Author: Matt Clayton

Miller Time: It’s great to be back

Jack writes about his first dry-weather MotoGP podium in Austin, and why he’s as much relieved as elated after a result a long time coming.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

This one is late and going to be quick, but I think you probably know why. It’s taken a while for me to get that first dry-weather podium, so at least I’m consistent …

It’s such a good feeling to stand up there on the podium after the weekend we’ve had here in Austin, and after the speed we showed the whole way through. I’m over the moon with that. Right from Friday I was inside the top four and fastest of the Ducati guys, and it was a bit like Argentina last time when I was up there all weekend but just missed the podium. I didn’t think I rode that smart that day, I felt I was in fights I didn’t need to be in early on and that might have cost me in the long run, but today worked out great in the end. Just, but still great.

Starting fourth and finishing third when two guys in front of you crash out … maybe that doesn’t sound as good, especially when Alex (Rins) came through from seventh on the grid and beat all of us. But I’ll take it, don’t worry about that. It was a hot pace out the front early on, and you know what Marc (Marquez) is like, he’s always pushing everywhere but especially here, and the pace was really fast early on. Four of us, Marc, Vale (Valentino Rossi), Crutch (Cal Crutchlow) and me all took off out the front and Marc was setting a hot pace. I didn’t want to let them stretch away but we were on the limit from the first laps, especially me and Cal, from what it looked like tucked in right behind him.

Cal crashed pretty early and then Marc a few laps after as you all saw; it was a bit of a shock in some ways to see him on the ground but maybe part of the reason he crashed was that he cooked the front tyre because of the early pace. I knew pretty early on that the pace was going to be too much for the soft tyres I chose for 20 laps, so after he went down I knew I was third and had a decent gap behind me, and I wasn’t thinking about second or better at that stage, I knew I just had to get it home. Even now, I’m still sitting here pondering what might have been if I’d chosen to race the medium, but I’ll still take it.

They’re sometimes the hardest races when you have more time to think and you’re not in a battle; second was out of reach and I just needed to keep concentrated to keep third. With about nine laps to go I saw ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) had got past Franco (Morbidelli) into fourth, and he was about five to six seconds behind me at that stage. I knew he’d be coming and that his tyres would be in better shape than mine when he got there, so I made sure I still had something left if I needed it, but it was tight. The laps just seem to take so long, and all you’re focused on is saving that front tyre, because I had massive graining on the right-hand side. At the end it was less than a second between us, so I was definitely stressing in those last few laps.

It’s a relief in some ways to get up there again, it had been so long since Assen in 2016, but for most of that time I didn’t really have the bike to fight for the top three. Right from pre-season testing this year I knew that I did, and then you have something happen like in Qatar when the seat breaks loose and you know you can do the pace of the guys at the front, and you wonder if that’s your chance gone. Argentina was solid and then this weekend was better, but it’s still nice to confirm that you can do it. It’s a reward for the all the hard work, both for me at the team. You probably heard that I lost my voice by the time I did the first TV interviews because the guys on the team were so pumped up when I got back to parc ferme, and after doing more TV interviews and a press conference and talking to a million other people, the voice is pretty much gone … and we haven’t begun celebrating properly yet …

There’s more to come from us I think, I don’t see this as being a one-off and it won’t hopefully be three years between podiums like it was last time … we have some good tracks coming up and I feel comfortable and confident everywhere at the moment, so hopefully I can get more used to this celebrating thing and maybe get better at it.

I’m right on the edge of the top five in the championship now, and that’ll be the goal once we get to Jerez in a few weeks. It’s a GP that typically hasn’t gone that well for me since I’ve been in MotoGP, but this is starting to feel like a year where we can change a few things. I’ll speak to you from there.

Cheers, Jack

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The US MotoGP in a nutshell

A howler by Marc Marquez opens the door for Alex Rins to take a maiden MotoGP win, while Jack Miller snares his second top-flight podium with third place.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

One race, 50 words

Alex Rins (Suzuki) broke through for his maiden MotoGP win in his 34th premier-class GP when he held off Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) by 0.4secs; Rossi had inherited the lead when Marc Marquez (Honda) crashed from a commanding advantage at half-distance. Jack Miller (Ducati) took his second podium finish in third.

