Month: November 2017

The 5 best MotoGP riders of 2017

Who shone the brightest on two wheels? Who was the surprise packet? And who underdelivered in MotoGP this season?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

MotoGP in 2017 might not have had the sheer quantity of the season that preceded it; nine race winners a year ago was, after all, a high-water mark in the history of the sport. But in 2017, was had quality – top-shelf quality – at nearly every turn. Multiple last-lap thrillers, races turned upside down by topsy-turvy weather, a frantic race at Phillip Island that left most observers (and participants) breathless – there was much to like.

That’s the season in a nutshell, but what of the riders who made it what it was? Some 31 riders took to the grid in 18 races across nearly eight months, but who were the elite of the elite? We’ve scanned up and down the field while looking at their stats, their impact and the gravity of their achievements to come up with our five riders of the year. Let’s count them down.

5. Valentino Rossi

The stats

Points/championship position: 208, fifth

Wins: 1 (Assen)

Podiums: 6

Poles: 0

Fastest laps: 0

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Rossi 6, Maverick Vinales 11 (Rossi missed Misano with injury)

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Rossi 6, Vinales 11

Points compared to teammate: Rossi 208, Vinales 230

The summary
This list isn’t measuring popularity; if it was, the seemingly ageless 38-year-old would be in pole position by the length of the straight, a remarkable feat given he’s eight years removed from the last of his seven premier-class titles, and 22 years from his world championship debut on a 125cc Aprilia in 1996. A broken leg suffered in a motocross training accident before the Misano round makes it difficult to clearly judge 2017 for ‘The Doctor’, but the stats show his points total (208) was his lowest in 12 Yamaha seasons across two stints, and the lowest in his career other than the lost years at Ducati in 2011-12. That’s the downside; the positives were his thrilling win at Assen where he edged compatriot Danilo Petrucci by 0.063secs, while qualifying third at Aragon just 23 days after busting his leg was something quite extraordinary. His appetite for the fight remains undiminished – he was right in the thick of the race-long brawl at Phillip Island and gave as good as he got – and while he’s out of contract at the end of 2018, don’t be surprised if he continues into his 40s if Yamaha’s bike proves to be competitive. The sport’s fans (and organisers) will be crossing their fingers that he does.

The quote
“Realistically speaking, even if I didn’t break the leg, I couldn’t fight for the championship because I was not strong enough. I was never able to do two good races in a row.” – Rossi after Malaysia

4. Johann Zarco

The stats

Points/championship position: 174, sixth

Wins: 0

Podiums: 3

Poles: 2

Fastest laps: 4

Head-to-head vs teammates in qualifying: 15-3

Head-to-head vs teammates in races: 13-4

Points compared to teammates: 174-84

NB: Zarco had four different teammates for the season: Jonas Folger (13 races, 84 points), Michael van der Mark (2 races, 0 points), Kohta Nozane and Broc Parkes (1 race each, 0 points). Folger qualified but did not race at the British GP.

The summary
Zarco arrived in MotoGP this year on a satellite Yamaha as a back-to-back Moto2 champion, but nobody expected he’d make his mark in the top flight as rapidly as he did; from fourth on the grid at the season-opener in Qatar, the Frenchman muscled his way to the front and led for the first third of the race before crashing out. He learned fast (Qatar was his only DNF of the year) and rode faster, finishing second in just his fifth race at home at Le Mans, qualifying on pole for his eighth race at Assen, and finishing the year with consecutive podiums in Malaysia and Valencia, Dani Pedrosa denying him a maiden win at the death in the latter. What’s more, Zarco showed no mercy when engaged in wheel-to-wheel battles with some of the sport’s biggest names, and gave absolutely no quarter in fights with Rossi (Austin) and Jorge Lorenzo (Japan), with Lorenzo slamming Zarco’s “PlayStation” riding. If and when Rossi decides he’s had enough, the factory Yamaha squad has his replacement ready to roll.

The quote
“He reminds me a little bit of me when I arrived in MotoGP. Really aggressive, pushing on the limit and nearly crashing, but in the end it is the way to learn.” – Marquez on Zarco

3. Maverick Vinales

The stats

Points/championship position: 230, third

Wins: 3 (Qatar, Argentina, France)

Podiums: 7

Poles: 5

Fastest laps: 4

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Vinales 11, Rossi 6 (Rossi missed Misano with injury)

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Vinales 11, Rossi 6

Points compared to teammate: Vinales 230, Rossi 208

The summary
Pause this year’s championship after five of the 18 rounds, and Vinales would be an undisputed number one on this list in year one as Rossi’s teammate at the factory Yamaha squad. The Spaniard translated his pre-season pace dominance into the early part of the year, and wins in Qatar, Argentina and France, the latter coming after Rossi had made a rare last-lap error and crashed as the teammates fought for victory, saw the 22-year-old take a handy championship lead. From there? Just four more podiums, only one in the final six races when he was a brilliant third in Australia, and a 68-point deficit to Marquez by the end of the year. Yamaha tinkering with different chassis through the year hurt his confidence, and the bike was nowhere in the rain, which didn’t help as 2017 featured an abnormally-high number of wet races. Give Vinales a bike that can change direction and where he can get on the throttle quickly, and he looks the class of the field. Without that? Next year might look disappointingly similar to the end of this one.

