Month: July 2017

What happened at the Hungarian Grand Prix?

Sebastian Vettel heads a Ferrari 1-2 in Budapest, while friendly fire thwarts Red Bull’s chances of a podium on one of its strongest circuits of the year.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 4th, finished 4th. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 3rd, finished 3rd.
If Formula One truly is a team sport – and there are some who will scoff at that suggestion – Mercedes played it perfectly at a track where the Silver Arrows were a clear second-best to the Prancing Horse. Bottas had the measure of teammate Hamilton for most of the weekend, and while the Finn was ahead of the Briton for much of the first half of the race, Hamilton was clearly the faster of the pair after their pit stops on lap 30 and 31 respectively. Hamilton was given the green light to move past his teammate in an attempt to go after Raikkonen in second, on the proviso that he was to let Bottas back past before the end of the race on lap 70 if he couldn’t make it work. Hamilton did his best to no avail, and as he rounded the final corner on the final lap, slowed sufficiently to let Bottas back through – and just kept a fast-finishing Verstappen at bay in the process. Mercedes better hope the three points Hamilton relinquished don’t cost him this year’s world championship by the time we get to Abu Dhabi in November … With Vettel’s victory, Hamilton now drops 14 points behind the German in the drivers’ standings – and Mercedes now knows, after a four-race run of outscoring Ferrari 151-79 after Monaco, that the red team is well and truly back in the fight.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 6th, did not finish. Max Verstappen: qualified 5th, finished 5th.
At Silverstone last time out, both Toro Rosso drivers hit one another on lap one, but were able to continue. At Hungary, the senior Bull team’s pilots clashed on the first lap, but the result was more costly; Ricciardo, who had led both Friday practice sessions and was eyeing a fourth Hungarian podium in a row, was out three corners into the race, Verstappen understeering into the Australian at Turn 2 and puncturing Ricciardo’s radiator. It was the first time in Ricciardo’s 120-race career that he’d been eliminated on the first lap, and his normally beaming visage was replaced by a face of barely concealed rage and contempt. “That was amateur to say the least,” he fumed, adding “he (Verstappen) doesn’t like it when a teammate gets in front of him – it was a very poor mistake.” The race stewards were quick to apportion blame to the Dutchman, hitting him with a 10-second penalty in the pits when he made his one and only stop. Verstappen flew the longer the race went, the heavily-revised RB13 looking mighty on the Hungaroring’s twists and turns, but the damage had been done. Verstappen’s margin to the winner at the end was 13.276secs, showing that, with Vettel ailing out front and a rare weekend of Mercedes not being on top of its game, the team may have blown one of its best chances for a win to add to Ricciardo’s victory in Baku through friendly fire. After the race, Verstappen immediately put his hand up. “It’s not nice and I apologise to Daniel and the team for that,” he said. “We could’ve scored some really good points here …”.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 1st, finished 1st. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd.
When you lock out the front row in qualifying and take a 1-2 24 hours later, Ferrari’s Hungarian weekend looks stress-free on paper, but it was quite the opposite. Vettel was metronomically brilliant in qualifying, taking pole and producing two laps within 0.002secs of each other, but knew he was in trouble from the moment the lights went out in the race, the car’s steering wheel pointing slightly to the left when traveling in a straight line, prompting the team to advise him to keep off the kerbs as much as he could, a near-impossibility at a track that seemingly never stops turning. Raikkonen was in his teammate’s wheeltracks for the entire race, but didn’t get the answer he wanted when asking to be allowed to move ahead of Vettel’s clearly compromised sister car, and spent the back half of the race under massive pressure from Hamilton. The Finn – out of contract for 2018, remember – stayed where he was, and Ferrari recorded its second 1-2 for 2017 (after Monaco, where Raikkonen was similarly unhappy), and its first 1-2 finish in Hungary since 2004 (Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello, the latter of whom could probably tell Raikkonen a few stories about being Ferrari’s second driver). For all that, it’s hard to fault Ferrari’s arithmetic, given Vettel is 86 points ahead of his teammate and that the title fight essentially boils down to a three-way fight with Hamilton and Bottas.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 14th, finished 8th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 12th, finished 9th.
A double-points finish – Force India’s ninth in the first 11 races – looked very unlikely on Saturday, when neither Perez nor Ocon made the top 10 in qualifying, and the team was clearly struggling to get its Mercedes-powered chassis – so competitive on high-speed tracks – to work effectively on the tight Hungaroring layout. Perez made a strong start in the race and had the seemingly obligatory stoush with his teammate – this time on the opening lap – to be the better of the pink cars on the day, finishing nine seconds ahead of Ocon on what was a good salvage job for the team.

