Month: December 2016

Why MotoGP in 2017 will be mega

Can 2017 be a worthy encore to the compellingly crazy 2016 season? We say yes.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

MotoGP has plenty of work to do in 2017. How can next year match the one we’ve just witnessed, with nine different race winners, four first-time victors, all-out brawls at the front of the field and plenty more drama besides?

Fortunately, a chaotic rider market has helped to set expectations for 2017 sky-high. More than half of the 23 names on the 2017 entry list will be in new teams (or new to the category altogether) next year, and against the backdrop of a fairly stable calendar and sequence of races, it’s the familiar faces in new places that will be the source of much of the intrigue for the season ahead.

Looking for a reason or five to get excited about 2017? Read on.

A triple treat

Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo. The three riders who have finished 1-2-3 (in various orders) in the championship for the past three years. You’d get short odds on this terrific trio doing likewise again in 2017, but this time it promises to be different, with Lorenzo’s move to Ducati meaning the sport’s three alpha dogs are riding for three different manufacturers. Can Marquez tame the Honda RC213V and curb his natural daredevil style once more to repeat the championship he regained last season? Will Rossi thrive without Lorenzo on the sister Yamaha and be a legitimate title contender again at age 38? And can Lorenzo drag Ducati towards the pointy end on a more regular basis than the retained Andrea Dovizioso has or the departed Andrea Iannone could? The three kingpins of the sport in three different teams with three different philosophies of how to win races and championships? It promises to be the story of the season.

Lorenzo’s legacy

The stats: 35 races, no wins, just three podiums and a best placing of sixth in the championship. You can be sure Lorenzo has Rossi’s numbers from two barren years at Ducati in 2011-12 burned into his brain, and while ‘The Doctor’ became a title contender again once he bolted back to Yamaha, his ex-teammate will be massively motivated to make his own stint in Ducati red far more successful. Lorenzo’s legacy is intact whatever he does for the Italian manufacturer – the three-time MotoGP world champion has finished third or better in the championship a remarkable eight times in nine premier-class campaigns – but if he could go to Ducati and do what Rossi couldn’t – as in restore the red team to its glory days of Casey Stoner in 2007 – he’d surely be considered one of the best to ever do it. The Spaniard turns 30 in May, has time, class and resources on his side, and is clearly raring to go, if his regular tweets counting down the days to the start of the season are any indication. We can’t wait either.

Vinales is ready

If Lorenzo is chomping at the bit to get started, his replacement at the factory Yamaha outfit, Maverick Vinales, was ready five weeks ago, when he topped the timesheets on his first test for his new team in the post-race hit-out at Valencia the week after the final Grand Prix of 2016. Expect Vinales to take all of five minutes to settle in at Yamaha and be a potential race-winner from day one in Qatar in late March. Will he fare better compared to Rossi than Dovizioso against Lorenzo or Dani Pedrosa trying to halt the Marquez juggernaut? Almost certainly. Will the so-far amicable relationship between Vinales and Rossi stand the test of time? Based on previous evidence, it’d have to be a long shot. After all, remember Marquez admitting he had posters of Rossi on his bedroom wall growing up, and then how things went in Malaysia in 2015? Regardless, ‘The Mack’ on full attack on a Yamaha will be a sight to see.

The graduates

A quick Moto2 quartet steps up to the main game this season, and will all be worth watching for different reasons as they vie for what should be a very competitive rookie of the year prize (unlike last season, when Tito Rabat beat precisely nobody to take the debutant gong – the Spaniard was the only first-year rider in 2016). Johann Zarco makes the leap to MotoGP at 26 and as the only two-time Moto2 champion in the category’s history, while his Tech 3 Yamaha teammate is Jonas Folger, who won three races in three Moto2 seasons but never seemed to completely deliver on his obvious potential. Alex Rins has big shoes to fill as Vinales’ replacement at Suzuki, but has won races in the lower categories in four of his five world championship campaigns and has class written all over him. And at Aprilia, Sam Lowes steps in alongside ex-Suzuki man Aleix Espargaro and will be hoping to bring the good (two wins last year) to the top flight while leaving the bad (a seemingly endless stream of crashes late in the season – he managed four laps total in the Japan-Australia-Malaysia flyaways) back in the intermediate category. Picking a ‘winner’ of this race within a race is too close to call.

