The fallout from this season’s messy divorce between Red Bull and Renault has heated up that little bit more ahead of the Brazilian Grand Prix, thanks to a cheeky dig at Max Verstappen.
The two teams were already enduring a rocky end to their 12-season relationship with Red Bull deciding to go with a Honda engine from 2019 because of the reliability issues they’ve experienced this year.
And it soured even more when the chief victim of those reliability issues, Daniel Ricciardo, announced he was jumping ship from Red Bull to Renault when his contract expired at the end of the 2018 season.
Since that announcement, the relationship has got worse, with Red Bull chiefs publicly stating how Ricciardo is taking a step backwards and in for two more years of frustration at his new team.
However, now Renault have taken a little swipe back, this time at Ricciardo’s soon-to-be former teammate Verstappen.
In a blog post on their website ahead of this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix, they wrote: “A party atmosphere is one similarity between Mexico and Brazil, with another being the sheer volume of people living in the two host cities. With a combined population of 20 million, which may or may not be equivalent to the number of times Max Verstappen has moaned about something this season, these two back-to-backs are physically HUGE.”
With Red Bull set for a traditionally tough weekend in Brazil, could Renault pull another one over them by building on a couple of strong performances over the last few Grand Prix weekends.
Their first was in 2017 alongside Maranello Motorsport, when Lowndes, Whincup and Tony Vilander drove the team a pole position and outright victory.
“It’s sort of like the old rat pack back together again, although we’ve got Shane on board,” said Lowndes. “The car has lots of memories of when we had Vodafone on the supercar, but it’s great to see the old colours back, great memories for that era. Hopefully the three of us can do Vodafone, Scott Taylor Motorsport and Triple Eight very proud.
“It’s going to be nice, obviously the three of us are very well compatible and we know the circuit very well. To have all three of us in one car is very strong. The car for me, I’ll need to get my head around it, but I’m sure that’ll come pretty quickly.”
Whincup added: “To team up with Scott Taylor Motorsport again and then combine that with Triple Eight Race Engineering, then to have both my teammates in the car as well, combine that with Vodafone on board, it’s fantastic. I’m really looking forward to next year’s event.
“Lowndesy and I and Team Vodafone competed at Bathurst for many years, so it’s good to get the band back together. I’m looking forward to teaming up with Lowndesy again, but both years Shane has been opposition for me, so it’s good to be in the same team for an all-out assault.
“All the elements are there for a good show, but I’m just looking forward to bringing all that good that Triple Eight has, STM do a fantastic job and combining all that, we’re confident we can do a good job.”
Van Gisbergen is currently preoccupied with the Supercars championship as the series heads to the season finale in Newcastle next weekend with only 14 points separating him and leader Scott McLaughlin.
But SVG is the most experienced of the three in GT as well, having won the 2016 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup.
“It’s amazing to team up with these guys,” he said. “Working alongside them in the race team has been awesome, but getting to drive with them will be a pretty special moment for me.
“I think every year the event gets bigger and bigger. More European teams and drivers come out, more Australian Supercars guys jump in it too and it just seems to get tougher and tougher every year and the fans support that. Hopefully it’s an even bigger race next year and we can put on a good show.”
“Just the general attitude from a lot of people here. It’s not my thing, it’s the thing that I lost the love for here. Whereas in British Superbike, it’s just so much more raw. I was watching some races back and I’m like ‘f***, get me there’.
“You see them banging [handle]bars – yeah, they have a little complaint rider to rider, fair enough, face to face, ‘you’re a d***head’ – ‘you’re a d***head’, sound, we go for the next race.
“Here, they don’t even say anything to each other, I don’t know if they’re scared of each other or they don’t know what they should say. You know what I mean? It’s not like racing.
“And that’s what I miss, and I feel they should think to try and get that back a little bit. Like, so many of my fans are my fans for me, not for my result. They don’t even comment about my result because my result is s***.
“But they say ‘you bring so much more fun, feeling, charisma, to the paddock – we like that. We would like more people [like that]’. Marc [Marquez], he’s going a bit that way, which is good, I like to see that. And it would be good for the sport.
“Instead of people closing themselves off, not want to see people, don’t want to do this, can’t be seen, ‘I’ve got to have a f***ing entourage of 20 people around me’.”
You couldn’t write a script to make this weekend’s Kennard’s Hire Rally Australia any more exciting than it is already.
Three drivers are in the hunt for the driver’s title in the final round of the FIA World Rally Championship, while any one of four drivers – including yours truly – in the CAMS Australian Rally Championship could claim the national title in the forests around the Coffs Coast.
In the closest fight in 15 years we’ve been forced to wait until the final round of the WRC season to see who the champion driver of the year will be.
Sébastien Ogier, Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak are separated by just 23 points.
Reigning champion Ogier leads Neuville by the slender margin of only three points in his hunt for a sixth-consecutive world championship.
“It’s going to be an exciting weekend and I’m really looking forward to it, but I know I’ll have to be at my best if I want to clinch a sixth title,” Ogier said.
Neuville has finished runner-up in the championship three times and he’s determined to go one better in 2018.
“Obviously Sébastien and me have bigger chances to get it done but it’s going to be interesting in the tough Australian stages. It won’t be easy for anyone so the best will win,” the Hyundai Motorsport driver said.
As the current championship leader, Ogier will be first on to the road with Neuville following behind. The Belgian believes this road position can be an aid for him in the hunt for victory. This is because the first driver is slowed as he’s forced to sweep the road for those following.
“A huge advantage definitely not, but it could be an advantage,” he said. “On some of the stages there’s a lot of loose gravel and if you gain only two or three seconds but in this fight I’m pretty sure two or three seconds can make all the difference.”
Tänak is the outsider of the trio to win the championship. Not only does he need to produce a great drive on the Coffs Coast this weekend but the Toyota Gazoo Racing Team driver also needs both Ogier and Neuville to perform poorly.
“It’s pretty much all-in so it’s a quite simple approach,” Tänak said. “Our only plan is to take the maximum 30 points from here and let’s see what the other guys will offer us.”
Simply being a rally fan I can’t wait to see what happens with the WRC guys, but I need to concentrate my efforts this weekend on chasing the Australian Rally Championship.
If I’m going to catch leader Eli Evans I’ll probably need to win at least two of the three days.
Eli is favoured to win as he has a good lead over Harry Bates, Steve Glenney and me but with 101 points up for grabs if you have a dominant weekend then any member of this quartet could be the champion come Sunday afternoon.
The roads through the Coffs Coast forests are among the fastest on offer in rally racing and with the big crowds flocking to the popular event from around the globe, this weekend is sure to be one for the history books.