Paul Di Resta: qualified 19th, did not finish. Lance Stroll: qualified 17th, finished 14th.
With regular driver Felipe Massa ailing with an inner ear problem, Williams brought in Di Resta for his first race since Brazil 2013 with Force India, and the DTM driver and TV pundit’s first laps for the weekend were in qualifying, in a car he’d never driven on a circuit and only in the simulator, and with next to no notice before he was strapped in. In many ways, to qualify within seven-tenths of a second of teammate Stroll – and beating Ericsson’s Sauber to not be last on the grid – made the 31-year-old one of the stars of Saturday. Completing 70 laps of one of the most physical tracks on the calendar on a scorching Budapest summer’s day was never going to be easy, but Di Resta largely stayed out of trouble and drove a clean if not particularly quick race before being stopped by an oil leak eight laps from the end. Stroll got bottled up behind Kvyat’s Toro Rosso, which was on the more durable soft-compound Pirelli tyre, for much of the race, and could make little headway from a lowly grid spot.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 8th, finished 6th. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 9th, finished 10th.
It’s been a wretched year for everyone at McLaren-Honda, but Hungary shaped as a good race for the beleaguered team, the lack of straights that place a premium on sheer grunt a welcome relief for Alonso and Vandoorne. Both were instantly in the top 10 on Friday, qualified eighth and ninth on Saturday, and combined for nine points on Sunday, a huge haul considering the team had managed just two points in the first 10 races of the season. Alonso was the last car not to be lapped and, showing that there’s not a lot wrong with the McLaren chassis, set the fastest lap of the race (1min 20.182secs) on the penultimate tour. Vandoorne might have finished ahead of Ocon in ninth had it not been for a costly lap 42 pit stop when he over-shot his mechanics and caused them to scramble to change his tyres. At the end, he was just half a second behind the Force India.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 13th, finished 11th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 10th, finished 7th.
Sainz came to Hungary in the midst of an unwanted run of outs – he’d had three non-finishes in the past four races – but came alive in Budapest, a superb 10th in qualifying coming as something of a surprise. The Spaniard had a heated battle with compatriot Alonso in the opening stages after the safety car period following Ricciardo’s retirement, and beating both Force India’s on merit was just reward for a stellar drive. Kvyat was penalised three grid positions for impeding Stroll in qualifying – the Russian now has 10 penalty points for a series of indiscretions over the past 12 months and is just two penalty points away from a one-race ban – and raced to 11th after trying an alternate tyre strategy from most of the rest of the field in an attempt to springboard into the points for the first time since Spain.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 12th, did not finish. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 16th, finished 13th.
Haas will be desperate to consign Hungary to the dustbin of history as soon as possible. Test driver Antonio Giovinazzi crashed Magnussen’s car on Friday morning, while Grosjean struggled with brakes and balance problems on a day team principal Gunther Steiner described as “brutal”. Magnussen was desperately unlucky in qualifying – his time of 1:19.095 was identical to that of Perez, but the Mexican advanced to Q2 as he’d recorded his time earlier than the Dane. In the race, a cross-threaded wheel nut did for Grosjean after he pitted on lap 22 with a slow puncture, while Magnussen was found to be at fault for shoving Hulkenberg’s Renault off the track at Turn 2 late in the race and had five seconds added to his race time, which dropped him from 11th on the road to 13th in the results. We’d tell you what he said to Hulkenberg afterwards, but perhaps Google can help you out there …

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 11th, finished 12th. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 7th, finished 17th.
Palmer had the new floor fitted to his car that teammate Hulkenberg had used so effectively to claim sixth at Silverstone, and promptly destroyed it when he ran over the Turn 4 kerbs in opening practice. The under-pressure Briton then crashed at the final corner in second practice and buried the car in the barriers, missed Q3 by one-tenth of a second, and was out-qualified by Hulkenberg yet again – he’s now the only driver not to have beaten his teammate once in the 11 races to date. A long first stint didn’t pay off as his wait for 2017 points labours on. Hulkenberg clashed with Grosjean on the opening lap but looked like still scoring points despite being shunted back five spots on the grid for an unscheduled gearbox change, but a long pit stop caused by a sticking front-right tyre on lap 45 saw him drop to the back.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 20th, finished 16th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 18th, finished 15th.
As has been custom in recent races, Sauber made more headlines off the track for anything it did on it, the recent Honda engine deal brokered by team principal Monisha Kaltenborn before her hasty departure ripped up in favour of continuing with Ferrari power next season. In the race, both drivers made very early pit stops (Ericsson lap one, Wehrlein lap three) under the safety car to try to do something different than the rest, but needed to pit again for fresh tyres and finished only ahead of Hulkenberg’s parked Renault after 70 laps.


What happened at the British Grand Prix?

Daniel Ricciardo dramatically charges from the back to fifth, while some late-race Ferrari tyre drama sees Lewis Hamilton slash Sebastian Vettel’s championship lead.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 1st, finished 1st. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 4th, finished 2nd.
Hamilton copped some stick before the race when he was the only driver not to show up at a pre-race promotional opportunity in London, but once he got to Silverstone from a brief holiday between the Austrian and British Grands Prix, the three-time champ was all business, winning his home race for a record-equalling fifth time, and a fourth time in succession. Hamilton set up his Sunday with an extraordinary pole lap on Saturday, his 1:26.600 half a second faster than anyone else could manage, and a lap that smashed the previous circuit record by three seconds. He cleared off from the start on Sunday and was untroubled thereafter, and received a late gift when punctures to Ferrari duo Raikkonen and Vettel saw him narrow the latter’s championship lead to a solitary point at the halfway mark of the season. A second 1-2 finish for the season for Mercedes looked unlikely when Bottas copped a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change ahead of qualifying, and even less so when the Finn could qualify just fourth, meaning he began back in ninth. But Bottas started on the more durable soft-compound Pirelli tyre, ran a longer first stint than his rivals, and then inherited second when Raikkonen had his puncture with two laps left. “We got lucky,” he admitted afterwards.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 20th, finished 5th. Max Verstappen: qualified 5th, finished 4th.
It seems Verstappen can’t win for losing this year – after the Dutchman finally snapped a run of wretched luck to finish fourth after starting from the same spot thanks to Bottas’ penalty, his teammate Ricciardo stole the show with an astonishing drive from the back of the grid after some of Verstappen’s poor fortune crossed to the Australian’s side of the garage. The chances of Ricciardo extending his run of five straight podiums before Silverstone looked slim when he, like Bottas, was set to drop five grid positions for a gearbox change ahead of qualifying, but worse was to come for the ‘Honey Badger’ when, leading the field in Q1, he ground to a halt with a turbo failure. Ricciardo still felt he could challenge for the top 10 from the very back, and was up to 12th after five laps before running off at Woodcote and dropping to last. No matter; Ricciardo gritted his teeth and went for it, producing several spellbinding passes into Stowe at the end of the Hangar Straight, and tore through the field to fifth to be voted Driver of the Day. Verstappen played a big part in the story of the race when he jumped Vettel – who left the start-line with overheating brakes – on lap one to be third, allowing Raikkonen in second and leader Hamilton to scoot away. The Red Bull didn’t have the raw pace of the Ferrari, but Verstappen’s robust defence of Vettel on more than one occasion saw Ferrari eventually pit the championship leader on lap 18 to undercut Verstappen. Vettel gained track position when Verstappen stopped on the next lap, but the Ferrari man’s earlier stop necessitated a 33-lap run to the end on his final set of tyres, which proved to be too much when he suffered a puncture on the penultimate lap. Verstappen made his own cautionary stop for a tyre change with two laps left to avoid the same fate as the Ferraris, and re-took sixth place in the championship standings from Perez as a result.

Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 3rd, finished 7th. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 2nd, finished 3rd.
It was all looking so good for Ferrari with three laps left, Raikkonen in second, where he’d been since lap one, and Vettel recovering from having his race compromised by Verstappen’s lightning start to be in a strong fourth place and with a decent haul of points in his pocket. Two front-left punctures in the space of a minute ruined all of that, and Raikkonen in particular looked gutted when he faced the press in the post-race interviews for the top three, looking even more than usual like he’d prefer to be anywhere else. The Finn has – justifiably in most cases – been criticised this year for being so far off Vettel’s pace in the sister scarlet car, but was Hamilton’s nearest challenger in qualifying and had a good shot at holding off a charging Bottas late until his tyre cried ‘enough’. Vettel’s own blowout was less fortunate, the German having to limp back to the pits from earlier in the lap than his teammate on the second-last tour, sparks showering the track as the British crowd erupted, realising Vettel’s woes were good news for Hamilton in the title race. There was enough of a gap to the Force India duo of Ocon and Perez to see Vettel slot into seventh after his stop, which was crucial as he was able to retain the championship lead – just – he’s owned since he won in Australia in March.

Force India
Sergio Perez:
qualified 7th, finished 9th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 8th, finished 8th.
Perez was impressed with the cornering speeds able to be achieved by the 2017-generation F1 cars at a circuit that features more sweeping turns than any other. “Of all the tracks we have raced this season, this is probably the one on which I have experienced the biggest difference compared to last year,” he said on Friday. “All the reference points you have built up in the past change.” For the fourth race in a row, the Force India pair were line-astern in qualifying, and for the fourth time in succession, Perez edged Ocon, this time by 0.172secs. They finished together in the race too, but with Ocon in the ascendancy after the Frenchman made a swift start as Perez hesitated when the lights went out. In 10 races this year, Force India has now had eight double-points finishes.

Felipe Massa:
qualified 15th, finished 10th. Lance Stroll: qualified 16th, finished 16th.
Just the one point for Williams at its home Grand Prix, with both cars running a counter tyre strategy to the norm after starting outside the top 10, but only Massa making it work as he snared the final point on offer by beating McLaren’s Vandoorne to the line. After the aerodynamic updates Williams brought to the previous race in Austria left it struggling on the penultimate row of the grid in qualifying, the team split strategies for its two cars at Silverstone, Massa and Stroll each running a mix of old and new parts – but not in the same configuration – as the team scrambled to acquire data. Massa had been inside the top 10 in all three practice sessions, so was very disappointed to only qualify 15th, while Stroll, with precious little F1 experience in wet conditions, struggled in qualifying and fared little better in the race, labouring with aero problems to the flag.

Fernando Alonso:
qualified 13th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 9th, finished 11th.
Alonso gave McLaren a rare reason to smile when he fitted dry-weather tyres on a track damp with rain right at the death of Q1 and executed a white-knuckle lap that had him in P1. “Even if it’s just for one moment, to be up there at the top of the timesheets feels good,” he said. That was as good as it got for the Spaniard; Alonso changed multiple engine components in his McLaren on Friday and was hit with 30 grid places worth of penalties, meaning he was condemned to starting from the back of the grid. He latched onto Ricciardo’s tail and came through the pack, though not to the same extent, early on before retiring with a loss of power on lap 34. Vandoorne beat Alonso in qualifying for the first time this season and made the top 10 for the first time to start a career-best eighth after Bottas’ gearbox penalty, but couldn’t capitalise on his best chance of scoring a first point for the season when he finished just behind Massa in what was his most competitive showing of the year to date.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 12th, finished 15th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 14th, did not finish.
To put it mildly, the first 60 seconds at Silverstone didn’t go well for Toro Rosso, with Kvyat and Sainz banging wheels entering the super-fast Maggots-Becketts sequence on the opening lap, Kvyat spearing off the track, and then coming back onto it and clattering into Sainz, ending the Spaniard’s race. “Tell Dany he did a very good job there,” Sainz sighed, while Kvyat – “he just turned into me” – made it very clear he felt the incident was his teammate’s doing. The stewards disagreed, and a week after being penalised for causing the shunt that eliminated Alonso and Verstappen in Austria, the Russian was hit with another drive-through penalty, and toured around with a damaged floor to finish 15th. Kvyat said before the race he wanted a decision on his future to be made as soon as possible, but with just one points finish from the past nine races and having managed just four points (to Sainz’s 29) so far this season, he might want some more time to make up for a messy last seven days.