It’s Miller time

Well, it has to be, doesn’t it? The coming season will be the third and final year of Jack Miller’s HRC contract, and he’s staying with Marc VDS for a second season. The progress Miller made last season – from 19th in the 2015 championship to 18th 12 months later – doesn’t look like much on paper, but the Aussie was barely fit last year, a pre-season motocross accident, a practice off at Austin and a heavy Sunday warm-up fall in Austria seeing him compete in just 13 of the 18 races, and many of those under major physical duress. Those 13 races featured five top-10 finishes, the first five of his career, and of course that maiden spectacular success at the Dutch TT. Off-season surgery to get some metal out of his right leg is done, and it’s time for Miller to get healthy, become consistent and benefit from the continuity of being in the same team for a second season as he looks to shape his future. As with anything the 21-year-old does, 2017 will be compulsory viewing.

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Why we can’t wait for F1 in 2017

Faster cars, no No.1, fresh faces and a Bull battle? Count us in.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

From our vantage point, there’s only one good thing about the end of a Formula One season – it’s that the next one kicks off right here in our backyard, as the season-opening Australian Grand Prix is next up in March.

But it’s more than Albert Park’s name at the head of the calendar that has us more pumped than usual for F1, 2017-style. A big regulation reset, some fresh faces set to stand out, and – let’s not forget – a race between 22 drivers to fill the post of world champion vacated when Nico Rosberg said goodbye to F1 earlier this month.

Looking for a reason to get excited about F1 in 2017? Here’s five.

Wider, fatter and faster

‘More aggressive-looking cars’ was the mandate for 2017, and a host of regulatory changes will give the sport a distinctive new look next season. The cars will be wider – by 20cm, looking more like their predecessors from the mid-to-late 1990s – and the tyres fatter – the rear Pirellis next season will be 20 per cent wider than this year’s rubber. Why? More mechanical grip equals more speed, and more speed should lead to a more spectacular spectacle, with lap times expected to tumble by five seconds. From the front, the noses of the cars will be longer (by 20cm) and pointier, while at the back, rear wings will be 15cm lower and 15cm wider.

How significant are the changes? Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz says the new cars look like “another category”, while his team’s technical director James Key told Autosport the changes are “massive”, adding that the amendments to bodywork, suspension and tyres are bigger than anything he’s experienced in close to two decades in the sport.

The cars will be much more physical to drive too, Daniel Ricciardo one driver who knows that his off-season will be more challenging than usual. “I’m actually looking forward to getting back into the training because of the rule changes next year and that the cars are going to be a fair bit quicker in the corners,” he said earlier in December. “We’ll have to change some things up in the preparation … being able to put on some strength and muscle will be more challenging and more rewarding, so I’m up for that.”

Will the changes lead to any increase in overtaking? Don’t hold your breath. Will the cars look more lively, fast and be more difficult to drive? Absolutely yes.

No number one

About the only team with any reason to be less than optimistic about the changes are Mercedes, and after the three-pointed star shone brightest by winning 51 of the 59 races since F1 switched to V6 turbo hybrids in 2014, you can understand why. When you add the departing Rosberg into that equation, the Silver Arrows clearly have the most to lose in 2017, which is great news for everyone else. As the drivers fight their new cars and one another in the chase for number one, bear in mind that 2017 will be the first season since 1994 that there’s no defending world champion on the grid. Sounds like the perfect recipe for someone to step up, doesn’t it?

