Worth the wait!

Qualifying:

Marc Marquez was back with his incredible skills at saving his Honda from crashing, once again during the qualifying.

It was Jorge Martin (Ducati) who pipped him to the post to take his 3rd pole this season and an all-time lap record (1:27.767), with Marquez following closely behind him. Finishing the front row was Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati) and the other championship contenders Fabio Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro behind him, in 5th and 6th.

Claiming pole. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

If qualifying was anything to go by, we were going to be in for a treat on Sunday.

Race:

Rain had poured during the night, but it was glorious sunshine that greeted everyone at Phillip Island in the morning. This race had been 3 years of anticipation and audiences were excited to see what was in store:

Lining up on the grid Bagnaia appeared to have trouble with his start device, he just about managed to sort the issue before lights went out. When the lights went green, it was Martin who led Marquez and Espargaro into turn 1. Bagnaia went backwards to 4th place but by turn 2 he was up to 3rd, passing one of his championship contenders.

Home-Hero, Jack Miller (Ducati) started to carve his way through the pack and on lap 2 of 27 he had made his way up to 6th, passing Alex Marquez (Honda) and Luca Marini (Ducati) in the process. His championship hopes weren’t quite done with yet.

Marini fought back on ‘Miller Corner’ (having been named after Jack during the weekend). Miller soon took the place back though, knowing he couldn’t let the championship leaders get away. By lap 3 he had managed to also pass Espargaro to sit behind his teammate. Would team orders come into play?

The answer is no – Miller passed Pecco to take 3rd a lap later. But Pecco was having none of it and fought back.

Meanwhile, behind them Quartararo lost another place to Marini but seconds later Fabio made a mistake and was forced to go onto the grass verge, entering back into the race in 22nd place, behind his teammate Franco Morbidelli.

While this was all happening Alex Rins (Suzuki) had taken fastest lap and was up into 7th place behind Marini. He soon passed him to take 6th. Rins was seemingly on a charge. Not content with his new spot, he soon took another one, this time from Espargaro in 5th. Could he make it to the podium?

With 22 laps still to go Martin led Marquez and Bagnaia.

Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

All eyes were on Suzuki-man Rins as he caught Miller by surprise, claiming his spot too (for 4th) and on lap 8 he also passed Bagnaia for 3rd. Could he manage to conserve his tyres to make it to the end of the race after pushing so hard? Only time would tell.

Miller seemed to be in the wars as Espargaro passed him for 5th (and took fastest lap), on lap 9. Marco Bezzecchi (Ducati) also managed to push Miller back to 7th. Alex Marquez tried his luck too but instead he hit Miller from behind, narrowly avoiding hitting Marini as well, sending them both into the gravel, on ‘Miller Corner’ ending both their races early. (It was later confirmed that A. Marquez would get a long-lap penalty next round for ‘riding in an overly aggressive manner’).

Checking Miller is okay. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Back at the front of the race Rins and Bagnaia had a tussle for 3rd with Bagnaia being the victor this time round.

By lap 10 Fabio had made it up into the points positions (15th) but on the next lap on turn 2 he made a mistake and crashed out of the race, taking zero points at Phillip Island. Has the dream for a second championship gone?

On the same lap Rins managed to pass Bagnaia and Marquez. Martin then led Rins, Marquez and Bagnaia into lap 12.

Rins was clearly up for fighting for the win and on lap 14 he saw his opportunity to get into the prime position, taking 1st from ‘The Martinator’ smoothly. While positions were being swapped behind him – Bagnaia passed Marquez and Martin and then Marquez also passed Martin – he had gone from 1st to 4th in only 2 turns.

Marquez was the only rider though to have taken a gamble with a soft rear tyre. Would the gamble pay off?

Martin soon lost yet another place, this time to Bezzecchi and in-front of him Bagnaia had had enough of watching Rins and had taken the lead. On the next corner Marquez also followed suit and passed Rins.

With 13 laps to go Bagnaia led Marquez, Rins and Bezzecchi. How much more drama could there possibly be? If crowds weren’t on the edge of their seats already, they soon would be:

Such close racing – Bagnaia, Rins and Marquez. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Just 11 laps until the end and Rins seizes his opportunity to pass Marquez for 2nd and Martin passes Bezzecchi back. Blink and you would miss the action!

Martin had found his second wind and managed to also pass Marquez for 3rd but lap 19 Marquez got his spot back and brought Bezzecchi with him, who managed to also claim a position from Martin, pushing him back to 5th. On the next lap a battle commenced between Bezzecchi, Marquez and Martin. Bezzecchi managed to claim Marquez’s spot and Martin also passed him, but Marquez fought Martin off to keep 4th. While back at the front Rins had managed to claim first position.