Romain Grosjean:
qualified 10th, finished 13th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 17th, finished 12th.
Haas will have to wait until Hungary in a fortnight’s time to try to top the 29 points it scored in its maiden world championship season in 2016, after Grosjean and Magnussen couldn’t take advantage of favourable track positions on Sunday. Grosjean was furious with Hamilton on Saturday after qualifying 10th, feeling he could have leapfrogged Vandoorne’s McLaren for ninth had he not – in his words – been “completely blocked” by the pole-sitter at the last corner. Hamilton apologised for getting in Grosjean’s way and said it was inadvertent, and the stewards agreed, issuing no penalty to the Mercedes driver. Grosjean’s mood wasn’t improved by the verdict, saying Hamilton had been let off because of his place in the championship standings. “Maybe if it was another driver, there would have been something,” he mused. The Frenchman finished just 13th on Sunday, while Magnussen, way down on the grid, tried to play the long game by running his initial set of soft tyres all the way to lap 37, but couldn’t regain his spot in the top 10 afterwards and finished just ahead of his teammate.

Jolyon Palmer:
qualified 11th, did not start. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 6th, finished 6th.
Hulkenberg felt the cornering speeds of the 2017-spec F1 cars at Silverstone were “a little bit insane,” adding that they were “cool, and bloody fast.” The German could have been talking about his own form at the British GP, as he took Renault’s best qualifying and finish of the season, narrowly missing out on fifth as he tried to hold off Ricciardo’s charging Red Bull late before falling behind the Australian on the penultimate lap. With Vandoorne edging Alonso in qualifying, Hulkenberg is now the only driver on the grid to have an unbeaten record on Saturdays against his teammate. Speaking of said teammate, Palmer was stiff to miss the top 10 in qualifying by less than a tenth of a second, and unluckier still when hydraulics failure saw his car coast to a halt on the warm-up lap, the under-pressure Briton not even able to start his home Grand Prix as rumours swirl that he could be replaced sooner rather than later. Hulkenberg has scored all 26 of Renault’s points this season.

Marcus Ericsson:
qualified 19th, finished 14th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 18th, finished 17th.
There were plenty of moves off track for Sauber at Silverstone, with the Swiss squad appointing former Renault boss Frederic Vasseur as team principal after the sudden departure of Monisha Kaltenborn before Azerbaijan following a disagreement with ownership. Vasseur took the reins with increasing doubt over the Honda engine supply arrangement brokered by Kaltenborn before she left, with Sauber’s owners considering a deal for a customer Ferrari or Mercedes engine that would be more competitive in the short-term rather than a factory deal with Honda, given McLaren’s seemingly never-ending struggles with the Japanese company’s powerplant. The Sauber stablemates started only ahead of the penalised Ricciardo and Alonso, and Ericsson finished the better of the two when Wehrlein tried to make his final set of soft tyres last the majority of the race after pitting twice under the safety car caused by the Kvyat/Sainz shunt.

The MotoGP mid-term report

Who has flown, who has flopped, and who has plenty to do at the halfway mark of the 2017 MotoGP season?


It was never going to be easy for MotoGP 2017 to out-do the season that preceded it; after all, nine different winners, four first-time victors and too many memorable races to list makes 2016 hard to top. But so far, ’17 has upheld its part of the bargain, and as the campaign takes a month-long pause for the mid-season break, it could be argued that this year is even more gripping than last.

With nine races down and nine races to go, we’ve already had five different riders wins Grands Prix, 10 different men stand on the podium, and four riders – Marc Marquez, Maverick Vinales, Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi – separated by just 10 points at the head of the table.

Undoubtedly the biggest winners of 2017 so far? The fans. But with ‘school’ out for the summer break before the Czech Republic Grand Prix signals the resumption of term on August 6, picking winners and losers from the 27 riders to have started a race this season isn’t as clear-cut. Which is where our annual mid-season report card comes in. Release the grades …

Dux of the class
When we ran the rule over the two-wheel field this time last year, Marc Marquez was a runaway winner in this category, going to the summer break with a 48-point lead – nearly two race wins – with nine down and nine to go. While the reigning and three-time MotoGP champ heads our class report so far this year, his lead over second-placed Vinales – just five points – is next to nothing, and he’s led the championship precisely once, after taking his second victory of 2017 last time out in Germany. But dig through the numbers, and it’s hard to argue Marquez isn’t the man of the year so far.

Out of the front-running four we mentioned earlier, the Repsol Honda rider is by far the best qualifier – he has six front-row starts in nine races and an average qualifying position of 2.7 (Vinales is next-best at 5.1), while five podiums sees him equal with teammate Dani Pedrosa for the most on the grid. Two costly DNFs – particularly when he was leading in Argentina – are negatives, but his wins in Austin (for the fifth year in a row) and the Sachsenring (for a remarkable eighth-straight time going back to his time in the feeder classes) show that when he’s on it, Marquez remains the benchmark, particularly as it could be argued that he’s on the worst bike of the top four.

Vinales started his Yamaha tenure like a train but has struggled more recently, averaging a fourth-row start in the last three races before the break, and recording just one podium in the past four races after winning three of the opening five. Dovizioso’s back-to-back wins at Mugello and Catalunya were all class, and he’s made Ducati look more convincing as a front-running bike than anyone since the Casey Stoner era. And Rossi, all of 38 years young, wound back the clock with a brilliant win in very difficult conditions at Assen for his first triumph in over 12 months. But to our mind, Marquez stands alone here.

Bizarrely, Marquez and Vinales haven’t been on the same podium together yet despite being first and second in the championship and separated by such a miniscule margin. You figure that when they meet on track in the final nine races – and they surely will – fireworks will ensue.

