Author: Matt Clayton

5 MotoGP stories to shape the rest of 2017

What’s happened in MotoGP this season that reveals plenty about what’s about to?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Where did the MotoGP season go? It seems like only yesterday that the field lined up under lights at Losail to take the start of the Qatar Grand Prix; now, after the breathtaking race around the Red Bull Ring in Austria last Sunday, there’s just seven Grands Prix remaining before the chequered flag falls on the 2017 campaign in Valencia.

With 11 races in the books, what have we already learned that can paint a clearer picture of what’s to follow? We’ve scanned up and down the grid and found five storylines that could prove be a portent of what’s to follow between now and November.

1. Brno showed who’s boss

And we thought last year – nine different winners and four first-time victors – was gripping; at the halfway mark of this year’s world championship, the top four in the standings were separated by just 10 points, and all four – Marc Marquez, Andrea Dovizioso, Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales – had led the title chase at one stage or another. But it was the race immediately after the mid-season break in the Czech Republic that showed that one of that quartet remains ahead of the rest.

In sketchy half-wet, half-dry conditions at Brno, Marquez took the early gamble to switch from wet-weather tyres to dry – and simply took off, carving upwards of nine seconds per lap out of the rest of the field immediately after his bike change and doing as he pleased en route to a 12-second victory. Flag-to-flag races are Marquez’s domain – in five of the past six races where the field has been allowed to pit and swap bikes at the riders’ discretion (Assen 2014, Misano 2015, Argentina 2016, Sachsenring 2016 and Brno 2017), the Spaniard has won, often emphatically as he relentlessly pushes in difficult conditions where others can only survive rather than thrive.

It’s that ability to make the best of the worst that sees the Repsol Honda rider as the man most likely to win this year’s crown, which would be the fourth in five years since he joined the premier class in 2013. The table may be tight, but Marquez’s best is still a class above anyone else’s.

2. Marquez vs Maverick is about to get real

All season, and with apologies to Dovizioso, Vinales has looked the man most likely to stop Marquez’s march to a quartet of MotoGP titles. The Yamaha man was untouchable in pre-season testing, and after winning three of the first five races of the year to enjoy a 26-point championship lead after Mugello, Vinales looked in control. But since, one podium in five races has him being the chaser rather than being chased, as he’s faltered while Marquez has flown.

The two Spaniards – who have been rivals from way back in their pocket bike days 15 years ago – have largely circled one another all season without engaging in a head-to-head stoush for a race win; bizarrely, Brno, round 10 of the season, was the first time they’d even appeared on the same podium together.

Vinales and Yamaha will surely get it together after their mid-season slip, and Marquez – if the past four years are any guide – isn’t going anywhere. Expect more one-on-one duels between this duo than we’ve seen so far before the season is out.

3. ‘Dovi’ and Ducati are in for the long haul

Dovizioso’s win towards the tail-end of the 2016 season in Malaysia was a nice story – it snapped a seven-year drought for the likeable Italian – but not one most people expected to be sustainable in 2017, when most of the off-season chat about the Italian factory centred on the arrival of three-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo as Dovizioso’s teammate. But the 31-year-old is a new man this season, taking back-to-back wins at Mugello and Catalunya within a week in June, and then holding off Marquez in a frantic end to the Austrian Grand Prix, a race so fierce that it is already being considered one of the best of all time.

Vinales still looks to be the rider who can best match Marquez for sheer speed, but Dovizioso is always there, makes few mistakes, rarely beats himself and sits just 16 points behind Marquez with seven races remaining. Whether he can win the world championship is uncertain, but whether or not he’ll be there fighting for it right until the end is easier to ascertain.

4. Rossi’s chances aren’t up to Rossi

It says much for the (entirely appropriate) reverence Rossi is held in that he’s still being discussed as a championship threat despite being 33 points – more than a race win – off the lead with seven Grands Prix left. We’re right to hold ‘The Doctor’ in high esteem, but would we rate any other rider as having any chance whatsoever if they’d won one of the past 22 races, which is Rossi’s record after the Austrian GP?

The Italian’s victory at Assen in June was one from the top shelf, but with Ducati surging, the satellite Yamaha (Tech 3) and Ducati (Pramac) teams stealing occasional podiums, and greater depth at the front than ever, gone are the days when you can turn up on a factory Yamaha, be off the pace and still finish fourth at worst at the back of a two-team fight with the Repsol Hondas.

