Monday Motor Sport Report

F1: Hamilton wins Japanese GP, marred by Bianchi accident; Vettel move stuns pitlane

LEWIS Hamilton has won a shortened Japanese Grand Prix, extending his lead in the driver’s world championship, with the race finishing on a sombre note after Marussia driver Jules Bianchi was injured in a heavy collision.

The incident occurred on lap 46 of the grand prix, with the race red-flagged before its original 53-laps could be completed. The podium – led by Hamilton, who passed and easily outdrove second-placed Mercedes team-mate and race pole sitter, Nico Rosberg, with Sebastian Vettel finishing in third place. It was Vettel that was the talk of the pit lane ahead of the race…

F1: Vettel quits Red Bull for Ferrari

AFTER 15 years with Red Bull, starting in its nursery and rising through the ranks to Formula One and winning four world championships, Sebastian Vettel has decided his future is with Ferrari.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner revealed that Vettel only told him of his decision to leave on Friday night - bang in the middle of a race weekend - and just hours before the move was announced. Outshone this year by Aussie team mate Daniel Ricciardo, the German exercised a clause in his contract to get out.

So much for loyalty.  He’s the latest in a long list of drivers who have walked from the teams that gave them their big break in F1 ‑ the ungrateful Lewis Hamilton for starters…

Vettel’s jump to Maranello is a strange one on several levels, unless he believes Red Bull has peaked, and Ferrari is poised for the mother of all comebacks.

One thing is certain; Ferrari doesn’t need three world champions on its roster for 2015.

Vettel's replacement, Russian Daniil Kvyat, now 20, became the sport's youngest ever points scorer at the age of 19 in Melbourne last March.  A year ago such a move from a raw young bloke from Russia was unthinkable, but Kvyat has been a revelation.

So Red Bull is counting on two young bucks.

"I was very honoured, very surprised," the BBC quoted the Toro Rosso driver after the announcement at Suzuka. "The people around me know I like to work hard and do my best."

Ricciardo once again threatened Vettel’s chance of a podium at a rain-soaked Suzuka circuit that was red-flagged after young Frenchman Jules Bianchi speared off the track under the safety car and hit a tractor.

The incident-marred race was stopped on lap 46 after Vettel, who dropped to fourth behind Ricciardo after he speared into the pits under the safety car for a new set of intermediate tyres, was elevated back to third in a one-lap count back.

Vettel’s move heightened the already rampant speculation surrounding Fernando Alonso's future.

In his fifth season with Ferrari, Alonso has grown increasingly disillusioned with the legendary Scuderia’s lack of success – there have been no race wins in more than a year. If the losing streak continues throughout 2014, it will be Ferrari’s first winless season since 1993.

Alonso still had two more years to run on his contract but he and Ferrari have agreed to part. The betting is that Alonso is heading back to McLaren, which next year will have the returning Honda powering its cars. Honda wants Alonso as badly as does McLaren so money ‑ and Alonso wants a pile ‑ won't be an issue.

In a poll of team bosses, Fernando Alonso would come out tops as Formula One’s best all-round driver.

In the time he has been at Ferrari, on countless occasions Alonso’s spirit and speed has flattered a fairly ordinary succession of red cars.

There have been signs that the restless star has been increasingly fed up with Ferrari’s lack of pace, and the absence of optimism at Maranello.

Alonso’s once-strong power base has been eroded with the recent departure of Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, and team principal Stefano Domenicali.

Alonso hasn’t been feeling the same love from Fiat Group overlord Sergio Marchionne, who now also looks after Ferrari, and new F1 team chief Marco Mattiacci.  Both have expressed a determination to push Ferrari back to dominance but they have been honest enough to suggest this won’t happen in a heartbeat.

With this noble target unlikely to be achieved next season, the edgy Alonso has been looking at alternatives. To stay, and to assuage the pain of racing an uncompetitive car, he has been angling for more money ‑ money that we now know may have been spent on getting Vettel.

At 33, Alonso senses time is against him and he yearns for a winning car. With his current contract in place until the end of 2016 and no available seats at Red Bull and Mercedes, only McLaren and Lotus are open, each representing massive risks.

Not so long ago, Alonso seemed set to finish his career in a Ferrari. Now, it seems the increasingly brittle relationship will see him depart.

Ferrari wants more than they sense Alonso is struggling to give right now - total commitment to the cause.

In his recent flinging of Ferrari icon Luca di Montezemolo, the always frank and sometime brutal Marchionne made it clear, in words as well as actions, that nobody at Ferrari was indispensable.  "When the company changes its mind, or at least when objectives aren't shared anymore, things change," he said.

To be fair, the car is letting down Alonso this season, and his call for the team to improve its on-track performance is not unreasonable.  But the Italians are proud and sensitive, some say precious, souls.

Ignoring the Spaniard’s acrimonious previous stint at Woking, the Brit press sees Alonso heading back to McLaren, with Honda hybrid power.  Honda was a great partner of McLaren in the turbo era but there are no guarantees the Japanese car maker will quickly get on top of the complex hybrid technology and give Alonso a winning package.

To complete a complex jigsaw of crazy conjecture, the German media insists the drums are beating for Fernando to go to Lotus, which gets Merc power from next year.  Lotus has been struggling on and off the track this year, needing drivers Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado to bring sponsorship to keep it afloat.

Alonso says the Vettel move to Ferrari won’t force his hand, and that he still holds all the cards.

He may be right.

INDY CARS: New challenge from within for Power

INDY Car champ Will Power gets a new Penske team-mate next season ‑ Simon Pagenaud ‑ and the chances are he won’t be thrilled with the choice.

Frenchman Pagenaud has been signed by Team Penske under a multi-year agreement that will expand the squad to four quality international drivers, the others being Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya.

But there is some history between Power and Pagenaud that Roger Penske and his drivers will need to manage.

The two were teammates in 2007, when they drove for Derrick Walker in the Champ Car Series. But, more pointedly, Power and Pagenaud clashed on track at Long Beach and Detroit early this year, stretching their otherwise good relationship.

Neither expects those incidents to become at issue at Penske, an outfit that exerts firm control over its drivers.

"He's the champion," observed Pagenaud. "He's a tremendous driver. Our job is to make it work."

Pagenaud is a good acquisition for Penske. He scored four race wins across three seasons with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

After several near misses, Toowoomba’s Power this season finally scored his first IndyCar Series championship and is intent on repeating the achievement when the new season gets under way next March.

FORMULA 4:  Attractive incentives … for the winner

THE winner of the inaugural Australian FIA Formula 4 championship will receive up to $250,000 in value from the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport to help the new champ take the next big step along the path to Formula One.

CAMS chief executive Eugene Arrocca has confirmed the F4 champion’s bounty will come from sponsors and will not be a cash prize.

CAMS says the prize fund for the new Formula 4 champion will be used to help take the next step on the motor sport ladder in an approved open-wheeler development category.

The new national F4 series, which uses a common chassis and yet to-announced control engine and tyre, will be run over 21 points races starting in June/July next year.  F4 will be a major support act to the V8 Supercars Championship.

Here’s the crazy bit though… drivers who end the inaugural 2015 F4 season second, third and fourth in the points will be offered Dunlop Development Series V8 Supercar tests. Que?

Since when has an involvement with a struggling second-tier sedan category been the pathway to F1? The answer is plainly “never and not ever”.

The F4 championship’s full calendar is yet to be announced.

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