Encouragement award
Rossi and Dovizioso have cause to be considered here too for reasons we’ve already mentioned, but it’s impossible to split Tech 3 Yamaha’s duo of crack rookies, Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger.

Zarco has hogged the majority of the headlines, as he should have after leading in Qatar on debut and snagging a sublime pole at Assen, and the two-time Moto2 champion has shown absolutely no hesitation in ruffling the feathers of the MotoGP top-liners, which has to be commended. Folger, while going about his business more subtly, loses little by comparison, and rounded out a strong first half with his best performance of the season at home in Germany, where he made Sachsenring master Marquez sweat for most of the 30-lap distance before the Repsol Honda man (inevitably) stretched away.

Thanks to Zarco and Folger, Tech 3 has arguably been the star team of the season – last year, with experienced pair Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith on board, the French team had scored 107 points at the season recess; this season, its rookie duo have managed 155 to both sit inside the top seven in the standings.

A gold star here must go to Pramac Ducati’s Danilo Petrucci, who managed three front-row starts in a row before the break, and came within inches of a breakthrough first win before being denied at the line by good friend Rossi at Assen. Two podiums already for the Italian has doubled his tally from his first five MotoGP seasons combined.

Could do better
We could say Scott Redding here, who, while admittedly on an inferior machine to teammate Petrucci, has struggled this season and looks set to lose his ride for 2018, We could equally vouch for Redding’s compatriot Sam Lowes, who has endured a wretched run of luck with his Aprilia but hasn’t been particularly quick when the bike has actually worked, and has managed two points – the worst of any full-time rider in the series – so far.

But no, we’ll opt for Jorge Lorenzo, who has found the switch to Ducati to be more problematic than even he would have feared. One podium total (a third at Jerez) looks pretty underwhelming for the three-time champion compared to two wins for teammate Dovizioso, and while both riders have finished eight of the nine races, the Italian has come close to doubling the Spaniard’s points tally (123-65).

Having to re-train his brain to remember he’s not riding a Yamaha after nine seasons was always going to take time for Lorenzo, and he’ll be hoping for fine weather for the rest of the season after his wet-weather demons resurfaced again at Assen, where he laboured to the worst qualifying result of his MotoGP career in 21st, and his worst effort on a Saturday since his 125cc days 14 years ago (Jerez 2003). Things will get surely better for Ducati’s star signing, but they need to, and fast.

Needs a strong second semester
It may seem harsh to have Jack Miller in this spot, but when you come into the final year of a three-year contract with HRC with a MotoGP race win under your belt, expectations were always going to be raised in 2017. The Australian has largely delivered – he has one championship point fewer at the mid-year break this season compared to last after the unexpected Assen success in 2016 – but with all sorts of rumours swirling about his future as the paddock packed up in Germany, he needs more, and he knows it.

“I would have liked to have been inside the top 10 in the standings, but we’ve had a couple of little mistakes here and there that cost us,” Miller said about the season’s first half.

“We’ve shown we’ve really improved this year, and I’m looking forward to making another, let’s say 60 points, in the rest of the season. That’d be nice.”

Reaching the ton for the season – and getting to the end of it in decent physical shape after an injury-ravaged conclusion to 2016 – would be a pass mark for the Aussie before he gets set for his next adventure in ’17.

Extra detention
We’re not picking on Andrea Iannone despite having him in this same category this time last year, but a change of hue from red to blue has done little to change our mind about the maddeningly inconsistent but very rapid Italian. It’s been a tough campaign for Suzuki after losing Vinales and Aleix Espargaro last year, and while Alex Rins’ rookie campaign has barely got started after breaking his left wrist in practice at Austin and missing five races, Iannone has been the blue team’s ever-present, yet has been close to invisible for much of the year.

He’s managed just 28 points in nine races, has failed to finish three times, and has made Q2 just once in the past five races. Former Suzuki legend Kevin Schwantz, speaking to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport in Germany, let Iannone have it.

“I know by experience that if things are wrong, there is only one thing to do; get out there and work – and try,” the 1993 500cc champion said.

“You have to do more than all the others to try to recover. Iannone is lost, because it seems like he wants the Suzuki to behave like the Ducati. But this bike will never be a Ducati. He should try to take advantage of its strengths.

“Speaking to him, it seems that the bike has no strengths. I don’t understand Italian, but his body language is as bad as it can be.”

What happened at the Austrian Grand Prix?

Daniel Ricciardo makes it five podiums in a row by taking third at the Red Bull Ring, while an ‘unhuman’ start sets up a win for Valtteri Bottas.


Lewis Hamilton: qualified 3rd, finished 4th. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 1st, finished 1st.

Bottas set up his second career win with a superbly-taken pole on Saturday – his time of 1min 04.251secs the fastest pole lap in any Grand Prix for 32 years – and then produced a getaway so good on Sunday that it prompted an investigation into whether he’d jumped the start; 20 laps into the race, it was revealed he’d reacted to the lights going out within 0.2 seconds, as close as you can get to anticipating the start without jumping it. The Finn battled blistering tyres late in the race and had Vettel closing on him at a rate of knots, but just as he’d done in Russia earlier this season, kept his nerve to deny the German and get himself within 35 points of Vettel’s series lead. Much of Hamilton’s preparation for Sunday’s race was spent talking about the incident with Vettel last time out in Azerbaijan, and any chance of a repeat fight with his main title rival evaporated when he had to take a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, which, counter to speculation, wasn’t caused by Vettel running into the back of him in Baku. The Briton opted to start the race on the slower supersoft tyre from eighth on the grid after his penalty was assessed to be on the faster ultrasoft tyre for the final laps, but ran out of time to catch Ricciardo for the final podium place.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 5th, finished 3rd. Max Verstappen: qualified 6th, did not finish.

