Vettel: Mercedes further ahead than Red Bull ever was

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Sebastian Vettel believes that the advantage that Mercedes currently enjoys at the beginning of the 2014 Formula 1 season is greater than Red Bull’s ever was over the past five years.

Mercedes has made a superb start to the season, leading every lap and claiming four one-two finishes to accompany its five wins. As a result, the German marque leads the constructors’ championship by over 100 points after just five rounds.

“We’ve never been in that kind of position,” Vettel explained in Monaco yesterday. “It’s easy now to look back and say we dominated everything and it was easy, but the way I remember it was a little bit different to that.

“I don’t think we ever started the season with five wins as a team. We had a different and strong finish last year but if you look at the races and the gaps, I think it’s a different story.”

Vettel and Red Bull won four world championships together between 2010 and 2013, and it culminated in a superb run of nine straight wins at the end of last season. However, the team rarely outclassed the field in the comfortable fashion that Mercedes has so far this year.

“We’ve been at the top the last couple of years, we know how it feels like and the sort of things you have to deal with, probably now they are in a similar position and they deserve it as they do the best job,” Vettel explained, praising the German team.

“You have to respect that Mercedes has a strong package so they will be very strong here I guess.

“Nico and Lewis are very good around here so they will be the ones to beat but maybe we can be a bit closer.”

In first practice earlier today, Red Bull did appear to have made a step forward as Daniel Ricciardo finished within three-tenths of first-placed Lewis Hamilton. Nevertheless, Mercedes does remain the team to beat, and barring something out of the ordinary, it is difficult to see that changing any time soon.

Jack Miller wins MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his 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.