What the result means

Death, taxes and Marquez winning in America; a trio of impenetrable inevitabilities before the Honda rider inexplicably fell on lap 9 of 20 at COTA on Sunday, a crash that came after he’d made it to the first corner of the race in P1 and relentlessly pushed to a near four-second lead over the breathless pack behind him. It looked like a rinse and repeat of every year the Spaniard has raced at COTA – he took his first win there in his second premier-class race in 2013 – and the shock fall cost him a chance of a magnificent seven victories in succession. The DNF also ended Marquez’s perfect run of 10 wins from as many MotoGP starts in the ‘States.

To dwell too much on Marquez would be unfair to Rins and Rossi; Rins came through from seventh on the grid to storm into the podium positions on lap nine, when he demoted Miller to fourth, and he stalked Rossi for lap after lap before pulling the pin with three laps remaining, the sweet-handling Suzuki in its element in COTA’s sweeping first sector. Rossi had little tyre life left at the end, but turned up the heat on Rins on the final lap to see if he could make the young Spaniard blink; the margin was just 0.462secs at the line, but Rins never buckled.

How did Jack Miller fare?

Miller’s third place was his first visit to the rostrum since his unlikely win from 18th on the grid on a satellite Honda in his second MotoGP season (Assen 2016), and while that result owed itself to plenty of skill as well as good fortune, Sunday’s third was on the cards from the moment he established himself as the fastest Ducati rider at COTA on Friday, when he sat inside the top four after practice. He qualified fourth and stayed there in the early stages, and his pace in those early laps proved crucial when his choice to run soft-compound tyres started to backfire just before the halfway stage, the other three riders in the top quartet all on more durable medium rubber.

While Cal Crutchlow (Honda) and Marquez fell ahead of him and the last 11 laps were mostly a lonely ride trying to avoid the worst of COTA’s horrendous bumps, Miller’s podium was hugely meritorious from a physical and mental standpoint; a year after he nursed a shoulder injury from a training accident through arguably the most physical track on the calendar, the Australian showed grit and maturity in Austin to sensibly bring the bike home and spray the champagne on a podium where all three visitors had much to celebrate. Even after his non-score because of a broken seat in Qatar in round one, Miller is now up to sixth in the world championship standings with 29 points, and, crucially, just one point behind the rider on the factory Ducati whose seat he covets for 2020, Danilo Petrucci.

“I got pretty excited and lost my voice again,” Jack croaked after the race, his in-lap featuring more than its fair share of shouting beneath his helmet.

“It’s amazing. It was a strong weekend all around from myself and the team, we’ve been chipping away and today we got pretty lucky. I chose the soft front (tyre) which probably wasn’t the right choice, I had a big mark on the right-hand side and I was a sitting duck at the end. I saw I had a buffer to ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) and I just tried to manage it. It’s been a long time, that’s for sure.”

The moment that made the race

Turn 12, lap 9, one streak over: Marquez’s fall not only snapped his stranglehold over the ‘States, but meant he dropped from first to fourth in the championship. There’s no panic for the Honda man – he was comfortably the fastest rider all weekend at COTA and there’s still 16 races to go – but it was easily the most unexpected moment of a season that has, so far, been full of surprises.

The stat that matters

45: Rins’ win was the first for Suzuki since the British Grand Prix of 2016, when Maverick Vinales saluted at Silverstone – a span of 45 races. Sunday was the first race not won by Honda, Ducati or Yamaha in that timeframe.

Who were the winners in Austin?

As we mentioned earlier, there was plenty for all three riders who made the rostrum at COTA to be happy about, but perhaps the biggest winner of all in Austin was the man who finished best of the rest, Dovizioso. The Italian was in Miller’s shadow all weekend at COTA from a Ducati perspective, and following a lacklustre Friday and after the field lost the third practice session on Saturday because of heavy rain and storms, the Italian lined up in 13th on the grid for his worst qualifying in two years, and with chief title rival Marquez on pole and seemingly on course to annex another American victory. Dovizioso had a brilliant first lap to rise to sixth, and advanced two more spots when Crutchlow and Marquez fell later on to snare 13 precious points – and a remarkable championship lead when all looked lost 24 hours earlier.

