Marcos Ambrose regrets Mears punch but won’t apologize

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In his first public comments since last Saturday’s punch of Casey Mears and subsequent fines and penalties issued by NASCAR, Marcos Ambrose said he regrets the incident but will not apologize for it either.

“As it goes down, if I had my chance to think back about it, a wiser man would have walked away a little bit earlier and not got himself in that situation,” Ambrose said during a media event Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I don’t apologize for my actions. I was just standing up for myself and my team and my family and letting people know that you can’t get in my private space like that and expect not to have any consequences.”

Both drivers were penalized Tuesday by NASCAR, with Ambrose receiving a higher fine ($25,000) due to his actual punching Mears, who was fined $15,000 for pushing and shoving Ambrose. Each was also placed on probation through May 28, three days after the Coca-Cola 600 race in Charlotte.

Although he drew the harsher penalty, Ambrose understood NASCAR’s side.

“I got myself in a bad situation,” Ambrose said. “I caused an action that NASCAR needed to reprimand, so I’m happy to pay it and happy to move on.

“It’s a heavy fine. That’s the biggest fine I’ve ever received in racing and I think that NASCAR needed to do something and whatever they chose to do, I’ll pay it.”

Ambrose said he’s still somewhat baffled why Mears instigated the confrontation.

“The altercation I had with Casey was quite impromptu,” Ambrose said. “As I was walking past the 13 car, as he’d finished the race, I was actually heading over to have a chat with David Gilliland just to say we’re all good after we got into each other a couple of times.

“Some words were said and I was confused about why Casey was so annoyed at me, and I think you just see a lot of the passion that the drivers have and the commitment we have to try to win these races and try to run at the front. That passion kind of got out of hand and got out of control pretty quick.”

If he had to do it all over again, Ambrose might take a different tact. But in the heat of the moment, he reacted in the way he did because he feared what Mears might do next.

“I think I’ve learned my lesson on that one,” Ambrose said. “I think next time I might scamper into the race hauler or scamper back to the plane and have a sleep on things. There’s just so much emotion. This is the first time I’ve been involved in something like this.

“At the time, even after the incident went down, I didn’t think much of it.  I just thought, ‘Well, he started pushing me around and I just had to get him away from me,’ because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. If he starts pushing me in the toolbox what happens next? Is he going to try to throw one on me?”

Ambrose even joked a bit of the response he received when he got back home afterward.

“So I was trying to get out of there and it wasn’t until a few hours later that the adrenaline starts to whoa down and you start to realize what you had done,” he said. “And then the next day when you have to talk to your kids about it and your wife is mad at you, you realize that walking away would have been a much smarter option.”

Ambrose insists he did try to walk away, but when Mears began to shove him, it didn’t leave Ambrose much choice in how to react.

“There was plenty of stuff said, but before the pushing,” Ambrose said. “He was upset and he was letting me know how upset he was. And then when I went to walk away he just couldn’t handle it any longer. As soon as he grabbed hold of me there, I knew I was going to have to get a shot in and I was just waiting for the right moment.”

Ambrose said he’s never had a physical confrontation before in his career, not even in his pre-NASCAR days in his native Australia. But he’s also willing to let bygones be bygones with Mears.

“I’m happy to move on and put the week behind us,” Ambrose said, adding that he and Mears have talked more than once since Richmond. “It’s certainly not a proud moment of mine, but I certainly don’t take anything back that I did. Casey and I spoke about it and he said, if the shoe was on the other foot he probably would have done the same thing.”

Ambrose even extended a gesture of friendship to Mears.

“I honestly believe that we’ll enjoy having a beer with each other,” he said. “I think we have a mutual respect for each other. I like Casey a lot. I didn’t have any beef with him after the race, but emotions just got out of hand and we both recognized that if we had our time again it wouldn’t happen again, but now it has, you can’t take back what has happened.

“I’ve spoken to him and I’m not carrying anything forward. He has to decide what he wants to do moving forward, but if we get ourselves in a pub somewhere I’d buy him a beer, no problem.”

Also offering his first comments on the incident, team owner Richard Petty defended his driver for essentially protecting himself.

Petty also questioned why NASCAR penalized his driver more severely than Mears, who instigated the incident by pushing and shoving Ambrose before the latter reacted in self-defense mode.

“I always look at it as you have to defend yourself no matter what the circumstances are, and that’s what I saw in the Marcos situation,” Petty said. “What provoked it? I have no idea.

“I don’t even think Marcos knows really what provoked the whole thing. But in the scheme of things, if you can’t protect yourself, then NASCAR is not going to come and protect you, so he had to do what he had to do.

“… As you can see in the tape, (Ambrose) did not initiate any of that. He was trying to get away. So I think from that standpoint, I don’t know what (NASCAR’s) rationale is. I’ll just have to talk to them and see what they come up with.”

Petty even laughed at times about the incident. When asked if he ever had any confrontations of note with other drivers during his racing career, Petty demurred.

“No comment,” he said with a laugh. “(Physical confrontations between drivers) used to go on a little bit all the time, but they didn’t have all of the TV cameras and all that stuff, so you could go around behind a truck and do what you needed to do and there wasn’t very many people who knew about it.”

