F1 Primer: The drivers

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The Formula One world championship is contested by 22 of the best drivers from around the world.

The champions

Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel (Germany) is shooting for a four consecutive drivers’ championship title, which has only been done twice before in the sport’s 63-year history.

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Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso (Spain) is among those trying to stop him. Since winning the 2005 and 2006 titles Alonso has come within a whisker of three more championships in 2007, 2010 and 2012.

Lewis Hamilton has turned his back on the McLaren team which propelled him into F1 and to the 2008 title, and taken over from Schumacher at Mercedes. Fellow Briton Jenson Button, Hamilton’s successor as champion in 2009, remains at McLaren.

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And finally there’s Lotus’s enigmatic Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) who won last year on his return from a two-year lay-off which included rally and NASCAR appearances.

Race winners

Mark Webber (Australia) and Felipe Massa (Brazil) have the unenviable task of partnering two of F1’s top talents, Vettel and Alonso respectively.

Nico Rosberg (Germany) and Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) scored their breakthrough Grand Prix victories last year. Rosberg, son of 1982 world champion Keke, is yet to establish himself as a regular front-runner, and faces a stern challenge from Hamilton this year.

Maldonado’s win was one of few high points in a season which saw too many incidents. The same can be said of Romain Grosjean (France), who was quick but too incident-prone in 2012.

Up-and-comers

One of the most interesting storylines ahead of the 2013 season is how Sergio Perez (Mexico) will fare having been promoted to McLaren in Hamilton’s place.

Another one to watch is Nico Hulkenberg (Germany), who led 30 laps of last year’s season finale in an unfancied Force India. He’s moved to Sauber, and is tipped as a future Ferrari driver.

His fellow German Adrian Sutil returns to F1 following a one-year absence. He is reunited at Force India with 2011 team mate Paul di Resta (Britain), which promises to be an absorbing intra-team battle.

Red Bull junior drivers Jean-Eric Vergne (France) and Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) remain at their junior team Toro Rosso for a second year, bidding for a chance to join the senior team. Sophomore driver Charles Pic (France) moves from Marussia to tail-end rivals Caterham.

Rookies

Five new drivers arrive in the sport this year. You can read more about them in this earlier article:

F1 Primer

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.