Verstappen remains relaxed ahead of F1 debut at 17

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He may only be 17 years old, but Max Verstappen remains relaxed and unflustered ahead of his Formula 1 grand prix debut in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.

Verstappen’s rise to an F1 seat with Toro Rosso has sparked controversy in the sport, with many believing that he is simply too inexperienced and too young to be racing in the premier global single seater series.

The FIA has responded to the Dutchman’s debut by introducing a number of new rules for the 2016 season, such as drivers having to be at least 18 years of age and hold a valid road driver’s license to race in F1.

Verstappen will smash Jaime Alguersuari’s existing youngest driver record by over eighteen months on Sunday, but does not feel under pressure for his debut.

“I hope so!” Verstappen said when asked if he felt ready to race. “We’ll see.

“Compared to last year, I did three Friday practices, the car is a really good step forward, especially on the long runs we did. It was very promising. I felt really good in the car, I could do a lot of laps. I was really happy about that and it gives me a lot of confidence to go into this race.”

Speaking in a press conference on Thursday, the drivers sitting alongside Verstappen were asked to give the young Dutchman some words of advice.

“Just go and enjoy it, I guess,” Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo said. “Get behind the wheel and remember that’s the main reason why you’re here, is to be on track: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Enjoy those few hours and I think then the rest will come.”

“I think that despite the fact that he’s still young, I think he has a lot of experience,” said Sebastian Vettel, who made his F1 debut at 19 years old. “He’s quick, otherwise he wouldn’t be here, so I don’t think he needs much advice. Take it easy, maybe.”

Lewis Hamilton made his debut back in 2007 for McLaren at the age of 22, and was shocked to realize that he was the oldest driver in the press conference.

“I’ve only just realized, I’m the oldest driver here, for the first time,” Hamilton said. “I’ve kind of only just realized it. Jeez.

“I signed my first contract with McLaren in 1997 [the year Verstappen was born].”

He may be young, but the early signs suggest that Max Verstappen has the makings of a very special driver indeed. However, he will be looking to deliver on this promise from the beginning in Australia on Sunday to silence his critics and prove that he is more than ready for F1.

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.