The other winners in Austin? Franco Morbidelli, the second-year Yamaha man brushing off the embarrassment of a last-lap crash that also took out stablemate Vinales last time out in Argentina to finish a career-best fifth, while rookie teammate Fabio Quartararo could be satisfied with seventh, if not the eight-second gap to Morbidelli after qualifying one place ahead. Pol Espargaro (KTM) was a season-best eighth, while Takaaki Nakagami had his third top-10 result in as many races this year when he finished 10th on a dark day for Honda …

Who lost out at COTA?

The dark day we mentioned? Honda had Marquez crash out of the lead, Crutchlow fall from third and Marquez’s teammate, Jorge Lorenzo, crawl to a halt on lap 12 with a mechanical problem, a day after he’d stopped in qualifying after his bike’s chain worked loose. Lorenzo has just seven points from the first three races and sits 17th in the standings.

On a day when his old team celebrated, Vinales would have felt like doing anything but after finishing 11th, five points which came after a first-lap double whammy; from sixth on the grid, the Spaniard’s penchant for tardy first laps reared its ugly head again as he dropped spots on the first tour, and he was later assessed a ride-through penalty for jumping the start, a fate that also befell Rins’ Suzuki teammate Joan Mir. Mir finished outside the points in 17th place, while Vinales is already 40 points behind series leader Dovizioso after three forgettable races to start 2019.

What’s next?

After three races away from MotoGP’s European heartland, the series swings back to closer locales for the majority of the paddock with round four at Jerez, the Spanish Grand Prix (May 5). It’s one of a quartet of races in Spain this season (Catalunya, Aragon and Valencia being the others), and therefore a home race for eight of the 22-strong rider line-up. Marquez will be looking to defy a curious historical trend at Jerez; no rider since Lorenzo (2010-11) has managed to win back-to-back premier class races at the circuit.

The Argentina MotoGP in a nutshell

Marc Marquez terrorised the field at Termas, while there were fluctuating fortunes for Yamaha’s main men in round two of the 2019 season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

One race, 50 words

Marc Marquez (Honda) started from pole and disappeared after the lights went out, the reigning world champion winning by 9.8 seconds as a race-long battle between Italians Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) and Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati) was finally settled in Rossi’s favour on the last lap. Australia’s Jack Miller (Ducati) finished fourth.

What the result means

Much has been made of Marquez’s records in Germany (he’s never lost there in the MotoGP class) and the USA (he’s won every race in America since he came to MotoGP in 2013), and while the results haven’t shown it, Argentina belongs on the same plane as those two countries where the races often become one for second place if he’s involved. Sunday’s win was Marquez’s third at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, while in the years he hasn’t won in Argentina, he crashed from the lead after taking pole in both 2015 and ’17, and was clearly the fastest rider out there 12 months ago before his race went from bad to worse with three separate penalties and a controversial clash with old foe Rossi. On Sunday, the closest anyone came to the Spaniard after the start was when the top three reconvened in parc ferme before the podium ceremony … After what he admitted was a damage limitation exercise by taking second at one of Honda’s weaker circuits in Qatar to begin the year, Marquez did what Marquez does in Argentina; of his trio of wins at the track, this one was, by some distance, the widest margin.

How did Jack Miller fare?

The season-opener became unglued for Miller in Qatar three weeks ago, quite literally as his seat parted ways from his bike early in the race when it came loose beneath him, setting off a chain of events that led to his retirement after a strong weekend. In Argentina, Miller made that practice pace pay off in the race; after he was second in all three practice sessions and qualified fifth after avoiding a massive highside on his final lap when he was over four-tenths of a second faster than anything he’d done all weekend, the Australian coolly converted another second-row start into a fourth-place finish, one that matched his return at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit last year, and represented his best result since he took fourth at Le Mans in France almost 12 months ago.

It didn’t come easy for Miller, though; after leaping to third at the first corner, he dropped to seventh midway through the race as others surged, particularly Alex Rins (Suzuki), who had stormed through from 16th on the grid after a disastrous qualifying. As the only rider in the front group electing to run the medium-compound Michelin front tyre, it was difficult to gauge whether Miller had used the best of his rubber too early at the fast and flowing circuit compared to his rivals, but he came good late, disposing of 2018 teammate Danilo Petrucci (Ducati) with three laps left before passing Rins for good into the first corner on the penultimate tour.

