Mid-season review

5 MotoGP stories to shape the rest of 2017

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

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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.

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 …

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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.

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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.

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?

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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.

The MotoGP mid-term report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The F1 report card

It’s the F1 mid-season break – so let’s assess who has shone (or bombed) in 2016.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

We know, we know. Yes, it’s not technically the F1 half-term report – the halfway point of what will be the longest season in F1 history actually came on lap 26 of the British Grand Prix last month. But with the season in recess, factories shut down for their compulsory break and the drivers ensconced in their various tax havens or swanning around after supermodels (or maybe both), it’s time to press pause and run the rule over the season that has been in 2016.

But first, by way of explanation: we won’t be labelling drivers or teams ‘winners’ or ‘losers’. You can score a lot of points and be the latter, or barely get noticed in the TV coverage and be the former. It’s all about expectations, perception versus reality, and context. So with that in mind, here’s who sits where with school being out until the Belgian Grand Prix in three weeks’ time.

Dux of the class

Nico Rosberg won the first four races of the year (and seven straight dating back to the end of last season), but has coughed up his hefty championship lead rather too quickly and been nowhere when it’s rained this season, so it’s not him. Lewis Hamilton started the season slowly, made some mistakes and had some rotten luck, but has flipped a 43-point championship deficit into a 19-point lead with six wins in the past seven races. But it’s not him either. No, the dux of the 2016 class is the Mercedes W07, the car that threatens to redefine the very meaning of the word ‘dominance’ by the end of 2016. At the halfway stage, Mercedes has won 11 of 12 races, taken 11 poles, recorded 16 of a possible 24 podiums and led 588 of a possible 682 laps (86 per cent) – we’re not counting Barcelona, where the Silver Arrows smashed into one another four corners into the race and had a dreaded double DNF. The scary part for the rest of the field is that as the new-for-2017 rulebook looms ever closer, teams will largely leave their 2016 cars as they are – meaning we could have a repeat of 2013 all over again, when Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull won the final nine races of the year before the rule reset of 2014. Can Mercedes win 20 of 21 races this year? To answer one question with another, who or what stops them?

Teacher’s pet

When you win your first Grand Prix at an age where you could still almost be in school (18 years and 228 days), is there any other candidate for this spot? Max Verstappen’s composure when given a chance to win his maiden Grand Prix in Spain in round five – on his first weekend for Red Bull Racing, no less – was almost as impressive as his speed, and he’s barely looked back since. Multiple podiums, a detached calm over the radio in the heat of battle and scant consideration for the reputations of his opponents when in a fight prove that Red Bull was right to promote him – and that he could be doing this for the next 10-12 years at least. For all of his feistiness in wheel-to-wheel battle, you get the sense that someone might lean on Verstappen before too long to prove a point, as Martin Brundle suggested after Hungary and his fight with Kimi Raikkonen. “Max’s defensive technique is too junior-formula for my liking,” the respected TV pundit said. “When he’s defending, he tends to loiter in the middle of the track and then at the last moment move to the side of the track where his opponent attacks, and cut them off. It’s asking for trouble. It’s clear the other drivers are becoming frustrated with it to the point that one of them will have him off to teach him a lesson. It’s what a (Nigel) Mansell or an (Ayrton) Senna used to do whenever they thought a young driver wasn’t showing due respect.” No matter what you think of his style, Verstappen deserves huge credit for what he’s done so far.

On the teams’ side, Force India do too, the Indian-owned British-based squad on track for the best season in its existence, and with fourth-placed Williams in its crosshairs as it routinely does the best it can with what it has. Speaking of making the most out of the least, Raikkonen’s management deserves a special shout-out for convincing Ferrari to re-sign their driver for another year …

Encouragement award

Let’s split this one in multiple directions. Sergio Perez has led Force India’s rise beautifully, combining his customary tyre-saving genius with bursts of stunning speed, and scoring podiums at Monaco and in Azerbaijan. Carlos Sainz didn’t hang his head after Verstappen was promoted from Toro Rosso to Red Bull, and has enjoyed a steady stream of points-scoring finishes in a car propelled by last year’s Ferrari engine that is clearly down on grunt. McLaren racing director Eric Boullier’s claim that his team has the third-best chassis in F1 would have been ridiculed a year ago, but the Honda-powered MP4-31 is a dramatic improvement on its predecessor, even if scrapping for points seems wrong for a team with McLaren’s pedigree. Sauber gets a gold star for simply staying on the grid and shoring up its previously tenuous financial future after doing a deal with Swiss investments company Longbow Finance before Hungary. And Pascal Wehrlein’s point for Manor for 10th in Austria was proof that the hype about the 21-year-old is very real, and that bigger things surely loom on the horizon for the talented German.

Could do better

Williams’ 1980 Formula One world champion Alan Jones never pulls any punches at his most diplomatic, and didn’t take long to respond when asked before the season what his old squad needed to improve on its third-place constructors’ finishes the past two seasons. “I think it’s called a budget,” Jones said, and as the season has gone on, the Grove-based outfit has found itself under increasing pressure to retain fourth overall from Force India, with third-placed Ferrari a whopping 146 points in the distance at the mid-point of the season. Valtteri Bottas has finished all 12 races but been a bit-part player in most of them besides Canada when he finished third, while Felipe Massa is on track for his worst season in seven years, and seems unlikely to be retained in 2017. With most eyes now focused on the new rulebook, Williams’ predicament doesn’t look likely to improve unless it can make a splash at circuits like Monza and Mexico, where its prodigious straight-line speed can be unleashed.