New blood

Out at the end of 2016 went Jenson Button and Felipe Massa, who combined for 555 Grand Prix starts, 26 wins and a world championship (for Button in 2009) since 2000. Replacing the departed veterans are a pair of newbies who’ll attract plenty of attention in 2017. Well, Button’s replacement Stoffel Vandoorne is a nearly-newbie; the Belgian stood in at McLaren in this year’s Bahrain GP after Fernando Alonso’s monster shunt in Melbourne left him sore, and duly scored a point on debut for 10th. ‘The Stoff’ will be Alonso’s teammate this time around, and he’ll start his first full season in Australia on his 25th birthday in late March. Alonso sets a formidable benchmark for any driver in a sister car, but expect Vandoorne to acquit himself well.

The F1 world is less certain what Massa’s replacement at Williams, 18-year-old Canadian Lance Stroll, will do, but the son of Tommy Hilfiger fashion tycoon Lawrence Stroll couldn’t be more ready, spending much of 2016 pounding around circuits in Europe testing a 2014-spec Williams in between his regular schedule in the European F3 championship, which he won with ease. The progress of the new kids on the block will be a story to watch in ’17.

A Bull battle?

Ricciardo’s grin is (other than his shoey celebrations) his Formula One signature. Max Verstappen is generally pretty cool and calculated, and atypically mature beyond his 19 years. The Red Bull teammates have been pretty amicable in their time in the same garage so far, but with the team (and everyone else) consigned to sweeping up any scraps that may fall from the Mercedes table for the past three years, it’s easier to row the boat in the same direction when winning happens only occasionally. Could tensions rise if the rules reset for 2017 brings Red Bull right back into championship contention? Both drivers acknowledge that the stakes will be raised if a title fight materialises, and watching the pair regularly go all-out for victory – which we got a taste for in last season’s Malaysian Grand Prix won by Ricciardo – will be can’t-miss viewing if it eventuates.

A good start

A common bugbear for F1 fans in recent times has been race starts behind the safety car in wet weather, which drag on endlessly as drivers with more to lose moan about the conditions while rivals who want to take a chance express their desperation to get started. All before the head-shaking sight of drivers diving into the pits to change for intermediate or even dry rubber as soon as the safety car releases the field, making a mockery of the decision to delay the start for so long. In a procedural change for next year, cars will now line up on the grid once the race director deems it appropriate for the safety car to peel off the circuit and let the world’s best drivers get on with it, adding the unpredictable element of a standing start in less-than-ideal conditions to the show. That sound you hear? The applause of F1 fans the world over.

5 moments that made MotoGP in 2016

What we’ll always remember most from the 2016 MotoGP season, and why.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

How good was MotoGP in 2016? So good that in coming up with the five moments we’ll always remember from the season past, you could argue that an alternative five could easily fit the bill. In a season where we had nine different race winners, four first-time victors and more drama than we usually pack into five years, choosing what to leave out was no small task.

Our quest? To come up with the moments of the year that live longest in the memory once we turn the page on 2016. What memorable rides will we never forget? What clashes set tongues wagging and social media alight? Who delivered a performance that was truly from the top shelf?

Some of the shortlisted that didn’t make the cut? Andrea Iannone breaking a near six-year victory drought for Ducati in Austria. Iannone taking out his teammate Andrea Dovizioso on the final lap when both were certain podium finishers in Argentina. The epic last-lap stoush between Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez at Mugello. Maverick Vinales winning his maiden MotoGP race at Silverstone. Dovizioso winning for the first time in seven years and becoming the ninth different victor in 2016 at Sepang.

All worthy inclusions in any other year, but 2016 was clearly no ordinary season. The best of the best moments? These.

1. Miller’s masterpiece

Full disclosure: yes, us Aussies got a little bit excited about this one. Jack Miller’s chances of winning the Dutch TT in June were 1000 to 1 because, well, the bookies had to give the Queenslander and every other rider who had next to no chance of winning at Assen something … Qualifying 18th on Saturday was no great shakes for the 21-year-old, but when the rain came down on race day, he was off like a shot, making up six places on the first lap and sitting in eighth place when the red flag was thrown after 15 of the scheduled 26 laps when the conditions became unrideable. “Tenth was the best I’d done in MotoGP before,” he said afterwards, “and to improve on that in such tricky conditions and considering how far back I’d started, I was pretty content.” Better was to come when the race re-started, Miller storming to fourth on the first lap, seeing Valentino Rossi crash in front of him, and then scything past Marquez into the lead of a MotoGP race for the first time – and with the longest eight laps of his life to negotiate to take the chequered flag ahead of the best in the world.