He finished just 1.6secs behind Dovizioso to be oh-so-close to that coveted second career podium, but this was a strong bounce-back result for the Aussie after the disappointment of Losail.

“I got stuck in a couple of battles that, now I’m looking back at it, I probably didn’t need to get into, and maybe that cost me a chance of a podium,” Miller said after the race.

“It seems like I had a lot more tyre than some of the guys around me at the end of the race, and I was back in sixth with five laps to go, but felt I had a bit more than Rins and Petrucci in front of me, I was able to pick them off quite efficiently.”

The moment that made the race

How about the start? After one lap, Marquez led by 1.049secs; after two, the gap was 2.442secs. Three laps in, the Spaniard was 3.162secs ahead, and it was game over. His lead peaked at 12.701secs with four laps left, and only dropped beneath 10secs on the final lap as he slowed almost to walking pace to cross the line and salute his team. A race after the closest top 15 in MotoGP history in Qatar, and given the quality of this year’s field, this was a Marquez masterclass.

The stat that matters

13: On the day where it was exactly 23 years since he made his debut in the world championship class in the 125cc race in Malaysia (think about that for a moment), Rossi took his first podium finish in 13 races (since Germany last season) by finishing second to Marquez.

Who were the winners in Argentina?

Marquez, as we’ve mentioned, and also Rossi, who has snared 31 points from the first two races, a scenario that looked very unlikely when he couldn’t even emerge out of Q1 in Qatar three weeks ago. Dovizioso too, the Ducati man taking just his second podium at a circuit that has been something of a bogey track. And, as discussed, Miller for making his strong pace before Sunday count when it really mattered.

Outside of that quickest quartet? Takaaki Nakagami, who finished seventh for a second-straight top-10 result to start the year; in two Grands Prix, the Japanese has scored nearly half as many points (16) this year as he managed in 19 races last year (33). Rins, who would have willingly accepted a fifth-place finish given how lost he and Suzuki were after qualifying. And, further back, there were maiden MotoGP points for three of the 2019 rookies; Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) was eighth, Miguel Oliveira (KTM) finished 11th, and Miller’s teammate Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) was 14th.

Who lost out at Termas?

There was plenty of anger, some regret and a bit of despair as the paddock packed up in Argentina, with Cal Crutchlow fitting into the first category after the 2018 race-winner had his chances of a repeat scuppered before the lights extinguished; the Honda rider was judged to have jumped the start, a subsequent ride-through penalty taking him out of the front group on a weekend where his practice pace suggested a podium was within reach. The Briton eventually finished 13th.

“We would have been able to fight for the podium and probably would have had a good, safe second place. But we didn’t, the stewards said that I jumped the start, which I completely disagree with,” Crutchlow said.

Elsewhere, Yamaha’s Franco Morbidelli made few friends at his new manufacturer when he took out stablemate Maverick Vinales on the last lap when the pair were running seventh and eighth; Morbidelli’s strong pace to that point and Vinales’ atypical soft-tyre strategy amounted to zero points for both after the Italian’s gaffe.

Finally, a thought towards Jorge Lorenzo; on a day where his Repsol Honda teammate ran rings around the rest, the Spaniard fluffed the start from 11th on the grid and finished 12th, 27.497secs (more than a second a lap) behind Marquez.

What’s next?

The series stays in the Americas for round three while heading northwards to Austin, Texas – which is traditionally bad news for anyone not named Marquez. The Spaniard took his maiden MotoGP victory at the Circuit of the Americas in the first visit for the series to COTA in 2013 – and hasn’t lost there since, part of a perfect 10-for-10 run of wins in the US between that circuit and two others, Laguna Seca and Indianapolis.

Miller Time: Making it count

Jack Miller writes about a race weekend in Argentina where his practice pace paid off with a superb fourth place in Sunday’s second GP of the year.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Hi everyone,

It definitely feels good to be talking to you after a strong weekend from start to finish in Argentina, not just one that went well until Sunday like it did in Qatar. And when you can do a race when your seat doesn’t come off after two laps, that’s always a good thing too …

Fourth is my best result since France last year which was a bloody long time ago, and I was fourth last year here in Argentina too. It feels good and a bit of a relief too after Qatar, we had such good pace there but I left with nothing because of the seat coming loose and the other dramas that followed that.