Needs a strong second semester

It’s amazing what one win by a teammate – who was, as it turned out, placed on a clearly advantageous strategy in Spain – can do for perception. But the reality for Daniel Ricciardo paints a different picture. He sits third in the championship, has a form line that reads as a good omen (his last four race results: fifth, fourth, third, second), has dominated his teammates in qualifying like no other driver (11-1 in 12 races), and took pole position at Monaco with what might go down as the best single lap of 2016. But with Verstappen the undisputed new darling of the sport, Ricciardo needs to continue to assert himself against his teenage teammate and take the momentum from his podiums in Hungary and Germany into the final nine races. Anything less, and those with short memories will continue to raise their voices. He seems like he’s more than up for the fight, and third in the championship is a must in the race for best of the rest behind the Mercedes duo.

Elsewhere, Massa’s afore-mentioned woes might mean it’s a case of Renault or bust next year, while Esteban Gutierrez’s return to F1 has been underwhelming, Haas teammate Romain Grosjean scoring all 28 of the new team’s points in the opening 12 Grands Prix.

Extra detention

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for Ferrari, which came into 2016 confident it could take the fight to Mercedes, and has instead found itself lagging further and further behind. Things looked good when Vettel led for a lot of the season-opening Australian Grand Prix before an overly-conservative strategy call allowed Mercedes to swoop, and while he made the year’s best start in Canada, Ferrari couldn’t hang with Hamilton in Montreal when it mattered most. Technical chief James Allison is gone, chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne’s voice is growing ever-louder, and Vettel’s frustration was evident in his decision to so publicly question Ferrari’s strategy call at Hockenheim, choosing instead to run the race his own way. After three wins for Vettel last year, 2016 has been a massive let-down.

On the drivers’ side – and we hate to kick a man while he’s down – Daniil Kvyat’s freefall after being sent back to Toro Rosso after his error-strewn display in Russia has been painful to watch. That he was on the podium in round three in China seems inconceivable, and his reaction after his Q1 exit in Germany was quite harrowing to watch. Pierre Gasly’s name has been mentioned with increasing volume as Sainz’s teammate next season, and Kvyat’s F1 future may come down to what he’s able to produce in the upcoming quartet of races from Spa to Sepang.

The 33 F1 stats you should know

Check out our statistical snapshot of the 2016 F1 season as it pauses for the mid-year break.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

When the dust finally settles on Formula One in 2016, the headlines will focus on what will almost certainly be another Mercedes constructors’ title – and a drivers’ crown for either Lewis Hamilton or Nico Rosberg – before the F1 rulebook takes a reset for 2017. Quite rightly too, but there’s one landmark from the season so far that will arguably leave a more lasting impression.

Max Verstappen’s breakthrough victory at the Spanish Grand Prix in May – coming as it did in a year of silver-coloured Mercedes dominance that even tops their 2014-15 seasons – is noteworthy enough, but in re-writing the record books as the sport’s youngest-ever winner, the Dutch teenager set a standard that will surely never be surpassed.

Win number 1 for number 33 is the landmark stat from the first part of the marathon 21-race 2016 F1 season, which pauses for a four-week break before resuming for the final nine races at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium at the end of the month. Which gives us a chance to run the rule over 33 fast facts – three for all 11 F1 teams in current constructors’ championship order – that you should know.

Mercedes
Constructors’ championship: 1st (415 points)
Drivers’ championship: 1st Lewis Hamilton (217 points), 2nd Nico Rosberg 198 points

1. There’s been 50 races since the advent of the 1.6-litre V6 turbo hybrid era at the beginning of 2014; Mercedes has won 43 of them (Hamilton 27, Rosberg 16). Remarkably, of the seven races they haven’t won, two featured contact between the teammates inside the opening two laps (Belgium 2014, Spain 2016).

2. Hamilton now has 49 career wins, just two behind Alain Prost for second on the all-time win list.

3.  Rosberg’s run of seven straight wins from Mexico last year to Russia this season was more than his 1982 world champion father Keke managed in his entire career (five).

Red Bull Racing
Constructors’ championship: 2nd (256 points)
Drivers’ championship: 3rd Daniel Ricciardo (133 points), 6th Max Verstappen (115 points)

4. After 12 rounds last season, Red Bull had less than half (113) of the points tally it has managed before this season’s summer break.

5. Ricciardo’s maiden pole position at Monaco saw him join such F1 luminaries as Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Sir Jackie Stewart, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jim Clark as drivers who topped qualifying for the first time in their careers in Monte Carlo.

6. Verstappen’s win in Spain came at the age of 18 years and 228 days, shattering Sebastian Vettel’s previous record (Vettel was 21 and 73 days old when he won at Monza in 2008).

