F1 Preview – 2018 Austrian Grand Prix

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The second leg of a three-race “triple header” – a stretch of three races in a row for Formula 1 – is at the Red Bull Ring for this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix.

The circuit may be named for the Austrian energy drink, meaning it’s a home race for Red Bull Racing, but Mercedes has dominated at the circuit since it returned in 2014. Former Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg won twice (2014 and 2016), while Lewis Hamilton (2015) and Valtteri Bottas (2017) have one victory each.

And Mercedes enters the Red Bull Ring on a high note, coming off a dominant Hamilton victory at the French Grand Prix, a win that vaulted Hamilton back into the championship lead – he leads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 14 points entering Austria.

Talking points ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix are below.

Who will have the advantage between Mercedes and Ferrari?

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MAY 13: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 leads Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H on track during the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Catalunya on May 13, 2018 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Mercedes and Ferrari have engaged in a tug of war throughout 2018, and each race seems to change which one has the upperhand over the other.

In France, it was Mercedes that had the advantage, possibly thanks in part to a power unit upgrade. Hamilton and Bottas were fastest all weekend and qualified 1-2, with Hamilton going unchallenged on his way to victory.

Bottas, meanwhile, suffered misfortune in the form of contact with Sebastian Vettel in the first corner, which punctured the left-rear tire of Bottas’ W09 – he eventually finished seventh.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff fully expects the back and forth with Ferrari to continue, however, highlighting the Austrian circuit’s tighter nature as well as an additional DRS zone – there are three in play at the Red Bull Ring – as obvious variables they’ll have to account for.

“The relatively short lap in Austria makes the circuit challenging as it closes up the field in qualifying and will make the margins even tighter. We will aim to hit the ground running as qualifying is particularly important because overtaking has historically been tricky despite the long straights – although we need to wait and see if that changes this year with an additional DRS zone,” Wolf explained.

Rest assured, things will likely be very close again amongst the two heavyweights.

Bottas Looks for Lady Luck to Cut Him a Break

Valtteri Bottas during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 22, 2018 in Le Castellet, France.

Valtteri Bottas might be the unluckiest driver of the 2018 season. Although he sits fourth in the driver’s championship with four second place finishes to his name, Lady Luck simply hasn’t blessed him when he’s needed it.

A victory beckoned in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix before a cut tire in the final laps saw it slip away and he finished 14th – teammate Hamilton won that day.

And in France, Bottas should have easily finished on the podium, but the aforementioned contact with Vettel, which was not of Bottas’ doing, dropped him from podium contention and forced him to spend the remainder of the race with a damaged car.

Wolff highlighted Bottas’ bad luck, asserting that he’s run better than the results have shown.

“We’re going to Austria leading both the constructors’ and the drivers’ championships, but we know that we will once again get every detail right if we want a chance to win the race – and, in Valtteri’s case in particular, he needs luck to go his way a little more than we have seen in recent races, because he hasn’t had the results that his performances should have earned,” he explained.

Bottas is the defending winner in Austria, so this round presents an opportunity for him to get back on track.

Red Bull Looks for Success on its Home Turf

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JUNE 22: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Aston Martin Red Bull Racing RB14 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of France at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 22, 2018 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

The 2014 and 2015 races at Red Bull’s home circuit left a little bit to be desired – they did not score a podium in either race.

However the last two have seen their fortunes shift. Max Verstappen finished second in 2016, and Daniel Ricciardo back up that effort in 2017, finishing third.

The Red Bull Ring is among the shorter circuits on the schedule, giving it something in common with the Monaco Grand Prix circuit – Red Bull dominated that event, with Ricciardo overcoming an MGU-K issue to take the victory.

Mercedes and Ferrari have a pace advantage on Red Bull, but the short Austrian circuit could negate that and give them more of a fighting chance.

“Austria is a short lap, but a very busy one. It’s pretty hectic,” Ricciardo said of the circuit. “The middle and last sectors are really fast, in fact the final two corners are my favourite, especially in the current cars. The race is intense and feels high paced from start to finish so you have to concentrate hard. As the lap is so short there is no room for error – one little mistake will cost you, as all the times are very close.”

Verstappen is motivated to improve upon last year’s outing, which saw him drop out after Lap 1 due to contact. And an influx of Dutch fans will give him extra motivation to do well, giving him his own small “home race” of sorts.

“Last year ended way too soon due to contact at Turn 1 so I’ll be out to make up for that this year,” he explained. “The track is a fun lap, sector two is definitely my favorite part of the circuit. As you come into the infield you have back-to-back fast left hand corners which are really enjoyable. This year there will also be a stand full of Dutch fans there, so that will make it even more special. There is in fact a Dutch campsite just outside the circuit which I heard around 5,000 fans are attending – that sounds like it will be fun, certainly noisy!”

Misc.

  • Romain Grosjean is yet to score any points in 2018 despite a strong amount of pace. Conversely, teammate Kevin Magnussen sits on 27 points after finishing sixth in France. Grosjean will be desperate to get in the points, and soon – being so badly outscored by a teammate, even if it is largely down to luck, is never a good thing.
  • McLaren looks to rebound after both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne failed to score points in France. Alonso hasn’t scored since the Spanish Grand Prix, while Vandoorne has been scoreless since Azerbaijan.
  • Charles Leclerc will look to continue his strong run of performances. He has four finishes inside the points in 2018, putting him on the radar of teams like Ferrari, and more finishes like that will only add to his stock.

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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.