A DARING pass on pole man Valtteri Bottas at the first corner of the 2017 Brazilian Grand Prix set up Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel first victory since he claimed the Hungarian race back in July, before the winter break.
But with the world championship already lost to Lewis Hamilton, the triumph at Interlagos doesn’t really count for much.
To rub it in, most eyes were on Hamilton’s stunning show-stealing charge through the field from last to fourth. It was something of a make-good to the Mercedes team after the four-times world champ crashed on his first flying lap of qualifying on Saturday and was forced to start the race from pit lane.
Hamilton even led the race briefly before stopping for fresh rubber. He finished just 0.8 seconds adrift of third-placed Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen.
There was a mad scramble at the second turn when Daniel Ricciardo, Stoffel Vandoorne and Kevin Magnussen were involved got together and changed a few fortunes. Hamilton advanced six places in a matter of moments while Ricciardo was forced to pit for tyres. Haas Ferrari’s Magnussen was blamed for the incident after he slammed into the McLaren Honda of Vandoorne, who in turn thumped into the side of Ricciardo's Red Bull.
Moments later the other Haas of Romain Grosjean and Esteban Ocon’s Force India tangled, triggering the safety car while the mess was cleared.
So after less than a lap of racing, Vandoorne, Magnussen and Ocon were all forced to retire. It was the first time in Ocon's 27-race Formula One career that he hadn’t made it to the end of a grand prix.
With Vettel in control from Bottas, Raikkonen and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, most of the entertainment came courtesy of the adventurous overtaking by Hamilton and Ricciardo.
After taking his new rubber, Hamilton banged in a succession of fastest laps and with 14 laps to the finish sailed up to the tail of Verstappen's Red Bull. The Dutchman was powerless to stop Hamilton, on fast supersoft tyres, from taking fourth.
There was also a power deficiency. On Saturday, Verstappen revealed that his half-second gap to the Mercs was all lost on the Interlagos straight.
It’s also anyone’s guess what new technical tricks Mercedes may have been trying. Earlier, the team had revealed that for the Brazilian and season-closing Abu Dhabi GPs it would trial “new and interesting concepts". With the drivers’ and constructors’ titles wrapped up, Mercedes had elected to become a little bolder, testing new parts and carrying out experiments that would be too risky if it was still fighting for the championship.
Vettel's victory has all but sealed the German second place in the drivers’ standings, moving him 22 points ahead of Bottas.
"I had a chance to squeeze down the inside of Valtteri at the start and I think I surprised him a bit," said Vettel. "I am really happy for everyone at the team. It has been a tough couple of weeks, but it is nice to have both cars up here on the podium."
Hamilton enjoyed his race, even though he felt just short of the podium: “I had a great time, I enjoyed the race very much. I had so much pace today. I it would have been an easy win this weekend.” Except he stuffed up a day earlier...
Verstappen revealed after that his second and final pit stop was precautionary– and to chase the fastest lap. “I didn’t want to drive the last 10 or 15 laps with difficult tyres and at the end of the day I wasn’t going to lose a position, so we decided to make a second pit stop. From there on the race was gone but I pushed for the fastest lap. I didn’t get it in Mexico, so I’m really pleased to take it here.”
Ricciardo’s strong drive back from the back handed him sixth place ahead of an emotional Massa, in his final home GP, with Alonso eighth for McLaren.
“The start was not ideal,” said Ricciardo. “It was quite tight and I saw a space on the outside so I tried to get as much room as I could but I knew there were two cars on the inside so there was always a risk they would have contact and then come into me. I think that’s what happened, but I don’t regret trying. The start is an opportunity to make up a big chunk of positions and as I was nearly at the back I had to try something. Fortunately the car didn’t suffer any damage.
"We just changed the tyres and then I could get on with the race and make some good overtakes, and it was a good race. Every time I was catching a car I passed it as soon as I could and there were some good fights. In the end, a comfortable sixth. It was nice to see the chequered flag and I felt I got the maximum out of it today.”
Marquez takes MotoGP title in drama-filled Spanish Grand Prix
Surely Honda’s Marc Marquez couldn’t lose the 2017 MotoGP world championship at the final hurdle? With a 21-point advantage going into the decider at Valencia, all he needed to do – even if Ducati rival Andrea Dovizioso took victory – was finish in the top 11.
Yes, motorcycle racing is volatile and unpredictable. And yes, daredevil Marquez is a rider who always pushes his limits.
This title – his fourth in five years - was his to lose. And he so very nearly threw it all away.
Marquez started the decider brilliantly on Saturday, taking final (and eighth) pole position of the season and extending his career pole count to 73 (45 in MotoGP).
