Wolff warns against ‘dangerous’ assumptions about Mercedes’ form

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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff has warned against making “dangerous” assumptions about the team’s form heading into the second half of the 2017 season as it bids for a fourth straight championship double.

Mercedes has faced its most stringent challenge yet at the front of the F1 field after Ferrari made great strides with its car over the winter, allowing Sebastian Vettel to pick up four wins through the opening 11 rounds of the season.

While Mercedes still leads the constructors’ championship ahead of Ferrari, Lewis Hamilton trails Vettel by 14 points in the drivers’ standings heading into this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix.

“Our targets remain the same as they were before the first race: to win both championships,” Wolff said previewing the race at Spa.

“History has shown that the fastest car usually brings you the drivers’ title, and the best and most consistent driver pairing wins you the constructors’.

“So the priorities are clear: we must keep bringing performance to the car at every race – and keep racing without mistakes to maximize our performance potential at every track.”

Mercedes has been tipped to enjoy an edge over Ferrari through the second half of the season given the high-speed nature of many of the circuits, but Wolff feels such assumptions are dangerous to make.

Instead, he expects the advantage to swing back and forth throughout the remainder of the season from track to track, with Red Bull even coming into play at points.

“From what we have seen in the first half of the season, the competitive balance will swing one way and another from circuit to circuit,” Wolff said.

“Red Bull will be a threat if they can build on the performance they showed in Hungary. So we need to keep our heads down, stay humble regarding our strengths, diligent about our weaknesses and take the season weekend by weekend.

“On paper, people will assume that Spa should suit our car because it is a circuit where aerodynamic efficiency is extremely important.

“But assumptions are dangerous – we have seen too many times already this season that the form book can be rewritten from one weekend to the next.

“So we will be making no assumptions. We have to tick off the items on our work list and make sure we do the best job to maximise our potential points score.

“The motivation and determination in the factory are greater than ever. Hungary showed the strength of our team – and we intend to use the second half of this season to prove that strength.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix
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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.