Month: May 2018

Canada 2014 – how Dan did it: an oral history

As we gear up for next week’s race in Montreal, this is the inside story of how Daniel Ricciardo first became a Formula One race winner four years ago.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The Daniel Ricciardo of 2018 is one of Formula One’s shining lights, a multiple race-winner with a style all his own, and with an outsize personality and approach to his craft that endears him to the sport’s fans the world over. That’s the now, but what about the then?

When did Ricciardo’s promise, honed in British Formula 3 and built upon in the best part of three F1 seasons with HRT and Scuderia Toro Rosso from 2011-13, turn into production, and a landmark result that established him as a perennial powerhouse for years to come?

The upcoming Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal marks four years since Ricciardo’s career breakthrough, a maiden win achieved in a remarkable race, and a victory that came in a season where Mercedes adapted best to the new V6 turbo hybrid engine era that F1 had headed headlong into, coming to Canada with six wins from six poles in six races to start the year. It was a win that owed itself to pace, persistence, storming through a door that had been left ajar and not putting a foot wrong when the stakes were at their highest – all of which have become hallmarks of the vast majority of Ricciardo’s six F1 victories since.

As we gear up for the 2018 race around the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve on the Ile-Notre Dame next Sunday, we re-live Ricciardo’s breakthrough in this oral history, through the eyes of Daniel himself, and those who were there or played a part in the Grand Prix that established the wide-smiled hopeful as a genuine F1 star.

THE EARLY DAYS AT RED BULL

With Mark Webber’s retirement at the end of 2013, Red Bull Racing signed off on the normally-aspired V8 engine era in imperious style, Webber’s teammate Sebastian Vettel winning 13 races (including the last nine of the season) to saunter to a fourth world title in a row. But pre-season testing in 2014 was a nightmare for Red Bull, Vettel and new signing Ricciardo, reliability gremlins with Renault’s power plant meaning the team hadn’t completed a single race distance before heading to Ricciardo’s homeland for the opening Grand Prix of the year in Melbourne.

Would the RB10 even make it to the chequered flag in Melbourne? How slowly would Ricciardo and Vettel have to drive if it did, in order to preserve an engine that was, at best, fragile? Expectations were muted in the extreme.

Daniel (to this author in December 2013): I’ve come to not really like the word ‘expectations’ because it can be a bit of a let-down sometimes … but let’s say I definitely have plans. Hopefully the car is competitive, but even if it isn’t, for me I’d love to give it to Seb, start the season hopefully in front but, being realistic, close to him. I’m not allowing time for myself.

While Vettel was an early retiree in Australia, Ricciardo qualified a career-best second in a deluge on Saturday, and then finished a stunning second in the race behind Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg for his first career podium, or so he thought. Hours after the delirious masses had vacated Albert Park, Ricciardo’s RB10 was excluded from the results for breaching the sport’s fuel flow regulations, a bitter blow. But Ricciardo’s pace – not to mention standing on the podium for the first time despite having to relinquish his trophy afterwards – left him in a buoyant mood.

Daniel (to The Age newspaper, October 2014): I didn’t know about being disqualified when I left the circuit, but I feared for it. Driving back to the hotel, I decided I needed to have a beer – do something – to enjoy that memory of standing up on the podium for the first time whether I kept it or not. And then the call came. A few of my mates were staying in the hotel, so I had them come up to my room and we had a few quiet drinks. I didn’t have a lot to say. I wanted to at least remember how the day felt, because I had nothing to show for it. I didn’t leave the track with my trophy – I never actually saw it again. It hurt, but I look back at it now as a great weekend. It did a lot for me; I still stood on the podium and got those jitters out of the system. But knowing it was taken off me, it just made me more hungry to get it back.

It didn’t take long. After a DNF in Malaysia and a podium near-miss in Bahrain when he finished fourth after starting 13th following a 10-place grid penalty for an unsafe pit release at Sepang, Ricciardo was fourth again in China, finishing just behind Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari in third and, more eye-catchingly, 20 seconds ahead of teammate and reigning four-time world champion Vettel in the sister Red Bull.

After coming close twice, Ricciardo finally took his maiden podium at the following race in Spain, qualifying third and finishing in the same position as Mercedes ran away with it at the front, finishing 49secs behind Lewis Hamilton but inside the top three for the first time. The next race in Monaco saw him qualify and finish third again, finishing right in Hamilton’s wheeltracks as Rosberg won.

As the teams went to Canada for round seven of 2014, it was Mercedes first and daylight second, Hamilton’s retirement in Australia the only reason the Silver Arrows hadn’t finished 1-2 in every race. Ricciardo was fourth in the championship with 54 points, seven points behind Alonso in third and nine points ahead of teammate Vettel, but Canada wasn’t exactly his happiest of hunting grounds. In three previous visits, he’d never qualified inside the top 10, never finished better than 14th (and had never therefore scored a single world championship point), and just 12 months previously, had endured what he later described as one of the toughest race weekends of his time in F1.

Daniel (to redbull.com, July 2016): Canada 2013 … might have been the turning point in my career. We knew Mark was leaving Red Bull, and Canada that year was honestly one of the worst races of my life. (Teammate) Jean-Eric (Vergne) was sixth which was almost like a victory in a Toro Rosso, and I was 15th and absolutely nowhere. Sometimes you’re slow and you can rationalise that because you know why, but that weekend I was bad and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe knowing there was a Red Bull seat available made it worse. I’m not going to lie, I didn’t really like race cars much after that weekend. I had to try something different because it just didn’t make sense. I went to New York for a week after Montreal and tried not to think about racing at all and stop beating myself up about it …

PRACTICE: BACK IN THE PACK

The long back straight of the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve couldn’t have suited the Red Bull package less, the gains shown on Monaco’s twisting city streets likely to be wiped out by the long blast from the hairpin to the final chicane of the circuit in Canada. The team’s mood ahead of the weekend was cautious at best, and that middling confidence proved correct when Ricciardo finished just 12th in Friday practice in Montreal, 1.5secs behind the pace-setting Mercedes of Hamilton.