With only 8 laps to go Rins now led Bagnaia, Bezzecchi and Marquez.

So much action on track, no-one knew where to look!

Yet there was still more to come:

Bagnaia powered past Rins on the start-finish straight to re-take the lead and to start lap 21. Rins then got swallowed up by both Bezzecchi and Marquez to go back to 4th. The same thing that had happened to Martin moments ago.

With 6 laps to go Rins and Marquez fought for 3rd but it ended with Marquez going wide and Martin passing through, sending Marquez back to 5th. Could he still put up a fight with his soft rear tyre? If there was an issue with the soft tyre Marquez was ignoring it as he soon passed Martin back for 4th.

Bezzecchi seemed to be in trouble with Rins, with 3 laps until the end on turn 2 Rins managed to make his pass stick and was soon hunting down Bagnaia again. Meanwhile Marquez had also passed Marco to take 3rd. Marquez wasn’t letting Rins get away – they tussled for 2nd place, but Rins won.

Last lap:

Bagnaia led Rins, Marquez and Bezzecchi over the line but Rins passed Bagnaia shortly after and Marquez followed him. Could Marquez make the pass to snatch victory?

No, he couldn’t – Alex Rins took the chequered flag for a fairytale win for Suzuki. Followed closely by Marquez and Bagnaia.

Top Ten Finishers:

1st

A. Rins

2nd

M. Marquez

3rd

F. Bagnaia

4th

M. Bezzecchi

5th

E. Bastianini

6th

L. Marini

7th

J. Martin

8th

J. Zarco

9th

A. Espargaro

10th

B. Binder

It was such a close race between the top ten racers. But it was all about celebration: Rins became the 7th different winner this year, Marquez took his 100th premier class victory and Bezzecchi became Rookie of the Year!

Rookie of the Year. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

Top Four in Championship:

1st

F. Bagnaia

233 points

2nd

F. Quartararo

219 points

3rd

A. Espargaro

206 points

4th

E. Bastianini

191 points

We have certainly missed Phillip Island these past 3 years – but wasn’t it worth the wait?!

 

 

(Featured image: courtesy of: Moto GP website). 

Australian Grand Prix Preview: The start of a new decade in Formula One, but not in happy circumstances

Usually joyful and vibrant, the start of a new season in Australia would ordinarily bring a sense of positivity to Formula One fans around the world. This year, however, it is overshadowed by the seemingly omnipotent threat of Coronavirus.

And, indeed, three members of the paddock – two from Haas and one from McLaren – have already self-isolated after being tested for the illness.

However, the focus is not all on the doom and gloom side. Melbourne remains as picturesque and atmospheric as ever, and it is ready to play proud first host to what will hopefully be an enthralling season of racing.

Although, the likelihood of such seems fairly low. Mercedes dominated pre-season testing, and Ferrari looked average at best, with team boss Mattia Binotto playing down any chances of success for the Scuderia this year. Notwithstanding, Mercedes looked a way off Ferrari in Barcelona last year, and ended up dominating the season, so the true performance of the top three teams – including the resurgent Red Bull – remains to be seen.

Speaking of the former champions, they were given some degree of promise from their outings in testing, with potential championship contender Max Verstappen finding the limits – and falling foul of them – on a few occasions,. They also appeared to leave a few engineers in red scratching their heads as the enigmatic Dutchman looks to challenge Lewis Hamilton for the championship crown.

The enticing prospect of the fresh and finally integrated Alex Albon is also something we can look forward to, as well as the inter-team battle between Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc at the Maranello outfit. Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, will have had no shortage of awareness of the effort and quality needed to defeat team-mate Hamilton this season.

Indeed, it was a positive start to 2019 for the Finn. He won last year at the 5.3-kilometre Albert Park circuit, and would win two of the first four races, but a frustrating barren spell of form would see Hamilton’s irresistible class shine through again.

It was, interestingly, only the fourth time that the driver starting from second had made to the first corner first at the track, so pole is inherently important there.

The newly-crowned six time world champion is certainly not resting on his laurels either. He comes into this season feeling ‘on another level’ – a stark proposition for those looking to knock him off his perch.

As always though, it is not all about the big guns up top. The vast majority of the competitive, intriguing racing came from the mid-pack and, provided the TV directors choose to give them some attention this time, there is a lot of action to look forward to.

Williams are at least a second quicker than last year, and have a distinct, tenacious habit of overcoming the several adversities they have been faced with in recent years, making them a good fit for a battle that will surely include everyone from McLaren down.

Well, maybe not everyone.