We’ve been working really hard as a team and the bike is good, and we’ve been doing the most laps of anyone in practice and spending a lot of time working on our race pace, and today it paid off for us. To have it go to plan is nice, and you want to get the monkey off your back and get off zero points, there’s nothing worse than leaving the first race with 0 next to your name. To get so close to the podium – I was only 1.6 seconds behind ‘Dovi’ (Andrea Dovizioso) – is a bit frustrating in some ways, but we’re right there. It’s just a matter of time if we keep working the way we are, I think.

I’m learning a lot with this new bike for me every time I ride it, and I learned in the race today too with how I approached it. I got stuck in a couple of battles that, now I’m looking back at it, I probably didn’t need to get into, and maybe that cost me a chance of a podium. So, you learn from the experiences at the front.

I was the only rider in the front group to be on the medium front tyre, and that was a problem because three laps in I had a warning light come up on the dash that the tyre had got up to 91 degrees, which is off the scale when you look at the temperatures we try to aim for. The track caught us all out I think because the sun was pretty hot and we’d had pretty cloudy weather all weekend, so the track temps were a bit high. I had a few moments because of that, so I focused on saving the rear tyre as best I could. It seems like I had a lot more tyre than some of the guys around me at the end of the race, and I was back in sixth with five laps to go, but felt I had a bit more than (Alex) Rins and (Danilo) Petrucci in front of me. I got Petrucci with three laps left and then Rins on the second-last lap to get to fourth, and I was able to pick them off quite efficiently.

I’m really enjoying riding this GP19 Ducati. I never raced the ’18 last year, and this bike is a big step. I said to someone that I feel like I’m bringing a gun to a gun fight now, and that’s the best way of explaining it. The speed is easier to come by and you don’t feel you’re riding it right on the ragged edge every corner just to get a lap time out. That’s why Qatar was frustrating; with the way ‘Dovi’ rode that race and controlled the pace, I reckon I could have stayed with the front group and been in a position to do something in the last few laps. In the first few laps on this bike is when I notice it, you’re not constantly over-braking and cooking the front tyre just to stay with those guys, and not trying to make up for not being able to stay with them on the straights. I can manage the tyres better because the speed of the bike is there, that’s probably the biggest factor.

Fourth for me was a highlight on Sunday for sure, but I had to get down before the podium of the Moto2 race to congratulate Remy Gardner for coming second, it’s always great to see an Aussie up there. Super cool for him, unreal. He’s been in Moto2 trying hard for a while now, and it’s his first year on a decent bike, and the results are showing. He just missed out in Qatar and then to get second here – and he just about could have won it too – that’s great for him that his hard work is paying off. I think he’s matured a fair bit as well as getting a better bike, and I’m really happy for him.

You guys would have noticed that I did something with the livery on the bike this weekend, with my number 43 looking different. I wanted to pay tribute to the people in Christchurch for the terrible thing that happened there a few weeks ago, my parents and a lot of my family are from New Zealand and it’s a place close to my heart, and it really hit close to home for me. To have that on the bike and get a good result, maybe it brought me a bit of luck. It was an important gesture for me to do, and I’m definitely thinking of the people back there because it’s been such a tough time for everybody.

We’re off to Austin next, once we actually get out of Argentina – it’s quite a big journey to get back to the US from here, and I’ll stay in California and do some training. And try not to injure myself like I did there last year … I’ll do my best to keep myself in one piece this time.

Cheers, Jack

Bottas almost speechless after ‘race of my life’

After a year where he was an afterthought at Mercedes, an off-season of introspection saw Valtteri Bottas return to Melbourne as a new man.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

For most of 2018, Valtteri Bottas was the ‘other’ guy at Mercedes as the German Formula One giant stormed to its fifth consecutive world championship. Where teammate Lewis Hamilton won 11 Grands Prix and annexed a fifth world title, Bottas failed to take a single race victory to add to the three he won in his first season at Mercedes in 2017, and seemed set for another campaign as Hamilton’s wingman after qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park on Saturday.