Daniel (after practice): I guess (12th) was a bit of a surprise. We obviously hoped to be a bit further up there. I don’t feel at home with the car, but at the same time we don’t feel 1.5 seconds off. We have a bit to understand. What is positive is that Seb put in a quick (lap), so we can see what he did there and try to see where we are in comparison, see where I need to work and see if we can get further up.

Christian Horner, Red Bull team principal: I think Montreal is going to be a challenging race for us. Renault is working hard behind the scenes, and we were much, much closer in Monaco. But you go from one extreme to the other: Monaco is all about handling characteristics, this is straight-line performance, so it is going to be very interesting to see how we fare against the Mercedes-powered teams.

Daniel: If we don’t get it right we can be a long way back as we have seen. We have to make sure we nail it.

QUALIFYING: BETTER, BUT WORST

Ricciardo was more buoyant when he was able to finish fifth in final practice, Mercedes unsurprisingly leading the way again, but qualifying was tougher, the Australian slotting into sixth place for what – at the time – was his worst qualifying performance of 2014. Mercedes locked out the front row, Rosberg edging Hamilton by 0.079secs, and while Red Bull claimed the mantle of ‘best of the rest’, that went to Vettel, who led a quartet of cars separated by just 0.041secs, Ricciardo at the rear of that group. It was the first time the German had outqualified his new teammate in four races.

Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing (after qualifying): The start of that last lap wasn’t great, I didn’t manage to get the first sector right, but I tried to take more risks and it worked. In terms of fighting with the car, it is still not where we want to be.

Horner: If you’d have offered us third and sixth in qualifying before the weekend, I think we’d have definitely taken it.

Daniel: We were close to third, but not close enough and we paid a bit of a price. We’ve made progress throughout the weekend and we were not too far off, but it’s disappointing to just miss out.

Nico Rosberg, pole position, Mercedes: That was very important as there aren’t many opportunities to overtake here, particularly if you are in the same car. I think it will be a battle between the two of us (Mercedes drivers) out there tomorrow, the gap to the other cars was quite big.

Lewis Hamilton, second: I just had two laps and I didn’t do good laps. It was nothing to do with the car.

Daniel: Shithouse – but if you want something you can print, say ‘scrappy’. I’m trying to cheer myself up, I was a bit frustrated. Being less than half a tenth from three more positions up the grid, that’s frustrating. I made a few mistakes and paid the price. It sucks for me today, but that is how it should be.

RACE: FROM SIXTH TO THE TOP STEP

With the race looking like an equation of one in two for the victory, Rosberg and Hamilton knew the first corner was critical, and the German robustly defended his position from his teammate at the start, Vettel slicing past Hamilton as the Briton took to the escape road at the second corner after being pushed wide by Rosberg. Hamilton regained second on lap 10 of 70, and the race settled into a familiar pattern, the two Mercedes cars in their own private squabble out front while the rest competed for the other podium spot.

But the stop-go nature of the Montreal street circuit regularly throws up curveballs, and by half-distance, it seemed the Silver Arrows weren’t bulletproof after all. Both Rosberg and Hamilton reported sudden losses of power from their engines, and both drivers dropped their pace by two seconds a lap and made a second pit stop as the team madly searched for a fix. No solution was forthcoming for Hamilton, who retired with brake failure on lap 48, but Rosberg still had enough pace at the front of the field in a compromised car that a third victory of the year looked safe.

Behind him, a monstrously quick in-lap for Ricciardo saw him leapfrog teammate Vettel in his second pit stop, and the Australian set off after Force India’s Sergio Perez, who was attempting to nurse a one-stop tyre strategy to the podium.

Daniel (post-race): I was told about Lewis first and pretty much straight away I was passing him and he was cruising back to the pits. At that time I was trying to count what position I was, and I think I was third then. I was thinking ‘OK, this is a podium, this is good’, and then a few laps later I could see that Rosberg was not far in front. From him being 20 seconds or 30 seconds down the road, all of a sudden he was in my sight. I had to look twice, but then I realised that we’ve got a race on our hands.

Perez had track position and a faster car down the back straight, but the Mexican was battling with his own brake dramas, and Ricciardo spied an opportunity to pounce.

Daniel (August, 2014): When I saw Rosberg having his straight-line speed problems, which is where (Mercedes has) been clearly more dominant, it clearly put it into perspective that yes, we’ve got a shot. So it was just then about getting past Perez. He was the roadblock, in a way.

With five laps left and with no way past at the final chicane after the back straight, Ricciardo launched an audacious attack on Perez at the first corner, and – just – made it stick. Second would have been his best F1 finish to date, but Rosberg was within touching distance. It was time to go for it.

Daniel (August, 2014): I was behind (Sergio) for a quite a few laps, and his tyres … he was doing a good job to hold on, and I was thinking ‘is it ever going to happen?’. I finally got a really good run off the last chicane. I knew we were strong on the brakes, so went around the outside in turn one and just held on. A little bit on the grass, but just held on.

Ricciardo got within DRS range of Rosberg on the back straight with three laps left, went by, and, having never led a Formula One race before, was less than 10 kilometres from winning one. Which is when his mind started to wander.

Daniel (August, 2014): When I took the lead, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I could feel my heart rate creep up a bit. Although I felt all these emotions inside, I was still able to keep a cool head and know what I was doing. It’s not like all of a sudden I forgot how to drive. I was still hitting my marks, but yeah, there was a bit more going on in the tummy. Every gear shift you make, every time you hit the brakes, you’re just hoping that nothing comes off, nothing explodes, you just want the car to pull up. You just hope that mechanically, everything works.

Behind him, as the final lap started, Perez led Williams’ Felipe Massa for the third and final podium spot, Vettel waiting patiently in case something happened ahead of him. And it did, the Mexican and Brazilian coming together at the first corner in a massive accident that promoted Vettel to third, and saw the safety car immediately deployed. With debris strewn all over the circuit, the race was effectively neutralised on the last lap, with no more passing permitted. Ricciardo’s win was assured, but it wasn’t the way he imagined he’d win his first Grand Prix, crawling across the line at little more than walking pace.

Daniel (August, 2014): I didn’t know whether to jump up or take a breath. I was quite exhausted, I think mentally I was knackered, and I didn’t really know what to do. It was surreal.