Rossi remains in the mix for now, but how long he stays there has as much to do with Marquez, Dovizioso, Vinales et al stumbling than simply his own results.

5. The ‘Samurai’ could play spoiler

Somewhat lost in the chat about the magnificence of Marquez, the instant success of Vinales on a factory Yamaha and Ducati’s emergence as a genuine threat has been the season of Dani Pedrosa, who already has more podium finishes to his name (seven) after 11 races than he managed in the whole of the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The ‘Baby Samurai’ is at the back of the five-rider group from which this year’s world champion will surely be crowned, and with three podium finishes on the bounce, is well placed for a charge across the final seven Grands Prix.

The Spaniard’s durability is always a question-mark – he’s not completed a full season in three years thanks to myriad injuries from crashes or recovery from surgery – and it’s hard to imagine that the rider who has been in Honda’s factory outfit for 11 previous seasons without winning title can flip that script this year. But could Pedrosa’s pace have a say in who does salute if he doesn’t? Absolutely yes.

Miller Time: Why I’m moving to Ducati

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes from Austria about a race that was cut short, and why he thinks he’ll be better off red next year.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

There’s been some pretty big news this week with my future as you’ve all probably heard by now, but before that, there’s a race to talk about. Saying that, there’s not heaps to talk about when you qualify on the ninth row and don’t finish, but Austria was better than that, all things considered.

It seems a strange thing to say when you crash and don’t make the end, but there were a few positives from Sunday even though it won’t look like it. I didn’t hurt myself in the crash for one, so compared to what happened to me last year there, that’s a big plus. We were the top satellite Honda when I went down which was pretty good all things considered, and my race pace was decent considering where we started way back in 19th. I got a good start, gained six places on the first lap, and then the race pace was solid – I only did one lap in the 1min 26s, the rest were all 25s. The slower one was when (Karel) Abraham basically ran me off the track. I had a really good rhythm and felt comfortable, so it was shame the feeling with the rear tyre just kept getting worse and worse.

The tyre on the right-hand edge just started chewing out, and that was what caught me out in the end. I kept losing the rear on the entry to that corner, Turn 9, and it finally got me on lap 20. I lost the rear, and when it straightened up, the front went away on me, and that was it.

Austria is just about the toughest track of the year for our team and our bike with the long straights and the slow corners before them, we tend to wheelie and struggle out of the slow-speed stuff on the Honda, and that’s what this place is all about. It’s a complete horsepower track, basically. It’ll be good for us to get back to some more ‘normal’ tracks like Silverstone next, Misano and some of the others before the end of the season where our bike doesn’t work too bad.

Anyway, the bigger news of the week was – finally – I could tell everyone what I’d be doing for 2018 by going to Pramac Ducati to be teammate to Danilo Petrucci. The discussions have been going on since Jerez so it has been a long process for sure, but I’m really happy with how it has all worked out. It feels good to have the news finally out there, and it means I can now focus on the job for the rest of this year before starting something brand-new next year. We’re equal 12th in the championship now and I set myself a goal of top 10 before the start of the year, so it’s time to really pull my finger out. It won’t be easy, but it’s still possible. And then it’ll all be about Ducati and 2018. That’s for the future, but I’m definitely excited for it.

The move to Pramac just feels right, the right move at the right time. Something different that has come along at a good time in my career when I’m ready for that. We saw today with ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) that Ducati has a winning bike this year, and their satellite program clearly works pretty well too – that’s the bike I’ll be on next year. So I’m excited to get over there, and I have a good feeling about the staff there and how I’ll fit in. I had the option to continue with Marc VDS and there would have been nothing wrong with that at all, but at this point in my career, I think it was time for a change, and the offer and the opportunity felt right.

Saying that, I’ll never forget what the Marc VDS team did for me, and Assen last year is something all of us will remember wherever we end up for the rest of our careers. I’ll leave there on good terms and it’s a good little team that gets on – with Austria coming as a back-to-back with the Czech Republic, we actually did a little bit of team bonding and rode from Brno to the Austrian border. Here’s some of the bits you’re allowed to see …

With the contract stuff and then the two races in a row coming after the break when I did the Suzuka 8-Hour either side of going home to Townsville to be at my brother’s wedding, things have been a bit crazy lately – I haven’t actually been home to Andorra since before Assen, and that was back in June. So the plans for the next week are a whole lot of not much. Get home, pick up my dog, do some training but mostly chill for a few days. There’s been a lot happening, so I reckon I’ll need it.

