Monday Motor Sport Report

F1: Steamy Sepang springs slashing Ferrari win

THAT vocal army of detractors who long maintained that Sebastian Vettel won his four world championships only because be benefitted from a vastly superior Red Bull Racing car have been comprehensively silenced following the German’s stunning win for Ferrari in the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Sepang provided no shortage of shocks.

Most people had concluded on the evidence of the Australian GP that 2015 would be a Mercedes-Benz romp and that no other team would get close.

But something amazing happened in the two weeks since Albert Park.

The clear performance margin enjoyed by Mercedes disappeared on the wide open spaces of sweaty Sepang, as the improved Ferrari of Vettel split the Silver Arrows in final qualifying.

Changeable conditions made for a tough qualifying, with Merc’s Lewis Hamilton again putting it together from the impressive Vettel, a downbeat Nico Rosberg and a happier Daniel Ricciardo, who acknowledged his Red Bull Renault was benefitting from a “night and day” improvement following hard work since Melbourne.

But the Mercs were still favoured, with most of the smart chat based around whether Rosberg could lift enough to challenge the reigning world champion. No-one really expected the Ferrari to get up.

What actually unfolded in Malaysia has lifted faith in F1 right when it was needed after the snooze-fest that was the AGP.

Vettel took it to the Mercs and brilliantly won on merit and there were great scraps all the way down the field.

The McLaren Hondas were way closer to the front in lap times than anyone could have imagined – though neither went the distance – and the kindergarten Toro Rosso squad upstaged the parent RBR team.

“They probably struggled a bit with the heat – more than expected,” Vettel said when asked to explain the surprising win over the Silver Arrows.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff insisted it would be wrong to blame his team's defeat on an early stop for new tyres under the safety car.

Wolff said there was no panic at Mercedes due to the shock loss, but conceded the hot temperatures hurt and that the team could not control the race as has been its habit. He said the team needed to look at why its cars struggled for long-run pace in the hot conditions.

Ricciardo’s fourth in the wet qualifying proved to be an overly optimistic sign because he struggled in the fine, hot weather of race day.

“A really frustrating race,” summed up the Australian, who finished one place behind his teammate Daniil Kyvat in 10th.

“I was ready for a fight going into the race and hoping for something special – but it wasn’t to be. I had a bit of contact on the first lap, which hurt us, and then we had a few issues throughout the race, which we had to manage.

“It took a long time to pass cars as we didn’t have the pace and we had some problems with the brakes, which didn’t make our afternoon easy.”

Ricciardo said his brake problems began early and left him a “passenger”.

RBR team principal Christian Horner elaborated on the problems: “A really difficult afternoon… Some contact at the first turn damaged Daniel’s front wing, which seemed to deteriorate through the race. Then after the safety car we started to see brake temperatures climb and needed to nurse the cars quite significantly through the second half of the race. I don’t think the drivers could have done any more today. There’s plenty to understand following this weekend and plenty to address before China in two weeks.”

Never has a 15th place brought such joy as that experienced by Roberto Merhi and the Manor Marussia team.

After the embarrassment and disappointment of Manor not getting either car to the start line in Australia, F1 rookie Merhi says it was a “huge reward” for the team to get one car to the finish the first time the team started a race this year.

The second Manor machine, to be raced by Will Stevens, could not be coaxed into active service on Sunday.

F1: Renault concedes it can’t win this year

TWO races into the 2015 world F1 championship, Renault believes the two teams who take its engines – Red Bull and Toro Rosso – have no show of winning races this year.

Daniel Riccardo need not bother preparing a victory speech for any of the remaining 17 races.

Renault F1 managing director Cyril Abiteboul told Autosport: "A race-winning engine on merit is not something that is going to happen this year, we know that.” Not music to Daniel’s ears.

After Ricciardo won three races during the Mercedes-dominated 2014 season, Renault had hoped to close the gap to the German team, but on the basis of what we’ve seen – and what the engine supplier is conceding – that program has been a massive fail.

Abiteboul said shortcuts taken by the engine supplier to accelerate development have backfired: “What we have done is shortcut and bypass the important steps in engine development. That means some of the stuff you should be doing on the dyno, you end up doing on the track.”

Tensions are high between the engine supplier and team.

V8 SUPERCARS: Guess who reigns at the Plains?

CHAMPIONS don’t stay down for long, and so it was in Tasmania at the weekend with Jamie Whincup bouncing back from an ordinary Clipsal 500 meeting and a so-so day on Saturday at Symmons Plains Raceway to take victory in the 200km Sunday race.