Vettel (post-race): I saw (Perez and Massa) were close to each other, I saw something white coming in the mirror and I opened the car, turned right, and Felipe was in the air coming past … I was quite lucky and saw him just in time.

Felipe Massa, Williams (post-race): I talked to (Perez) at the medical centre, I was so disappointed with him. He needs to learn. I wanted him to put himself in my place, because I had a huge crash and honestly I thought it was going to hurt. It’s not the first time that he turned into somebody under braking. He did this many times. He didn’t say anything, he just turned left. I hope he learns. We are doing around 300km/h there.

Winning was nothing new for a team that had won 13 of 19 races the season prior, but given the size of the deficit Red Bull (and seemingly every other squad) had to Mercedes in the first half of 2014, this was a victory to savour.

Horner (post-race): I didn’t believe that we could win this race, but the way Daniel has driven, the way he has made his passing moves, he just grabbed his opportunity. He has driven faultlessly all season and I am delighted for him that he won his first Grand Prix. It is a wonderful feeling for any driver. It was nice to have Seb on the podium to enjoy it with him and it is a very special day in his life and career. I am sure it will probably take a day or two for it to sink in.

Ricciardo (to The Age newspaper, October 2014): I’ve been impressed by the level of respect Seb has shown me. He’s been gracious in defeat – when I’ve won, he was approaching me and patting me on the back. I don’t like losing either, so I know it’s not easy to do these things. But he’s always shown me a good level of respect, and for that I’ve given him more respect because of the way he’s handled it. There’s been no conflicts.

Fernando Alonso, Ferrari (post-race): Who would’ve thought Red Bull would win a race so soon after winter testing? Mercedes was so dominant, but they had mechanical issues, so you need to be there to take the opportunities and Red Bull was there. That gives us motivation and shows us how things can change during a race weekend … anything can happen.

Daniel (August, 2014): You think you can do it, but until you do it, you never know if you’ll crumble under the pressure or whatever. It was nice to know that I could do it, that made me very happy. Seeing all the people below (the podium) in the team, the fans, there were a few people in the crowd chanting ‘Ricciardo’ … that was a noise or sound I’ll never forget, an image I’ll never forget.

A pre-planned flight back home to Europe later that Sunday evening was quickly cancelled as Ricciardo, his long-time trainer Stuart Smith and the team took the chance to celebrate a success few – not even they – saw coming.

Ricciardo (to the Australian Grand Prix official program, 2015): It wasn’t until Stu and I left the track in the hire car hours after the race that it actually hit me. It was the first time I’d had to actually contemplate what I’d done and be alone with my thoughts. Red Bull put on a party in Montreal, but my main feeling wasn’t excitement, more exhaustion. I had a couple of drinks, but once the adrenaline wore off, I wasn’t full of energy. Mentally I was shattered. I realised I needed to do better next time …

POSTSCRIPT

Ricciardo certainly did better next time, and the time after: in the final race before F1’s mid-season break that year in Hungary, he hunted down and passed Alonso’s Ferrari in the last laps of the race – sound familiar? – to take career win number two. “That was messy,” he laughs now of the celebrations in Budapest, with long-time mates from Perth who’d come over to see the race. A third win came in Belgium when Rosberg and Hamilton tripped over one another early in the race, and by the end of 2014, Ricciardo had three victories, five other podiums, finished third in the world championship and beat Vettel by 71 points in the 19 races, the German announcing at that year’s Japanese Grand Prix that he’d be heading to Ferrari after being soundly thrashed by his new teammate.

Since, Ricciardo has won four Grands Prix (Malaysia 2016, Azerbaijan 2017, China 2018 and Monaco last time out), all in dramatic or compelling circumstances, but memories of that Canadian breakthrough still burn brightest. Last year in Canada, he convinced esteemed British actor Sir Patrick Stewart to join him in a post-race shoey on the podium when he finished third – what celebrations might we get in Montreal next Sunday if the affable Aussie is able to reprise his 2014 triumph once again?

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What happened at the Monaco Grand Prix?

It’s sweet redemption at Monaco for Daniel Ricciardo, the Aussie taking a win that was two years in the making by leading from start to finish while battling a crippled car on Sunday.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
“I run these $treets” read the message beneath the trademark honey badger that features at the back of Daniel Ricciardo’s driver helmet before the Monaco weekend, and the Australian backed up his (or the badger’s) words with the second pole position of his career for Red Bull Racing on Saturday, which came after he’d led all three practice sessions and all three knockout stages of qualifying. Ricciardo’s pole lap of 1min 10.810secs was the fastest-ever tour of the 3.337km roads around the Principality, and he was remarkably calm afterwards, commenting “it was one of those pretty smooth ones, I could just build up to it and find my rhythm and have some fun.”

While there was joy on one side of the Red Bull garage in its 250th race weekend, there was plenty of pain on the other, Max Verstappen failing to make qualifying at all after shunting heavily at Turn 16, the exit of the Swimming Pool section, in final practice.

The accident, reminiscent of one at the same corner two years ago, destroyed the right-front corner of Verstappen’s RB14 and necessitated a gearbox change, the Dutchman condemned to a back-of-the-grid start at a circuit where overtaking is close to impossible. Given that he was second to Ricciardo in all three practice sessions, it was a massive blow. “You don’t get that many opportunities to win a Monaco GP,” said team principal Christian Horner. “He needs to learn from it, and stop making these errors.” Verstappen’s crash marked the sixth weekend from six this season where he’s had an incident or contact with other cars/the barriers.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel pulled out a superb final lap to get within 0.229secs of Ricciardo for second, while championship leader Lewis Hamilton was next, admitting his Mercedes wasn’t in Red Bull’s league on such a specific track. Verstappen’s absence from Q3 opened the door for another team to gatecrash the first three rows, and it was Esteban Ocon who emerged from the pack to nab sixth spot for Force India, the Frenchman leading a quintet of cars separated by just 0.160secs. “We have a great opportunity,” Ocon beamed afterwards.