The quote
“We started better than we expected … then we had some up and downs, and this confused us a lot with the chassis set-up and many things. It was important to do these mistakes so we don’t do them next year.” – Vinales at Phillip Island

2. Andrea Dovizioso

The stats

Points/championship position: 261, second

Wins: 6 (Italy, Catalunya, Austria, Great Britain, Japan, Malaysia)

Podiums: 8

Poles: 0

Fastest laps: 2

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Dovizioso 10, Jorge Lorenzo 8

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Dovizioso 14, Lorenzo 2 (neither rider finished in Argentina and Valencia)

Points compared to teammate: Dovizioso 261, Lorenzo 137

The summary
If you’d asked for a show of hands to nominate who would emerge as Marc Marquez’s main rival for the championship this season, even Andrea Dovizioso’s would have probably stayed down. After all, this was a rider who was the wrong side of 30, had never finished better than third overall in nine previous MotoGP seasons, and whose second career win at Sepang in the penultimate race of 2016 was seen to be more as a curiosity (he was the ninth and final rider to win a race last year) than a launchpad for a tilt at the ’17 title. But that was the old ‘Dovi’; while his customary late braking and self-effacing nature didn’t go anywhere this year, his results – and the belief they generated – made him a new man. Who would have thought he’d take on and beat Marquez twice in head-to-head last-lap battles in Austria and Japan? Who saw him winning six races and nearly scoring double the points of his higher-profile new teammate, Lorenzo? One bad weekend in Australia – coupled with Marquez’s brilliance at Phillip Island – did for his championship chances, but the response he received after crashing out of the final race at Valencia to ensure Marquez would win the title showed the esteem he’s held in across the sport, and the respect he’d earned for a season few saw coming.

The quote
“This year, when people were asking me which opponent is the most dangerous, I was always saying Maverick, Dani (Pedrosa), Valentino, maybe Lorenzo, but I never said ‘Dovi’. It’s something I learned this year, that you need to try to pay attention to everybody. In the end the most constant, the most complete guy to fight for the title was Dovi.” – Marquez on Dovizioso after Valencia

1. Marc Marquez

The stats

Points/championship position: 298, first

Wins: 6 (USA, Germany, Czech Republic, San Marino, Aragon, Australia)

Podiums: 12

Poles: 8

Fastest laps: 3

Head-to-head vs teammate in qualifying: Marquez 14, Dani Pedrosa 4

Head-to-head vs teammate in races: Marquez 13, Pedrosa 4 (neither rider finished in Argentina).

Points compared to teammate: Marquez 298, Pedrosa 210

The summary
The ever-present smile and willingness to laugh were still there, but Marquez was worried at the start of the season when Vinales won the first two Grands Prix. After Catalunya in round seven, his body was showing the signs of stress. “After Montmelo (Barcelona) I was with my hairdresser, and she says, ‘what is going on, what happened? You are losing the hair’,” he recalled. Marquez vowed to manage his anxiety levels better, and after Honda made changes to its bike following a revelatory mid-season test at Brno, the results started to come. The result of that was a fourth MotoGP crown in five years, a six-win season that mixed the expected (he won in Austin for the fifth year in a row, and took victory at the Sachsenring for the eighth consecutive time) with the signs his mind is becoming as powerful a weapon as his sheer talent, his last-lap win at Misano and calculated controlling of Australia races won with brain as much as brawn. Add to the skills and smarts his incredible propensity to recover from slips that would leave most riders picking gravel out of their teeth, and you have the best rider in the world. Can Marquez get better? Why not? Remember, he’s just 24 years of age – and has proven that, with either the best bike on the MotoGP grid or without it, he’s the benchmark of a golden age for the sport.

The quote
“I feel really proud, I feel really happy … I’m in a dream. But I know where is the ground. I will be the world champion until December 31. When I go in on January, I will be another rider, another opponent, and hope to fight again for the title.” – Marquez after Valencia

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What happened at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix?

There was more Ricciardo woe in Abu Dhabi, as Mercedes ruled a line beneath another all-dominant season with a Sunday stroll to a 1-2 finish.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton: qualified 2nd, finished 2nd. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 1st, finished 1st.

Two weeks after he qualified on pole in Brazil but fluffed his lines into the first corner, Bottas made no such mistake in Abu Dhabi, nailing the start and breaking clear of teammate Hamilton early on as the Silver Arrows were the gold standard at Yas Marina. There were some heart-in-mouth moments for the Finn – Hamilton made the most of a Bottas lock-up into the first chicane to climb all over the back of his car for a corner or two on lap 49 – but Bottas showed the pace he had in reserve by pushing his lead back to 2.3 seconds on the next tour, and cruised to his third race win of the season. Hamilton kept up his curious record of never having won a race for the remainder of the season after securing each of his four world titles, but a fourth 1-2 for the season for the team was the perfect way to wrap up another campaign of setting a new benchmark for the others to follow. Hamilton may not be a fan of the circuit layout – “it’s impossible to pass here,” was his immediate reaction afterwards – but boring can be beautiful when a maximum bounty of points is scored.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 4th, did not finish. Max Verstappen: qualified 6th, finished 5th.