Catch you after Silverstone in a few weeks.

Cheers, Jack

5 F1 stories to shape the rest of 2017

What’s happened in F1 this season that reveals plenty about what’s yet to come? Read on …

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Formula One may be in its mid-season siesta – the next race isn’t until August 27 when the campaign resumes in Belgium – but we’ve learned plenty over the first 11 races of the season that will shape the story of the last nine from Spa-Francorchamps onwards.

What has happened already that gives us a pointer of what’s likely to follow? Plenty, but we’ll restrict ourselves to five storylines to watch.

1. Hamilton v Vettel: naughty or nice?

They’re statistically two of the greatest drivers Formula One has ever seen, but circumstances have conspired to largely keep Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel out of one another’s way in the 10 seasons they’ve spent together on the grid. But that was then – and how the ‘now’ plays out for the rest of 2017 will make for fascinating viewing.

Their brief stoushes in Spain were a sign of things to come, and initially at least, both drivers seemed almost thrilled with the prospect of a head-to-head fight, Hamilton saying after his Barcelona win that it was “such a privilege” to race against the four-time world champion in one of the “rawest” fights he could ever remember. That all changed of course in Baku, when Vettel rammed Hamilton when the field was behind the safety car after he felt the Mercedes driver had brake-tested him, and the sniping through the media lasted for days.

The pair aired their differences via text message in the days before last month’s Austrian Grand Prix, but haven’t spent much time on track together since Azerbaijan as Hamilton took a gearbox penalty at the Red Bull Ring, ran rings around Vettel and the rest at Silverstone, and was too far back from the German in Hungary to threaten his race-long lead.

Will these two play naughty or nice when – not if – they’re disputing the same piece of tarmac over the final nine races? Perhaps that depends on …

2. Does teamwork make the Mercedes dream work?

Hamilton’s decision to honour an in-race agreement in Hungary to let teammate Valtteri Bottas back through into third place after his fruitless attempt to attack Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen did wonders for Mercedes inter-team relations. But in the cold light of day, that decision cost the team’s leading driver three world championship points. It doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider the title has been decided by that margin or less 18 times in F1’s 70 seasons, you start to realise how big the gesture was, and how costly it could be.

Ferrari has no such problems putting all of its eggs in the Vettel basket, as the German is 86 points ahead of Raikkonen who, lest we forget, is out of contract at the end of 2017. With Hamilton sitting 14 points adrift of Vettel’s series lead and Bottas hovering just 19 points behind his teammate, does having two dogs in the fight help or hinder Mercedes as it attempts to combat the only Ferrari driver the red team wants to win the title?

It’s a conundrum for team boss Toto Wolff, and while it’s hard to imagine that a more collaborative working environment than the one Mercedes had when Nico Rosberg was Hamilton’s teammate is a negative, what if an easier place to work doesn’t stay as a winning one? Expect Mercedes to back both drivers for now, and expect Bottas to gift Hamilton points – maybe even a win – if Mercedes has an overwhelming upper hand at any track later in the year.

3. Bulls stuck in third gear

Yes, Red Bull has won a Grand Prix this year – and Daniel Ricciardo’s victory in what surely go down as the year’s wackiest race in Azerbaijan is one that will live long in the memory – but the painful fact for those at Milton Keynes is that the team has been in a race by itself all year, not on the pace (in normal circumstances) of Mercedes and Ferrari, and well advanced of the rest.

Five of Red Bull’s six podiums have been third places (four for Ricciardo, plus Max Verstappen’s third in China), while the Australian and Dutchman have qualified alongside or immediately behind one another six times in 11 races. Hungary shaped as an opportunity to strike on an atypical circuit, but Verstappen striking the sidepod of Ricciardo on lap one put paid to one Red Bull’s race while making you wonder what might have been for the other – even with a 10-second penalty for causing the collision, Verstappen finished 13.276secs behind race-winner Vettel.

The tight confines of Singapore shape as a good chance of better, but other than that, the circuit layouts from here until the season’s chequered flag in Abu Dhabi look like races where, all things being equal, Red Bull will be fighting for little more than the minor podium places.

