Austrian GP Paddock Notebook – Saturday

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Just two weeks after Mercedes’ hopes of a perfect season went up in smoke, its aspirations for a clean sweep of poles in 2014 have also evaporated after Felipe Massa sprung a surprise to claim his sixteenth career pole position.

The result was in fact Massa’s first pole in over five years, with his last coming at the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix. Since then, his career has seen some huge ups and downs, but today he was the star as he capitalized on the Silver Arrows’ problems in the final part of qualifying.

Unlike the political psychodrama that developed yesterday in Austria, today it was all about the on-track action. Here’s MotorSportsTalk’s round-up of Saturday at the Red Bull Ring.

SESSION REPORTS

  • The first signs of a Williams charge came in FP3, where Valtteri Bottas finished fastest ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa.
  • However, in qualifying, it was Massa who claimed the spoils after Bottas, Hamilton and Nico Rosberg all failed to improve their times on their final runs.

NEWS FROM THE PADDOCK

THOUGHTS FROM THE TRACK

As I touched upon in the introduction to this piece, it is good that the focus has moved back onto the on-track action. Just when you thought that the Mercedes cars were invincible, both came unstuck during Q3 to give Williams a memorable front row lock-out.

Eleven years after Frank Williams’ cars last lined up on the front row together, Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas delivered when it mattered. It was a result that was extremely well received in the paddock, with everyone but the boys in silver pleased to see the team return to the front of the field, even if it is just for one day.

For Massa, the result is a particularly emotional one. After missing out on the 2008 world championship in agonizing fashion and then suffering a horrific head injury in 2009, there were doubts as to whether the Brazilian would ever re-find his form. Ferrari was also unsure, and dropped him at the end of last season in favor of re-signing Kimi Raikkonen.

Since joining Williams though, he has been in fine fettle. The Brazilian driver has been desperately unlucky in 2014, and still maintains that he could have won the Canadian Grand Prix had it not been for a problem at his pit stop. Today, he proved that he still has what it takes to light up the timesheets: P1 in qualifying. Congratulations, Felipe.

And also a hearty well done to Valtteri Bottas. His charge to second place on the grid was a fine result, all things considered. He was unfortunate not to secure his first ever pole, given that Massa beat him by less than one-tenth of a second.

All the while, we must remember that Mercedes is still the dominant force in the sport. Nico Rosberg will know that, from third place on the grid, he is still in with a great chance of winning for the third time this season. Hamilton, down in ninth, faces a fight. It should give us some great action in the race, though, seeing him fight through.

Today was all about Williams, though. There is no guarantee that Massa and Bottas will be able to win the race tomorrow, nor will they be assured of a podium finish. However, the first Austrian Grand Prix since 2003 should be a fascinating spectacle.

You can watch the race live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7:30am ET tomorrow.

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.