Speaking of dull … Verstappen’s race was spent looking at the back of Raikkonen’s Ferrari for 55 laps, after the Dutchman’s early advances against the Ferrari veteran came to nought. He ran just behind Raikkonen for lap after lap, but never really came close enough to get past, the extra speed of the Ferrari down the two long straights cancelling out whatever Verstappen could do in the twisty final sector of the lap. At the end, Verstappen was 46 seconds behind Bottas, and a whopping 40 seconds ahead of sixth-placed Hulkenberg. At least he saw the finish; for the third time in four races since Verstappen signed a contract extension with the team, Ricciardo was forced out early, this time a hydraulics failure halting his progress on lap 21. After reversing his form against Verstappen to out-qualify his teammate with a brilliant lap on Saturday, it was a bitter blow – worse still, he relinquished fourth place in the drivers’ championship to Raikkonen. You sense the Australian may be ready for the off-season more than most.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 3rd, finished 3rd. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 5th, finished 4th.

A mile behind the front-running Mercedes duo and a mile in front of his dutiful and tardy teammate – Abu Dhabi won’t go down as a race Vettel will remember very fondly to round out a season where he led the championship for the opening 12 rounds and had Ferrari dreaming it could realistically end a title drought that goes back to 2007. The one slice of good news for the German was that, even with Bottas winning, he held onto second in the drivers’ standings. Raikkonen did what Raikkonen does – showed up, drove around, collected some points and achieved the bare minimum for a Ferrari driver. Finishing 112 points behind his teammate in an identical car sounds about right.

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

With Force India having secured fourth place for another year in the constructors’ championship, hopes were high that Perez and Ocon would get back to their feisty inter-team fighting that characterised the first half of their season, but the Mexican’s pace put paid to that, Perez finishing six seconds ahead of his young French teammate. For the 16th time in 20 races, the team had both drivers finish in the points; it’s hard to see how Force India, with its budget compared to the sport’s grandees, could do a lot better.

Williams
Felipe Massa: qualified 10th, finished 10th. Lance Stroll: qualified 15th, finished 18th.

Abu Dhabi brought the curtain down on Massa’s career, which started with Sauber way back in 2002, and a point for 10th in what is arguably the sixth-best car in the field was a fitting farewell present for a driver who so very nearly became world champion in 2008 before being pipped at the post by Hamilton in a memorable season-finale in Sao Paulo. The Brazilian veteran must surely have got a small kick out of eliminating old Ferrari teammate Alonso from Q3 with a ragged-edge final lap in qualifying 24 hours earlier. By comparison, Stroll’s race weekend was ragged for the wrong reasons, the Canadian hacksawing away at the wheel as he attempted to find grip, and then making three pit stops in the race where everyone else made one to finish plumb last and a lap down. With Massa leaving, all eyes are on who will replace him – and the team using former Renault and BMW-Sauber driver Robert Kubica in the Abu Dhabi post-race test will the story to follow over the coming week.

McLaren
Fernando Alonso: qualified 11th, finished 9th. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 13th, finished 12th.

Two points for Alonso ruled a line beneath the McLaren-Honda re-marriage that never hit the heights of its first go-round, and ensured the Spaniard would finish ahead of teammate Vandoorne in the standings after the Belgian led the way for much of the year. Vandoorne struggled mightily with rear grip issues in Sunday’s race, while Alonso kept Massa behind him one final time as he and the team prepare for the arrival of Renault power for 2018.

Toro Rosso
Pierre Gasly: qualified 17th, finished 16th. Brendon Hartley: qualified 20th, finished 15th.

Gasly admitted Toro Rosso was “stressed” about losing sixth place in the constructors’ championship to Renault in Abu Dhabi, and the team’s cause wasn’t helped when the Frenchman qualified just 17th, and teammate Hartley last while being saddled with yet another engine penalty. Gasly’s fears were valid; when Hulkenberg qualified and finished inside the top 10 and a mile ahead of both STR drivers, the fall to seventh overall – and the loss of approximately $6.5 million in prizemoney for the season – could have long-term consequences. Honda power – and 2018 – has to be the focus now, and that future will feature both Gasly and Hartley, after the team announced they’d be retained for next year in the lead-in to the race in the UAE.

Haas
Romain Grosjean: qualified 16th, finished 11th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 14th, finished 13th.

Haas came into Abu Dhabi in eighth place overall, but with the American squad just six points adrift of sixth-placed Toro Rosso, hopes were high internally that Haas could spring a surprise. They didn’t – Magnussen ruined his race with a spin all of his own doing on the opening lap, while Grosjean, after he’d won a spirited battle with Stroll’s Williams early on that made up to some degree for the snorefest happening up front, could only make it as far as 11th, Haas failing to score for the third time in the final four races of 2017.

Renault
Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 7th, finished 6th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 12th, did not finish.

Hulkenberg made a lot of people clad in yellow very happy on Sunday, a calm drive to sixth and beating both Force Indias a superb effort, and one that gave Renault a much-needed financial shot in the arm as it reloads for 2018 with a driver line-up that can push the team even higher. The German, after out-qualifying Sainz on Saturday, beat his teammates in qualifying 19-1 over the course of the season, and while he copped an early five-second time penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage when fighting Perez on lap one, had the pace to keep him behind for the entire race even after serving his punishment. Sainz was looking likely to join Hulkenberg in the points in Abu Dhabi, but had to retire immediately after his pit stop when the left front wheel wasn’t affixed correctly, seeing the Spaniard brush the wall in the tunnel that links the pit-lane exit to the circuit proper.