Dovizioso, on the other hand, struggled; he was just ninth fastest and looking for miracles.
Still Marquez could be forgiven a few nerves seeing he would share the front row with a couple of brutally hard chargers - rookie sensation Johann Zardo aboard his Tech 3 Yamaha and Suzuki’s self-titled The Maniac, Andrea Ianonne.
Marquez made a great start from pole, leading into turn one, while his Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa pounced into the tail-gunner role to follow him though.
Keen to win his first MotoGP race, Zarco went to second on lap two, with Ducati pair Jorge Lorenzo and Dovizioso in close company.
A lap later, Zarzo fired into the lead when he passed the careful Marquez.
The laps ran down with Doviziso mired in fifth behind Lorenzo and powerless to take the win he needed.
Lorenzo was in no mind to allow his teammate through, even after he was sent the coded instruction "Suggested Mapping 8" after 13 laps with a further prompt shown on a pit board.
A controlled, measured Marquez is a beast we don’t see very often. And on lap 20, Marquez suddenly ignored his own counsel and took the lead from Zarco on lap 20. The defiant Frenchman immediately charged back to the front.
But Marquez appeared to be thinking that he wanted to win the title and the race. He slipped past Zarco on the straight but alarmingly overcooked his entry into Turn One. He almost decked the Honda, making one of his legendary miraculous saves to push the bike upright with his left elbow but running wide through the gravel.
Powering through the sandtrap, Marquez rejoined in fifth behind Zarco, Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Dovizioso.
Almost immediately Lorenzo then crashed out, handing Dovizioso third place. But the shocks kept coming; Dovi then went wide a few corners later and Ducati’s chances of a first MotoGP championship since Casey Stoner won in 2008 ended in the gravel.
With just one lap remaining the unfortunate Zarco was mugged by Pedrosa who went on to win his second race of the year.
After his massive heart-stopper, Marquez was happy to ride home in third, his sixth world title (across all classes) in the bag.
The 24-year old is the youngest rider to win four premier-class world championships.
“Today the race was incredibly tense and exciting — a bit ‘Marquez style,” said the champion. “ I made a mistake, but I also made my best save of the year. From that moment on, I just tried to finish the race in a good position. I’m sorry that Andrea didn’t finish the race, as he deserved to do so. He had an incredible season and I would have liked to have him on the podium with me today.
"The key to the year has been our mentality. In our world it’s very important to remain positive and motivated during the difficult moments. Some things happened to us at the beginning of the season but when we found the way to sort things out, everything went better.”
It’s anyone’s guess how many titles he may finish with.
Alex Rins took a career-best fourth for Suzuki, while Valentino Rossi was fifth on the best of the works Yamahas, but a long way back from independent Yamaha rider Zarco.
Front-row starter Iannone slipped to sixth at the finish, ahead of satellite Honda duo Jack Miller (Marc VDS) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda).
It was Miller’s his last ride for Marc VDS Honda before switching to Pramac Ducati.
It has been a remarkable season across all three MotoGP classes with some of the most exciting racing on years, and spectacularly worthy champions in each class – Marquez, Franco Morbidelli (Moto2) and Joan Mir (Moto3). Roll on season 2018. Qatar next March 18 can’t arrive fast enough.
Close dominates Targa High Country
Driving a 2017 Porsche GT3 RS, Matt Close has taken a clear victory in the Targa High Country round of the Australian Targa Series, a three-day tarmac event held in the mountains in north-east Victoria.
The defending High Country winners Close and co-driver Cameron Reeves set up the win with a stunning opening day romp when they won all six stages to open up an advantage of more than a minute over Angus Kennard and Ian Wheeler in a 2015 Nissan GT-R.
Kennard and Wheeler had been second going into the final stage, but spun their car on the on the run to the finish line at Mt Buller, getting stuck and dropping right down the leaderboard.
Tasmanian Peter Nunn and Keith Johnstone in a Porsche GTS were then elevated to second place, though more than six minutes behind the dominant Close.
The final podium place was taken out by Ben Calder and Steve Glenney in a Mitsubishi Lancer, after Craig Dean dropped out of contention on the final day with a flat tyre on his Ford Mustang.
“It’s great to get back to back wins,” Close said. “We had a great final day, although we drove pretty safely and made sure we kept everything under control.
“Some of the stages today were very slippery, so it would have been easy to put the car off the road, so we were mindful of not doing that.
“We were hopeful of trying to set a new stage record up Mt Buller, but the road and tyre conditions weren’t as good as they were on Friday, so we just made sure we got to the end.
“Now we’ll focus our efforts on getting ready for Targa Tasmania next year, and trying to win that one as well.”