Button sweeps to fifth after early pit stop in Japan

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Jenson Button has given McLaren a much-needed boost in its bid to beat Force India in the 2014 Formula 1 constructors’ championship after finishing fifth in yesterday’s Japanese Grand Prix.

McLaren had entered the race weekend full of optimism, so much so that qualifying seventh and eighth was bitterly disappointing to the management at the team.

However, Button managed to salvage a good result in the race on Sunday after taking advantage of the wet conditions and the early safety car period.

The race was started behind the pace car before being red flagged for 20 minutes due to the wet weather. Once it restarted, the track dried as the cars continued to circulate behind Bernd Maylander, with the race eventually restarting on lap ten.

By this time, the track was dry enough to warrant intermediate tires, with Button the first to take to the pit lane. With the rest of the field waiting before making the same call, he was able to jump up to third place behind the two Mercedes drivers once all had made the switch.

Ultimately, Button could not fend off the Red Bull duo of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, but in fifth place, he has drawn McLaren to within one point of Force India in the constructors’ championship.

The race was overshadowed by Jules Bianchi’s accident late on, which left the Frenchman with severe head injuries. He remains in hospital in a critical condition. After the checkered flag, Button spoke only of Bianchi.

“For me, the race doesn’t really matter today,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything of Jules’ accident, but the most important thing to say is that all our thoughts are with him, his family, and his team right now.

“It’s an accident that you hope never happens in Formula 1.”

Button’s teammate, Kevin Magnussen, finished the race in 14th place after making an extra pit stop due to a problem with his steering wheel.

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.