After he managed that to become Australia’s first race-winner since Casey Stoner won his home GP in 2012, his post-race interview (“I’m not an idiot, this sort of makes it clear I do know how to ride a motorbike”), podium shoey celebration and candour in the press conference (“If I went past myself, I would have said ‘that dickhead is going to crash in two minutes'”) endeared him to MotoGP fans the world over, not just those looking for footwear to pour drinks into in the wee hours Down Under. It’s hard to imagine a less likely victory.

2. ‘The Doctor’s’ ill fortune

There was a time where Rossi simply owned Mugello – the Italian won his home Grand Prix seven years running between 2002-08 – but the last of those seven straight successes was his most recent win in the Tuscan hills before the 37-year-old took pole at Mugello in May, sending the packed stands into meltdown and ensuring a bumper crowd for race day. More than 100,000 yellow-clad Rossi devotees went bananas when Rossi and bitter rival Lorenzo went blow for blow over the opening nine laps, but it was then that Rossi’s Yamaha engine cried ‘enough’, sending the home hero into a smoky retirement and causing an eerie hush to fall over the circuit. Rossi was desperately unlucky; Lorenzo’s engine had failed in Sunday morning warm-up, but with a new powerplant for the race, he was able to fend Marquez off for the win as Rossi and his legion of fans were forced to watch and went home unhappy. Six rounds into the season, Rossi was already 37 points adrift of the championship lead, and never really recovered.

3. A gift before glory

Marquez came to Japan with the 2016 championship a mathematical possibility, but with a 52-point lead over Rossi and a 66-point advantage over Lorenzo with 100 points to play for in the final four races, most expected the title fight to rumble on to Phillip Island the following weekend at the very least. Marquez needed to win and have Rossi finish 14th or lower – and Lorenzo finish off the podium – to clinch the crown on Honda’s home soil, a trio of events that seemed unlikely in the extreme. Marquez took the lead on lap four and cleared off, but behind him, things got downright weird. Rossi crashed on lap seven to kill off his title hopes, but Lorenzo looked set to finish second before binning it with five laps to go, making Marquez the champion-elect. “I read on my pit board that Lorenzo was out – on that same lap I made mistakes in four or five corners, as it was difficult to stay focused,” he admitted afterwards. The Spaniard regained his composure and brought it home for his third world title on a day few would have predicted – the last time both factory Yamahas had crashed out of the same race was the 2011 British Grand Prix, when neither Lorenzo nor Ben Spies made it to the end.

4. Cal can

His good mate Miller had won a race, while Iannone had stepped atop the podium for the first time at the Red Bull Ring for his former manufacturer, Ducati. But rather than lament his lot, Cal Crutchlow dug deep and ran rings around the rest of the field at Brno, taking the Czech Republic GP in difficult conditions to become the first British premier-class winner since Barry Sheene in 1981. The maiden win was in the 31-year-old’s 98th start, and Crutchlow came from 10th on the grid and made his pre-race hard tyre gamble pay the ultimate dividend when he crossed the line seven seconds ahead of Rossi. “To even to be mentioned in the same sentence as Barry Sheene is something really nice,” Crutchlow said afterwards. “I made the best tyre choice on the grid, I was playing with them (his rivals). I had so much grip compared to the other guys that had not had the same tyre choice as me. I was cruising around.” The win was not only Crutchlow’s first – it was the maiden success for the independent LCR Honda outfit and team boss Lucio Cecchinello.

