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.


Man City humbled in 2-1 loss to Lyon in Champions League

City were humbled by French side Lyon in Manchester. (Reuters)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Man City humbled in 2-1 loss to Lyon in Champions League

  • City’s players were humbled 2-1 by Lyon in a sloppy and apathetic display at the start of their European campaign

MANCHESTER, England: If Manchester City wants to finally win a first Champions League title, it will have to start taking the competition a bit more seriously — on and off the field.
Surrounded by swathes of empty seats in the Etihad Stadium, City’s players were humbled 2-1 by Lyon in a sloppy and apathetic display at the start of their European campaign on Wednesday.
Banned from the touchline and unable to communicate with the bench, City manager Pep Guardiola did fill one seat in the stands and he saw his Premier League champions easily picked apart by the French visitors.
“We felt under threat every time we lost the ball and sometimes that brings the confidence a little bit lower,” said City assistant manager Mikel Arteta, who was in charge on the bench in Guardiola’s absence.
Errors by midfielder Fernandinho led to both Lyon goals, typifying how careless City was against a team that finished third in the French league last season and was even held to a draw at the weekend by 10-man Caen.
When a pass by the Brazilian midfielder was intercepted around the halfway line, Lyon charged forward. Nabil Fekir sent in a cross from the left that evaded Fabian Delph’s swinging legs, allowing Maxwel Cornet to slot it home in the 26th minute. Delph held his head in his hands as the consequences of his mistake became clear.
City’s troubles deepened when Fernandinho was caught in possession again. Memphis Depay set Fekir on a run and the forward doubled Lyon’s lead in the 43rd by striking through the legs of John Stones.
“It was a difficult game,” said Depay, who struggled to make an impact at Manchester United before leaving after two seasons in 2017. “But when we had the ball we tried to play and when we won the ball we tried to counterattack.”
Perhaps the only reason for City to feel aggrieved in the first half was Gabriel Jesus being denied a penalty when he was tripped by former Manchester United defender Rafael da Silva just before Depay scored.
“To concede two goals like we did is very frustrating,” Stones said. “We came in at halftime a bit deflated I think. But we picked ourselves up and we came out second half fighting and played a better second half.”
But the improvement wasn’t sufficient.
City pulled one back in the 67th when Bernardo Silva scored from substitute Leroy Sane’s cutback. But the attacking threat was too patchy from a City side that won the Premier League with a record 100 points only four months ago, and are widely seen as one of the big favorites in this season’s Champions League.
“I suffered as I was scared they’d score a second goal,” Lyon coach Bruno Genesio said. “We would have taken 2-2 before the match but given the way the game went we’d have been disappointed not to leave with the three points.”
With Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk also in Group F, City appeared to have one of the kinder draws but is now playing catch-up.
Celebrating a decade under Abu Dhabi ownership, which allowed City to assemble a squad for more than $1 billion, the Champions League is the one big prize the club has yet to win.
But City fans still have a fraught relationship with Europe’s premier competition.