Fast-forward 24 hours, and a season-opener that defied all logic from pre-season testing, where Ferrari looked to have Mercedes’ measure, took another unexpected twist after Bottas blitzed pole-sitter Hamilton off the line into the first corner and wasn’t seen for dust thereafter, the Finn winning his fourth F1 race by 20.8 seconds, leaving Hamilton and the rest of the field in his wake.

The victory margin was greater than in any other Grand Prix last year, and with the lead Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel finishing fourth and a whopping 57 seconds adrift, was the full stop on a season start that ripped the form book to shreds.

Bottas is something of an anomaly compared to his Finnish compatriots who have come before him in F1; the loquacious 29-year-old doesn’t speak in monosyllables like two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen, or the similarly-taciturn Alfa Romeo driver Kimi Raikkonen. But after Sunday’s race, Bottas was at a loss to find the right words to explain his dominance, where he wrapped up 25 points for the win and a bonus point for the fastest lap of the race, set on the 57th lap of the 58-lap distance.

“We saw the raw pace in qualifying as a team with the big margin to Ferrari, but today the race pace was strong, a lot stronger than what we expected coming into this weekend,” Bottas said.

“I don’t know what to say … I don’t know what happened. It’s definitely the best race I’ve had in my life. The car was feeling so good today and it was truly enjoyable.”

“When you are on it, it feels so easy, even if it’s not.”

Last year was anything but easy for Bottas, who was comprehensively out-performed by Hamilton in equal machinery after his season had a stuttering start in Melbourne, a crash in qualifying getting his campaign off on the wrong foot. An unlucky puncture in sight of a race win in Azerbaijan in round four took the wind out of his sails, and by season’s end, he scored just 247 points to Hamilton’s 408, finished on the podium eight times to his teammate’s 17, and only managed to out-perform the Briton in qualifying six times in 21 races.

That lop-sided suite of statistics prompted an off-season of soul-searching for the Finn, and the early returns on that introspection are positive.

“It’s difficult to explain what has been going on here inside my head last winter; something changed in terms of the way I feel about things, in life in general and in racing,” he said.

“Every year you learn as a person about yourself, what works for you, what doesn’t work for you.

“How you rest, how you spend your free time, how you do the training and how much, those kinds of things. You just try to optimise everything for this year, try to maximise every single thing that is possible.”

Home race curse strikes Ricciardo again

Within metres of his first start for Renault, the Australian’s chances of a strong showing at his home race had been scuppered.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

The opening lap of the Australian Grand Prix is typically one of the more fraught moments of any Formula One season; with drivers rusty from not having started a race for four months, a tight entry into the first corner and rookies mixed in with experienced rivals in the midfield, Albert Park’s first turn contains trapdoors and trip wires ready to ruin a driver’s start to their year. “Everyone’s going to be keen down into turn one,” Daniel Ricciardo said on Saturday, working out where best to attack the first corner of the year from 12th on the grid. Thanks to a launch that was almost too good, Ricciardo didn’t even get there before his home race curse struck again.

For the past five years of his career, Red Bull gave Ricciardo wings; in his Renault debut on Sunday, the 29-year-old lost his within seconds of the lights going out to start the season, squeezed onto the trackside grass by a slow-starting Sergio Perez (Racing Point) in front of him and running over a service road at the pit lane exit, launching his car briefly skywards, ripping off its front wing and forcing him to limp back to the pits for a replacement. Within seconds, a race that had been highly anticipated since Ricciardo dropped the bombshell last August that he’d be leaving Red Bull for Renault was effectively over.

With the right-hand side of his car heavily damaged from his wild ride across the grass, Ricciardo persevered for 30 laps before the team retired his car for precautionary reasons, broken bargeboards on the right-hand side of his Renault reducing the downforce levels and causing excessive tyre wear.

Ricciardo, who quickly retreated into Renault’s hospitality area after the race as he attempted to hide his disappointment, said the non-finish left him “flat” after a hectic build-up to his home race.

“I feel like it’s hard to get things going well here, but today I feel that was pretty unlucky,” he said.

