2017 MotoGP Australian GP – Preview

The 16th round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend from the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Australia, which is located about 140 kilometres south-south-east of Melbourne, and it is the second of three-straight flyaway weekends (Japan, Australia, and Malaysia), and from what we saw in Japan, we are set for some great racing at this breathtaking circuit.

Marc Márquez (244 points) leads the world championship on his factory Honda, but his championship lead over factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso (233 points) has been cut to just 11 points after the Italian’s sensational victory at the Twin Ring Motegi in very wet conditions, overtaking Márquez on the final lap to grab his fifth victory of the season, which is the most wins Dovizioso has had in a season since he claim the 125cc championship in 2004. It was also Dovizioso’s seventh podium of the season, which is the equal most he has achieved in a season during his premier class career (2010, 2011, and 2017).

And while the lead for Márquez was cut to 11 points, the Spaniard could celebrate his 100th podium in Grand Prix Motorcycle Racing in just his 165th race, and with that podium, it is the seventh time in the last eight years that Márquez has achieved 10 podiums or more in a season across all classes.

Third in the championship is factory Yamaha rider Maverick Viñales (203 points), 41 points behind Márquez after a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Japanese Grand Prix, struggling in very wet conditions on his Yamaha, a bike that has struggled all season long in wet conditions, and after scoring three wins in the opening five races of the season, Viñales has only been able to manage three podiums in the last 10, a run of form that will surely cost him any hope of winning his first MotoGP World Championship in 2017.

Dani Pedrosa (170 points), the teammate of Márquez, is the last rider in mathematical contention for the world championship, but is 74 points (out of a possible 75) behind Márquez in the championship after retiring from the Japanese Grand Prix, and will need a miracle if he was to win his first MotoGP World Championship in 2017.

Valentino Rossi (168 points) is fifth in the championship on his factory Yamaha, but officially out of championship contention after crashing out in Motegi, struggling like his teammate Viñales in the wet conditions.

Johann Zarco (125 points) is ahead of Jorge Lorenzo (116 points), and Danilo Petrucci (111 points) in the battle for sixth in the championship, which will be battle outside of the championship battle that will be sure to captivate great interest among the fans as this season draws closer to the end.

Cal Crutchlow (92 points) is ninth in the championship, and is ahead of Jonas Folger (84 points) who missed the Japanese Grand Prix due to a mystery virus, and looks set to miss the Australian Grand Prix, as well as the Malaysian Grand Prix the week after.

As far as who is going to win at Phillip Island, Honda, Ducati, and Yamaha should all have strong bikes to handle the fast, sweeping corners around this iconic circuit.

It is important to note that Phillip Island is one of just five circuits on the current MotoGP calendar that run in an anti-clockwise direction, and at the three anti-clockwise circuits (Circuit of the Americas, Sachsenring, and Motorland Aragón) MotoGP has been to in 2017, Marc Márquez has won all three, while Andrea Dovizioso has struggled, finishing sixth, eighth, and seventh respectively at those three circuits.

However, Márquez has only won the Australian Grand Prix once since joining the premier class in 2013, but could have potentially won all of those races. Márquez was disqualified in 2013 after failing to pit within the prescribed pit-stop window in the first-ever dry flag-to-flag race, before crashing at Turn 10 in 2014 while leading the race comfortably, before winning a thriller in 2015 when he was out of championship contention, overtaking Jorge Lorenzo on the last lap, and then crashed at Turn Four (Honda Corner) while leading the race again in 2016.

Conditions this weekend are set to be fine, but cool, which should suit the Yamaha better, but I think the Honda and Ducati have been developed much further and better than the Yamaha, and given his record on anti-clockwise circuits, both in 2017 and in general, it is very hard to tip against Márquez moving a step closer to a fourth MotoGP World Championship, and his sixth championship across all classes.

 

MotoGP Practice on Friday at 10:55am, and 3:05pm local time (10:55am, and 3:05pm AEDT). MotoGP FP3 on Saturday at 10:55am local time (10:55am AEDT), FP4 on Saturday at 2:30pm local time (2:30pm AEDT), Q1 and Q2 on Saturday at 3:10pm and 3:35pm local time (3:10pm and 3:35pm AEDT). MotoGP Warm Up on Sunday at 11:40am local time (11:40am AEDT), and MotoGP race on Sunday at 4:00pm local time (4:00pm AEDT).