5. Home and dry

If there was ever a year for Marquez’s dominance at the Sachsenring to come to an end, 2016 was it. The Spaniard had won every race in every class he’d competed in at the undulating German circuit since 2010, but rain in the minutes before this year’s race meant wet tyres were the only sensible choice – but would need to be discarded for dryer rubber as the skies inevitably cleared. Some riders pitted and went for intermediates, while Marquez nearly crashed on lap 11 and tumbled to eighth. He then rolled the dice on lap 17, pitting and going straight to slick tyres, aiming to stay within the thin dry line that was emerging around the Sachsenring sweeps. From 14th place with 13 laps left, Marquez immediately started hacking five seconds a lap off the race leaders, proof that he’d timed his switch to perfection. By lap 25 he was in the lead, and he ended up finishing nearly 10 seconds ahead of second-placed Crutchlow for his seventh straight Sachsenring success. With Rossi back in eighth and Lorenzo having a nightmare and finishing 15th, Marquez extended his series lead to 48 points at the mid-point of the year – and his third world title was as good as in the bag.

5 moments that made F1 in 2016

What we’ll always remember most from the 2016 F1 season, and why.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The final race of the 2016 Formula One season was little more than a fortnight ago in Abu Dhabi, and plenty has happened on the F1 front since then – we’ll get to that later. Memories of the ’16 season are still fresh in everyone’s minds, but what are the moments of the year that will linger long after this campaign fades into the rear-vision mirror? What memorable drives, controversial clashes or displays of brilliance will we recall fondly as the years pass?

A few that were shortlisted but didn’t make the cut: Daniel Ricciardo’s mega pole lap at Monaco to take the only pole position by a non-Mercedes driver all year, his calamitous pit stop in the race on the Monte Carlo streets 24 hours later than scuppered his chances of winning F1’s most prestigious event, and the still-hard-to-believe lap one smash between teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in Spain, which eliminated both cars on the spot and re-ignited simmering tensions in the Mercedes garage.

1. Won and done

When we look back at the 2016 season, we’ll most likely remember something that happened after the 21 races were in the books. Rosberg’s stunning retirement announcement a little less than a week after becoming world champion for the first time caught his team, his peers and F1 fans around the world on the hop – after scaling the summit and finally getting the better of long-time adversary and former close friend Hamilton, the German elected to walk away from a guaranteed contract with the best team in the sport and untold millions at 31 to begin the first chapter of the rest of his life. He’s the first driver to quit from the top since Alain Prost in 1993, but the Frenchman was 38 and had already sat out the 1992 season before coming back with Williams and winning it all the following year, meaning his retirement was less of a shock. “I’ve made it. I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right,” Rosberg said. There was no bigger story in F1 this year.

2. Up in flames

Hamilton was sailing to victory in October’s Malaysian Grand Prix, and with Rosberg stuck down the field after a first-lap incident with Sebastian Vettel, the reigning and three-time world champion looked set to strike a telling blow in their intra-team fight with five races remaining. But on lap 40, Hamilton’s engine turned into a fireball, handing the lead to Ricciardo, and while Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen finished second, Rosberg scrambled back to third to snare 15 precious points for third on a day when he was last and facing the wrong way at the first corner of the race – and when Hamilton openly wondered if a higher power had decided he wasn’t making it a hat-trick of titles. The result gave Rosberg a decisive 23-point championship lead.

3. One for the ages

Yes, Verstappen won his maiden Grand Prix in Barcelona in May, but his Brazilian Grand Prix masterclass was something to behold. In 14th place with 17 laps to go and in weather better suited to boats than F1 cars, the Dutch teenager made the rest of the field look like amateurs as he stormed through to third, his drive evoking memories of Ayrton Senna’s wet-weather second for Toleman at Monaco in 1984, and Michael Schumacher’s 1996 Spanish GP win in atrocious conditions for Ferrari, where the German genius won by 45 seconds. Should Verstappen continue on to the greatness many expect of him, this will be the race that starts any highlight reel. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff put Verstappen’s display into succinct context. “Physics are being redefined,” he said.

