Webber: Vettel has ‘found himself again,’ Red Bull needs to do same

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Mark Webber says his old teammate at Red Bull Racing, Sebastian Vettel, is back on the proper form that won him four consecutive World Championships from 2010 to 2013.

With Ferrari having put together one of its best cars in years, it’s allowed Vettel to reassert himself at the front of the field.

At the same point, Webber hopes Red Bull can make the necessary upgrades it needs to make it a three-team fight at the front of the Formula 1 grid. Red Bull is pinning some hopes on upgrades this weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix, but concerns exist that the Renault-powered, TAG Heuer-badged power unit simply isn’t up to the level of the Ferrari and Mercedes power units at the moment.

The Porsche ambassador and 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship World Champion who’s now retired from driving, and has no plans to revert course on that front, addressed both topics during a meeting with reporters in Spa this weekend for the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps.

“They’ve done a great job. They’re very strong, reliability looks strong,” Webber said of Ferrari.

“Sebastian has found himself again. He smells the victories so now he comes alive. Between him and Lewis, Melbourne and some of the first few races, in Bahrain Lewis had to come back from a bad start. It’s very nicely poised. And fair play to Ferrari, they’ve done a good job, they’ve done their homework. They dropped on to the regulations very nicely.”

As for Red Bull?

“Red Bull need (to)… and they know that… they’re as hard on themselves as anyone. They’re a very realistic team,” Webber explained. “They never dream about results, they work hard, they get the job done. At the moment they’re on the back foot, they know that.

“Whether Max and Daniel can get the product… the thing is, there are individual races that might come into the window, but for the whole campaign now, it’s looking extremely challenging of course. Even a swing a little bit between Mercedes and Ferrari track to track, and Red Bull are still watching this from a distance.

“They don’t have the base. Reliability-wise, there are a few flaky moments, so this also brings some frustrations. Never, ever count them out, but they’ve got a big challenge ahead.”

Webber also downplayed talks that Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen will reach a boiling point in their relationship as teammates, same as Vettel and Webber occasionally did – most notably in the “Multi 21” team orders disobeying Vettel did at the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Australian said that is not likely to happen until Red Bull’s car is back on form, winning races at the front as they did with regularity from 2009 through 2013.

“It’s not an issue until they start winning consistently,” he said. “When you’re fighting for third, fourth, fifth, sixth, doesn’t matter, because you’re both trying to get the team up there.

“But when you’ve got one more branch on the tree and you’re both trying to land on that branch, that’s an issue. They haven’t been really tested yet. So non-topic at the moment.”

The Spanish Grand Prix runs from 8 a.m. ET on Sunday morning, on NBCSN, with pre-race coverage beginning an hour earlier at 7 a.m. ET.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.