Sauber
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 19th, finished 17th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 18th, finished 14th.

Was Abu Dhabi Ericsson’s final F1 race? Was it Wehrlein’s final race for Sauber? Who will drive for the team in 2018, and what will its engines be badged as? All pertinent questions after another pointless race for the Swiss squad, and with Ferrari junior Charles Leclerc almost certain to be at the team next year, one of its incumbents will go. Wehrlein is considered an outside shot at the Williams seat vacated by Massa, while Ericsson, whose links to the team’s ownership are a factor, could yet get a reprieve. In the season finale, Wehrlein qualified and finished ahead of his teammate as he ‘won’ the fight to be the least-worst. Could we see this team designated as Sauber-Alfa Romeo next season?

What happened at the Brazilian Grand Prix?

Sebastian Vettel had Ferrari back on top, but a pair of robust recovery drives from Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo stole the show in Sao Paulo.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton: qualified 20th, finished 4th. Valtteri Bottas: qualified 1st, finished 2nd.

There was one Mercedes driver who had a standout performance in Brazil, and it wasn’t the one who started on pole and finished in second place. Bottas had a golden opportunity to use the fastest car in the field to claim a much-needed first win since Austria back in round nine; since, he’s been roundly thrashed by Hamilton in the sister Silver Arrow as the Briton careered towards a fourth world title. With the Finn on pole and Hamilton starting from the pit lane after crashing out of qualifying, Brazil was there for the taking – instead, it was Bottas who was taken, the Finn elbowed into second place at the first corner by Vettel and never really staking a claim for the lead later on, despite Mercedes getting aggressive with its pit-stop strategy and bringing him in for new tyres on lap 27 to put the frighteners up Ferrari. It didn’t work, and he finished 2.7 seconds from the win – and just 2.7secs ahead of Hamilton in fourth after the Briton narrowly missed out on becoming the third driver ever to start from the pits and end up on the podium. Hamilton came to Brazil vowing not to back off after winning the title last time out in Brazil, and showed how hard he was prepared to push when he overdid it in qualifying, burying his car in the Turn 6 fence and causing a red flag. An early safety car that bunched up the field helped his cause, but Hamilton was inside the top 10 after nine laps and looked set to catch Raikkonen for third, but a lock-up at the first corner inside the last five laps brought his stirring charge to an end. While a pole, a podium and Hamilton being voted Driver of the Day were good, what wasn’t was the news some Mercedes staffers had been robbed at gunpoint leaving the circuit on Friday night after practice, one of a number of similar incidents over the weekend that saw an increased security presence at surely the most dangerous location F1 continues to insist on visiting.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo: qualified 5th, finished 6th. Max Verstappen: qualified 4th, finished 5th.

The high altitude of Sao Paulo and Red Bull’s fragile Renault engine supply always loomed as a bad combination, and for Ricciardo, who retired from the previous two races in Austin and Mexico City with powerplant problems, Interlagos was a triple-whammy, more engine component changes making for a 10-place grid penalty. The chances of the Australian arresting his wretched record in Brazil – he’d competed in more races (six) than scored points (five) at Interlagos before Sunday – looked like a lost cause when was spun at Turn 3 by Vandoorne, whose McLaren had been tagged by the Haas of Magnussen at the previous turn, on the first lap. No matter; Ricciardo returned to the pits, had new tyres fitted, and then spent the afternoon tearing back through the field, his late-braking passes of one rival after another into the tricky downhill Turn 1 a highlight. Hamilton’s drive from the back in a better car gained more plaudits, but Ricciardo’s effort was sublime. Verstappen, who came in after winning two of the previous four races in Malaysia and Mexico, had a more statistically successful afternoon than his teammate, but spent much of the race frustrated at the power provided by his engine, and asked for a late-race pit stop to replace tyres that he said “felt like rocks”. With nothing to lose from fifth place, the team agreed to his request, and the Dutchman set the fastest lap of the race on lap 64 of 71. Fifth was as good as it was going to get – and sixth will be the best he can do in the drivers’ standings with just the race in Abu Dhabi to come.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel: qualified 2nd, finished 1st. Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 3rd, finished 3rd.

After losing the title to Hamilton in Mexico last time out, Vettel responded in the best way possible with just his second win in the past 13 races, a remarkable stat considering he led the title chase for the opening 12 rounds of the year. The German said he “chickened out” of his qualifying lap on Saturday, when Bottas edged him by 0.038secs for pole, but got his courage up on Sunday off the start, muscling past the Mercedes at the first corner and looking seemingly untroubled from there. It was Vettel’s fifth win and 12th podium of the year, and one that all-but assured him of finishing runner-up in the world championship – he leads Bottas by 22 points with a maximum of 25 available in Abu Dhabi. Raikkonen never looked like challenging his teammate in qualifying or the race, but took a third successive podium finish for the first time in his second stint at Ferrari, and for the first time since China-Bahrain-Spain in 2013, when he was at Lotus. Fourth in the drivers’ championship remains up for grabs, provided he can score seven more points than Ricciardo in Abu Dhabi.

Force India
Sergio Perez: qualified 6th, finished 9th. Esteban Ocon: qualified 11th, did not finish.