4. The young and the relentless

Was Verstappen’s Brazilian third better than his Spanish success on his Red Bull debut? We say yes, if only for the sheer audaciousness of his driving at Interlagos, but the 18-year-old’s maturity was on full display at the Circuit de Catalunya, Verstappen keeping the far more experienced Kimi Raikkonen at bay for his first F1 win on a day when the first-lap Mercedes mess opened the door for others to shine. Yes, Verstappen (and Raikkonen) were on the more advantageous two-stop strategy in Spain where their respective teammates, Ricciardo and Vettel, made three stops, Ricciardo justifiably lamenting afterwards that his strategy “didn’t make sense” after he led for a large portion of the race. But that shouldn’t take away from what Verstappen did – with a chance to win a race for the first time and with a world champion behind him who was experienced enough to have raced against Max’s father Jos as far back as 2001, he didn’t make a single mistake – and became the youngest F1 winner ever.

5. Thirsty work

The chances of Ricciardo winning a Grand Prix this year looked pretty slim after his Monaco pit stop travails, so when the Australian finished second to Hamilton at the German GP in July, there was only one way to enjoy the spoils of his podium champagne – from his racing boot. No, he didn’t start the tradition, and no, he’s not the first Aussie to swig a celebratory shoey on the international stage. But he was happy to introduce it to the F1 show. “As far as I know I started it in F1 but not worldwide,” he explained. “It was a few loose Aussies, the Mad Hueys. They travel the world fishing, surfing and they like to drink a bit of beer and whatnot, and that’s where the shoey began. I know (MotoGP rider) Jack Miller knows a few of the guys from the Mad Hueys, so when he got his win in Assen, I suspected he was going to do it and he did, so I thought I’d keep the Australian tradition going.” From then on, any time Ricciardo made the podium for the rest of the season, shoeys were close to a certainty. Rosberg didn’t exactly love his sample of champagne from Ricciardo’s boot when the Red Bull driver won at Sepang, but Christian Horner played along. Mark Webber was once bitten and twice shy – after reluctantly joining in at Spa, he threw Ricciardo’s boot into the crowd in Malaysia to avoid a second sip. And Ricciardo himself knew where to draw the line. A shoey after a sweaty second place in Singapore? Pass.

The Dan Diaries: My best year yet

In his final driver column for the year, Red Bull Racing star Daniel Ricciardo talks about the moments that made his 2016.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The season is over, but the season is still going – that’s how it feels anyway. We might have officially finished on Sunday night in Abu Dhabi, but it hasn’t really stopped since then. Tuesday we had a tyre test for Pirelli, and then Wednesday I travelled back to the UK to spend Thursday at the factory with the team and in the simulator. Then Vienna on Friday for the FIA prizegiving, where the top three drivers in the championship get their trophies. I have commitments right up until the 16th of December back home in Oz, and then I’m completely off from then. So it’s been busy, but I guess being busy means you’ve had a good year, so I’ll definitely take that.

We knew going into 2016 that it was the longest season ever with 21 races and whatnot, but it’s definitely felt like that the last couple of races. I was going alright energy-wise until I got to Brazil, and then you realise that it’s all catching up with you. More races is cool and everything, but it’s the other things once you get out of Europe and head to all the flyaways, back-to-backs, the time away from home … it’ll be good to get that downtime.

You get smarter with how you handle the back-end of the season, and my approach has definitely changed over the years. Before I got to F1 it was train every day, train as hard as you can and work as hard as you can, but with 21 races these days, there’s no way you can do that. Pre-season is the time of the year when you can set yourself up for what’s coming, and I hit it hard then. I then have a proper training block or training camp in August after our mid-year break, and the rest of the time you’re just managing, taking care of yourself without over-training. Mondays after races now, I do absolutely nothing. Recharging is more important than squeezing in another session. This year we had Canada straight before Baku, a back-to-back, so that was pretty hardcore with the travel time and time zone changes, probably the hardest one we’ve done. So more races are fun, but how you handle them means you need to change the way you think a bit.