Racing Point – or the “Pink Mercedes”, as coined by Carlos Sainz – have copied Mercedes’ chassis design from last year to almost every meticulous detail, and as their resources incrementally rise to impressive extents year on year, they could challenge McLaren and re-take fourth spot in the Constructors’ dogfight – potentially even laying a stake on a top-three involvement as times this season. There would have to be a degree of fortuity however.

Another team in doubt for the midfield fight is Haas. After numerous problems both on and off track in 2019, the American outfit looked both slow and lacking in longevity, as Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean look to return their cars to points contention, and hopefully return them to the finish line without making contact this year.

As we say, though, testing is often little to go by, resulting in the discovery of many variables yet to be seen as the season goes on, and it all starts this weekend in Melbourne.

 

[Featured image – Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool]

2019 Australian Grand Prix Driver Ratings

The first round of the 2019 Formula 1 season is complete – here we look at Australian GP driver ratings:

Valtteri Bottas – 9

Sunday was near perfect, with a lightning start allowing him to jump his team mate and from then he just went off into the distance, getting an extra point for fastest lap as well. He wasn’t necessarily the winner we expected from pre-season testing but he was without a doubt the driver of the day.

2019 Australian Grand Prix, Sunday – LAT Images

Lewis Hamilton – 7

Hamilton is well known for having the Saturday pace which generally puts him in good stead for Sunday, but he was beaten fair and square during the race. Still, he’ll take the podium along with the equal record for the most poles at one circuit.

Max Verstappen – 8

Verstappen put in the best performance for Honda in the whole of the hybrid era with his podium finish. He managed his tyres well and made an easy move on Vettel. A mistake at turn one hindered a late attack on Hamilton, but he will leave Melbourne with a smile on his face.

Sebastian Vettel – 7

Vettel had a solid start and was quick in the first stint, attempting to attack with an undercut which ultimately didn’t work. You can guarantee an investigation will be underway at Ferrari to figure out how they ended up 57 seconds behind the winner.

Charles Leclerc – 6

A great start by Leclerc but he was rather ambitious to attempt a move on his team-mate which could have ended in tears. Unlike his team-mate, he was slow in the first half of the race but fast in the second, and caught up to Vettel before being told to hold position. He showed he had speed in Q2 but the Ferrari doesn’t seem to be the package everyone thought.

Ferrari Media

Kevin Magnussen – 8

Magnussen was best of the rest in Australia, with solid pace and what seems to be the fourth quickest car. It was a better result than last year with no faulty pitstops, even if he was outqualified by his team-mate.

Nico Hulkenburg – 7

It was another result in a familiar place for the German. He started 11th so had free choice of tyres, which benefitted him in the race as he got the move on a few other drivers.

Kimi Raikkonen – 8

Raikkonen did exceptionally well considering where the team was last year, with a very aggressive package seeming to suit him well. He got the car into Q3 and kept that momentum going into Sunday.

Lance Stroll – 7

Stroll always raises eyebrows due to how he got into the sport, but in the race he showed he was fully deserving of the seat at Racing Point as he was in the thick of it all weekend. He scored the team’s only point, having some great battles whilst keeping the car clean.

Danil Kvyat – 6

A good return to the sport, ignoring a mistake at turn three. He was ambitious to run the hard tyre and defended well from faster cars behind, taking his car deeper into the race and allowing him to overcut the majority of them for the last point.

Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Pierre Gasly – 4

Australia will be a race to forget for Gasly. A mistake on Saturday by the team cost him dearly and he spent most of the race staring at Kvyat’s rear wing, unable to get past even on the softest tyre.

Lando Norris – 7

It was a great Saturday from Norris, but an early stop in the race in reaction to others put him in traffic. He was unable to pass Giovinazzi for several laps and just missed out on the points. Expect big things from Norris this season.

Sergio Perez – 5

It was an off-day for the Mexican on Sunday as he was classified down in 13th. He got caught up in the midfield battle which let others overcut him. The car looks great though, so there will be plenty more opportunities for him.

Alex Albon – 6

Despite being the first to spin this season in similar circumstances to his incident in testing, Albon did a good job. He matched Kvyat for outright pace on Saturday but was just caught up in the ever-so-tight midfield squabble. A good Sunday debut.

Antonio Giovinazzi – 5

The returning Italian was a pain for most at Melbourne, stuck on a confusing strategy with his tyres were ruined, and becoming a replacement for the infamous ‘Trulli train’. He showed true grit in terms of defence but not a lot of outright speed, though this is only his third ever race in F1.

George Russell – 6

Russell blitzed his much more experienced team-mate, but that’s not saying much considering Kubica is really the only competition he has due to Williams being so far behind the others. He finished his debut race and hopefully get in the mix, sooner rather than later.