Ricciardo didn’t need a second invitation after a chance to win in Baku fell into his lap, but he celebrated his third at the Red Bull Ring with almost as much gusto after fending off a flying Hamilton in the closing stages. The Australian made a brilliant move on Raikkonen’s Ferrari at Turn 3 on the first lap to set up the chance of a podium place, and while Bottas and Vettel were never realistically within reach, he did everything in his power to hang onto the final rostrum spot, a firm Turn 4 defence on the penultimate lap scuppering Hamilton’s best chance to pass. The podium was Ricciardo’s fifth in succession, the best run of his career, and saw him consolidate his fourth place in the title chase. This week’s post-race shoey ‘victim’? Former racer turned TV pundit Martin Brundle. By contrast to his teammate, Verstappen’s luck seems to go from bad to worse; some 10,000 Dutch spectators turned the grandstand near Turn 1 into a sea of orange, but the masses of Max fans were left gutted after the first 20 seconds of the race when their man was backwards in the adjacent tarmac run-off area, nerfed into a spin by Alonso’s McLaren, which had been harpooned by Kvyat’s out of control Toro Rosso. Even before the accident, a failing clutch saw Verstappen made a poor start, and he’s now retired from five of the past seven races to drop to seventh in the drivers’ standings behind Perez.

Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 4th, finished 5th.

Vettel was convinced Bottas had jumped the start – questioning it straight away over the radio and doing his best not to answer questions about it after the race before eventually describing it as “unhuman” – but second place was his seventh podium in nine races this season, and a six-point gain on Hamilton extended his lead atop the standings to 20 points. Vettel’s deficit to Bottas ebbed and flowed throughout, and with four laps to go, the German was just one second in arrears and an unlikely win became a possibility. In the end, just 0.658secs was the margin between the pair after 71 frantic laps. Raikkonen started third with Hamilton’s penalty, but was monstered by Ricciardo on lap one and didn’t feature much thereafter, Ferrari keeping him out for 44 laps before his sole pit stop in an attempt to hold up Bottas after the Mercedes driver ceded the lead in his own stop, hoping to bring Vettel back into play for the win. It didn’t work, and Raikkonen spent much of the race moaning about steering wheel settings while finishing in no man’s land, 20 seconds behind the winner, but miles ahead of Grosjean in sixth. Nine races into the 20-race campaign, Vettel (171 points) has already doubled Raikkonen’s tally of 83, which goes a long way towards explaining Mercedes’ 33-point lead over the Prancing Horse in the constructors’ championship.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 8th, finished 7th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 9th, finished 8th.

After the last race in Baku, Force India’s instructions to its drivers were simple – race hard, but do not, under any circumstances, run into one another. Ocon was largely felt to be the guilty party after he and Perez clashed in Azerbaijan – the Mexican said before the race in Austria that his young French teammate needed to be “more intelligent” in future – and when they qualified eighth (Perez) and ninth (Ocon) with less than a tenth of a second between them, the chance for more paint-swapping between the pair loomed large. In the end, Perez’s superior pace saw Ocon more concerned with Massa’s Williams behind him than mounting a charge for seventh, and with 10 points between its drivers, Force India was able to extend its comfortable margin for fourth in the constructors’ standings despite never looking likely to challenge for the podium as it did in Canada and Azerbaijan.

Felipe Massa: qualified 17th, finished 9th. Lance Stroll: qualified 18th, finished 10th.

Three points combined for Massa and Stroll looked like a pipedream after qualifying on Saturday, when the Williams duo were down on the second-last row of the grid in a car that had been updated with a new front wing, bargeboards and sidepods since Azerbaijan, but struggled for balance and to get temperature into its tyres. “We’re not quick here, and we don’t know why at the moment,” lamented technical director Paddy Lowe after qualifying, but Massa felt the car would be better in the race. The experienced Brazilian was right, using a marathon first stint on the soft tyre to vault into top-10 contention, and Stroll joined him as the pair took advantage of the chaos caused by Kvyat at the first corner. To score points at all after the team’s worst qualifying of 2017 had to be considered, in the circumstances, a decent save.

Fernando Alonso: qualified 12th, did not finish. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 13th, finished 12th.

“They cannot play bowling,” was Alonso’s assessment of being skittled by Kvyat the first corner and his race lasting all of 300 metres, the Spaniard paying the price for his customary strong start by being in the firing line as the field filed into the first right-hander of a 71-lap journey. Vandoorne had to make two visits to the pits after being penalised for taking too long to respond to blue flags while being lapped by Raikkonen, but it didn’t affect his finishing position, and the Belgian remains one of three full-timers on the grid (Palmer and Ericsson are the others) yet to score a point this season.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat: qualified 14th, finished 16th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 10th, did not finish.

The race at the Red Bull Ring was a nightmare for Red Bull’s sister squad, with Kvyat getting a drive-through penalty for causing the first lap mess and finishing dead last, and Sainz forced to retire on lap 45 as his car, beset by reliability problems for most of the weekend, finally cried ‘enough’ when he was running on the fringes of the top 10. The Spaniard spent the weekend making headlines more for what he said out of the car for what he did in it, saying said he felt a fourth year at Toro Rosso in 2018 was “unlikely” if no space opened up at the senior Red Bull Racing team. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and motorsport consultant Dr Helmut Marko poured cold water on that idea though, Horner saying Sainz will be at STR next season, and Marko questioning his loyalty and suggesting he “focus on driving”.

Romain Grosjean: qualified 7th, finished 6th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 15th, did not finish.