4. The rivalry that could get nastiest

Studying the relationship between teammates on this year’s grid remains as fascinating as ever. The Hamilton/Bottas axis appears to be completely tension-free on the account of the Finn’s apparent abhorrence of politics, while Raikkonen knows his place alongside Vettel at Ferrari. Ricciardo/Verstappen generally is smooth sailing publicly at Red Bull, and the Dutchman’s quick apology after Hungary wasn’t much of a surprise. Elsewhere, Felipe Massa acts as almost a wise old uncle to teenage rookie Lance Stroll at Williams.

Which leaves us with back-of-the-grid Sauber, where Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson seem to be forever telling the team to get their teammate to let them by … into 17th place … and Force India, the rivalry that has the greatest potential for fireworks from here on in.

The team sits in fourth place in the teams’ race, well behind Red Bull but well ahead of Williams and the rest, and repeating its best-ever constructors’ finish of last year is close to a certainty. More tension between Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon after what we’ve already seen in Canada, Hungary and especially Azerbaijan? More absolute than that.

Perez has proven himself to be a steady midfield hand for years, has exquisite tyre management skills that can snaffle a surprise podium, and brings plenty of sponsorship cash to the team, while Ocon is fast, on loan from Mercedes, ambitious and has something of a reputation for getting in the way when drivers are on hot laps and he’s not, Ricciardo commenting that he was “not a fan” of the young Frenchman in Hungary.

Perez is the leading driver of the pink pair for now (56 points to 45), but expect this inter-team fight to get more fractious as we tick off the final nine races.

5. Who’ll be king of the middle?

You could throw a blanket over fifth through eighth in the constructors’ championship, but the standout driver of the eight who ply their trade for Williams, Toro Rosso, Haas and Renault this year has been Carlos Sainz, who has the potential to take Red Bull’s sister squad to heights it has never previously hit.

The Spaniard has 35 of his team’s 39 points to almost single-handedly overhaul Williams’ tally of 41, 15 of which came when Stroll benefitted from the Baku chaos to score a shock first podium in third place (for context, the Canadian’s second-best result came at home in Montreal, when he finished ninth).

Romain Grosjean has had Kevin Magnussen’s measure at Haas, but not by a lot, while Daniil Kvyat’s near-disappearance at Toro Rosso and Jolyon Palmer’s non-contribution as Nico Hulkenberg’s teammate at Renault means Sainz shapes as the star of F1’s second division, and the man most likely to see Toro Rosso finish in the top five in the teams’ race for the first time in its 12-year history.

The 30 F1 stats you need to know

Front to back, top to bottom – here’s the 2017 season in a numerical nutshell.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Ferrari is back, Mercedes isn’t going anywhere, and Red Bull is beginning to get back into the game; these are all storylines we know from the 2017 Formula One season to date. But what about the statistics behind those stories? Which numbers tell the truth about the 11 races this season to date, and which – when spun the right way by their teams – try to paint over a murkier picture?

With the season in recess until the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of the month, these are the numbers that matter – and for the sake of being egalitarian (which F1 clearly isn’t), we’ll spread the love between all 10 teams and 20 drivers in equal measure. Lights out – let’s go.

Mercedes
Constructors’ championship: 1st (357 points)
Drivers’ championship: 2nd Lewis Hamilton (188 points), 3rd Valtteri Bottas (169 points)

1. Mercedes continues to lead the constructors’ championship this year, but hasn’t enjoyed the same level of dominance it has had over F1 since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014. At the mid-season break, the Silver Arrows have 357 points, which compares to 378 (2016), 383 (2015) and 393 (2014).

2. With six pole positions in the first 11 races this season, Lewis Hamilton now sits just one pole behind Michael Schumacher’s all-time record of 68. For the record, Schumacher’s tally came in 306 races; Hamilton’s last start in Hungary was his 199th.

3. Valtteri Bottas has led 136 laps in his 88 career races, 131 of them coming this year in his first season for Mercedes.

Red Bull Racing
Constructors’ championship: 3rd (184 points)
Drivers’ championship: 4th Daniel Ricciardo (117 points), 6th Max Verstappen (67 points)

4. With 11 finishes in 11 races this year, Red Bull has had at least one car finish a Grand Prix since the 2012 Italian Grand Prix, a span of 96 races (while Daniel Ricciardo was disqualified from the 2014 Australian Grand Prix, he finished the race in second place before being excluded).

5. All five of Ricciardo’s career victories – the fifth of which came in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June – have come from outside the top three on the grid.