George Russell (GBR) Williams Racing FW42.
Australian Grand Prix, Sunday 17th March 2019. Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia.

Robert Kubica – 3

A race to forget and move on from for Kubica. He hit the wall twice on Saturday and then hit Gasly at turn one on the first lap of the race. Williams will have collected some data though, and Kubica will get quicker and quicker throughout the season.

Romain Grosjean – 7

Another pit stop failure resulted in early retirement for the Frenchman, after being on course for a good points haul. A long delay in the pits pushed him down the order, and he then had to stop the car on track due to a ill-fitted left-front tyre.

Daniel Ricciardo – 5

For the first time in Melbourne in the turbo era, Ricciardo failed to get through to Q3 on Saturday, and his race – his first for Renault – was pretty much over in a few seconds when he pushed wide onto the grass and broke his front wing. He decided to retire the car.

Carlos Sainz – 4

Sainz was beaten by his rookie team mate on Saturday comprehensively, and was the first to retire on Sunday. Because of the nature of the track he had been unable to make up much ground prior to the retirement. He is a fighter though, and will be back for Bahrain.

 

[Featured image – Wolfgang Wilhelm]

Daniel Ricciardo: Why the Aussie has nothing to fear ahead of Renault move

 

Daniel Ricciardo in Aston Martin RedBull Racing garage at the 2018 Mexico Granprix. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Another race; another retirement due to a mechanical failure for Daniel Ricciardo. Every time he steps in the car, something seems to go wrong, even when he won in Monaco. It has led him to say that his Red Bull is “cursed” and that he might just let Pierre Gasly drive the car for the last two races of the 2018 season in Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

These comments were, of course, in the heat of the moment, but reliability-wise, the Red Bull with a Renault engine has not treated the Aussie well at all this year.

During the summer break, shockwaves were sent through the world of F1. Ricciardo was leaving Red Bull, but the shock wasn’t that he was leaving; if we’re being honest, the news was something we anticipated even before the turn of the 2018 season. The shock was who he was joining.

He wasn’t off to Italian giants Ferrari, instead to the midfield team that has yet to really prove itself since its return to F1 in 2016: Renault.

The French team was not really anyone’s expectation for Ricciardo, but the surprise factor was, truth be told, a negative one. Overall, there was a sense that Ricciardo is taking a career with prospects of a world championship and flushing it down the toilet. However, this may not be the case.

In reality, all you really need to do is look at the progress Renault have made since 2016. They took over a Lotus team that was in tatters, and they had to start a process of reinstating themselves as a Constructor in F1, after past success in the sport, most recently with Fernando Alonso in his two championship-winning years in 2005 and 2006. Of course, they had success supplying to Red Bull, but being a team that has to make a cohesive car with the chassis and the engine is an entirely different beast.

They went from being a team that was often at the back of the field in 2016 to a team that is now expected to score good points in 2018, and therefore, with the fast progress of a manufacturer team, will be handed even higher expectations for 2019. Therefore, this may be a leap, but it’s a leap to a fast-developing team, with a team boss in Cyril Abiteboul who demands the very best of everyone at the team, and certainly lets them know when he’s not satisfied.

Christian Horner over looking Dan’s car before the race. Image courtesy of Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

The main talking point in the races since the announcement has been that of reliability. Ricciardo’s scream of anger after an engine failure in qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix in early October told us everything we needed to know about just how bad the Renault engine has been for Red Bull this season.

But if we look at the wider angle of this, Ricciardo has had 6 retirements due to mechanical issues this season compared to just two for soon-to-be team mate Nico Hulkenberg in the factory Renault car – I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on just how much of a difference there is in reliability between the factory team and their customer. However, perhaps the most important aspect of this is that Ricciardo’s failures have not always been Renault’s fault. His retirement at last weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix was down to a hydraulic failure, which lies on Red Bull’s side of the blame. A lot of pain for Red Bull in terms of reliability and performance has come from the French manufacturer though.

However, the Renault engine at certain circuits, when it is not failing, can be competitive – a good chassis for Renault next year and another factory push with the engine, and Renault could be a serious threat to Red Bull.

And let’s not forget Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes, in 2012, were dire. They, too, were somewhat of a midfield team, albeit more competitive proportionately than Renault are right now. Hamilton left a McLaren team accustomed to winning, and went to a struggling Mercedes team that had won one race that year and had been fairly average in most others, often struggling to score points. He has since won four championships with the German manufacturer.

Of course, this is not to say things will turn out equally for Ricciardo; two careers rarely turn out the same, but they say fortune favours the brave, and the Honey Badger has certainly lived up to his nickname with a bold move that might turn out a lot better than many are anticipating.

©2017 The Pitcrewonline