Vettel dominates qualifying to claim pole at Monza

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Sebastian Vettel has continued his searing pace from practice by securing his fourth pole position of 2013 for tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The German driver finished fastest in every session as his dominant spell of form continued on Saturday as he locked out the front row for Red Bull alongside teammate Mark Webber and surprise package Nico Hulkenberg in third. For Ferrari, Saturday was less fruitful as Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso could only finish fourth and fifth respectively despite playing the tactical game in qualifying.

Q1 began in hot and sunny conditions with Nico Rosberg coming out early in order to make up for the time lost in FP3 due to his car overheating. The German driver soon moved to the top of the timesheets ahead of Esteban Gutierrez early on, but Toro Rosso proved that their good practice pace was no one-off, with Vergne enjoying a good spell in P1 on the hard tire. However, he was soon displaced by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with the two former winners at Monza both showing signs of good pace ahead of the race tomorrow. The German driver left it late to put in his first time, but he finished the session a full two-tenths clear of Nico Rosberg in P2. Further down the order, Force India and Williams scrapped to avoid the dropzone, and a last-gasp lap from Pastor Maldonado was enough to secure the Venezuelan driver a place in Q2. Less fortunate was Valtteri Bottas, whose could not improve and was eliminated alongside Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.

Keen on continuing his fine performance from Q1, Ricciardo was the first driver out in Q2 and he immediately laid down a benchmark that his teammate could not match. It wasn’t until home favorite Alonso posted his first time that the Australian driver was displaced, with the Spaniard moving almost half-a-second clear of his teammate, Felipe Massa, who was in P2. Webber finally emerged from the pits with six minutes remaining, followed by Vettel sixty seconds later. When they finally posted their first times, the Red Bulls looked strong once again with Vettel moving two-tenths clear of Alonso, whilst Webber trailed the Spaniard by just 0.036 seconds. Lewis Hamilton nearly went off on the exit of Parabolica, and the Mercedes driver could only go P9 with his first competitive time. However, it wasn’t enough as the Briton dropped out in Q2 for the first time this season, and he was joined by Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean as Lotus appeared to struggle. Sergio Perez did enough to make it into Q3 with a late lap, whilst Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg performed admirably to finish fourth and fifth.

Keen on making up for his teammate’s failure, Nico Rosberg was the first driver out in Q3 along with Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari were also quick to send their drivers out, lining up once again to try and give Alonso greater straight line speed thanks to Massa’s tow. However, neither driver could match Webber’s benchmark time, a full four-tenths behind the Australian. Vettel resumed normal service by going quickest of all with five minutes remaining, with his teammate for 2014, Ricciardo, going fourth with his first time despite a mistake on the exit of turn five. Webber could not topple his teammate late on, but Massa managed to outqualify his illustrious teammate to line up fourth. Nico Hulkenberg upset the odds to finish an incredible third, but it was his compatriot, Vettel, who went quicker still on his final lap to lock out the front row for Red Bull.

This result marks Vettel’s fortieth pole position in Formula One and fourth pole of the season, and this result is made all the more sweeter by the failings of his championship rivals. Qualifying also marks a return to form for Sauber, with Hulkenberg securing the team’s best result of the season for Sauber, but home favorites Alonso and Massa will be frustrated not to have finished in the top three.

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.