When asked if he wishes Ambrose would have done things differently, Petty again replied with a laugh.

“You’ve got to defend yourself no matter what, but if he knew he was going to be fined $25,000, (Ambrose) might have let the guy (Mears) take another swing at him,” Petty said.

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F1 Preview: 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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The third trip to the Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix comes slightly earlier in 2018 for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship. Contested in June each of its first two years, the event was moved to April for 2018.

Although the circuit was initially criticized for its close quarters, its mix of tight corners and high-speed sections has produced quite a lot of action.

Last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was particularly eventful. Sebastian Vettel intentionally hit Lewis Hamilton under a Safety Car after he thought Hamilton brake-checked him, and Vettel was given a 10-second stop and go penalty. Later, the headrest of Hamilton’s Mercedes AMG Petronas W08 came loose, forcing him to make a late pit stop.

The Sahara Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon saw their budding rivalry come to blows, as they made contact while battling inside the Top 5.

Valtteri Bottas finished second after early-race contact with Kimi Raikkonen, and Bottas pipped Lance Stroll for second at the finish line. Stroll, for his part, scored his first career podium.

And, Daniel Ricciardo rebounded from an unscheduled pit stop early in the race – Red Bull Racing had to clear debris out of the brake scoops due to overheating – to take a stunning victory that featured a remarkable three-wide pass on Stroll, Felipe Massa, and Nico Hulkenberg. Highlights of last year’s race can be seen here.

Will this year’s race produce as many thrills? Talking points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix are below.

Hamilton Seeks First Baku Podium, and First Win of 2018

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The first two trips to Baku have not been kind to four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton. His 2016 outing was fairly unremarkable by his standards, as he finished fifth after qualifying tenth.

The 2017 event might have been a victory for him if not for the aforementioned problems with Vettel and a loose headrest. Alas, he again finished fifth.

It’s hard to believe that Hamilton does not have a victory through the first three races of 2018. Combine that with his desire to erase the bad memories of Baku from 2016 and 2017, and the Briton will be extra motivated to stand on the top step of the podium.

Red Bull Looks to Keep Momentum

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer leads Daniel Ricciardo of Australia driving the (3) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Red Bull Racing is riding high after the Chinese Grand Prix, when Daniel Ricciardo took a shock win due to tire strategy following a Safety Car.

And the Baku circuit is one that Ricciardo likes, and not just because of last year’s victory, but also because it presents a lot of chances for overtaking.

“Baku is different to other street circuits – because there are places where you can pass,” Ricciardo asserted in a preview on Formula1.com. “Actually, lots of places where you can pass. As opposed to Monaco and Singapore where there’s not many places to overtake really.”

He added that the track’s combination of high-speeds and tight corners put a premium on getting your braking points exactly right, otherwise the track will bite you.

“The trickiest thing in Baku is braking. There’s so many braking points where you have to commit and you have to brake as late as you can – but there’s no room for error,” he detailed. “Once you’ve committed to that braking point, if you’ve locked a wheel, you’re in the wall. I’d say the hardest part about Baku is finding the limit with braking, and just having that confidence.”

Teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, looks to rebound after again catching the ire of many rivals and onlookers for his contact with Sebastian Vettel in China. Further, Verstappen looks to avenge last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he dropped out following a power unit failure.

“Last year was a very unfortunate weekend for me. It was a shame because the car felt really good but I encountered a lot of problems which ultimately meant I missed out on a potential podium, perhaps even a win. I’m hoping this year I can make up for that lost opportunity,” said Verstappen in the aforementioned preview piece.

Ferrari Looks to Reclaim Dominance After China Hiccup

SHANGHAI, CHINA – APRIL 15: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 15, 2018 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

After winning the opening rounds at Australia and Bahrain with Sebastian Vettel, Scuderia Ferrari had their first hiccup of 2018 in China, when a Safety Car butchered their tire strategy and left them vulnerable when others, chiefly Ricciardo and Verstappen, pitted for new tires.

Vettel was relegated to eighth after spinning following contact with Verstappen, while teammate Kimi Raikkonen finished third, his second podium in three races to start 2018.

Baku was one of the races from 2017 in which Vettel drew criticism for his on-track antics – see the aforementioned collision with Hamilton – and he’ll hope to get back on the podium to avenge both his struggles from China and from last year’s Baku outing.

Raikkonen, meanwhile, will look to get back to his winning ways for the first time since 2013.

Misc.

  • McLaren F1 Team sits a much-improved fourth in the constructor’s championship on the strength of two double-points finishes, with Fernando Alonso leading the way. Alonso has finishes of fifth, seventh, and seventh after three races, while Stoffel Vandoorne has points finishes of ninth and eighth to his name so far.
  • Sahara Force India still only has one points finish in 2018 – Esteban Ocon’s tenth in Bahrain. It’s hard to believe how far this team has fallen, even if the midfield is jammed with ultra competitive teams. That they have been off the pace to start 2018 is genuinely surprising.
  • Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team have been the strongest of the midfield teams so far, along with McLaren, and they should contend once again for points this weekend.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix rolls off at 8:00 a.m. ET on Sunday.

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