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.


Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

Updated 23 March 2019
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Finch's century helps fire Australia to eight-wicket win over Pakistan

SHARJAH: Aaron Finch's fine century drove Australia to a convincing eight-wicket win over a new-look Pakistan in the first one-day international on Friday.
The Austraian skipper scored 116 off 135 balls for his 12th one-day international century that helped his team overhaul the 281-run target in 49 overs on a flat Sharjah stadium pitch.
The win gives Australia the lead in the five-match series and has come on the back of their 3-2 series win in India earlier this month.
Finch's match-winning knock overshadowed Haris Sohail's maiden one-day hundred (101 not out) which helped Pakistan to 280-5 in their 50 overs.
The 32-year-old smashed Shoaib Malik for a huge six towards deep mid-wicket to complete his century -- his first since June last year against England at Chester-Le-Street -- off 120 balls.
Finch, who knocked four sixes and eight boundaries, added an innings-building 172 runs for the second wicket with Shaun Marsh who scored an unbeaten 91 off 102 balls with four boundaries and two sixes.
With 46 needed Finch became Mohammad Abbas's maiden wicket but Peter Handscomb hit 30 not out to help Marsh cross the line.
Finch and Marsh came together after opener Usman Khawaja fell for 24 to medium pacer Faheem Ashraf, the only other success Pakistan's new-look bowling attack could achieve.
Pakistan rested six of their key players including regular skipper Sarfraz Ahmed in order to keep them fresh for the World Cup starting in UK from May 30.
But the young and inexperienced Pakistan led by Malik proved no match for Australia, who are on a roll after their win in India earlier this month.
Left-hander Sohail, who reached 1,000 runs in his 27th one-day international when on 40, anchored Pakistan's innings, adding 98 for the third wicket with Umar Akmal who made a 50-ball 48 in his first international match for two years.
Sohail took a single to complete his hundred in the last over, finishing with six boundaries and a six.
Pakistan had handed one-day debuts to opener Shan Masood and Abbas -- who have played 15 and 14 Tests respectively.
Masood put on 35 in an opening stand with Imam-ul-Haq (17) before off-spinner Nathan Lyon dismissed Imam in the seventh over, caught and bowled.
Masood, who hit five boundaries in his 62-ball 40, was then bowled by paceman Nathan Coulter-Nile who finished with 1-38 in his 10 overs.
Umar smashed three sixes in one Jhye Richardson over but fell one short of his half century.
Malik fell for 11 and Ashraf and Imad Wasim scored 28 each.
Wasim hit four boundaries and a six during his 13-ball unbeaten knock, helping Pakistan to 55 runs in the last five overs.
Sunday's second ODI is also being played in Sharjah, with the third in Abu Dhabi (March 27) and the last two in Dubai (March 29 and 31).