Magnussen: Low expectations for one-off McLaren drive

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McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen is heading into this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix with low expectations following a difficult winter testing period for the British team.

For 2015, McLaren has reunited with engine supplier Honda, with whom it dominated Formula 1 back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

However, the new partnership has not started entirely as planned, with the team encountering a number of problems with the power unit throughout pre-season.

Magnussen will race in Australia this weekend as a planned one-off for McLaren, deputizing for Fernando Alonso who is still being rested following a testing accident in Barcelona last month.

Despite finishing second in the race last year, the Dane is not expecting a similar result this time around due to the reliability problems that the team has faced.

“I would say quite low,” Magnussen said when asked what his expectations were. “We’re struggling obviously with reliability, making the car run for a long time, but this is a new start for McLaren, a new start in many ways and I think it’s going to take time.

“I think it’s the right direction that the team has chosen to go and I think it has a bright future ahead, but I think it’s going to take time but I’m sure they’ll get there.”

McLaren is yet to confirm whether or not Alonso will be fit to race in the Malaysian Grand Prix at the end of the month. Magnussen confirmed that the Spaniard had wished him the best of luck for this weekend’s race, but is otherwise unaware of his recovery programme.

“I haven’t been in contact with him, only on Twitter he wished me good luck and I said thank you and that’s it,” Magnussen said. “I haven’t asked him how he’s feeling but I hear he’s doing well so yeah, obviously at this race I wish him all the best.

“Can’t really say much more because I don’t know much more. What about Malaysia? You’ll have to wait, I don’t know. I’m not the right person to ask.”

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.