First-placed Lewis Hamilton shakes hands with third-placed Sebastian Vettel following the Chinese Grand Prix. Picture: REUTERS
First-placed Lewis Hamilton shakes hands with third-placed Sebastian Vettel following the Chinese Grand Prix. Picture: REUTERS

Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has defended a decision to use team orders in favour of four-times Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix.

The German’s teammate, Charles Leclerc, had made a better start and was in third place, with Vettel close behind, when the team gave instructions for the Monegasque to let his teammate through early on.

The attempt to close the gap on Mercedes rivals Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, who were pulling away at the front and won one-two, failed and Vettel finished third with Leclerc dropping to fifth.

“Certainly it’s difficult as a team to give the order because we understand the drivers, they need to battle, to stay ahead as much as they can,” Binotto, who took over in January, told reporters.

“We tried everything we could not to lose time on the Mercedes ahead and that was among the only chance we got at the time,” said the Swiss-born boss.

“So, we tried. It didn’t work, let’s say. But I think it was right anyway to give that chance to Seb and I think as a team we did whatever we could.”

The move compromised Leclerc’s race, another blow for a youngster who was denied his maiden win by an engine problem two weeks ago in Bahrain after taking pole position and leading with the fastest lap.

It also meant the 21-year-old pitted later than his teammate for both his stops and was passed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

“It was a bit frustrating,” said the Monegasque, who protested at the time that he was pulling away.

“But on the other hand I am well aware that in the car you don’t see much of the full picture of the race. So I just accepted it, did it and focused on my race.”

 

DAKAR RALLY MOVES TO SAUDI ARABIA

The Dakar Rally will end a decade in South America and move to the deserts of Saudi Arabia in 2020, organisers announced on Monday.

Dakar director David Castera said the concept of discovery, and a voyage into the unknown, has always been part of the rally.

The Dakar rally will move to Saudi Arabia after 11 years in South America. Picture: SUPPLIED
The Dakar rally will move to Saudi Arabia after 11 years in South America. Picture: SUPPLIED

“By going to Saudi Arabia, it is of course that aspect that fascinates me. I’m convinced that such a feeling will be shared by all the riders, drivers and copilots,” he said on the Dakar website.

“As the director of the event, it’s a massive challenge to be faced with a blank page with limitless possibilities.” 

Details of the race will be presented at a news conference in Riyadh on April 25.

The Dakar started in 1977 as a race from Paris and across the Sahara desert to the Senegalese capital in West Africa and has long been regarded as the world’s toughest off-road motor race.

It has been staged in South America since 2009 after leaving Africa for security reasons.

The 2019 rally, held entirely in Peru, was won by Qatari driver Nasser al-Attiyah, now a three-times champion, in an SA-built Toyota Hilux.

 

RINS TAKES FIRST MOTOGP WIN AS MARQUEZ CRASHES

Spaniard Alex Rins celebrated a surprise first MotoGP victory with Suzuki in Texas on Sunday as MotoGP champion Marc Marquez crashed out, ending a six-year winning streak at the Grand Prix of the Americas.

Starting on pole for a seventh year in succession, and chasing his seventh win in a row at the Austin circuit, Marquez lost control of his Honda and slid out on the ninth of 20 laps while leading by nearly four seconds.

Alex Rins narrowly beat his childhood rival Valentino Rossi. Picture: SUPPLIED
Alex Rins narrowly beat his childhood rival Valentino Rossi. Picture: SUPPLIED

Yamaha’s Italian great Valentino Rossi inherited the lead but could not hold off Rins, who went past on lap 17 and then held on to win by 0.462 seconds.

Australian Jack Miller finished a distant third for the non-works Pramac Ducati team, with Italian Andrea Dovizioso fourth on a factory Ducati to take the championship lead after three races.

Dovizioso has 54 points with Rossi on 51 and Rins moving up to third on 49. Marquez has 45.

“I beat Valentino, this is unbelievable for me,” said Rins, 23, who had started seventh on the grid. “He was my idol when I was very young.”

The victory was Suzuki’s first in MotoGP since Spaniard Maverick Vinales won the 2016 British Grand Prix.

Rossi, 40 years old but closer than ever to his 90th win in the top category, did all he could to retake the lead in the closing laps without finding a way past.

“After Marc crashed, and just when you think it’s finished, Rins arrived,” said the nine-times world champion across all classes who now has 198 podium finishes in the top class.

“He was a bit faster than me at the end, he rode very well and he beat me.” 

The next race is the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez on May 5.

SA riders had days to forget in the supporting classes, with Brad Binder retiring with a clutch problem from the Moto2 race and his brother Darryn placing 15th in Moto3.

 

BAUTISTA TAKES WORLD SBK BY STORM

Alvaro Bautista’s double win at the Assen round in the Netherlands last weekend set a new record in the World Superbike championship, as he has now won the opening 11 races of the season.

In so doing the Spaniard gave Ducati their 352nd race win in WorldSBK and their 27th at the TT Circuit Assen. It also put him level with reigning four-times world champion Jonathan Rea in terms of consecutive race wins, and Bautista has dominated the sport in his first season.

Alvaro Bautista’s domination of WorldSBK continues with 11 wins from 11 races this season. Picture: SUPPLIED
Alvaro Bautista’s domination of WorldSBK continues with 11 wins from 11 races this season. Picture: SUPPLIED

Before setting WorldSBK alight, Bautista was the 2006 125cc world champion and then moved to MotoGP where he spent nine seasons without winning a race.

Bautista leads the 2019 WorldSBK standings with 236 points, followed by Rea (Kawasaki) on 183, and Yamaha’s Alex Lowes (126). The next round is in Italy on May 10-12.