Alonso’s gamble ends in retirement

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Fernando Alonso’s Malaysian Grand Prix ended after just one lap as a gamble from the Spaniard failed to pay off.

Off the start, Alonso tucked in behind Sebastian Vettel despite facing pressure from his teammate Felipe Massa, and the second Red Bull of Mark Webber. Slight contact was made, causing damage to a portion of Alonso’s front wing. He was however able to continue, and he remained in P2 as the drivers completed their first lap.

However, the Ferrari came under pressure from Webber heading into the first corner, and Alonso’s front wing went under his F138. This caused the car to lose control, spearing off into the gravel where Alonso’s rear wheels became beached, ending his race.

Towards the end of the first lap, many expected Alonso to pit for fresh tires and a new front wing, but he decided to continue, most probably until the track dried out allowing for slick tires. This would have saved Alonso an extra pit stop, but in hindsight, the option to pit was definitely the right one.

Unsurprisingly, Alonso returned to the pit lane with his helmet still on, refusing to talk to the media until later in the day.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”