With fourth in the constructors’ championship sewn up, would Force India allow its drivers to race one another again in Brazil, and risk revisiting the acrimony between Perez and Ocon that marred the first half of the season? Sadly (for our entertainment, not the team’s) we never got to find out, as Ocon was pitched into a spin by Grosjean on the first lap and crashed, ending his perfect F1 finishing record; the young Frenchman had completed all 27 races he’d started before Interlagos. Ocon was unhappy with qualifying outside of the top 10 after he’d been a third-row fixture in recent races, and the dangers of being back in the pack in the frantic opening exchanges were painfully obvious. Perez, who didn’t drive in opening practice as the team elected to run Mercedes-backed British junior George Russell, this year’s GP2 champion, in his car, was thrilled to qualify sixth, which became fifth on the grid with Ricciardo’s engine penalty demotion. The Mexican was less happy on Sunday though, finishing at the back of the three-car train behind Massa and Alonso that flashed across the line almost simultaneously, two points a reward for his efforts.

Williams
Felipe Massa: qualified 10th, finished 7th. Lance Stroll: qualified 18th, finished 16th.

Interlagos was Massa’s final home Grand Prix – after it was his final home Grand Prix a year ago before he was retained for 2017 after the team lost Bottas to Mercedes. While he didn’t get the emotional send-off of last year after he shunted the car in the rain and was given an ovation from the passionate Brazilian fans, a seventh-place finish – effectively best of the rest behind the big three teams – was as good as it could have been, and Massa would have especially enjoyed keeping old Ferrari mate Alonso at bay in the closing stages, finishing less than half a second ahead of the McLaren. Massa jumped past teammate Stroll back into the top 10 of the championship after a difficult first visit to Brazil for the Canadian, who had his qualifying preparations ruined when his car needed a gearbox change – and subsequent five-place grid penalty – on Saturday morning. Stroll’s start from near the back was poor, and he had to make a late-race pit stop to change tyres after his left-front delaminated following several lock-ups into the first corner, finishing last of the 16 drivers classified.

McLaren
Fernando Alonso: qualified 7th, finished 8th. Stoffel Vandoorne: qualified 13th, did not finish.

Watching Alonso manhandle his McLaren into positions it has no realistic business being in – onto the fourth row of the grid in qualifying and competing for decent points in the race – has become a Sunday staple, and the Spaniard’s Saturday lap in Q3 was raw aggression and sublime skill at its finest. The lack of long straights at Interlagos didn’t punish McLaren’s cruel lack of straight-line speed, and the car looked mighty in the twisty middle sector, where the driver can make a sweet-handling chassis sing. Four points for eighth was Alonso’s second-best result of the year, which was encouraging on one hand, but a reminder of his past glories on another; the two-time world champion has been on the Brazil podium eight times without ever seeing the view from its top step. On the other side of the garage, Vandoorne’s race was over almost before it started, the Belgian squeezed into contact with Ricciardo’s Red Bull by Magnussen and making the long journey back to the pits on foot.

Toro Rosso
Pierre Gasly: qualified 17th, finished 12th. Brendon Hartley: qualified 15th, did not finish.

No points, but plenty of drama for Red Bull’s ‘B’ team in Brazil. Toro Rosso took engine penalties in Brazil for the fourth race in a row as their relationship with Renault splutters to a conclusion before a move to Honda next season – and then things got really interesting. Renault intimated that the installation of the engine could be to blame – “there are never coincidences in this sport,” said Renault head Cyril Abiteboul – which Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost strongly refuted. The team then issued a statement prior to qualifying, suggesting that Renault’s constructors’ championship fight with Toro Rosso might have something to do with the recent unreliability of the engines it provides to the team … In the race, Hartley stopped just after half-distance with yet another reliability gremlin, while Gasly, who said he found the repeated engine penalties “hard to accept” as he negotiates the early days of his F1 career, was a lapped 12th after starting from the back. The good news? The lack of points didn’t hurt the team too much in the constructors’ championship, Toro Rosso taking a four-point lead over Renault (and six over Haas) into the final race in the UAE.

Haas
Romain Grosjean: qualified 12th, finished 15th. Kevin Magnussen: qualified 14th, did not finish.

Grosjean wasn’t happy to be in an incident with Ocon on lap one, and his mood didn’t improve when he was penalised – harshly, it appeared – 10 seconds at his first pit stop for being deemed to have caused the collision with his compatriot. “You must be kidding me,” he groaned. Stroll’s late puncture and subsequent pit stop spared Grosjean from finishing dead-last. Magnussen didn’t come close to getting that far after being the trigger for the first-lap accident with Vandoorne and Ricciardo. “I broke my front suspension, so it wasn’t the best,” he said afterwards.

Renault
Nico Hulkenberg: qualified 8th, finished 10th. Carlos Sainz: qualified 9th, finished 11th.

One point for finishing 10th usually isn’t much to get animated about, but for Hulkenberg, it was a welcome relief after the German hadn’t finished the past four races, and was driving with one hand behind his back to a degree, with Renault managing engine power delivery modes to combat Sau Paulo’s high altitude and its own unreliability. The margin between Hulkenberg and Sainz was miniscule all weekend, suggesting the car was being driven to its potential, but whether that potential can translate into points to vault past Toro Rosso in the team’s race despite having a much more experienced and successful duo of drivers remains to be seen.

Sauber
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 19th, finished 13th. Pascal Wehrlein: qualified 16th, finished 14th.