 

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2017 Italian Grand Prix – Preview

The 13th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at Monza in Italy, and the battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton is set to explode, and likewise between Ferrari and Mercedes with only eight races remaining in the season.

Vettel (220 points) for Ferrari leads by a slender seven point margin over Mercedes driver Hamilton (213 points) as we head towards the most important stages of the season. Both drivers haven’t had to retire from a single race so far in 2017, and have finished inside the points in every single race, and in fact, the lowest finish both drivers have had in 2017 has been a seventh place finish (Vettel at Silverstone, Hamilton at Monaco).

Overall, Hamilton has the most race victories so far in 2017 with five, compared to Vettel’s four, but the Ferrari driver has had more podium finishes with nine, compared with seven for the Mercedes driver.

The teammates of both Hamilton and Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen look set to be cast into support act roles for the remainder of the season by both Mercedes and Ferrari respectively as both teams focus on the drivers’ world championship, and their lead drivers Hamilton and Vettel.

Bottas (179 points) is third in the championship, 41 points behind Vettel, and 34 points behind teammate Hamilton, and has had a wonderful season, his first season with the Mercedes team, with eight podiums, and two potentially crucial race victories in Russia and Austria when Hamilton was having a difficult weekend, preventing Vettel, who finished second in both of those races, from extending his championship lead to a greater margin.

However, Bottas will likely be deployed as a number two driver for the rest of the season, but has shown that he is very capable of stealing crucial points away from Ferrari, and in particular Vettel in the championship battle.

However, Räikkönen (128 points), who is fifth in the championship, 92 points behind teammate Vettel, and 85 points behind Hamilton, hasn’t been able to show in 2017 that he can get that crucial victory to help his teammate in the championship, and deny Hamilton of vital world championship points, but has had four podiums so far in 2017.

In saying that though, Räikkönen has been deployed by Ferrari as a number two driver throughout most of 2017, but at some point during the last eight races, he is going to be faced with a scenario where he has going to have to win a race when Vettel is in trouble, or having a difficult weekend to potentially deny Hamilton the championship. Whether he can or not remains to be seen in 2017.

However, someone who can spoil Vettel’s or Hamilton’s championship challenge is Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, who sits fourth in the world championship on 132 points, 88 points behind Vettel, and 81 points behind Hamilton.

Ricciardo has shown that he has that uncanny knack of getting himself into the right place at the right time to pick up a race victory in Azerbaijan, as well as a further five podiums (all third places) in a car not as quick as either the Mercedes or Ferrari, but his teammate Max Verstappen has had lots of reliability issues with his car.

Currently sixth in the world championship on 67 points, Verstappen has had six retirements in the opening 12 races, most of them mechanical, and needs some luck to go his way, as he has generally been quicker than Ricciardo. I think if his car is reliable, Verstappen can win a race in 2017 in the right conditions, and have an impact on the championship battle.

In seventh and eighth position in the world championship are the two Force India drivers, Sergio Pérez (56 points) and Esteban Ocon (47 points), and while this is not a battle for the world championship, it is battle to settle their futures that has erupted out on the track with collisions in Azerbaijan and Belgium in a feud that has threatened to overheated since Canada.

And while you would suspect, due to his Mercedes connection, that Ocon will remain with the team next year, Pérez has got to be very careful because he could end up without a seat in Formula One next year if this feud continues.

In terms of the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (392 points) lead by 44 points over Ferrari (348 points), with Red Bull (199 points) comfortably in third position, ahead of Force India (103 points), who are equally comfortable in fourth position in the constructors’ championship. After them is a tight battle for fifth in the championship, with Williams (45 points), Toro Rosso (40 points), Haas (35 points), and Renault (34 points) separated by just 11 points, with McLaren (11 points) and Sauber (five points) bringing up the rear of the field.

Fernando Alonso, who is currently 15th in the championship on 10 points, is getting increasingly frustrated about the reliability and performance of the Honda, and has been heavily criticised for perhaps retiring the car in Belgium when it had no problem, which was the eighth time in the 11 races he has competed in during 2017 that his car hasn’t seen the chequered flag, although two of the times he has been classified as a finish.

Unless something dramatic happens at McLaren as far as their relationship with Honda is concerned, Alonso looks set to leave the team, and I believe he could well be heading to Williams, and I doubt he will be worried how much he is paid considering the troubles of the last three years.

