanks for reading all year, it’s been good to talk to you all back at home and the support from home this year has been pretty incredible really, so hopefully we can have a better year next year and keep moving forwards.

Catch you soon,
Jack

MotoGP, take a bow

Five talking points as the curtain comes down on the 2016 MotoGP season this weekend at Valencia.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

No matter what angle you look at it, MotoGP in 2016 has been epic – which means we’re a little bit sad that the season wraps up with round 18 at Valencia this weekend. Nine different winners, Jack Miller ensuring the Aussie flag fluttered over the top step of the podium for the first time since 2012, the emergence of a new ‘alien’ in Maverick Vinales and plenty more storylines besides ensures 2016 will be remembered for years to come – and that’s without all of the rider movement announcements of this year that will shape next year, not least the shift of one of the sport’s kingpins, Jorge Lorenzo, from Yamaha to Ducati.

Here’s what we’re hanging out to see this weekend in Valencia, other than the traditional post-race firecrackers being lit by the race winners in Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP, that is.

A Marquez bounce-back

It’s hard to put Marc Marquez and Valencia in the same sentence without your mind drifting back to his incredible Moto2 race there in 2012, where he started last after being thrown out of qualifying for dangerous riding, overtook 22 riders (that’s no misprint) on the first lap, and then won his final race in the category before moving to MotoGP. He’s not stopped succeeding at the Ricardo Tormo circuit since – in three MotoGP appearances, he’s finished third (2013), first (2014) and second last year, where the controversy with Valentino Rossi saw him booed on the podium as fellow Spaniard Lorenzo took the title. Marquez’s third championship in four years this season was won by consistency as much as speed, but since securing the crown at Motegi, he’s crashed out at Phillip Island for his sole DNF of the year, and then fell again in Malaysia last time out, remounting to finish a lowly 11th. There’s nothing at stake for Marquez this weekend, but we’re tipping he’ll be hell-bent on recording win number six of his 2016 campaign.

When the music stops …

The last race of 2016 means the final outing for some familiar faces in familiar colours before the grid takes a dramatic re-shuffle for next season. As well as Lorenzo’s last race in Yamaha blue, which ends a nine-year run that yielded three championships, Valencia marks the final race for Vinales at Suzuki before he moves to Yamaha, for Andrea Iannone at Ducati before moving to Suzuki, for Aleix Espargaro (Suzuki) before he shifts to Aprilia, for Tech 3 Yamaha teammates Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith before both join KTM’s MotoGP adventure, and for Alvaro Bautista at Aprilia, who will return to the Aspar outfit he won the 2006 125cc title with to ride a satellite Ducati next season.

Speaking of KTM …

The Austrian manufacturer will dip a tentative toe into 2017 by competing as a wildcard at Valencia with Mika Kallio in the saddle, and after endless laps of testing this season, the 16-time Grand Prix winner in the feeder classes is looking forward to getting into a competitive environment once more, even if his expectations are modest. “We need to be realistic that we’re not going to Valencia to win the race,” the Finn told motogp.com. “But I think for sure we can fight against the other guys. I don’t know in the top 15 or in the top 10 – nobody really knows at the moment because we’ve been alone on the track and there’s been no reference point. So it will also be interesting from my side to see what our level is.” The last time a new (or returning) manufacturer competed as a wildcard at Valencia came in 2014, when Frenchman Randy de Puniet appeared for Suzuki but managed to complete only 12 of the 30 laps before retiring with technical dramas.

The perfect 10?

Andrea Dovizioso’s victory in Malaysia last time out gave MotoGP an unprecedented ninth different winner in one season, and was the Italian’s first win since his maiden (and sole) success at the 2009 British Grand Prix. Who could follow the Ducati rider to the top step and make it a perfect 10 for 2016? Pol Espargaro (eighth) and Hector Barbera (ninth) are the only riders in the top 10 in the standings without a victory this season, while 11th-placed Aleix Espargaro was fourth on the grid in Valencia last year and has seven top-10 finishes in 17 races this season, which arguably makes the Suzuki rider the man more likely. It’s a long shot, but after the predictably unpredictable season we’ve seen this year, nothing can be ruled out.

The one-day off-season

The pit lane garage doors will close on Sunday night to mark the end of the 2016 season – and then re-open early on Tuesday morning for the two-day post-race test that officially heralds the beginning of the 2017 campaign. Expect plenty of plain leathers and unrecognisable liveries as we see Lorenzo make his Ducati debut and Vinales on a Yamaha, not to mention the first official MotoGP laps for 2017 rookies Alex Rins (Suzuki), Moto2 champ Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger (Tech 3 Yamaha) and Sam Lowes at Aprilia.