Further back, Fernando Alonso was an all-action seventh for McLaren, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly (10th) made Q3 at his first Monaco Grand Prix, and Sergey Sirotkin impressed for Williams by making Q2 and qualifying 13th, a rare bright spot for the team that sits dead-last in the constructors’ standings.

Other than Verstappen’s, the faces were longest at Haas, Romain Grosjean qualifying 15th but starting 18th after his three-place penalty for causing the first-lap shunt in Spain kicked in, and the man who was best of the rest in Barcelona, Kevin Magnussen, slowest of all.

But all eyes were on Ricciardo, after he reprised his 2016 pole on the same streets. “50 per cent done, let’s finish this s**t tomorrow,” he said, perhaps mindful of the ’16 race that saw a win thrown away through no fault of his own after a calamitous pit stop. Working against him on a circuit where passing is so hard? Recent history; oddly, the pole-sitter hadn’t won at Monaco since 2014.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Ricciardo led from start to finish to win his seventh GP, but had to manage the loss of his MGU-K from lap 28, keeping Vettel behind despite being 25 per cent down on power for 65 per cent of the race. Hamilton was third, the top six on the grid finishing where they started. Verstappen climbed from the back to ninth, and set the fastest lap of the race.  
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
Fifty laps of keeping his cool after reporting he was “losing power” finally cracked for Ricciardo when he rolled to a halt on the start-finish straight, allowing himself an emotional moment alone in the car before the podium ceremony to let his first Monaco win sink in. The pain of losing the 2016 race in the Principality has never really gone away for the 28-year-old, and his immediate comments – “redemption”, “two years in the making” – showed you where his mind was as he climbed the steps to the royal box to receive the winner’s trophy every driver covets like no other. Yes, Monaco is a tough track on which to pass, but Ricciardo’s demeanour when told he’d have to manage his power problems for the rest of the race – calm, analytical, concentrated – was that of a man desperate not to let this win go, and in stark contrast to several of his rivals who moaned about tyres, traffic and strategy when situations called for calmer heads. Vettel was never close enough to launch an attack at his old Red Bull teammate, and Ricciardo’s tyre management was sublime, Vettel’s Ferrari and Mercedes of Hamilton clearly struggling more with graining from their ultrasofts after their one and only pit stops of the race on lap 15 and 11 respectively. A late-race virtual safety car after Charles Leclerc’s Sauber wiped out the Toro Rosso of Brendon Hartley caused heart rates to skyrocket on the Red Bull pit wall, but McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne emerged from the pits under VSC conditions to slot in between Ricciardo and Vettel on track, and the Ferrari’s struggles with regaining tyre temperature when the race resumed saw Ricciardo bolt to what was, in the end, a comfortable win by 7.336secs. He led every session of the event, took pole and led every lap of the race – it was only Verstappen’s late fastest lap that denied Ricciardo the most perfect of weekends.

What the result means
Six races into the season, we now have two wins each for Mercedes (Hamilton), Ferrari (Vettel) and Red Bull (Ricciardo), the three drivers on the podium in Monaco now the top three in the championship, Vettel’s second place reducing Hamilton’s lead to 14 points. Not every track is like Monaco and, on balance, the Red Bull still looks the third-fastest car in the field at most circuits. But Ricciardo has repeatedly shown that, give half a chance, he’ll snaffle whatever result is on offer, and twice already this year that has been a victory. He’s 38 points off Hamilton’s series lead, but with Bottas and Raikkonen unable to match their teammates’ pace and Verstappen’s indiscretions seeing him with less than half of Ricciardo’s points total already (72-35), perhaps we are looking at a three-way, three-team fight for the title one-third of the way through the season.

For historical purposes …
Ricciardo became the third Australian to win the most famous F1 race of all, joining Sir Jack Brabham (1959) and the man he succeeded at Red Bull Racing, Mark Webber (2010 and 2012).

The number to know
1:
Ricciardo’s win from pole is the only one of his seven career wins to come from higher than fourth place on the grid.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Ocon had managed just one point in five races before Sunday, so snaffling eight more at a circuit that didn’t seem to suit Force India coming into the weekend was an outstanding return. Seventh for Gasly in his maiden Monaco outing was a much-needed result given the Frenchman hadn’t scored at all since his stunning fourth in Bahrain in the season’s second race, while Renault left Monaco with a stronger hold on fourth in the constructors’ championship thanks to eighth for Nico Hulkenberg and 10th for teammate Carlos Sainz.

The naughty corner
Verstappen considered his ninth “the best result possible” given he started at the very back, and he was decisive in the early going, dispatching both Haas drivers into the first corner on lap one and clearly looking the fastest driver of the four-car train headed by Ocon that finished line-astern after 78 laps. One slip-up in practice proved very, very costly – could he have attacked an ailing Ricciardo for the win if he was the driver in second place, not Vettel, in the closing laps? We’ll never know. Elsewhere, we’ll forgive Leclerc for smashing into Hartley, the Sauber’s left front brakes completely failing as he hurtled out of the tunnel towards the harbourfront chicane on lap 72, while the only other retiree was Alonso, whose McLaren had a gearbox failure on lap 53, the Spaniard failing to finish for the first time all year.

What’s next?
F1 trades one street circuit for another with the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal (June 10) up next, although the semi-permanent road course around the Ile-Notre Dame is more Melbourne than Monaco, and should suit Ferrari and Mercedes much more than Monte Carlo did. The narrow old school high-speed track punctuated by chicanes is a car-breaker and especially tough on brakes, and it’s a circuit where Hamilton thrives – the four-time world champion has won the race six times in all and for the past three years, Ricciardo’s maiden F1 win in 2014 the last time anyone other than the Briton has seen the chequered flag first.

Miller Time: Flying higher in France

Jack Miller writes about equalling a season-best with fourth at Le Mans, and how he feels about being higher in the MotoGP standings than ever before.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

It’s going to be a pretty good night here at Le Mans for the team after my fourth place and second for my teammate Danilo (Petrucci) – there were more than 100,000 people here today and the roads getting out are 100 per cent jammed, so either we stay and celebrate, or I need to find another way out … For me though, this was a pretty big result. Could be better, could be worse … But all things considered, maybe this was the most convincing race of my career in MotoGP.