Looking ahead to who will win the Italian Grand Prix, I sense it is going to be a tight battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, and I think Vettel might get the victory ahead of Hamilton in front of the patriotic Italian crowd in a thriller.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).

The 53 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Preview

The eighth round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the Baku City Circuit, on the streets of Baku, which is the capital city of Azerbaijan.

Coming into the eighth race of this intriguing and exciting 2017 season, Lewis Hamilton (129 points) has closed the gap to championship leader Sebastian Vettel (141 points) to 12 points after winning the Canadian Grand Prix last time out, claiming the fourth grand slam of his career (pole position, race victory, fastest lap, and leading every lap of the race), with Vettel salvaging fourth-place after suffering a damaged front wing on the opening lap in Montreal.

Hamilton’s teammate at Mercedes, Valtteri Bottas is third in the world drivers championship on 93 points, 48 points behind championship leader Vettel, and 36 points behind Hamilton after being comprehensively outperformed by his teammate in Canada, to the tune of 19.783 seconds, despite finishing second in the race, and it is looking ever more likely that Bottas will be playing second-fiddle to Hamilton throughout the rest of 2017.

Likewise Kimi Räikkönen at Ferrari, whose disappointing seventh-place at the Canadian Grand Prix leaves him on 73 points, 68 points behind his teammate and world championship leader Vettel.

Australian Daniel Ricciardo leads the charge for Red Bull Racing on 67 points, 74 points behind the championship leader after securing a distant third-place finish in Montreal, while his teammate Max Verstappen had to retire from the Canadian Grand Prix due to electrical issues with his car, making it his third retirement of the season.

In terms of the Constructors Championship, Mercedes (222 points) retakes the lead of the championship from Ferrari (214 points) by eight points, with Red Bull being a distant third on 112 points, with only Force India (71 points) putting up a somewhat consistent challenge for third-place in the Constructors Championship, 41 points behind Red Bull.

After this, there is a good scrap for fifth-place in the Constructors Championship, with Toro Rosso (29 points), Williams (22 points), Renault (18 points), and Haas (15 points) all looking like that they can challenge for the final points-scoring positions on any given weekend.

However, they are all lacking a consistent two driver points-scoring effort, with only Toro Rosso (twice) with their drivers Carlos Sainz Jr. and Daniil Kvyat, and Haas (once) with their drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, achieving at least double points-scoring finish in 2017 so far.

Then it is the sorry sight of Sauber (four points), who are in turmoil after team principal Monisha Kaltenborn left the team in the lead-up to this grand prix, and will be moving from Ferrari to Honda power-plants from 2018.

Talking about Honda, McLaren continue to be the most awful and disappointing story of 2017, having scored no points in the first seven rounds, and wanting to end their relationship with Honda, who simply haven’t performed close to anyone’s very realistic expectations, in terms of delivering a strong, quality power-plant.

The actual chassis, according to most industry insiders, is just about on par with the Red Bull, and would be capable, with the right power-plant in it, of challenging for podiums, and maybe even the odd race victory.

However, the two people I feel most sorry are the two drivers in Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne, who was considered by McLaren as a better overall driver than Kevin Magnussen, is struggling to develop in an environment, and with equipment, that is simply not up to Formula One standard as a first-year driver in the premier category in world motorsport, which is a terrible shame.

As for Alonso, many people who will read this article will consider him still to be the best driver in the sport, or at least right up there with the best, and the way he has performed so far in 2017 shows that he hasn’t lost it, out-qualifying and in races, out-performing his teammate numerous times as long as reliability has held up, with probably his best performance coming in qualifying at the Spanish Grand Prix, where he qualified seventh in front of his home crowd in what was undoubtedly one of the laps of the season so far, and definitely of that qualifying session.

At this stage, McLaren are on-track, other than being disqualified from the Constructors Championship in 2007 after the espionage controversy, also known as “Spygate”, for their first season without scoring a single point, which would be a terrible shame for their supporters, and for Formula One.

Going back to the front-runners, the Baku City Circuit is expected again to be low grip, and should suit Ferrari, but the high-speed nature of the street circuit should also suit Mercedes, so it should be another great battle between the two best teams.

My tip is for a Lewis Hamilton victory in a close battle with Sebastian Vettel, with Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen fighting for the final spot on the podium.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 1pm and 5pm local time (7pm and 11pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 2pm and 5pm local time (8pm and 11pm AEST).

The 51 lap race is on Sunday from 5pm local time (11pm AEST).