Ericsson made a strong start and benefitted from the early chaos behind him to nibble at the edges of the points for quite some time, but faded to 13th as his search for that elusive first world championship point continues with just one race left this season. Wehrlein, who was given a new suspension and aerodynamic update to his car for the race to combat the handling problems that had plagued him in recent outings, ran ahead of his teammate for some time, but admitted to “really struggling” as he dropped to 14th by the flag.

Miller Time: Saying goodbye

Jack Miller writes about finishing up his 2017 season with a strong result in Spain – and his first taste of Ducati power later this week.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

That was a pretty good way to end the year, that’s for sure. There was a lot going on for everyone at Valencia on Sunday – always is when you have the usual massive crowd there and there’s a Spanish rider in the championship fight like there was with Marc (Marquez) against ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) – but it was a big day in our garage too. And it was a pretty decent way for me to close out a couple of pretty memorable years.

I’d known I was leaving the Marc VDS team for a while now of course, because we all knew I was off to Pramac Ducati for next season for the last few months. But Sunday was different because this was it, the last time I’d ride for them after two years. After I broke my leg in September, my main reason for hurrying back as fast as I did was to get back for my home race and the Island, but being there at the end of the season for the team was important too. I mean, whatever happens to me from here, I won a MotoGP race with these guys, so I wanted to finish up properly with them. And to finish seventh in the dry at Valencia and have really good pace all weekend – great way to end up.

Valencia isn’t the easiest track for us MotoGP riders because it’s so narrow and you’re always turning the bike, there’s only one decent-length straight. It’s a short track too, so 30 laps around there feels like forever if the bike is hard to ride. I’ve never had a decent MotoGP race there before, so to be up there all weekend, making Q2 again, fighting with Vale (Valentino Rossi) and (Andrea) Iannone and them in the race for a decent result, that was pretty much perfect. Couldn’t really hold onto them and Alex (Rins) who came through at the end there, but seventh means I finished top 10 in the last three races of the year. That would have been decent even if I hadn’t busted my leg, so pretty happy.

By the time you read this we’ll probably be well on the way to have a decent celebration with the team – which is why I’m writing this now! It’s the last race here for my teammate Tito (Rabat) as well, so they have a pretty different look coming next year. These guys have been great for me, and to know I was the rider who gave them that first MotoGP win last year at Assen, that’s pretty special. They’ve done a lot for me and helped me grow up as a rider (even as a person, I know that’s hard to believe but they have), and I’ll always be thankful for that. The year I spent with my engineer Ramon (Aurin) this year has been huge for me, he’s a done a lot to make me a smarter rider and his experience has been great for a rider like me, what I needed for sure. He’s someone I’ll definitely miss working with day by day.

Of course, it all moves so quickly in MotoGP, and we’ll all be back here in two days with about 100,000 fewer people watching to get 2018 started with the usual post-race test. I remember how it felt two years ago when I left Lucio (Cecchinello) and his team to come down to Marc VDS, and as weird as that was, I was still on a Honda and things felt fairly normal. Thinking that I’ll be on a Ducati on Tuesday, in a new garage with a new team … it’s a lot to take in. Really up for it though, and then it’ll be time for a bit of a break and to get my body right.

Thanks for coming with me for the ride this year. Finishing 11th for the season in the end was just short of the top-10 goal I set myself, and that was after missing a race injured too. So, not too bad I suppose. But I’ll want more next year, and it’ll be good to let you know how it all goes.

Cheers, Jack

The Dan Diaries: Reasons to believe

In his latest exclusive driver column, Daniel Ricciardo writes about bad luck, Brazil and how the best elite sportspeople separate themselves from the rest.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

If momentum and history count for anything with Brazil this weekend, then I might be in some trouble! I’ve not been able to finish the last two races in Austin and Mexico because of car dramas, and 19 racing laps total since Suzuka isn’t ideal. And then there’s Interlagos. For some reason, Brazil and I have never really gotten along. When someone tells you that you’ve done more races at a track than you’ve scored points, then it’s not great! The only way is up, clearly.

My record here – and even the last two races – makes you wonder about luck and the whole concept of it. Does good or bad luck really exist? Is it something people lean on to make themselves feel better when things go wrong? Or is everything explainable?

Sometimes, luck – good or bad – is a thing simply because it’s the only explanation you have for something happening. Not finishing the last two races because of things out of my control sucked of course, but equally you could say I had some luck at the start of the year with finishing races when (teammate) Max (Verstappen) didn’t, so things generally even themselves out. What goes around comes around, that sort of thing. Look at Baku earlier in the year when I won that race – I still had to drive well that day, but then you have something random like the headrest coming loose for Lewis (Hamilton) when he was ahead of me … that was what opened up the chance for me to win.

So for me, luck does exist. I’m a believer! Where do I stand on other things, racing-related or not? Let’s run through a few.

I’m a big believer in treating people the way you want to be treated in return. I see this in the sport and I’m sure anyone reading this knows people who have different ways of dealing with different people – some better, some worse. Some people treat others like it’s a transaction – as in what’s in this for me? – and I’m not a massive fan of that. For me, I try not to have too many different scales – I never understand why you would treat, say, someone famous any differently to someone you just met on the street. Aussies are like that generally, I think. Everyone should get the benefit of the doubt until they don’t deserve it anymore! So I try to keep pretty consistent with that.

