Massa: Williams improving, but still trailing Mercedes

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Felipe Massa is pleased with the progress that Williams has made over the winter testing period with its new car, the FW37, but feels that Mercedes is still the team to beat in 2015.

Massa finished as the fastest driver on the first day of the final pre-season test in Barcelona on Thursday, posting the quickest lap of the testing period so far.

Speaking to the media after the day’s running, the Brazilian said that Williams was looking to unlock more performance than it had previously in testing, but was still behind Mercedes in terms of pace.

“I think it was very good,” Massa said when asked about his day. “We did a lot of laps. To be honest, we never had a problem since Jerez in terms of reliablity, so the car always behaves well. It was another day that we did everything we were supposed to do in terms of mileage.

“The car is doing everything we want it to do. We tried to push a little bit more today in terms of performance, and I think the result was positive.

“It’s still difficult to be sure where we are, especially compared to Mercedes. I still believe Mercedes has the best car.”

Massa also praised the upgrades that Williams had brought to Barcelona for the final test, confirming that all of the new parts had remained on the car.

“The car is showing good performance, good handling, good understanding with everything we were working on the setup,” Massa said. “We definitely improved a lot. The job we’re doing on the setup to make the car better, more consistent but also understanding where we need to work and to change and to feel more performance in the car as well.

“It was a day that we changed so many things on the setup and it worked. The bits stay on the car so it’s positive.

“We didn’t have everything. We should have more pieces during these days. The car is not 100% complete. We’re still missing little bits, but most of them will be on the car.”

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.