Whincup’s Red Bull Holden teammate, Craig Lowndes, was staring at a hat-trick of Symmons wins after two from two on Saturday, and a third pole for the weekend, but an indiscretion at turn two, when he turned around David Reynolds and copped a drive-through penalty, cost him the chance of a clean-sweep and his 100th touring car/V8 Supercars race win.

This opened the door for the ever opportunistic Whincup to take the win and steal the championship lead.

Ford’s Chaz Mostert bounced back from a tough Clipsal to take second while Tekno Holden ace Shane van Gisbergen also drove solidly for third.

After Lowndes’ tour of the pit lane, the unlikely villain of the opening lap contretemps powered through the field to finish sixth.

Reynolds, forced to take an unscheduled tour of the outfield by the Lowndes shove, also came back strongly and managed 11th.

“Unbelievable how things turn around – I thought I was just trying to hang in there today,” said a happy Whincup.

Lowndes knew he’d stuffed up. “I'm gutted because of the car speed we had today; we could have at least stood on the podium.”

Garth Tander was fourth followed by Mark Winterbottom, Lowndes, Scott McLaughlin, Andre Heimgartner, Fabian Coulthard and James Courtney.

Young Kiwi Heimgartner was one of the standouts of the weekend – his first at Symmons – culminating in a fighting eighth for the SuperBlack Ford in Sunday’s 200km race.

V8 SUPERCARS: Davo and Courtney agree to disagree

AN AGITATED verballing involving James Courtney and Will Davison perked up an otherwise quiet couple of V8 Supercars 25-lap lappers on Saturday at Symmons Plains.

The angry confrontation between Davison and Courtney followed a race two incident when the Erebus AMG driver was bunted into a spin.

While there was no doubt Courtney’s HRT Commodore made contact with the rear of Davison’s car, there was no subsequent action from officials.

Davison charged into the HRT garage to confront Courtney, who he accused of deliberately taking him out, to which Courtney replied, “Go and have a cry”.

“We are racing hard, he has got a little fired up,” Courtney said.

“I just told him to look at the footage and get back to me. He is probably regretting a few things he said now and looks like a fool.

“I thought it was funny. I think that made him even angrier that I was laughing it off.”

Davison continued his spray as he left the HRT camp.

“He’s telling me to have a cry and I’ll be right,” Davison said. “The arrogance on the bloke’s just pathetic. I feel sorry for him.

“So we were going to race clean and had a great start and I’ve been turfed.

“It’s just a shame. It’s not what you want for our guys, Betty [Klimenko]… it’s a big deal for us – someone of his calibre, he’s leading the Championship, and a move like that is… we’ll see if he was drilled from behind, but I doubt it. I think that’ll be after he hit me.”

Erebus later lodged an official protest, which was dismissed after stewards reviewed vision and data from the cars.

Davison’s spin was judged to be the result of a chain reaction at the hairpin that also involved Jamie Whincup, David Reynolds and Chaz Mostert.

V8 SUPERCARS: The Pye chart

WITH Marcos Ambrose choosing to stand aside from the Tasmanian round of the V8 Supercars series to seek a second opinion on the DJR Team Penske Falcon’s performance in light of his lack of competitiveness so far this season, there was great interest in the results posted by his replacement, young South Australian Scott Pye.

The bald facts are that Pye’s championship return yielded modest 18th, 17th and 18th finishes across the three races at Symmons Plains Raceway.

Ambrose, who has remarked on the lack of feel he had for the Falcon at the Clipsal and Albert Park events, must have been heartened to hear Pye report: “I was having the same problems he had been struggling with and I’m sure it was reassuring for him.

“I really want to help the team now and give the best feedback I can, but having Marcos here was a huge benefit to me, particularly at the debriefs.

“The team really learnt a lot this weekend and that was exactly what we were hoping to do. We got a direction, which is a good thing, and I’m sure the engineers will take that back to the workshop and look to the improvements we need for Perth.”

INDYCAR: Montoya jumps Power at St Pete

AUSTRALIA’S Will Power led a big slab of the opening round of the IndyCar Championship on the narrow streets of St Petersburg, Florida, but was jumped at the final pit stop by his Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, who went on to victory.

Power, the defending champ, pulled back several seconds to the Colombian, who punished his tyres in his efforts to keep the lead.

As the laps ran down, a lunge at Montoya knocked off some of Power’s front wing. The Queenslander continued to push hard until he was trapped behind a slow lapped car. Game over.