I know, what about Assen 2016, I can hear you saying it. There’s never going to be anything that feels like that win, but it was raining, guys crashed out, etc etc. I was fourth this year in Argentina when I was on pole and pretty frustrated to be off the podium, but that was another weird race with that start (don’t worry, I’m coming back to that) and everything that went on. This one in France was different. Less than a second off the podium, six seconds off the win, a dry and normal day, no random stuff happening. Completely on merit. Maybe not the most exciting race for me, sure, but definitely one to be happy about.

All weekend I had good pace, and I was more hopeful of that rather than expecting it because Le Mans hadn’t been great for me in MotoGP, or for Ducati in the past – this is normally a Yamaha track. But I was within half a second of the session-leading time in every session except first practice, and never out of the top 10 after FP1. Qualified seventh, was fourth in the morning warm-up … it was a result there to get.

The track was the hottest it had been all weekend in the race, up to 45 degrees, and that maybe hurt me near the end when I was trying to chase Valentino (Rossi) down for the podium. I always seemed to be about 1.5secs behind him and could never really push as much as I wanted at the end, both me and Danilo went with the soft front/soft rear tyres and we had to manage them in those last few laps. I had a moment with a big tyre squish in the corner coming onto the back straight, missed the apex, got up on the kerb … that was the warning for me. Maybe if I don’t make that mistake, I’m there to battle with him on the last two laps. But anyway, you saw how easy it was to throw it down the road today with ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) and (Johann) Zarco crashing. So fourth for me is a great result, and two bikes in the top four for the team is awesome. The best GP17 here last year was ‘Dovi’, and he was 11 seconds off the win – a year later and on the same bike I was six seconds off, so that’s pretty damned good.

I’m up to sixth in the championship now – and actually only 10 points off Maverick (Vinales) in second, now Marc (Marquez) has run off at the front after winning again. It’s the highest I’ve ever been in MotoGP and it feels like it’s not a fluke, there’s not one crazy outlier result that has me up there where maybe I shouldn’t be. That’s eight top-10s in a row if you go back to last year, and twice the next-best off the podium in five races. I want one of them for sure, but I’m pretty optimistic it can come. Keep the run going, keep learning (I felt like I learned more being closer to the front today), and anything can happen. We’re not far from those guys at all.

I mentioned the race wasn’t the most exciting, for me anyway, but that’s fine when you grab a heap of points. I was in a train with Danilo and Vale from the beginning, and we all moved forwards as a pack, Danilo better than us other two, but we all moved up with the crashes ahead and then got past Jorge (Lorenzo), who went with the same tyres as me but couldn’t make them last as long. I passed him just after the halfway stage, and then we all got strung out a bit. Danilo couldn’t get to Marc, Vale couldn’t get to Danilo, I couldn’t get to Vale. But still. A bit boring can be pretty good …

I mentioned Argentina before, and you might have seen that there’s a new rule being brought in which some people are calling the ‘Miller Rule’ after what happened off the start there, where I was waiting on the grid while there was a huge mess behind me with guys changing tyres, going off the grid, starting at the back … it looked a bit ridiculous. From now on, any rider that doesn’t come to the grid after the warm-up lap will have to start from pit lane and do a ride-through penalty in the race. If you choose the right tyre on the sighting lap and everyone else comes in, then there’s more of a price to pay. Like what happened in Argentina, except for the price to pay bit … Would have been handy to have had that on that day (I probably would have been in front by 30 seconds on the first lap), but at least it’s sorted out for next time, and there’ll probably be a next time.

Mugello is next, and my first Italian Grand Prix on an Italian bike. That’ll be cool, and the Ducati usually flies there too. I’ve generally sucked there (three races, one point), but this year so far has been all about fixing those circuits where I haven’t done well before like Jerez and now Le Mans. Why not there too?

Cheers, Jack

What happened at the Spanish Grand Prix?

Max Verstappen takes his first podium of 2018, while Lewis Hamilton issues a stern warning to the rest of the field by dominating the race for Mercedes in Barcelona.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The build-up
Much of the pre-race talk ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix focused (as it always does in Barcelona) on the new bodywork sprouting from most cars as aerodynamic upgrades heralded the start of F1’s ‘second season’; once the cars got on track, the combination of warm conditions and a newly re-surfaced circuit made the question of ‘if’ the circuit lap record would be smashed more a case of ‘when’. Qualifying gave us the answer, and Lewis Hamilton’s first pole since the Australian season-opener came with a stunning lap of 1min 16.173secs, nearly three seconds quicker than his Q3 time 12 months ago. Valtteri Bottas made it a Mercedes 1-2 with a lap just four-hundredths slower, while the Spanish GP grid took its familiar ‘Noah’s Ark’ look, teammates lining up in pairs based more on car performance than driver input. Sebastian Vettel was a good distance ahead of Kimi Raikkonen as Ferrari locked out row two, while the all-Red Bull third row was separated by next to nothing, Max Verstappen 0.002secs faster than teammate Daniel Ricciardo around the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s 4.655km. Kevin Magnussen described seventh for Haas as akin to a pole position – “it’s the best you can hope for if you’re not in a Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull”, while home hero Fernando Alonso was next, outqualifying McLaren teammate Stoffel Vandoorne (11th) for the 10th consecutive time. Further back, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg failed to get out of Q1 for the first time in 59 races (Spain 2015) when a fuel pressure problem left him mired in 16th, while Williams’ weekend went from bad to worse when Lance Stroll crashed in Q1 while on a lap that was too slow to get out of the bottom five anyway. Stroll and teammate Sergey Sirotkin (who came in with a three-place grid penalty for punting Sergio Perez on the first lap in Azerbaijan) were ahead only of Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso, the Kiwi not making qualifying at all after destroying his car in a frightening crash at Turn 9 in Q3. Hartley was OK – his car, not so much …

The race in exactly 69 words*
Hamilton made a textbook start from pole and was untroubled to win his second race in a row and second successive Spanish GP with a masterful drive. Bottas made it Mercedes’ first 1-2 of the season, while Verstappen made the rostrum for the first time in 2018 by capitalising on a slow Ferrari pit stop to jump Vettel with 25 laps remaining. Just 14 of the 20 starters finished.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