“I put two wheels in (the grass), and next thing there’s a massive gutter ditch there. Sergio’s start wasn’t great, and I had a bit of a run. He made a little flinch, you see him move so I moved, and the next thing I’m on the grass. Because he was still in front at the time, you just follow his initial reaction. When I touched the grass, I wasn’t too concerned because I thought I’d just drive through it. But then the ditch was there, and that was it.”

The non-finish continues Ricciardo’s wretched record at his home race, where the wait continues for an Australian to finish on the podium. Sunday’s retirement was his third in eight starts in Melbourne, while his one result of note, when he finished second on his Red Bull debut in 2014, ended in heartbreak after his car was disqualified from second place following the podium ceremony for breaching the sport’s fuel-flow regulations. A pair of fourth-place finishes, in 2016 and 2018, remain the best of a bad lot.

Ricciardo’s move away from Red Bull, where he won seven Grands Prix in 100 races with the four-time world champion team, to Renault pitched the Australian into a midfield pack he’s barely seen since he drove for Toro Rosso in 2011-12. Only once in the past five Albert Park races had Ricciardo started from outside the top 10 before Sunday; after missing the top-10 shootout for pole position by 0.038secs on Saturday, he learned first-hand the perils of the midfield 24 hours later, his hopes of a strong first race for Renault quashed within seconds.

Ricciardo being at the back of the pack so early in the race gave the new rules for 2019 designed to aid overtaking – namely wider and less complex front wings and larger rear wings to allow cars behind to trail the opponent in front more easily – an instant test, but even with an undamaged car, his chances of making big inroads towards the top 10 were always going to be limited at a track that featured only five on-track passes in 58 laps a year ago.

Ricciardo is renowned as one of the boldest and bravest overtakers in F1, but the 5.3km of asphalt that snakes its way around Albert Park lake is a flowing, twisty circuit for the drivers to enjoy, but is a notoriously difficult layout on which to pass, even in a fully-functioning machine.

Australian fans are clearly prepared to be patient and support Ricciardo as he takes his fledgling steps with his new team, with Albert Park dressed this year in a sea of Renault yellow as fans of the Perth product opened their lungs as well as their wallets to support him.

For the first time since 2006, when Mark Webber was in his second and final season with Williams, Red Bull Racing didn’t field an Australian driver at Albert Park, Webber’s retirement in 2013 opening to door for Ricciardo to take his place.

While the crowds flocked to the Albert Park circuit on a picture-perfect autumn day – event organisers said the estimated attendance of 102,000 was the biggest on race day for six years – they left knowing that Ricciardo’s quest to lift Renault from the front of the midfield into the fight with Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull at the front will be a slow burn, Ricciardo’s teammate Nico Hulkenberg finishing in seventh place, and more than a minute behind third-placed Max Verstappen.

Great Briton, greatest ever?

Lewis Hamilton first offered a sign that he could be something special one corner into his first Grand Prix; since, his speed and sense of timing could soon see him become the best driver in F1 history.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE AGE NEWSPAPER

What if you could be both lucky and good? Lewis Hamilton has emphatically proved himself to be the latter; 73 Formula One wins and five world titles have this Great Briton on the podium in any conversation debating the ‘best-ever’ question in the world’s highest-profile motorsport category.

But fortunate? If being in the right place at the right time is any indicator of success, Hamilton is the modern-day master of F1; combine ferocious talent with infallible timing, and the result is a period of dominance that, by the end of 2019, the 70-year story of the sport may have never seen.

Mercedes arrived in Melbourne for this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix with Ferrari in its crosshairs; not just at the first race of the year, after the Scuderia established itself as the team to beat after 2019 pre-season testing in Barcelona last month, but in the sport’s history books. From 1999-2004, a Michael Schumacher-led Ferrari led the famous Italian team on a red rampage, annexing six F1 constructors’ titles and five drivers’ championships in succession to turn what had been a ‘big three’ along with Williams and McLaren into a one Prancing Horse race.

By the end of this season, Hamilton and the Silver Arrows can match that haul, and in a manner that could see the 34-year-old on the way to overhauling Schumacher-set records that seemed unattainable when the German great took the chequered flag for the final time at the end of 2012. Or were they?

