Mercedes not taking Ferrari, Red Bull threat for granted

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Mercedes technical chief Paddy Lowe is not taking the threat posed by Ferrari and Red Bull lightly after seeing his drivers fall down the pecking order last time out in Singapore.

Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg could only qualify fifth and sixth on Saturday at Marina Bay, finishing 1.4 seconds off the pole position time set by Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

In the race on Sunday, Mercedes’ pace was closer to that of the front-runners, but still not enough to get Rosberg any higher than fourth at the checkered flag. Hamilton retired from the race due to a power unit issue.

Speaking to NBCSN ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, Lowe said that Mercedes was yet to completely understand why it had been off the pace in Singapore, but that focus has now turned to getting the maximum out of the car at Suzuka.

“It would be wrong to say ‘fully understand’,” Lowe said. “We understand quite a lot more from our analysis in the last few days, but in the end, any theory you come up with, however well computed or analyzed, you’ve actually got to go and do an experiment so it would be arrogant to assume we’ve got all of those definite answers and we know they will work.

“We can’t do those experiments clearly at a difffernet track, so our focus has been on getting the best out of the car for Japan which is a very different track and seeing if we can win this race.

“But we don’t take that for granted. Ferrari and Red Bull are very, very strong competition. They did a great job in Singapore, and we had no assumption that even if we’d done a fantastic job of getting out setup correct for Singapore that we would automatically have been at the front. We could well not have been.”

Lowe said that the fluctuating form for all of the teams was understandable given the varying characteristics of the tracks raced on in recent weeks, ranging from the streets of Singapore to the high-speed circuits in Belgium and Italy.

“We don’t take for granted that things are static, because they’re not in this sport,” Lowe said. “People are developing all the time. Ferrari and Red Bull bring updates to chassis and engine.

“We’ve had a lot of different races over the past month or so all with unique characteristics so there’s no assumption that we’re automatically going to be back to normal here, whatever normal means.

“It’s a fresh race. We come in without any assumption of our performance and we go and do the best job we can.”

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.