Mark Webber tips Daniel Ricciardo for F1 championship challenge in 2017

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Mark Webber believes that Daniel Ricciardo could mount a challenge for the Formula 1 drivers’ championship in 2017.

Ricciardo finished the 2016 season third in the standings, taking one race win for Red Bull and recording more consecutive points finishes than any other driver.

The Australian now has four grand prix victories under his belt, and, with the right car, Webber is sure that Ricciardo could mount a title bid in 2017.

“Daniel was probably the most consistent driver in the field this year and he’s absolutely world class, in that top three drivers,” Webber told The Age.

“He’s in a position to go again next year and certainly vie for the championship if Red Bull can get the car together because Nico [Rosberg] is virtually impossible to replace in the short term at Mercedes.”

Rosberg’s shock retirement was announced just five days after he claimed his maiden F1 championship in Abu Dhabi.

Webber believes that the decision will leave Mercedes on the back foot for 2017 as it continues to search for a replacement.

“I’m really happy for [Rosberg]. Things just line up in your life and he’s decided his time is now,” Webber said.

“Nico and Lewis [Hamilton] drove each other to be better, but now they won’t have that all-star line-up. Lewis is brilliant and absolutely ruthless, but this will shake up the F1 market.”

Webber retired from motorsport at the end of 2016 after spending three years in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche, having raced in F1 prior to that.

Webber said that he was pleased to have quit racing on his own terms instead of being forced to call time on his career.

“So many people in sport manage to get that timing right when their best days are behind them, and I wanted to find out where that slope started rather than roll down it,” Webber said.

“It was good to be weaned off slowly. I had the decision in my mind that my three-year deal with Porsche from 2014 to 2016 would be it, but I had ups and downs.

“Sometimes F1 years are worth two years because it’s so mentally draining, and I wanted to finish with a little bit in the tank.”

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.