6. Max Verstappen has spent more laps in fifth place this season (204) than any other position, and hasn’t been on the podium since round two (third in China).

Ferrari
Constructors’ championship: 2nd (318 points)
Drivers’ championship: 1st Sebastian Vettel (212 points), 5th Kimi Raikkonen (116 points)

7. How dramatic has Ferrari’s turnaround been this season? The Prancing Horse has won four of the 11 races so far (after no victories in 21 races last year), and is averaging 28.9 points per race as a team this season (18.9 last year).

8. Sebastian Vettel went into the mid-season break in the championship lead, and has led after every race since taking the season-opener in Melbourne. But Hamilton trumps the four-time world champion for most laps spent in the lead of races this season (262-221).

9. Kimi Raikkonen remains without a victory in his second stint at Ferrari from 2014 onwards; the Finn hasn’t won a Grand Prix since Australia 2013 for Lotus, 86 races ago.

Force India
Constructors’ championship: 4th (101 points)
Drivers’ championship: 7th Sergio Perez (56 points), 8th Esteban Ocon (45 points)

10. With 101 points at the mid-point of the season, Force India is well on track to smash its previous season-best tally (173), which it achieved last year. At the same time last year, Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez had scored 74 points between them.

11. Perez’s run of 37 race finishes in a row came to an end in Azerbaijan when he retired with accident damage; the record for most races classified in succession continues to be held by Nick Heidfeld (41).

12. After never qualifying and finishing inside the top 10 in the same race before this season, Esteban Ocon has achieved that feat six times in the first 11 Grands Prix.

Williams
Constructors’ championship: 5th (41 points)
Drivers’ championship: 11th Felipe Massa (23 points), 12th Lance Stroll (18 points), 22nd Paul Di Resta (0 points, one race)

13. Williams has laboured through its worst first half to a season since 2013, when it scored just five points for the entire campaign. Its 41 points at the mid-season break compares unfavourably to 94 (2016), 151 (2015) and 135 (2014) at the same stage of the year over the previous three seasons.

14. With 260 F1 starts, Felipe Massa sits sixth on the all-time participation list – but is just third on the 2017 grid behind Fernando Alonso (281) and Kimi Raikkonen (262).

15. Lance Stroll’s third-place finish in Baku made the Canadian rookie the youngest-ever podium finisher in F1 history (18 years, 239 days).

McLaren
Constructors’ championship: 9th (11 points)
Drivers’ championship: 15th Fernando Alonso (10 points), 18th Stoffel Vandoorne (1 point), 23rd Jenson Button (0 points, one race)

16. It’s the third season of McLaren’s troubled re-marriage with Honda engines, and the sad news is that things are going from bad to worse; from 17 constructors’ championship points at the mid-point of the 2015 season rose to 38 last year, the team has managed just 11 in the first 11 races of 2017.

17. In his 10 races this season (remembering he missed the Monaco GP to compete in the Indianapolis 500), Fernando Alonso has a paddock-high six non-finishes, one of which was technically a non-start after his car failed on the formation lap for the Russian Grand Prix.

18. It took Stoffel Vandoorne 10 races before he out-qualified a teammate this season, taking eighth on the grid for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Toro Rosso
Constructors’ championship: 6th (39 points)
Drivers’ championship: 9th Carlos Sainz (35 points), 17th Daniil Kvyat (4 points)

19. Toro Rosso sits sixth in the constructors’ championship with 39 points at the mid-year break, only two points behind Williams; only once before has Red Bull’s B-team finished that high in its 11 previous seasons (sixth in 2008, when Sebastian Vettel took the team’s only victory to date).

20. Carlos Sainz has out-scored Daniil Kvyat 77 points to eight in the 28 races they’ve been teammates since the Spanish Grand Prix of 2016.

21. While Sainz leads Kvyat 35-4 in points this year, it’s the Russian who has held sway in their head-to-head qualifying battle (6-5).

Haas
Constructors’ championship: 7th (29 points)
Drivers’ championship: 13th Romain Grosjean (18 points), 14th Kevin Magnussen (11 points)

22. Eleven races into its second F1 season, Haas has already scored as many points (29) as it managed in its entire 2016 debut campaign.

23. After scoring points five times in 21 races last year, Romain Grosjean has already matched that tally in just 11 Grands Prix this season.

