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.


‘Trophies matter’- Jose Mourinho remains defiant ahead of United-Liverpool Premier League clash

Updated 23 min 14 sec ago
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‘Trophies matter’- Jose Mourinho remains defiant ahead of United-Liverpool Premier League clash

MANCHESTER: Jose Mourinho says success is best measured in trophies as he prepares to take his injury-hit Manchester United squad to high-flying Liverpool on Sunday.
Liverpool are top of the Premier League before the weekend round of matches but have yet to win a trophy under the management of Jurgen Klopp, who has been in charge since October 2015.
The 18-times English champions have won just one prize in the past 12 years — the League Cup under Kenny Dalglish in 2012 — despite featuring in two European finals.
Mourinho won the Europa League and FA Cup in his first season at Old Trafford but ended last season empty-handed and his team are lagging 16 points behind Klopp’s side in this season’s title race.
“I think trophies matter, yeah,” said Mourinho. “I think it matters, especially when you have the potential to fight for trophies and when you clearly say the objective is to win the trophies.
“I think sometimes just to say it is not very intelligent. But when you have the potential you have nothing to hide.
“I don’t read much but I think they (Liverpool) have said that their objective is to win the Premier League,” he added.
Even though Klopp has yet to win silverware at Anfield, Mourinho acknowledges that the Liverpool manager has built a team in his own image, full of attacking intent.
By contrast, the United manager believes he is still a long way from having a team that reflects the way he wants to play.
“A football team is not just about spending the money,” said Mourinho. “A football team is a little bit like a house. A house is not just about buying your furniture. You have to do work on the house and when it’s ready you buy the furniture.
“You spend money on the best possible furniture and then you are ready to live in an amazing house.”
Mourinho faces taking a depleted squad to Anfield on Sunday, with several players battling to recover from the injuries that kept them out of Wednesday’s Champions League defeat in Valencia.
Defender Victor Lindelof and forward Alexis Sanchez will definitely miss the game as they continue to recover from hamstring injuries.
Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian, Diogo Dalot, Scott McTominay and Marcos Rojo will be assessed to ascertain whether they can return against Liverpool.
Goalkeeper David de Gea and midfielder Nemanja Matic, who were rested against Valencia, will return, but United’s manager remains unsure how many players he will have to choose from.
“In Valencia, only De Gea and Matic were available to play and didn’t travel by decision,” he said.
“Apart from that, the other players who didn’t travel were not fit to play in Valencia. All of them had injuries and they were not ready.
“All of them didn’t train yesterday again and today there will be a little introduction to training — I don’t want to say test — to see the answer, to see if we can increase it a little bit tomorrow to have them available for Sunday. I hope that some will be available but for sure some will not be.”