Ferrari focused on Australian GP podium

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Ferrari opened 2012 merely seeking points with a car that was seriously inferior to their rivals. Team boss Stefano Domenicali at least took home fifth-place points for Fernando Alonso’s efforts last year in Australia.

This year, he thinks Ferrari is capable of a podium.

“Unless someone else has done an exceptional job, I’m convinced that Ferrari will be in the battle to the end,” he said. “A podium in Australia would be a good base on which to build the kind of successes we need.”

If not an outright pace-setter, the 2013 Ferrari F138 has been quicker in testing and is undoubtedly ahead of where it was a year ago. Domenicali seems bullish given the stability in the regulations from 2012 to 2013, and with the aerodynamic improvements made to the car this year.

“What are the factors that have convinced me that Ferrari has made a step forward?” he said. “The new business structure, the working methods, the modifications to the equipment that we have used to work on this car, the consistency of the results compared with our targets and what we saw in the recent tests – these all seem to tell us that we are on the right path at last compared to the past.”

Alonso’s battling a podium drought in Australia. He hasn’t finished in the top three there since the 2007 race, when he finished second in his debut race for McLaren ahead of then-series debutante Lewis Hamilton.

He won his first start for Ferrari at Bahrain in 2010, but has not yet finished better than fourth for Ferrari in Melbourne in three starts.

Felipe Massa, who no doubt needs to improve his form at the start of the year, has also struggled at Australia. He joined the team in 2006 and has one podium (third in 2010) and four retirements in seven Australian Grand Prix starts with Ferrari.

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.