24. With no appearances in Q3 yet this season, Kevin Magnussen’s most recent top-10 qualifying performance remains the final race of the 2014 season for McLaren, where he started ninth in Abu Dhabi.

Renault
Constructors’ championship: 8th (26 points)
Drivers’ championship: 10th Nico Hulkenberg (26 points), 19th Jolyon Palmer (0 points)

25. With 26 points in the opening 11 races, Renault has easily surpassed last year’s tally of eight points with half the season remaining.

26. Nico Hulkenberg is the only driver to have an unblemished qualifying head-to-head record over his teammate (11-0) this season.

27. Since scoring his sole F1 point in 31 races for 10th place in Malaysia last year, Jolyon Palmer has finished 11th – one place outside the points-paying spots – three times in 2017 (Monaco, Canada, Austria).

Sauber
Constructors’ championship: 10th (5 points)
Drivers’ championship: 16th Pascal Wehrlein (5 points), 20th Marcus Ericsson (0 points)

28. While Sauber sits 10th and last in the constructors’ championship, its cars have only occupied the back row of the grid at two of the 11 races this season (Canada and Austria).

29. Stuck in last place in the drivers’ championship of the regular drivers, Marcus Ericsson is on a 39-race run of finishes outside the top 10 and world championship points.

30. Eighth for Pascal Wehrlein in Spain was Sauber’s best race finish since Felipe Nasr was sixth in the 2015 Russian Grand Prix, a span of 30 races.

Miller Time: Rolling the dice

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about a Czech GP longshot that didn’t pay off, and weighs in on his contract status for 2018 and beyond.

THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

Sometimes you have to take a gamble when you’re not looking very likely to get a good result by doing a ‘normal’ race, and Sunday at Brno was one of those opportunities. It’d rained a fair bit in the morning, and being back on the fifth row of the grid like I was, there was absolutely no point playing it conservative and doing what everyone else did – all that would have guaranteed was that I’d finish where I started. So we pitted early for slick tyres, I made some ground … and then slid back to more or less where I started. Sometimes you look like a genius, other times an idiot. Sunday was more somewhere in the middle. Worth a shot? Of course. Did it work? Not really.

Getting back on the MotoGP bike this weekend after doing the Suzuka 8-Hour in Japan last weekend on a Superbike took some getting used to, maybe more than I expected it to. I’d done that many laps on the Superbike through July when we were on our summer break that I needed to readjust. Japan was hot, Suzuka is a tough track that I’d never been to before, I was sharing a bike with two other riders and we were on Bridgestone tyres. Brno was mostly wet, I’d not ridden there for two years because I missed last year with injury, I was back on Michelins and on a MotoGP bike … there was a bit going on.

The track was too wet to start on slicks on Sunday, but that didn’t last long, so we dived into the pits for slicks early on with a few other guys who were brave at the start like Marc (Marquez), and it worked out alright for him … For me, I got up inside the top 10 but knew there were some fast guys that had come in (probably wrongly) later than me, but we’re not going to be able to hold off Vale (Valentino Rossi) and Maverick (Vinales) and those guys once we get into a more normal dry-weather race. I was hoping to finish on the edge of the top 10, but the two Tech 3 boys (Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger) got me in the final laps, so 14th was what it was. Not a heap to get excited about, but like I said, we didn’t have much to lose by trying what we did. Wasn’t great, wasn’t terrible, just a bit of a nothing result. Put it this way, it’s always good after a race like that to have another one as soon as we can, and that’s what we have with Austria next weekend.

Back to Suzuka and the 8-Hour, and that race was one I’d wanted to do for years but never had the right offer or the opportunity, so I really enjoyed it. I rode with Takumi Takahashi and Taka Nakagami (from Moto2) and we came in fourth, which was a bit of a shame as a podium would have been good, but we had a crash and some damage to deal with, so couldn’t quite get there. But as an event, really enjoyed it. I’d heard heaps about the track and obviously from when GP raced there and it was cool, very technical and hard to get your head around, but a pretty amazing layout. The whole thing was a good experience for me with Honda and I’d have another go at it if I got asked, for sure.

Before that I was back home for a while in the break in Townsville for my brother’s wedding, so that worked out pretty perfectly with timing for Suzuka and the month off from GPs. And of course there were heaps of questions from family, mates, fans, media people … well, one question really – where was I going to be riding for 2018? Truth is I thought I knew the answer and that I’d have something to say at Brno, but things have changed a bit and I still don’t have anything to announce. There’s a bit to weigh up and I’d like to get it done sooner rather than later to have it secured and move on with the season, but at the same time you want to make sure you’re happy with the decision and know it’s the right one, so there’s no news yet. Soon, hopefully.