It took all of 249 metres, the distance from the start-finish line to the first corner at Albert Park, for Hamilton to offer a portent of what might follow in his Grand Prix debut in Melbourne in 2007. The McLaren rookie turned heads when he qualified fourth on Saturday; fast-forward 24 hours, and Hamilton finished on the podium in third, ambushing McLaren teammate and reigning two-time world champion Fernando Alonso into the tight first turn, his first corner of his first lap of his first F1 race. Even now, it’s a memory that Hamilton holds dear.

“I remember the build-up to the Grand Prix and all the pressure, so in that way the first corner couldn’t have gone better,” he said.

“If I’d started first, it wouldn’t have been as epic. I started fourth, went back to fifth, and came out third into turn one, and overtook the two-time world champion at the time. As a rookie, it couldn’t have been better.

“I thought there was no way to stay inside so I went left, and managed to out-brake everyone and get a couple of places.

“I had Fernando behind me for a long time and it’s pretty tough when you have a two-time champion behind you, especially in the first race.

“In many ways that was the first stepping stone to being where I am today, the first chapter of the story. To be in F1 is a dream, but to go in your first race and have a third is something that you don’t expect.”

As he prepares to start his 13th Formula One season this afternoon, Hamilton has every reason to expect that – and more – after being the lynchpin of Mercedes’ masterclass ever since F1 ditched normally-aspirated V8 engines for V6 turbo hybrid power plants in 2014.

Today’s cars are the fastest, if not the loudest, in F1 history, and Hamilton has used his to devastating effect over the past five years, which have yielded four championships to add to his sole success at McLaren in 2008. He’s rapidly assembling a set of statistics that make for depressing reading for the rest of the field.

Of the 100 races contested since the new era dawned in Melbourne 2014, Mercedes has won 74, Hamilton taking 51 of them. For context, Alain Prost, the French great who won four world titles, won 51 in his entire career. Prost’s bitter rival Ayrton Senna, the driver who inspired Hamilton as a karting prodigy and whose striking yellow helmet colour the Briton adopted when he made it to F1, won 10 fewer Grands Prix before his death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.

Prost, like Senna, did plenty of his winning for McLaren, the once-great team that has fallen on hard times after – and perhaps not coincidentally – Hamilton left for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season. That 2012 finale in Brazil, won by Hamilton’s teammate and compatriot Jenson Button, was the most recent of McLaren’s 182 Grand Prix victories; not since Australia 2014, where Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification opened the door for Button to join rookie teammate Kevin Magnussen on the podium, has a McLaren driver finished a single race inside the top three.

McLaren has used Mercedes, Honda and now Renault engines in the years since Hamilton’s departure and re-employed double world champion Alonso after his stint at Ferrari went sour in 2014, but has taken a pair of podium finishes in the time Hamilton has amassed 85 top-three results and four championships, the two British giants heading in opposite directions.

Hamilton equalled Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio as a five-time world champion last year, an achievement that left the often-loquacious Mercedes man struggling to find the right words, while praising the efforts of his team to help him match the sport’s earliest maestro.

“When you think of Fangio, who for me is the godfather of racing drivers, he had five world championships and I have five as well … it doesn’t connect at the moment,” he said.

“It doesn’t feel real, but I am humbled and grateful to all the people around me, because there have been a lot of them along the journey.

“I feel like I can drive anything and I feel I can take the car to places that nobody else can, but to do that, you have to get the car in the right place. That means you’ve got to work with the team, help unleash what’s great within them so that you can unleash the greatness in yourself.”

Can that greatness eventually become greatest? Nico Rosberg, who retired immediately after edging teammate and former childhood friend Hamilton to the world title in 2016, cast his mind towards Schumacher’s 91 victories and seven titles the moment Hamilton took his fifth crown in Mexico last October.

“He can seriously go for Schumacher’s records now,” Rosberg, who now works as a pundit for Sky Sports in the UK, said.

“He’s got two more years on the contract, and ‘Schumi’ is only two titles away, under 20 race wins away. That’s possible in two years.

“It’s amazing. He can really try to become statistically the best of all-time, which is unreal. But it is a possibility, and I’m sure he’s going to be motivated by that.”