Jacques Villeneuve pleasantly surprised at how his former Williams F1 team performed in 2014, especially Bottas

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Hard as it may seem to believe, it’s been nearly two decades since Jacques Villeneuve won the Formula Championship for Williams in 1997.

Villeneuve was critical of his former team in 2013, telling Portuguese magazine Revista Warmup that Williams’ hiring of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, “When a team is reduced to hiring pay-drivers, it’s over.”

But the way Williams-Mercedes performed in 2014, particularly with Bottas behind the wheel and the team managed by co-owner Toto Wolff, Villeneuve is much more bullish on the team’s future, according to a a story on PaddockTalk.com.

Bottas finished fourth in Formula One in the 2014 season and teammate Felipe Massa finished seventh, while Williams finished third in the constructor’s championship. Those strong finishes prompted Villeneuve to do a complete 180-degree turn in his opinion of both Bottas as a driver and Williams as an organization from 2013 to 2014

“Bottas is a young driver, not really a pay-driver,” Villeneuve said recently to Revista Warmup. “Even with Felipe Massa they got some money from Brazil. “But he is also a professional driver with a past, a career, and they (Williams) knew well how to use the money.”

Wolff has already called Williams perhaps the “most dangerous rival” to the overall Mercedes program in 2015, a comment that Villeneuve agrees with.

“Williams does not have a big budget,” said Villeneuve, “yet they managed to turn the tide. But it is not completed yet.

“(2014) was the first season that they went well, so we will have to see if it continues the same way.”

Villeneuve, now 43, won seven races for Williams in the 1997 championship season. He admitted he did not expect his old team to be good “but not that good.”

And when they finished as high as they did, Villeneuve admitted his pleasant surprise at them doing so.

“I expected them to be better (in 2014 than 2013), but they exceeded expectations,” Villeneuve said.

As for Wolff, he admits there’s strong interest in the 25-year-old Bottas, a native of Finland, from other teams.

Among the most mentioned scenarios is Bottas as a potential teammate at Ferrari with Fernando Alonso if a vacancy were to occur in the near future.

“They (Ferrari) do not have a lot of options when the contract of (Kimi) Raikkonen expires,” Wolff told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport. “From my side, there are certain conditions in the event that his (Bottas’) future sits outside of Mercedes.”

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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.