The main thing for me at the moment is working out which of the options I have that’ll give me the number one priority, a competitive bike and one I can move forward with. Having more than one option is good, it’s good to be talked about. I’m not going to do it for nothing of course, I’m a professional sportsman these days and it’s my job, and I need to make money from my job like anyone. But it’s more about what I’m riding than the dollar signs at this stage of my career, and being more competitive is worth more than anything. So, I know I said that I’d have something to announce soon last time after Sachsenring, so I’ll say that again – yes, it’ll be soon, and yes, I want it done as soon as possible. You’ll know pretty soon after I do!

Austria is next weekend with the quick turnaround, and we’ll be aiming for better than Brno for sure – I’ll speak to you from there.

Cheers, Jack

The F1 mid-term report

Who has starred, who has slumped and who needs to step up at the halfway stage of the F1 season?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The verdict on Formula One so far in 2017? Pretty positive. There’s genuine competition between teams for race wins and the drivers’ championship, which there hasn’t been in some time, and the new-for-2017 regulations have delivered monstrously fast and mean-looking cars that look spectacular on track (but struggle to overtake one another, as the Hungarian GP made very evident). Add to that the craziest race in recent times in Azerbaijan when Daniel Ricciardo saluted, and there’s a lot to like.

What’s more, the look and feel of an F1 weekend in the post-Ecclestone era has been a breath of fresh air. Ladies and gentlemen, social media! Actual vision from inside a drivers’ briefing! Something extra for the fans at a race weekend! It’s been quite the eye-opener.

Before we launch into our mid-season report, and before you ask, we haven’t failed maths – yes, Hungary was race 11 of the 20-race F1 season, but coming as it did before the one-month hiatus and the next race in Belgium at the end of August, it was worth waiting until school was out properly until making some mid-year grades. On that very subject …

Dux of the class

We’ve been waiting a long time for a proper championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton – since 2007 in fact, when both made their Formula One debuts in the same season (Vettel became a full-timer on the grid a year later). And at the halfway stage of the season, it’s Vettel who has shone brightest. But only just.

Both drivers have four wins, but the German has led the title chase since taking the opening round in Australia, and has been his consistent self since – 11 races, 11 finishes, eight podiums, and a worst finish of seventh at the British Grand Prix, when he suffered a puncture in sight of the flag. It’s hard to see how he could have done much more.

The intrigue in this battle is how both protagonists go about achieving the same goal in different ways – Vettel’s metronomic approach contrasts sharply with Hamilton’s peaks and troughs. When the Mercedes W08 isn’t in the set-up sweet spot, Hamilton has been outshone by new teammate Valtteri Bottas, who seems better equipped to cope with a car that’s not quite there. But when the Mercedes is dialled in, Hamilton has been brilliant in qualifying (he has six poles in 11 races), and occasionally utterly dominant in races – his Silverstone weekend was as emphatic as it gets.

Both drivers have their emotional frailties – again, which manifest themselves in different ways – which makes the second half of the season and their likely first head-to-head battle for the title so mouth-watering in prospect. You can’t help but wonder if the three points Hamilton relinquished in Hungary after pulling over to let Bottas finish third to honour an in-race agreement will come back to bite him later in the season, though. The in-house tension at the Silver Arrows since the apolitical Bottas replaced the cunning Nico Rosberg has dissipated almost completely, but what if that new-found harmony comes at the cost of a title?

Encouragement award

We’re not going with the ‘every child wins a prize’ philosophy here, but this one could be split four ways.

Bottas, firstly: after coming across to Mercedes in the wake of Rosberg’s shock decision to walk after winning the 2016 crown, the Finn has made every post a winner in what is essentially a make-good contract; nail 2017, and his future should be rosy. He’s won twice (Russia and Austria), matched Vettel for the most podiums in 11 races (eight) and proven to be the consummate team player. Mercedes would be mad not to keep him in 2018 – he’s clearly fast enough and apolitical enough.