Montoya went on to beat Power, with Tony Kanaan third. It was Montoya’s first road course victory in IndyCar since 1999, having returned to the category last year after lengthy stints in F1 and NASCAR.

Power wasn’t unhappy at finishing second and accepted his move on Montoya was “kinda optimistic”.

“That was the only place I could kinda get a run on him,” Power indicated. “It was my only chance. It’s hard to get close with these cars.”

Team Penske cars took four of the first five places.

Kiwi Scott Dixon finished 15th.

F1: Money talks

SOMETIMES it’s just too hard to take F1 seriously…

With no hint of wit, Lotus last week announced Adderly Fong as a development driver for 2015.

The Hong Kong driver will undergo a driver development program as well as contributing to the team’s simulator work for enhancing and improving the team’s E23. Fong will combine his Lotus F1 Team duties with competing in the GP3 Series and GT Asia.

Fong’s CV is hardly littered with experience and success in open-wheelers, although he practiced in an F1 Sauber in Abu Dhabi last November and he did win the Audi R8 LMS Cup series title in 2013.

He is obviously a handy enough driver, but he falls short – way short – of being the best young talent available.

No doubt he has shown amazing pace getting down to the bank to collect the sponsorship cheque for Lotus.

ARC: History as Molly Taylor takes ARC heat win

A STEADY performance on his debut weekend in the Citroen DS3 yesterday rewarded Eli Evans with victory in the 2015 Quit Forest Rally in WA.

Renault Clio driver Molly Taylor, who a day earlier won the opening heat, claimed second spot on the podium ahead of Eli Evans’ hard-charging sibling Simon Evans (Honda Civic).

Taylor made history on Saturday with the first-ever outright ARC heat win by a female driver.

“I’ve had a great weekend!” she beamed. “My first rally in this car, my first rally with Bill … just fantastic. I have so many people to thank and this hopefully pays back their support.”

Veteran navigator Bill Hayes was stunned by Molly’s speed and maturity: “Absolutely amazing from the very first stage of the weekend. Molly stays so calm and collected and her speed is just incredible.”

But off to the best possible start in the 2015 ARC was Eli Evans.

“It’s a big relief to get this result and the car never let me down,” said Evans the Younger. “The longer I drove it this weekend, the more comfortable I felt, and that resulted in more speed.”

MOTOGP: Brilliant Rossi wins as Jack crashes

VALENTINO Rossi showed that age has not dimmed his brilliance, riding aggressively to a superb victory under lights at Qatar in the opening round of the 2015 MotoGP Championship.

The Yamaha rider’s win thwarted the resurgent Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, who took the lower steps on the podium.

Defending champ, Honda’s Marc Marquez, threw away his chances of a win when he ran wide in the opening laps, rejoining at the back of the field.

Rossi reprised his golden era with an incredible race. Starting from eighth on the grid, the nine-time world champion fell back to 10th and took a few laps to get a feel for the situation.

He then quickly moved forward and clawed his way to the front group of Dovizioso, Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo and Iannone. This was the start of an incredible final battle between the two factory teams as the riders changed positions several times.

Rossi fought tenaciously against a defiant Iannone before overtaking his countryman for third with four laps remaining.

This set up a nail-biting duel to the flag with Dovizioso, the Doctor giving one of the best performances in his 20-year MotoGP career, winning by a tight 0.174sec.

“I am so happy because we suffered a lot during the practices and also the tests, but we worked very well for the 22-lap race and I was very strong,” Rossi said afterwards.

“First of all you have to be lucky, but especially the work that we do with the team during the weekend makes the difference for my pace in the race. It was definitely one of the best races of my career, considering where we were yesterday.”

Lorenzo took fourth behind the impressive Ducatis.

The mood at Honda, so dominant in past seasons, must match that of the Mercedes-Benz F1 team. Factory Honda pair Marquez and Pedrosa finished fifth and sixth.

Australia’s Jack Miller crashed out on his MotoGP debut after qualifying 22nd of 25 riders. 

INDY LIGHTS: Matt Brabham sets lap record on return

BRIT Ed Jones took two dominant wins from two heats of the Indy Lights opener, but Australian Matt Brabham posted a new lap record after a bruising encounter on the streets of St Petersburg.

After qualifying eighth for the opening heat, Brabham was forced to pit early after damaging his front wing during an opening lap skirmish. Compounding his troubles, officials handed Brabham a drive-through penalty for his role in the incident.

Rejoining with fresh rubber, he used the clear air to his advantage, setting a new lap record.

The second race was highlighted by an intense battle between Brabham and Scott Hargrove over sixth place, resolved in favour of the Canadian.

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