A believer in God or a higher power? Sheesh … that’s not an easy one to explain! I was brought up and went to a Catholic school, and as a family we’d go to church on the occasions like Easter and Christmas Day. But the older we got, that began to drift a little, which perhaps is a generational thing. With work for me and where I’ve been, I’ve met lots of people, seen lots of things and got a taste for a lot of different angles when it comes to religion. My perspective has become more full, you could say. Sometimes religion can create divisions before people can get a chance to make their own minds up, just by its existence, so that’s one thing I don’t like about it. So that’s a very hard one to answer. It all comes down to how you were brought up and the experiences you had with family in those formative years, I guess.

The power of positive thinking? Believer. Big believer. A lot of the people I surround myself with and a lot of my mates are generally happy and positive people. There’s good energy that comes with that. The people who are on the other side of that – my mates and I call them ‘sappuccinos’ because they sap energy! – are always down and see the glass as being half-empty and not half-full. So positive thinking brings good energy, and good energy means you can get things done. Tick.

Can you learn from your mistakes? Absolutely I believe you can. Some people take time to analyse when things don’t work, and others are in denial or feel they can just brush it off and they don’t need to take anything out of it. I’m in the first category for the most part professionally, and I’m relatively good at that.

Can hard work overcome talent if talent doesn’t work hard? Believer. I’m not going to name names in F1 because that might be a bit tricky, but I’ll say there were definitely drivers growing up in Australia coming through karting with me who were very talented. They also moved abroad like me and tried to make it, but then they struggled a lot, and all of a sudden I was the one who was creating the headlines, which probably surprised a few people. They had just as much driving talent as me, but perhaps they were out partying and chasing girls and eating crap food and so on, I’m not sure. Whatever the case, things flamed out for them. So you need a baseline of talent, for sure, but hard work can be the thing that separates you. I believe I’m a product of that, and even now, I know that those first couple of years in Europe when I was a nobody and it was really hard to grind away, they completely set me up. Without those years and what they taught me about the hunger I needed, maybe I don’t make it at all.

Is sport more mental than physical? For most cases, yes. Some of my best races have been when I’m maybe not physically the strongest or fittest person on the grid, but I’m in the best place mentally because of what’s going on in my life and the way I’ve got myself in the right headspace to perform. Unless you’re talking, say, ironman or other sports where your results are based on almost purely physical performance, what separates the great from the very good at the elite level is all mental.

I’ve become a lot more aware of what I need to do to be in the right mental space and can get myself there on the days even when I’m not really feeling it. Anyone who works knows that there’s some days when you’re just not naturally in that space, so having the right triggers, routines or whatever that can get you there is really important. Diet, music, stretching … there’s a lot of things that, for me, go into it. Saying that, there are some days when you think you’re set to have a blinder of a race and don’t, or when you don’t expect much and you get a result. Look at Baku this year. Waking up that morning, that wasn’t a race I was expecting to win. Explains why I looked more surprised than any other emotions in the pics afterwards!

Can you learn more about yourself in bad times than good times? 100 per cent. A big weekend for me over the whole of my career was Canada in 2013 when I was still at Toro Rosso. Mark (Webber) was finishing at Red Bull at the end of that year, and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, too much really. And it just wasn’t working. I had a shocker of a weekend and ‘JEV’ (teammate Jean-Eric Vergne) was really strong. I couldn’t keep going the way I was going, so I took a step back, re-assessed and did some serious thinking.

I wouldn’t say I was lost or at some sort of career crossroads, but I was in a rut, for sure. There’s a lot more room to grow from those situations, because if you win, there’s a tendency to think ‘I was the best today, let’s move onto the next one’. I’m trying to get better at learning from that too (it’d be good to have more chances to learn from winning too, I’m working on that!), but you learn way more about your ability and yourself on your worst days, if you’re willing to look into it rather than brushing it off as simply bad luck. Which brings us back to where we started …

So, Brazil. I know, five points in six races sounds pretty ugly. But I’m thinking positive thoughts. My stats in Malaysia were about as bad as Brazil until I won Sepang last year, so there’s that. Because I’ve never had a good one in Brazil, my motivation is to figure it out and get that right. We’ll give it a crack.

Who wins the MotoGP crown, and why?

It’s Marquez vs Dovizioso for the biggest prize in two-wheel motorsport – here’s five things you need to know before their final-round showdown in Valencia.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

After nearly eight months, 17 Grands Prix, 399 racing laps, five race-winners and 10 different riders on the podium, the 2017 MotoGP season comes down to this – 30 laps in Valencia on Sunday to decide who will wear the crown as the king of two-wheel motorsport. Some 32 riders have taken to the grid for some or all of the 2017 campaign, but Valencia is all about just two.

For Marc Marquez, being in contention at the pointy end of the season is nothing new. In a whirlwind four MotoGP seasons before this one, the Repsol Honda man has won three titles, and leads this year’s championship by 21 points coming into Valencia.

Marquez knows what it’s like to be atop the table coming into the last race; in 2013, he led Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo by 13 points heading to Valencia, a third place as Lorenzo won the race seeing him win the crown by four points. Marquez has done it the easier way too; his 2014 title came in Japan with three races to go after he’d won the opening 10 Grands Prix of the season, while last season, he also secured the title at Motegi with three races remaining.