There were contrasting emotions at Haas on Sunday night, with Grosjean scoring the team’s best result of the season with sixth, but the luckless Magnussen forced to take an early bath for the second day running. Grosjean was pleasantly surprised to be starting sixth after Hamilton’s penalty promoted him a spot on the grid, and he briefly fought Raikkonen’s Ferrari in the initial stages before settling into a rhythm, and while he finished well over a minute behind Bottas, his was the last car not lapped as he snared eight precious championship points. Magnussen was despondent when his car’s front suspension broke after he’d made the second part of qualifying on Saturday, and was plenty peeved on Sunday when he had a hydraulics failure that saw the car stuck in gear after 30 laps, a chance to attack Stroll for what became the final points-paying position going begging.

Jolyon Palmer: qualified 16th, finished 11th. Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 11th, finished 13th.

Palmer finished 11th – one place out of the points – for the third time in the past four races in Austria as the wait to break his 2017 season duck rolls on. Hulkenberg, who missed out on Q3 by six-thousandths of a second on Saturday, took an early gamble to fit the more durable soft-compound Pirelli tyre in attempt to get to the end of race on lap 16, but could only advance as far as 13th on a day where nearest rivals Haas had their strongest race of the year.

Marcus Ericsson: qualified 19th, finished 15th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 20th, finished 14th.

Sauber were in a race of their own in Austria – Ericsson and Wehrlein were well over a second per lap slower than any other car in Friday practice – and owned the back row of the grid in qualifying, Wehrlein then electing to start from the pit lane after the team fitted a new turbocharger to his car before the race. Neither made much progress – only the penalised Kvyat finished behind the two blue cars – and Ericsson was lapped twice to Wehrlein’s once, but both were more than half a minute outside of the points.

The Dan Diaries: Crazy good, crazy bad

Daniel Ricciardo writes about a post-win celebration that wasn’t, marvels at Valentino Rossi, and weighs in on Hamilton v Vettel in Baku.


Things I didn’t expect to do at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix? Win it. If I’d have thought I was a chance of a victory, I would have planned something better than what happened afterwards. As celebrations go, it wasn’t particularly high up there – but I couldn’t help it.

I finished the race, did the podium, walked into about two hours of media, then went straight to the charter flight with the team that had been waiting for me to finally stop talking. We took off, straight back to England, and I was checking in where we stay at Milton Keynes near the factory around 2am Monday morning, which was probably 5am Baku time. Tried to get some sleep, mostly failed because my mind was still ticking over thinking about the day, and then I was at the factory at 9am in the simulator for a 10-hour day. This F1 thing is pretty glamorous, don’t you think? Saying that, if someone was to say ‘you can win this weekend, but you still have to do simulator on Monday’, sign me up. Every time.

It’s been a week or so since Azerbaijan, but I’m struggling to remember any race I’ve done that was as crazy as Baku was. It got to the point where we’d done that many re-starts and that much had happened – every two laps it seemed like my race engineer Simon (Rennie) was on the radio telling me something had happened to someone else – that anything seemed possible. When I got up to third and Lewis (Hamilton) and Seb (Vettel) were in front, I was anticipating a penalty for Seb for what happened with Lewis – don’t worry, I’ll get to that – so I figured second would be great. Then Simon tells me Lewis has a loose headrest, of all things, and has to pit. You seriously couldn’t make it up. And there I am in first.

I was pretty stoked that I was leading, but there was half the race to go, and you figure that everyone else has been having dramas, so my next one can’t be far off. I’d had to pit earlier than I wanted because of the debris I picked up from (Kimi) Raikkonen’s front wing early on that sent the brake temps through the roof, but surely something else was going to happen, wasn’t it? But it didn’t, and after all that, I’d won my fifth Grand Prix. When they crossed to me in the car on the slow-down lap, I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, what was I supposed to say after that? Even if I’d finished fifth, I would have come out of that one with a massive smile on my face.

Everyone wanted to talk and re-watch the pass I did to get up to third after the re-start when I got past the two Williams boys, and it was definitely one I enjoyed, and one that set the win up for me in the end. The funny part about it was that I’d actually discussed doing it before it happened. We were in the red flag period and I said to my trainer Stu (Smith) that I thought third might be on at turn one at the re-start, and he didn’t disagree. I guess I was committed to going for it even before I got back in the car! Definitely a sweet one to pull off, and at the time I thought that might have set up third for me, so I was stoked with that. It got better though …

What’s weird is that I’ve won five races now, but haven’t qualified well for any of them – I was 10th in Baku after stuffing up qualifying and sticking the car in the wall, and all five of them have been from outside the top three on the grid. Maybe qualifying is over-rated? But in all seriousness, in all five of those races, something has happened where a chance to get up there has presented itself, and I’m not going to let that go if it happens. It’d be nice to know what it must be like to qualify on pole and then disappear and win by 20 seconds, but all of them have been about seizing an opportunity. The races that I’ve won have all been exciting races, and when I got the call to box about five laps in or so, I thought I was done and I’d probably be retiring, a bit like I did in Russia when the brakes were on fire. Definitely thought it would be a DNF.

The big talking point out of the race was the incident with Lewis and Seb – told you I’d come back to that – and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. So here’s mine. There’s a view going around that Seb got off lightly with the penalty he got, but to me, that’s only because he ended up beating Lewis, and that only happened because Lewis had his own issues with the headrest. If that hadn’t happened and Lewis won, which he looked like was going to, and Seb was, say, fifth or something, then there wouldn’t be as much noise about it. For me, a 10-second stop-go penalty, the one Seb got, is the biggest penalty you can have without being black-flagged. There’s no bigger time penalty because you lose 20 seconds in the pits, and then you have to be stationary for 10 seconds. A light penalty in my view would have been if the stewards had added 10 seconds to his race time at the end, and I would have agreed that a penalty like that wouldn’t have been enough. But I thought what they did was fine, and I don’t think what he did was enough to be disqualified. So for me, it was the right penalty. What he did wasn’t right, but it wasn’t dangerous – we were doing 40km/h – so it was more silly than anything. It’s done, and I don’t think it should drag out any more. Somehow I reckon it might get discussed in Austria though!

