Wurz was told he’d race for McLaren in 2002 before Raikkonen signed

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Ex-Formula 1 driver Alexander Wurz has revealed that he was told he’d be racing for McLaren in 2002 before the team signed rookie driver Kimi Raikkonen to replace the outgoing Mika Hakkinen.

After winning the championship with McLaren in 1998 and 1999, Hakkinen announced in 2001 that he would take a sabbatical from F1 before ultimately entering full retirement.

Hakkinen was replaced by another flying Finn in the form of Raikkonen, who had made waves in his rookie year with Sauber despite having only 23 car races under his belt before debuting.

Raikkonen would go on to lead McLaren until the end of 2006, coming close to the title in 2003 and 2005 before eventually winning it with Ferrari in 2007.

However, history could have been very different, with Wurz revealing in a blog for the McLaren website that he had been told he would replace Hakkinen for 2002.

“Towards the end of the 2001 season it became clear that Mika Hakkinen would retire, and I was quite hopeful at the time that I would replace him,” Wurz wrote.

“In fact at the Monza test I had to get out of the car. I was on a long run, and they stopped it for me to receive a phone call from Martin Whitmarsh. He said, ‘Congratulations, I thought I’d interrupt the test, because you’ll race for us next year.’ He was so excited to tell me, because it was just after the meeting where they had decided it.

“We did not know at the time that Ron [Dennis] was also negotiating with Sauber to get Kimi out. If Sauber had said ‘No’, and if Ron had not thought that Kimi was a better option than me – which he probably was to be fair – then I would have raced for McLaren in 2002.

“Anyway, I did not get a follow-up call after Monza, which is when I realized there was something brewing. So I got on a plane and went to see Ron, and he said ‘Actually, we are talking to Kimi.’

“It was too late and too difficult at the time to get another contract. I was grown-up enough even back then to realize that they did not do it to hurt me, they did it because they thought it was the better option for the team.

“The choices I had were to be like a spoiled kid and walk away, or to be a man and just continue to try to convince them by doing a good job for them.”

Wurz continued in a reserve role at McLaren until the end of 2005, finishing third in his only race for the team when he replaced the injured Juan Pablo Montoya in the San Marino Grand Prix.

Wurz also revealed that he turned down a drive with Newman-Haas in CART because he was certain he would have to replace Montoya for more races due to his shoulder injury.

“At that time I had an offer from Newman-Haas to go racing in the States. However, I was thinking that I would also race at Barcelona and Monaco, for McLaren, in place of Montoya,” Wurz wrote.

“I had to do a promotional trip to Moscow with Juan Pablo, and he when was at dinner I noticed he had to kind of throw his hand onto the table to eat. He could not lift his hand properly, that was how bad his shoulder was.

“But he had to prove that his tennis accident on the motocross track was not so severe. So, at that time I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll be back in the car next race,’ so I said ‘No’ to Newman-Haas.

“But then Juan Pablo came back after all, and his shoulder was fine, and in the end I only ever did that one race for McLaren.”

The Austrian would get one final season racing in F1 with Williams in 2007 before moving into endurance racing, from which he retired at the end of 2015 and is now focusing on his role as chairman of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association.

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.