For Andrea Dovizioso, 2017 has been a breakout campaign for a rider who had managed just two premier-class victories in nine seasons before this one. Like Marquez, the Ducati rider has taken six victories so far in 2017, and no matter what happens in Valencia, he’ll top his previous-best championship finish of third, which he earned riding for Marquez’s current team back in 2011. It’s been 13 years since Dovizioso could call himself a world champion, which came when he won the 125cc title for Honda in 2004.

What are the mathematical implications of this weekend? What must Dovizioso do to pip Marquez at the post? Who’s hot and who isn’t? And what role could teammates Dani Pedrosa (Marquez) and Lorenzo (Dovizioso) play, let alone the likes of factory Yamaha pair Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, among others? Here’s what to watch for, and why.

The maths

To say Marquez is in the box seat is an understatement. With a 21-point advantage over Dovizioso, the Spaniard need only finish 11th or better to win the title no matter what the Italian does. In 17 races so far this year, Marquez has finished 14 of them (he crashed in Argentina and France, and had an engine failure in Great Britain), and 11 of those finishes have been podiums. Sixth in Italy has been his worst result.

Dovizioso has been more dependable (he’s finished 16 times in 17 races, equal with Johann Zarco for the most finishes this year), and the one DNF wasn’t even his fault, taken out mid-race by Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro in Argentina in round two. ‘Dovi’ has finished on the podium eight times, but picked a bad time for his worst result of the year last month at Phillip Island, when he finished just 13th as Marquez won the race to see an 11-point championship deficit balloon to 33.

The Valencia records

For all of his dominance elsewhere, Marquez has a surprisingly modest MotoGP record at Valencia, winning just once (2014) in four attempts. But before Ducati fans get too excited, it’s worth pointing out that Marquez made the podium on the other three visits – third in 2013, and second in 2015 and again last year.

Valencia is also home to perhaps Marquez’s most mesmerising world championship performance; in his final Moto2 race before graduating to the top flight in 2012, he was sent to the back of the grid for a practice infringement and started 33rd – and won anyway, his first lap that day one that still has seasoned onlookers shaking their heads in astonishment …

By contrast, Dovizioso has been super-consistent – he’s finished in the top 10 for nine consecutive years at Valencia – but has just one podium (third in 2011) on his CV. But that was the Dovizioso of old – who knows what this year’s re-booted version could achieve?

The recent form

Marquez has led the standings after eight races this season, Dovizioso two. More recently, over a snapshot of the past five races, it’s Marquez 108 points, Dovizioso 78. Included in that quintet of Grands Prix are three wins for Marquez (San Marino, Aragon and Australia), and two for Dovizioso (Japan and last time out in Malaysia, both of which came in wet conditions). In fact, the front-running duo have been so dominant that the last rider other than Marquez or Dovizioso to win a race this year was Rossi, way back in round eight at Assen in June. Since then, it really has been a two-horse race. Expect Dovizioso and Ducati to be doing a rain dance this week …

The teammates

What could Pedrosa or Lorenzo do to influence the title race? Lorenzo’s role in particular came under the microscope in Malaysia, when he led for much of the race before making a mistake at the final corner with five laps to go, Dovizioso steaming through to take the win. Afterwards, Lorenzo claimed he didn’t see a dashboard instruction from Ducati to let his teammate by to take the extra five world championship points that come with a victory, but added “I already knew, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what to do in this situation”.

What brings Lorenzo into play here is that the Mallorcan has been the dominant force at Valencia in recent times, winning three of the past four races there to go with his other triumph at the tight Spanish track in 2010. He secured the 2015 title – the only one not won by Marquez since the Honda rider came into MotoGP – with victory from pole. Rain, hail or shine, Lorenzo shapes as a factor at Valencia, which could help his teammate.

Pedrosa also has success to draw upon at Valencia, but not recently; the last of his three wins there came in 2012, while last year, he crashed out on lap seven after qualifying a lowly eighth.

If either teammate is figure prominently in Valencia, it’s likely to be Lorenzo – and especially if it rains.

The sideshows

While it’s all about the top two in Valencia, there’s several other storylines worth keeping an eye on.

With 197 points in 16 of the 17 races (he missed Misano with a broken leg), 2017 is already guaranteed to be Rossi’s lowest-scoring season in five years since he’s been back at Yamaha. Worse could be yet to come – should Pedrosa outscore him by 13 points in the final race, ‘The Doctor’ would fall to fifth in the championship, his worst finish on a Yamaha in 12 seasons. The Italian hasn’t won at Valencia in 13 years, and has just one podium (second in 2014) in his past six starts.

For his old Yamaha teammate Lorenzo, 2017 shapes as the first season in his 10 MotoGP campaigns that he hasn’t won a race; second last time out in Malaysia was the best of his three podiums so far in red.

And for Aussie fans, keep an eye on Jack Miller, whose goals coming into the season were to stay healthy after an injury-ravaged 2016, and to finish inside the top 10 overall. He very nearly managed the former before a broken right leg saw him miss the round in Japan, but he’s bounced back since with strong top-10 runs at home in Australia and in Malaysia a fortnight ago. As for the latter: Miller sits 12th on 73 points coming into Valencia, two points behind Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista, and just 11 behind Yamaha’s Jonas Folger in 10th, with the German set to miss the season finale with illness.

Fifth – and topping his season-best to date of sixth at Assen and in Misano – would do it for Miller, depending on what Bautista can manage.