I got some downtime eventually on the Wednesday after Baku, and got to spend some time at home training and do some stuff for my birthday on the weekend, so that was cool. Turning 28? Yeah, not unhappy with that. But it did get me thinking about one of my favourite sportspeople and one of my favourite sports – Valentino Rossi and MotoGP. He’s 10 years older than me, and someone told me that the span between his first win and his most recent one at Assen (the same day we raced at Baku) was 21 years. 21 years! The winning – and he’s clearly done heaps of that – is one thing, but he’s an inspiration even just from a physical standpoint. MotoGP is such a physical sport (not to mention the injuries you put up with), so for him to still be doing it the way he is and to be right up near the front in the championship again – it’s pretty remarkable.

Mentally, he clearly hasn’t been ground down by the travel, the off the bike stuff, the commitments outside of racing, and that’s almost as impressive. For me, when the day comes one day (hopefully not for a fair while!) that I stop, I reckon it’ll be the fatigue with the whole circus and wanting to lay low for a bit and not see an airport that would be more of a factor than physical fatigue or losing that thrill of competition or driving these cars. With Valentino, what amazes me is that I know the commitments I have and how busy life can be, and if you multiplied that by 50 (or probably more), that’s him. Combine that with the physical side and how he’s racing against guys a generation younger than him and he’s still right up there, he just amazes me.

Anyway, I’ve got off-topic a bit. There’s a race this weekend, and given it’s Austria we’ll be pretty busy, which is cool. Baku was such a crazy race that it’s hard to read too much into the performance side of things, but we were more competitive even when things were more normal on Friday, and I reckon we’ve made a step. But in saying that, I reckon Mercedes gave us a look at what they might have up their sleeve in Baku when (Valtteri) Bottas was chasing down (Lance) Stroll in those last few laps. When he turned up the wick, that thing absolutely flew, and they probably still have a chunk of time over us, nobody is denying that. But things are getting better for us, and we have a few updates coming for Silverstone and a few again for Budapest. I’m hopeful that, with a combination of the Budapest track suiting us and some improvements on the car, we can be competitive there. And if there’s any more craziness to take advantage of, then I’ll be in there again …

Miller Time: In the Sachsenring spin cycle

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about a German GP that was a let-down, and talks about his contract chats for next year.


Hi everyone,

That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind to finish up the first half of the season. The Sachsenring has always been pretty good to me and it’s somewhere I’ve had some good memories – I had my first world championship race here way back in 2011 – and I’ve won here before in Moto3 and had a strong race in MotoGP last year too. Was pretty optimistic I could do the same today as well. So 15th wasn’t what I was expecting, and it’s a pretty crappy way to go into the break to be honest.

What happened? We’re still trying to completely get to the bottom of it as we pack up here now, but the grip just wasn’t there. I had a pretty cautious start by my standards and only managed to pick up one spot, but worse than that was that within a few laps, the rear tyre had been spinning up so much that it felt like I’d done all 30 laps, not three. The grip was gone, and I went backwards. I found myself scrapping with the KTM boys, and there were three of them this weekend with Mika Kallio in as a wildcard, so that made it harder. Bradley Smith got me on the last lap, and so I was 15th, same as Mugello as the worst result I’ve had this year when I’ve finished. I was pretty beaten up that weekend in Italy after the crash I had in Le Mans the race before, so that was a big factor there. Here, we just didn’t have it. I was 37 seconds behind Marc Marquez by the end, the biggest gap to the winner I’ve had all year and a bit of a let-down after how competitive we were at Assen last weekend. So, definitely disappointed with that.

I’ve come to the mid-season break with exactly one point less in the championship than I had last year after nine races which probably feels like a step back, but this year is going a lot better than the last one did. For one thing, I’m not fighting injuries the whole time like I seemed to be in 2016, and while I had the win at Assen last year and that was the majority of my points, I’ve been more consistent this time, and have managed to be in the points every time I’ve finished, even if some of those finishes have been a bit crap like today’s. I feel like I’m riding pretty well and we had the sixth at Assen which was really good, we beat some really strong guys there. So as much as today sucks, it’s been pretty decent, I can’t complain too much. I spent so much of the second half of last year hurt and missing races, so that’s not a road I want to go down again, that’s what I’m hoping to avoid when we get back into it from Brno.

Everyone else is heading off on a bit of a break now because we have four weeks between races, but I’m going the other way and packing heaps into the next few weeks until we get back into it with testing for the Suzuka 8-Hour, back home for my brother’s wedding and then back to Japan to race the 8-Hour before going back to Europe and the season. Suits me to be honest, I’d prefer to be riding and racing, but it’ll be good to do something different too. I’ve heard a lot about Suzuka, so it won’t be long until I get to see if it lives up to what people have said.

One more thing before I go, and that’s to mention the contact stuff that everyone seems to be talking about or has an opinion about. Some of it is close to being right, some of it is so far away from the truth that it’s ridiculous. The truth is that I’m close to being able to say what I’m doing next year but can’t confirm it yet, but it’ll be soon, I hope. And until you hear it from me or something official comes out, then it’s not true! We all want to get it locked away as soon as we can, believe me, but you have to work through the process and it’ll be make sense why soon hopefully – then people can stop asking me and hassle someone else!

Catch you for the second half of the year in a few weeks.

Cheers, Jack