Ricciardo recap
After the excitement of China and the incident of Azerbaijan, Spain was a lonely Sunday at the office for the Australian, who finished fifth and snared 10 points, but was never in the hunt for the podium places. Running wide coming onto the back straight at Turn 9 on lap seven saw him drop off the back of teammate Verstappen, who was running in fifth place, and Ricciardo made his sole pit stop on lap 33 from fifth place after Raikkonen’s Ferrari stopped with a power failure on lap 24. His pace was inconsistent thereafter, setting fastest lap after fastest lap (and finishing with the fastest lap of the race for the third time in five races this year, a 1:18.441 with five laps left), but Ricciardo finished in no-man’s land, 22 seconds behind Vettel in fourth, and miles ahead of Magnussen’s Haas, which was a lapped sixth. The one upside was that a middling performance didn’t cost him in the championship standings, Ricciardo staying in fifth overall with 47 points, just one point behind Raikkonen after the Finn’s DNF.

What the result means
Hamilton was subdued, almost embarrassed, after inheriting the win in Baku two weeks ago, but Sunday’s Spanish stroll owed nothing to luck, and everything to searing, relentless speed that should make the rest of the field very nervous. “This is more like it,” was his comment after he crossed the line, and the manner of his victory was what he seemed destined to do in Melbourne, where he qualified on pole by a massive margin but was thwarted in his efforts for a win by a Mercedes pit wall miscalculation. His margin over teammate Bottas in the identical sister car – 20.593secs – was scary for the rest. Further back, Ferrari threw points and a podium away for Vettel after a slow pit stop on lap 41 under virtual safety car conditions, which came about after Esteban Ocon’s Force India ground to a halt at Turn 4. Verstappen was able to leapfrog the Ferrari as it sat stationary for an age, and despite front wing damage from bizarrely running into Stroll’s Williams under the safety car, Verstappen was able to snare a much-needed first podium of the year. Raikkonen’s retirement made it a bad day for Ferrari, and one few saw coming after Vettel won in Australia and Bahrain, and arguably should have in Azerbaijan before the chaotic end to the race in Baku. With the margin up front, Spain had F1 fans reminiscing – and not fondly for anyone who doesn’t cheer for Mercedes – about the past four seasons.

For historical purposes …
Hamilton’s 41st win from pole set a record for the most victories from P1 on the grid, usurping the mark set by the great Michael Schumacher. That’s 64 victories now for the four-time world champion, and Schumacher’s mark of 91 wins, once thought unbreakable, has to be considered at least a possibility.

The number to know
89%: If you like overtaking, the Spanish Grand Prix isn’t one for you. Hamilton’s victory made it 25 winners from the front row of the grid in 28 instalments of the race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Combined with the decision to push the start times of races in Europe back an hour this season, Spain was a long and not particularly rewarding night for fans tuning in across Australia …

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Verstappen got the result he needed after an underwhelming first four races of the season, while Magnussen turned his Saturday ‘pole’ into Sunday points when he was clearly the best of the rest in sixth, Haas’ best race on merit this year. Alonso kept up his perfect run of points finishes by finishing eighth, while Charles Leclerc ensured Sauber scored points at consecutive races for the first time in three years by coming home 10th after another impressively composed drive.

The naughty corner
Grosjean remained pointless for 2018 and didn’t make many friends after causing a multi-car shunt on the opening lap, the Frenchman running wide at Turn 3 and keeping his foot buried in the throttle, spearing back across the track with tyre smoke leaving most of the trailing pack unsighted. Contact was inevitable, and when the smoke cleared, Hulkenberg’s Renault and Pierre Gasly’s Toro Rosso were in bits, all three drivers out on the spot. Hulkenberg was blunt in his assessment of the incident. “It doesn’t look great,” the German said. “Generally he likes spinning a lot during the weekend, but lap one is not a good time to do it …”.

What’s next?
Monaco (May 27) awaits the drivers and teams in a fortnight’s time, so expect the usual clichés (“it’s the race worth more than any other”, “the jewel in Formula One’s crown” and the like) along with the unique timetable, where opening practice takes place on Thursday before the Friday day off for parties/sponsor engagements/whatever else. Red Bull’s eye-catching pace in Barcelona’s twisty final sector (akin to a street circuit) wouldn’t have gone unnoticed the length of the pit lane, and while Mercedes has won on the Monte Carlo streets for four of the past five years, expect Verstappen and (particularly) Monaco specialist Ricciardo to feature prominently. The Aussie has finished in the top three at his second ‘home’ race in four of the past five years, and took his sole pole position to date two years ago.

Ricciardo v Verstappen 2.0: who wins?

Two years since they first became F1 teammates, which Red Bull driver really holds the advantage?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix doesn’t herald the anniversary of a new season, but it does mark two years since Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen became teammates at Red Bull Racing. And it’s a milestone that Verstappen in particular won’t forget in a hurry, the Dutchman winning at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in 2016 on his Red Bull debut after Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg tripped over one another at the front of the field. It happens to even the best of them …

Ricciardo, 28, and Verstappen, 20, are at very different ages and stages of their F1 careers, but their partnership has been regularly successful, sometimes combative and always interesting in their 41 races as stablemates in the Red Bull pen. Sunday’s race in Barcelona comes, of course, a fortnight after their coming-together at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the stewards finding both drivers to blame for the lap 41 shunt that saw the team leave Baku with zero points to its name.

Which driver holds the upper hand over the other in their time together? Let’s look at the tale of the tape …

H2H                 Ricciardo             Verstappen
Wins 3 3
Poles 1 0
Podiums 18 11
Qualifying 20 21
Points 457 377
Starts 41 41
Finishes 33 30
Mechanical DNF 6 4

 

And recap five of their memorable races as teammates.

Spain, 2016
Verstappen could hardly have made a more impressive start at Red Bull, capitalising on the Mercedes mayhem ahead of him to win on debut for the ‘senior’ Bull team after his time at Toro Rosso. Ricciardo, committed to a three-stop race while his teammate pitted just twice, battled former teammate Sebastian Vettel for third before a puncture on the penultimate lap forced a late fourth stop, and he finished fourth, 43 seconds behind his new teammate.

