Lewis Hamilton still the one to beat as Ferrari gamble in bid to end Mercedes dominance

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton is the clear favorite to win another Formula One season title in 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Lewis Hamilton still the one to beat as Ferrari gamble in bid to end Mercedes dominance

LONDON: This year’s Formula One season gets under way on Friday with two practice sessions in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Grand Prix. And it begins with everyone asking the same question they were pondering at the beginning of last season. And the season before that. Can Mercedes be beaten?
The simple answer is “no.”
Despite all the fanfare of a new era surrounding the return of motorsport’s most illustrious championship, there is a palpable air of familiarity.
The only two teams even remotely capable of getting ahead of Mercedes and winning a Grand Prix have conceded that the Silver Arrows are the team to beat — Lewis Hamilton, in particular.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who, like Hamilton, can match the great Juan Manuel Fangio on five world titles with a championship victory this season, has made all the right moves and said all the right things in pre-season to at least give the impression he can challenge Mercedes.
But the German driver is a realist and knows Hamilton and his teammate Valteri Bottas have a distinct advantage heading into the new season.
This time last year, there was hope of a changing of the guard as Vettel took victory in Australia and was leading the drivers' championship standings until the Italian Grand Prix about six months later.
Slowly but surely, however, Mercedes ironed out their early issues with what was undoubtedly a quick car, but one that had issues on certain tracks. Hamilton went on to take nine victories, Bottas obediently assumed his position as No. 2 driver, and Mercedes’ procession to the drivers’ and constructors’ championships was complete. With lessons learned, it seems unlikely the German outfit will make the same early errors.
It is not all doom and gloom, however, and there are glimmers of hope for the F1 faithful.
While nowhere near the performance of the Mercedes and Ferrari cars, Red Bull will become more competitive as the year goes on after an upgrade to its hybrid system becomes available in time for the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
With the reliable Daniel Ricciardo and prodigious talent Max Verstappen in the cockpits, Red Bull will be looking to improve on their three Grand Prix victories last season and perhaps prolong Mercedes’ wait for the title at least.
More importantly, Ferrari — which had arguably the best car on the grid in 2017, but threw away the title with team errors and questionable driving — appear to have adopted some of Mercedes’ pre-season ideas and improved their power and speed.
Come Sunday, we will know if Ferrari have been successful and whether they can be in the mix for a first constructors’ championship since 2008.
If they cannot, while F1 has undergone monumental change off the track, there will have been a depressing lack of change on it come the season-ender in Abu Dhabi in November.


Jurgen Klopp wants Liverpool passion rather than problems against Roma

Updated 13 min 41 sec ago
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Jurgen Klopp wants Liverpool passion rather than problems against Roma

  • Manchester City’s team bus smashed by thrown cans and bottles ahead of their Champions League quarterfinal at Anfield.
  • Klopp keen to see Reds fans respect Roma side for semifinal showdown.

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has warned the club’s fans not to repeat the scenes that saw windows of Manchester City’s team bus smashed by thrown cans and bottles ahead of their Champions League semifinal, first leg against Roma at Anfield on Tuesday.
City became just the latest victims of a famous European night at Anfield on the pitch three weeks ago as Liverpool raced into a 3-0 first leg lead that laid the foundations for their 5-1 aggregate victory over the English champions in the quarterfinals.
However, Klopp wants to retain the passion inside the stadium without the ugly scenes outside which are the subject of a UEFA investigation.
“In the stadium do it again and better. Outside the stadium, please show the respect we have to show,” Klopp said.
“This is such an outstanding football club, an outstanding football family, known for fantastic atmospheres all over the world, so we don’t need to throw whatever at the bus of the opposing team.
The Italians will be greeted by at least one familiar face in Mohamed Salah, but it is the Egyptian who poses the biggest threat to their dream of returning to the final for the first time since they lost to Liverpool on home soil in 1984.
Salah made the move from the Italian capital to Anfield just 10 months ago, and has surpassed all expectations since with an incredible 41 goals in 46 Liverpool appearances to already net more times than he did in two years for Roma.
The 25-year-old was rewarded for his brilliant campaign by winning the Premier League’s Players’ Player of the Year award on Sunday evening, beating off stiff competition from Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne to the prize.
“I’m really happy for him, really proud of that, it is a fantastic achievement. I think if all the other players vote for you it means most to all players,” added Klopp.
“In a season like this, when Kevin de Bruyne played a season like he did, it made it even more special.”
Despite their rich heritage in the competition as five-time winners, Liverpool have not been in the last four of the Champions League for a decade.
And captain Jordan Henderson believes this season’s run to the semis can be the start of something special under Klopp.
“Hopefully this is the start of something special with this squad,” said the England international.
“The manager has been brilliant since he has come to the club. We’ve improved every season and done brilliant this season to get this stage.”
However, even Klopp’s men’s 5-1 thrashing of Premier League champions Manchester City over two legs in the last eight was upstaged by Roma coming from 4-1 down in the first leg of their quarterfinal with Barcelona to progress on away goals thanks to a famous 3-0 second-leg win.
Klopp admitted he thought it was a joke when he was first informed of Roma’s result against Barca, but insists both sides should believe they can be European champions despite the presence of powerhouses Bayern Munich and 12-time winners Real Madrid in the other semifinal.
“I do understand many people would have thought this semifinal would be City v Barcelona, but it’s not, because it is football and Roma made it possible, as we did too,” added the German.
“If anyone thinks we two are the underdogs, who cares? We are in the semifinal and can go to the final.”