Ricciardo deserves a mention here too. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, he’s always there, pressing on relentlessly like a honey badger attacking a hive of bees. His Azerbaijan win – when all looked lost early in the race when an unscheduled pit stop had him at the back of the field – was almost unsurprising in that he made the best of what was on offer on a crazy day, and that ‘best’ was good enough for a fifth career win. Is there a driver better or cleaner in wheel-to-wheel combat?

As a team, Force India deserve a pat on the back here. Fourth in last year’s constructors’ championship, the Indian-owned British-run team has consolidated that in 2017, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon both finishing in the points nine times in 11 races. The pink-liveried team has clearly established itself as the best squad outside F1’s ‘big three’; now, all it needs is for its drivers to stop tripping over one another in races …

Finally, a nod to Nico Hulkenberg, who is now an uncomfortable two races away from equalling compatriot Adrian Sutil’s unwanted record of most F1 starts without a top-three finish (128). You can’t do much more in a Renault than Hulkenberg has this year, the German scoring points in five races and qualifying in the top 10 six times.

Could do better

Reasons Ferrari shouldn’t retain Kimi Raikkonen next year: in 70 races since he re-joined Ferrari for the 2014 season, he’s been beaten by teammates Fernando Alonso (2014) and Vettel (since) 49-21 in qualifying, 7-0 in race wins (he hasn’t won a race since Australia 2013 for Lotus, 86 Grands Prix ago), 30-11 in podium finishes, and has scored 37 per cent of his team’s points in that time, explaining why the team with this year’s drivers’ championship leader trails Mercedes by 39 points in the constructors’ race.

Reason Ferrari will keep Kimi Raikkonen next year. Hungary.

You can understand Ferrari’s logic here; while Raikkonen is a long, long way from his 2007 world championship-winning heyday, he doesn’t play politics, has a wealth of experience, gets on with Vettel and doesn’t rock the boat. When Ferrari orchestrated races in Monaco (unofficially) and Hungary (officially) to ensure the Finn stayed behind a race-leading Vettel, he expressed his disappointment, sighed and moved on. It would have been so easy for Raikkonen to push an ailing Vettel hard in Hungary to stand on the top step of the podium for the first time in an age, but, out of contract and with (arguably) no other team likely to offer him one, that wouldn’t have been the brightest idea.

Expect Raikkonen to be renewed at or before the Italian Grand Prix next month – and expect plenty of F1 fans to wonder just what another driver could do in a car that Vettel has proven is a genuine race-winner. Raikkonen is clearly worthy of being in F1 for his name and pedigree alone, but with a top team?

Needs a strong second semester

Both Toro Rosso drivers could use a good end to 2017, but for entirely different reasons.

Carlos Sainz must wonder what he needs to do to get a break; the Spaniard has scored 35 of his team’s 39 points this year alongside Daniil Kvyat, and amassed 77 points to the Russian’s eight since the pair became teammates at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, when Max Verstappen took Kvyat’s place in Red Bull’s ‘A’ team. Sainz is good enough to drive further up the grid, but won’t be going anywhere as Red Bull’s insurance policy in case Verstappen or Ricciardo bolt one day.

As for Kvyat? Considering he has more penalty points on his FIA super licence (10) than he’s scored points (eight) in the past 28 races, the end for the driver derisively referred to as ‘the torpedo’ must surely be nigh, with 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly waiting impatiently in the (Red) Bull pen.

Extra detention

One driver and one team get the unwanted nomination here. Jolyon Palmer hasn’t made much of a case to be retained by Renault, being out-scored 26-0 and out-qualified in all 11 races by Hulkenberg this season. He couldn’t have come much closer to a top-10 finish – Palmer was 11th in Monaco, Canada and Austria – but with Renault in a tight fight for places 5-8 in the constructors’ championship, it needs more than one car to make a contribution.

As for McLaren – or more pertinently, McLaren-Honda – the less said the better. Sixth for Alonso and 10th for Stoffel Vandoorne in Hungary gave the team that has won 182 Grands Prix and 12 drivers’ championships nine points in one race – compared to the combined two points from the opening 10 races this year …

Can the team extract itself from the Honda engine deal to go elsewhere (Mercedes?) while covering the financial shortfall an early divorce with the Japanese manufacturer would create? That’s uncertain, but what we do know if that while Vandoorne has time and talent on his side, it’s a crying shame to see a 36-year-old Alonso struggling like this. F1 is undoubtedly in a better place when the Spaniard is mixing it up the front of the field.

What happened at the Hungarian Grand Prix?

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

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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