Malaysia, 2016
When Hamilton retired from the lead with an engine failure with 15 laps left and a virtual safety car was called, Ricciardo and Verstappen pitted for soft tyres and set off on a head-to-head run to the flag for the win, Ricciardo prevailing after the teammates ran wheel-to-wheel through multiple corners before Verstappen was forced to concede.

“It was hard racing and we’re both determined to win and we want to beat each other, but we did it today very fair and with a lot of respect,” Ricciardo said.

“I thank him for that, and I think it goes both ways.” Verstappen finished second, the pair’s only 1-2 result to date.

China, 2017
Verstappen capped a remarkable charge from 16th on the grid to the final place on the podium, just edging Ricciardo by eight-tenths of a second after the Australian tried a last-lap lunge at the hairpin. Verstappen made his moves early, passing nine cars on the opening lap on intermediate tyres as the race started on a drying track. Team boss Christian Horner lauded Verstappen’s “sixth sense” in the wet.

Hungary, 2017
The first in-race flashpoint between Ricciardo and Verstappen. The Australian nabbed his teammate at Turn 1 after Verstappen’s passing attempt of Valtteri Bottas’ Mercedes went awry, and the Dutchman immediately attacked Ricciardo at the next corner, locking up and spearing into the left-hand side of the sister Red Bull. Ricciardo was out on the spot, and Verstappen given a 10-second penalty for a collision a seething Ricciardo called “amateur”. A contrite Verstappen, who went on to finish fifth, apologised to Ricciardo afterwards.

Azerbaijan, 2018
The second flashpoint, and just Ricciardo’s second non-mechanical DNF as Verstappen’s teammate …

Why Spain is the start of F1’s ‘second season’

Formula One hits Europe for the first time this year in Barcelona – here’s five things to watch for as the season resets after the flyaways.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s the great guessing game of any Formula One off-season; the never-ending quest to work out which team is fastest and why before the cars hit the track for pre-season testing and, you know, actually demonstrate that for themselves. And then do some more guessing as to who is holding something back after testing for the season-opener in Australia

Another F1 truism? We spend the opening quartet of flyaways from Albert Park debating the pecking order of teams one through 10 on the grid with one qualifier: wait until they return to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix. Spain, as the first GP much closer to home for the teams after the races in far-flung Melbourne, Sakhir, Shanghai and Baku, marks the start of F1’s unofficial ‘second season’, where teams bring significant aerodynamic and performance updates that have been finessed in factories while the machinery itself stays largely in launch spec, chasing victories far away from base.

What do we know about the season so far? The big three of last year – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – are still the top triumvirate in F1, but the true order of that trio remains to be seen. Mercedes has dominated since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, and a familiar pattern looked set to emerge when Lewis Hamilton demolished the opposition in Australian Grand Prix qualifying in March. But since, Ferrari (Sebastian Vettel) has taken three straight poles, Red Bull (Daniel Ricciardo) has won a race in China, and it was Hamilton who belatedly took Mercedes’ first win of 2018 in fortunate fashion in Azerbaijan last time out, his teammate Valtteri Bottas retiring late with a puncture after the Finn looked set to win a race Vettel had in his keeping until a late race safety car for … well, you know what.

The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, site of round five of the season this weekend, is one that every driver and team knows like the back of their hands as F1’s pre-season testing track of choice, and it’s one that provides every type of corner (even if we miss the fearsome big-balls right-handers that used to be the final sequence of the lap). Meaning there’s few unknowns about the venue; but what of the cars?

What might a technical shake-up do to that enormously-analysed pecking order we talked about earlier? Will we see technical directors entering the paddock with last-minute go-fast bits in their hand luggage ahead of qualifying on Saturday? (Answer: yes). And what trends might be revealed in Barcelona that set the scene for the races to follow?

Here’s five things to keep an eye on for this weekend.

1. Look for Silver to shine
Azerbaijan has been a tricky track for Mercedes in recent years despite it winning seemingly everywhere else, the propensity of its cars to overheat its rear tyres in the stop-start early part of the lap diluting its overall performance advantage over the rest. Catalunya, therefore, comes at the perfect time for a team that hasn’t yet hit its usual heights this season, Hamilton admitting after Baku that “Ferrari still hold the upper hand”, particularly in qualifying.

Since F1 made its big power-plant shift in 2014, there’s only one time Mercedes hasn’t won in Spain, and that came after Hamilton and Nico Rosberg committed the cardinal sin of crashing into one another (yes, other teams do it too) on the first lap for Max Verstappen to sweep through to win on his Red Bull debut in 2016.

Mercedes spent much of the pre-season running at the same circuit sandbagging so as to not show its superiority over its rivals, and while the team trails Ferrari (by four points) in the constructors’ championship, you’d be shocked if that didn’t change come Sunday night. Should Ferrari be able to hang with Mercedes in Spain, we might just have a title fight that’ll rumble on for the remainder of the year.

2. Running of the Bulls in Spain?
Ricciardo won in China, sure, but Barcelona shapes as Red Bull’s best chance for a strong result in a relatively normal race, not the safety car-generated tyre gamble that was Shanghai last month. Yes, the RB14 might labour down the lengthy front straight, but the sweeping curves that feature across much of the rest of the lap should see Ricciardo and Verstappen in their element, especially in the super-long Turn 3 and the quick right flick of Turn 9 onto the back straight. Passing is notoriously difficult at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya and tyre debris off-line tends to shrink the racing line, but the Bulls should be quick enough in clean air to do some damage at a circuit that shapes as one of their most suitable for the season.

3. Making sense of the midfield
The top three teams are clearly the same as last year, but what have the first four races told us about the order of who follows them? Barcelona, as a track everyone is very familiar with, should help in sorting out the midfield minefield, with the identity of who is the next-best team seemingly switching by the race.

McLaren (fourth in the constructors’ championship with 36 points) lead the chase for now, but that’s largely on the back of Fernando Alonso being one of just three drivers in the field to score points at every race (Hamilton and Vettel, first and second in the championship, are the others).

