F1 drivers happy with the hurt dished out by faster cars

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Battered and bruised, Lewis Hamilton loves the punishment he is receiving from his more physically demanding Mercedes.

Because if some extra soreness is the price for increased speed, then Hamilton and Formula One’s other drivers say they are more than happy to pay it.

“I’m finding the car is much more physical to drive than in the past,” Hamilton said during last week’s first preseason test near Barcelona.

Drivers will have a second round of trying to tame their powerful vehicles on the same track from Tuesday to Friday.

“I think the cars look fantastic, the tires look fantastic, the wider wheels, the wider body and the wider chassis,” Hamilton said. “Hopefully it is great for the fans.”

Wider means faster, since the added width on tires and wings increases the car’s grip to the track and lets drivers hit higher speeds while veering through curves. And those faster corners translate into added stress in the form of G-force pummeling drivers’ bodies lap after lap, turn after turn.

“It’s so much faster in the corners. The force you feel on your body and on your neck is much higher,” Hamilton said. “I’ve got bruises and bumps where I’ve never really had them before.”

“These are the hardest cars I have ever driven,” Hamilton told F1.com in a separate interview. “My guess is that in the next couple of months we will see transformation in peoples’ neck sizes and their physical presence.”

Hamilton was not alone in his praise for the results of the biggest rulebook change since 2014 aimed at reinvigorating F1, and possibly producing a challenge to Mercedes’ three-year reign at the top.

Retired champion Nico Rosberg marveled firsthand at the cars he won’t get to drive when he visited the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya last week.

“They look like proper monsters, I mean, wow,” the former Mercedes driver said. “With those cars the drivers need to be gladiators out there. The cars are going to take them to the limit, physically also, even now they’re hurting bad, all of them.

“That’s how it should be also. It should take the drivers physically to their absolute limits. And maybe we’ll even see some races where someone will lose a win because he’s just knackered. That would be exciting.”

For Fernando Alonso, regardless of the problems his McLaren team is having, there is simply no contest: The cars in recent years were neither fast nor furious.

“I apologize to the fans for the last five or six years that they saw horrible cars,” Alonso said, adding that the new cars allow drivers “to express your driving style” and not have to hold back as they did before in order to save their tires.

Valtteri Bottas, Rosberg’s replacement at Mercedes, was quickest through the first four days of testing, setting the fastest time since layout changes were made at the Barcelona track a decade ago.

Bottas said that he and the rest of the field had gone through more rigorous workouts over the winter to prepare for the more difficult drives.

“I modified my training regime to fit to the requirements of the new cars and its G-forces,” Bottas said. “And it worked well, as I felt super in the car right away.”

Felipe Massa, who briefly retired after last season only to be lured back to Williams after Bottas left, said that his focus was on keeping in better shape.

“I took a new trainer straight away and immediately started to train hard every day. I’m working and training more than ever,” Massa said. “And I am 35 years old so need to train even more. That was a big task. But when you decide to come back you have to do it in a proper way.”

What is still to be seen is if the faster speeds that drivers relish will translate to more exciting races for those watching from the stands and on television.

Wider cars that take up more track could hinder overtaking, and leave F1 with the nagging problem of boring races of the best cars speeding away from the pack.

“There is definitely less space compared to previous years,” Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg said. “So yes, when I think about it my guess is that racing will get tougher.”

Hamilton also has his doubts about the new cars really leading to change because this season’s more resistant tires will mean fewer pit stops, and thus fewer breaks in the flow of the race.

“I was behind a couple of cars out there and it was harder to follow but that is to be expected,” the three-time former champion said. “The tires are so hard. They keep going and going. So it is most likely we will be doing a lot more one-stoppers and as there is not any degradation less mistakes and less overtaking. That is my prediction.”

Whether Hamilton is correct will be seen on March 26 at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

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.