Vettel quickest in opening practice for Indian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has started the Indian Grand Prix weekend as he means to go on by finishing fastest during the first free practice session on Friday as the German driver looks to secure his fourth world title at Buddh International Circuit this weekend.

Vettel posted a fastest time of 1:26.683 to finish just under two-tenths of a second ahead of Mark Webber, who is looking to de-throne his Red Bull teammate this weekend and put to an end his dominant run of form at the circuit. Given his pace during the first practice session, the Australian driver certainly looks well-placed to challenge Vettel, who only needs a top five finish to secure the title on Sunday.

Mercedes appear to have returned to form in India judging by the times in FP1 as Nico Rosberg finished an excellent third with Lewis Hamilton not toofar back in fifth place. Romain Grosjean continued his good showings of late, splitting the Silver Arrows in fourth place.

One team looking particularly resurgent on Friday morning was McLaren. Following a difficult season, the team will be keen on sustaining the pace to finish sixth and seventh across the course of the weekend, with Jenson Button finishing three-tenths up on teammate Sergio Perez. They led Felipe Massa in eighth and in-form Nico Hulkenberg in ninth place, whilst Williams’ Valtteri Bottas completed the top ten.

For Vettel’s closest (albeit rather distant) challengers in the drivers’ championship, it was a difficult session. Fernando Alonso’s car was put up on its stands with twenty minutes to go due to a gearbox failure, meaning that he could only finish P11, whilst Kimi Raikkonen languished down in a disappointing seventeenth place.

Although the times posted in free practice are rarely representative of the results across the course of the rest of the weekend, Vettel and Red Bull will be pleased to have kicked off their title-winning weekend in the best possible fashion.

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.