The Spaniard always lifts to another level at home, but can he keep his 2018 form up against the likes of Renault (fifth, 35 points, and who have had both drivers in Q3 in all four races) and Force India (sixth, 16 points, and who had Sergio Perez on the podium in Baku)?

The other team to keep an eye on is Haas (eighth, 12 points), who could have had more points than that from either Romain Grosjean or Kevin Magnussen in Australia alone had both their pit stops not gone awry. Two points finishes from a possible eight (and Grosjean being just one of two drivers yet to score at all, along with Sergey Sirotkin of Williams) isn’t an accurate reflection of the American team’s pace, and Spain could be the start of them finishing where their speed suggests they should.

4. When is 1 worth more than 66?
When it comes to qualifying in Spain, that’s when. Sunday’s race is 66 laps long, but history suggests whoever has ‘1’ next to their name after qualifying 24 hours earlier is in the box seat to take the victory. More races are won from pole in Spain than anywhere (even Monaco), and with the current generation of fast-cornering cars, turbulent air and tyre marbles can turn the Spanish GP into a largely processional affair, one where the field can be strung out quickly. Last year’s one-on-one Battle of Barcelona between Hamilton and Vettel was both highly unusual and completely exhausting for its sheer intensity, but few remember that third-placed Ricciardo was the only other driver on the lead lap by the end, and he was a whopping 75 seconds adrift. We’ll know more about the true pace of all the cars after Sunday, but it’s hard to imagine Spain will serve up a race as compelling chaotic as Baku was, or build to a thrilling finale like Shanghai did.

5. The animals line up in pairs
With Catalunya being a track that rewards car pace more than allows individual drivers to shine, the grid can take on a ‘Noah’s Ark’ feel, the teams often lining up side-by-side based on the optimum performance of their machinery. Which means teammates can often set up next to one another for the long (740 metre) run the right-handed first corner, after which a switchback into Turn 2 always catches a few drivers out. If you’re a team principal, you could be forgiven for watching the first 30 seconds with your hands over your eyes …

Miller Time: Stepping up in Spain

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about finally overcoming his Jerez hoodoo, and offers his thoughts on the dramatic crash that took out three big names at the front of the field.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

That one had been a long time coming. Like four years a long time coming. Jerez has pretty much sucked for me since I got to MotoGP, and I hadn’t even managed to score a point here until this year, not one. So to get 10 points, finish sixth and be right up there all weekend makes me feel, let’s say, content. Could have been better, but really happy anyway.

I can’t help wondering what would have happened if I’d qualified better, and definitely if I’d started better, I had a bit of a shocker. I fell down to 16th at one stage on the first lap, so to pass a heap of guys and work my way though, that was pretty satisfying.

In the end, I was three places off the podium, but just 1.5 seconds behind (Andrea) Iannone who finished third, so that’s a bit frustrating. What if I’d been able to qualify further up, probably where I should have been? I easily got through to Q2 on Saturday – I was sixth-fastest in the overall practice times – so 12th in qualifying was a fair bit less than I wanted. That 1.5 seconds to someone who started five places ahead of me … yeah, frustrating. But only a little bit. Nine seconds off the victory, that makes me happy because it shows we’re making improvements.

It was a pretty warm one by the time we raced on Sunday, and this wasn’t a race you could do well in on the early laps, you had to have tyres that would last. I’d barely done any laps on the hard Michelins all weekend, so I popped a rear one in to get a feeling for it in Sunday morning warm-up. The track was only 16 degrees then and it ended up being 40 in the race at 2 o’clock, so maybe not the best preparation. But there was no way, for me anyway, you would have been able to race the medium and push it all the way for 25 laps, and the soft tyre, forget it. It was a bit of a step in the darkness, but really happy with the decision.

Everyone saw the crash that took out ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) and Jorge (Lorenzo) along with Dani (Pedrosa), and I was the third bike in a train with my teammate Danilo (Petrucci) and Valentino (Rossi) at the time, so it was crazy to see those guys all off their bikes and on the side of the track as we came through soon after – actually Dani’s bike was in the middle of the track, so we were a bit lucky there, especially as I was the last one of us to see it.

The whole thing was a bit odd. Dani, being a smaller guy like he is, was probably hanging off the side of the bike and didn’t see Lorenzo cutting back in, because Lorenzo does that sometimes. He should have been able to see Dani coming beneath him as he was cutting back, out of his peripheral vision he should have been able to spot that. ‘Dovi’ getting caught up in that, that sucks for him because he’s a championship contender, so to have points taken away like that is pretty harsh.

It was later that lap when I figured ‘hang on, we’re all top six now’ and that maybe a podium was on. Turn 6 where those guys went down is one the best passing spots and I was able to get Vale there to get up to fifth, but he got me back at the last corner with three laps left (my slowest lap of the race) and I didn’t get another shot at him the last two laps because I’d taken too much out of the front tyre coming back through early on. I was having a few moments, so it was time to mellow it down a little bit and bring it home. In the end, none of us got Iannone anyway – Danilo passed him for a lap, but Iannone came back. Fourth and sixth is a great result for the team though, for sure.

That’s four top 10s out of four for me now this season and I’m still top 10 in the championship, which was definitely the goal coming in this year after just missing last year, and being with a new team and all of that. Seems to me that it’s realistic to stay there, too. All weekend at Jerez I felt good, my injuries from before Austin didn’t bother me and I had really consistent pace at a track that probably doesn’t suit our bike and definitely hasn’t suited me in the past. That’s a really good sign.

I’ve got family over from home at the moment plus I’ve been spending some time with Billy Van Eerde as he did his first Red Bull Rookies races this weekend (give him a follow, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and I reckon he’s going to go really well), so there’s been a bit on. But we’re straight back into it tomorrow with a test at Jerez for Monday, and then it’s time to go back to Le Mans for the French GP. I feel closer to being a podium contender all the time now, and it’s all the small details where we’ll improve the most – the starts, first laps and that sort of thing. Tidy that up, and we can challenge for podiums in the future.

Cheers, Jack