I’m actually looking forward to getting back into the training because of the rule changes next year and that the cars are going to be a fair bit quicker in the corners. We’ll have to change some things up in the preparation, and the in-season training will change too – in the past few years we’ve concentrated on things like trimming weight and keeping kilos off, and the training itself isn’t that challenging. Next year will be different. Being able to put on some strength and muscle will be more challenging and more rewarding, so I’m up for that. I’m all for making it harder! Time to unlock the hidden Honey Badger …

Abu Dhabi was a pretty weird race in the end because of how slow the pace was at the front with Lewis (Hamilton) trying to bring the others into play with Nico (Rosberg). I didn’t make a great start from third, locked up at the first corner and dropped behind Kimi (Raikkonen), and right through the first stint my engineer Simon (Rennie) was asking me how the tyres were. I had a flat-spot on the fronts but that was fine, but the rears were wearing more than the fronts were. I could see Kimi in front of me was struggling more than I was, and as soon as he pitted I went half a second faster, but then I came in too. In hindsight with how the race played out, I could have probably done with staying out longer in that first stint. But that’s how it shook out.

There was some discussion afterwards with what Lewis had done, driving slower than he could have, but it seemed pretty obvious to most of us that if he got the start, that’s what he was going to do. (Team principal) Christian (Horner) even said that in the press a few days before. So the race pace was always going to be slow, and maybe we overlooked that in terms of how we approached it. By the end, after the final stops, the front five all bunched up because of how slow Lewis was going – his last lap was nine seconds slower than his pole lap! In the end, Nico finished where he needed to finish to take the title.

I joined in with some of Nico’s celebrations on Sunday night, and you have to take your hat off to him. He’d shown the speed over the last few years, but this year he sorted out the head game more and converted more of his good Saturdays into good Sundays, and he got the ultimate reward for that. That was the main difference compared to the last few years that got him over the line. Brazil for example, in those conditions – it would have been so easy for someone with the championship lead to drop it and feel the pressure, but he kept a cool head. He definitely did well. I made sure he had some tequila on Sunday night – and out of his own shoe this time, not mine!

I knew I was going to end up in third overall after Mexico and that podium that I inherited a few hours after that race with all of the penalties, so I maybe didn’t have as much to play for in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. I finished third in 2014 of course and won three times that year and just once this time, but this year feels better, feels more convincing. Feels more sustainable too. 2014, it was hard to fault that, but this year I felt like I did everything I did in ’14, but at a higher level when I really pushed myself.

There were races this year when Max (Verstappen) was half a second quicker than me in Q1 and Q2 and it seemed like ‘wow, he’s going to blow me away in Q3’, and then I’d pull out a lap that was three, four-tenths quicker. I was able to find some pretty good levels through the year, and there were quite a few times that I was able to exceed my own expectations for what I thought I could do, maybe even surprise myself a bit.

There were a few big qualifyings this year – China was one that comes to mind – and Barcelona and Monaco, they were both awesome. Monaco was the best of them though, and that pole lap on the Saturday is probably the strongest memory of the year, maybe even more than winning in Malaysia. I get so excited about driving around Monaco. I’d said quietly to my trainers and some people around me that pole there was one that I was really chasing, and to get it after I’d put some pressure on myself, that was pretty cool. Tabac, into the Swimming Pool section there – that five seconds of qualy was the best five seconds of the year! Good motivation for next year too.

It’s not long until I’m back home now, and I can’t wait. It’s little things that I get to experience again in the off-season that make me realise why I love being home when I can be. My mates treating me like an idiot, basically, just being one of the boys. Aussie accents and banter. My mates still giving me heaps about not being able to tighten a bolt even though I’m driving the most sophisticated race cars in the world. Give me a set of spanners, and I’m hopeless. And walking around in no shoes in an Aussie summer! Get up, singlet on, swim shorts, no shoes, done. Super, super low-key. Makes me feel like I’m at home and on holiday, and I’m definitely hanging out for that. I’ll speak to you on the other side.