Mark Webber has sent out a warning shot to his rivals at Suzuka this weekend by finishing fastest in the final free practice session ahead of qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix later today.
The Australian driver posted a fastest time of 1:32.053 in the final few minutes of practice on Saturday morning to finish ahead of the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who appear to be shadowing Red Bull’s every move on the timesheets.
As per usual, the final practice session saw teams undertake a variety of different simulations in order to prepare for qualifying and the race. From the early low-fuel runs on the prime tire, Lotus were the front runners as Romain Grosjean edged ahead of Webber and teammate Kimi Raikkonen before the final laps on the option tire. The Frenchman did not post a faster time on the medium compound, yet he still finished fourth behind the Mercedes drivers.
Ferrari hit back after a difficult start to the weekend in Japan as Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa finished fifth and sixth respectively, albeit three-quarters of a second down on Webber at the front. Again, it was largely down to the pace of the softer tire that Ferrari were able to finish so high up the order, suggesting that the Italian team could be fourth-fastest this weekend.
Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of clinching his fourth world title in Japan took a blow after he was forced to miss the second half of the session because of a KERS problem. Having completed just eight laps, the German driver finished down in ninth, although he is still poised to be a front-runner this weekend after running well on Friday.
After an incident-filled second practice on Friday, there was only one victim of Suzuka’s close walls on Saturday morning: Adrian Sutil paid the price for a mistake on the exit of the Spoon curve, damaging the front end of his Force India and losing the majority of the session. As a result, the German driver finished down in eighteenth place.
Webber’s pace suggests that the Australian driver could be set to bid farewell to Suzuka in the best-possible fashion, but with Mercedes and Lotus also looking quick and the perpetual threat of his teammate, we could be in line for a six-way fight for the win on Sunday.
1996 Formula 1 world champion Damon Hill believes that Nico Rosberg will be “more formidable” in 2016 following his back-to-back title defeats to Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg took the title race down to the final race of the year in 2014 before losing to Hamilton, and proved to be the Briton’s closest rival again in 2015, albeit losing the championship with three rounds remaining.
Rosberg endured a five-month winless streak last season that led many to question his ability to battle with Hamilton for a championship, only for the German to answer by winning the final three races of the year.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Hill said that Rosberg showed his true strength with this trio of victories, signalling that he could put up a greater fight to Hamilton for the title in 2016.
“I think he is a little bit more formidable now,” Hill said. “I think after the Austin defeat, that day when he lost the championship and Lewis infamously tossed the cap and he tossed it straight back, there was a moment where Nico said ‘OK, I am not going to take this anymore’ and he did go ahead and win all the remaining races.
“He can go on ahead and become the other world champion’s son [Keke Rosberg won the F1 title in 1982] to become a world champion himself.
“He probably knows time is running out and when you get all those ingredients together you maybe get a little bit of a hardening of the determination. Maybe he will be more determined this year and harder to beat.”
The FIM has confirmed that a new, dedicated stewards’ panel will be created for the 2016 MotoGP season following the controversy between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez at the end of last year.
Rossi and Marquez became embroiled in a tense rivalry that saw them clash in Malaysia, with Rossi appearing to raise his leg and cause his adversary to fall from his bike.
Rossi was handed a penalty that dropped him to the back of the grid for the championship decider in Valencia, where Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo clinched a third world title.
The incident did little good of the reputation of the drivers involved nor MotoGP as a whole, prompting officials to create a new stewards’ panel for 2016 that will deal with similar affairs.
Previously, race direction has also dealt with stewarding matters, but these responsibilities will now be split for 2016.
“We want to let race direction focus on managing the races because there are a lot of responsibilities and delicate matters to do,” FIM president Vito Ippolito said.
“We want to let them be free to manage the race but not to involve them anymore with the task of penalizing riders. It needs more time and special dedication.
“On the other side we will have the panel of three stewards. It will be the current race director who is Mike Webb and two more stewards from the FIM.
“One of them possibily also a permanent steward as we think with this structure, with this panel of stewards completely dedicated to judge the behaviour of riders during the races and practice, we can achieve a very high level of decisions.”
Newly-appointed Renault Sport racing director Frederic Vasseur claims that the French manufacturer considered signing GP2 champion and McLaren junior driver Stoffel Vandoorne for its comeback season in Formula 1.
Renault will return to F1 this year with a works team for the first time since 2010, and unveiled its driver line-up of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer at an event in France on Wednesday.
Magnussen was drafted in to replace Pastor Maldonado after the Venezuelan driver’s financial backing fell through and negotiations with the team broke down.
Speaking to DH.be, Vasseur revealed that Vandoorne was considered for the seat before Renault ultimately signed Magnussen for 2016.
“We had to put a cross next to Stoffel. He is under contract with McLaren and the team did not want to part ways,” Vasseur said.
“So we needed someone who was available and our choice was therefore focused on Kevin.”
Vandoorne is set to race in the Japanese Super Formula series in 2016, having tested a car over the winter. Despite winning the 2015 GP2 title in record-breaking fashion, the Belgian is not yet able to make the step up to F1, but looks set to do so with McLaren when either Jenson Button or Fernando Alonso leave the team.
BUENOS AIRES – Sebastien Buemi felt content with his performance in Saturday’s Buenos Aires ePrix after bouncing back from a mistake in qualifying to finish second and extend his lead at the top of the Formula E drivers’ championship.
Buemi locked up during his 200kW lap in qualifying at Puerto Madero to resign himself to 18th position on the grid, handing his rivals an opportunity to overhaul him in the title race.
The Renault e.dams driver produced a spirited display to pick through the order during the race before coming into contention for the win late on after a safety car period.
Although Buemi could not overhaul DS Virgin Racing’s Sam Bird at the front of the pack, he remained happy with second place in light of his qualifying error.
“The mistake in qualifying was very annoying, because when you have such a good car and such a good team, you want to reward them with the best possible result,” Buemi told MotorSportsTalk.
“But in the end I did my best to come back. I think I did a good job. 18 points are better than zero so happy with that.”
Buemi is now targeting an error-free weekend at the next race in Mexico City as he looks to extend the four-point gap to Lucas di Grassi at the top of the standings.
“Clearly [the result] shows that we have a very strong car and we just need to make sure from now on we don’t miss any points,” Buemi said.
“Putrajaya, the team made a mistake, the car didn’t finish the race. But today obviously I made one [in qualifying] and I tried to work the car to catch it back.
“We’ve seen today that it’s easy to leave the weekend with zero points. I have only four points advantage in the championship, so I’m going to try to expand it as much as possible.”