Ferrari
Constructors’ championship: 3rd (242 points)
Drivers’ championship: 4th Kimi Raikkonen (122 points), 5th Sebastian Vettel (120 points)

7. Ferrari is the only team to have scored points in all 12 Grands Prix this season.

8. Raikkonen finished second in Bahrain for the fourth time in the past five races at Sakhir; he has eight podiums in 11 Bahrain Grands Prix, but has never won there.

9. Fifth place for Vettel in last Sunday’s German Grand Prix extended his Hockenheim hoodoo – he’s never won in five attempts at the circuit closest to his birthplace of Heppenheim – and he’s still never won a Grand Prix in the month of July.

Williams
Constructors’ championship: 4th (96 points)
Drivers’ championship: 7th Valtteri Bottas (58 points), 9th Felipe Massa (38 points)

10. Williams equalled the fastest F1 pit stop record at the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, taking just 1.92 seconds to service Massa’s car on lap 7 of the race in Baku. In the US Grand Prix of 2013, Red Bull serviced Mark Webber’s car in the same time.

11. Bottas set a record for the highest speed recorded in an official F1 session at the same race, being clocked at 378km/h during qualifying.

12. With just 38 points through 12 races, Massa is on track for his lowest-scoring season since 2009.

Force India
Constructors’ championship: 5th (81 points)
Drivers’ championship: 8th Sergio Perez (48 points), 10th Nico Hulkenberg (33 points)

13. The 23 points scored by Force India in Monaco (Perez third, Hulkenberg sixth) was the team’s best haul for more than two years (Bahrain 2014, 25 points).

14. Second on the grid for Perez in Azerbaijan was the team’s first front-row qualifying result since Giancarlo Fisichella at Spa in 2009; a gearbox penalty demoted him to seventh on the grid.

15. At Monaco, Hulkenberg became the fourth driver in F1 history (behind Adrian Sutil, Pierluigi Martini and Philippe Alliot) to reach 100 F1 starts without a podium finish.

Toro Rosso
Constructors’ championship: 6th (45 points)
Drivers’ championship: 11th Carlos Sainz (30 points), 14th Daniil Kvyat (23 points)

16. If Toro Rosso can retain its sixth place in the constructors’ race at the end of the season, it would be the team’s best result since 2008.

17. Sainz has qualified inside the top 10 six times in 12 races, as many times as he managed for the whole of last season.

18. Since his podium finish for Red Bull Racing in round three in China, Kvyat has scored two points in the following nine races.

McLaren
Constructors’ championship: 7th (42 points)
Drivers’ championship: 13th Fernando Alonso (24 points), 15th Jenson Button (17 points), 18th Stoffel Vandoorne (1 point, replaced Alonso in Bahrain)

19. Both McLarens made it into Q3 in qualifying in Hungary for the first time since Honda renewed ties with the team at the start of 2015, a span of 30 races.

20. Alonso has the most non-finishes (five) of any driver on the grid, an unwanted stat that has come in one fewer race than the rest of field after he missed Bahrain with injury.

21. Button’s third on the grid in Austria was his highest starting position since the 2014 British Grand Prix (third).

Haas
Constructors’ championship: 8th (28 points)
Drivers’ championship: 12th Romain Grosjean (28 points), 19th Esteban Gutierrez (0 points)

22. Eight points on debut in Australia (for Grosjean finishing sixth) was the first time a new team had scored points in its maiden race since Toyota in Melbourne in 2002.

23. Grosjean qualified ninth and finished fifth in Bahrain in round two, the team’s best qualifying and race results to date.

24. Gutierrez started his 50th Grand Prix last time out in Germany, and has just one points finish (seventh in Japan for Sauber in 2013) to his name.

Renault
Constructors’ championship:
9th (6 points)
Drivers’ championship: 16th Kevin Magnussen (6 points), 20th Jolyon Palmer (0 points)

25. Seventh for Magnussen in Russia gave Renault its first points as a fully-fledged manufacturer team in its own right since Abu Dhabi 2010.

26. Magnussen has finished 11 of the opening 12 races, the same number as Hamilton and Rosberg.

27. Palmer has made it into Q2 just twice in his rookie season, in the opening race in Australia and the most recent race in Germany.

Manor
Constructors’ championship:
10th (1 point)
Drivers’ championship: 17th Pascal Wehrlein (1 point), 23rd Rio Haryanto (0 points)

28. Manor scored points for just the second time in its history when Wehrlein finished 10th in Austria.

29. Wehrlein’s 12th on the grid in Spielberg was just the second time the team had placed a car in Q2 in qualifying.

30. Haryanto has completed nine races, and finished last in seven of them.

Sauber
Constructors’ championship: 11th (0 points)
Drivers’ championship: 21st Marcus Ericsson (0 points), 22nd Felipe Nasr (0 points)

31. After scoring 36 points last year, Sauber has failed to finish in the top 10 for 15 consecutive races dating back to the 2015 US Grand Prix.

32. A pair of 12th-place finishes in Bahrain and Spain gives Ericsson the advantage over Nasr.

33. Nasr led a timed session for the first time in his career when he was top of the timesheets early in Hungary qualifying in heavy rain.