Formula One needs more than a Hamilton-Vettel title race to get it out of the slow lane

Lewis Hamilton is the title favorite but a one-sided title race will do little for the sport's appeal. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2018
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Formula One needs more than a Hamilton-Vettel title race to get it out of the slow lane

LONDON: Even in enforced retirement, octogenarian Bernie Ecclestone remains a vibrant voice in Formula One as on the eve of the 2018 championship, the former motorsport overlord who helped engineer its glory days of the 1990s and turn it into a billion-dollar industry, declared it has lost its “fascination.”
He claims an all-too-familiar title race and increased safety measures — with the advent of the distinctive and divisive “halo” cockpit guard for the new season — have led to a diluted product which lacks the fundamental lifeblood of all great sport — unpredictability.
There is a degree of irony within Ecclestone’s critique, as his pandering to the large manufacturers and desire to turn it into a corporate cash cow raised the financial requirements to compete and marginalized the smaller, boutique teams, arguably contributed more so than anyone to the status quo which permeates today’s racing.
However, whatever his motives, culpability and potential prejudice against successors Liberty Media, it’s difficult to disagree with the 87-year-old, as Lewis Hamilton looks set to dominate again in his Mercedes with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel once again his chief and sole realistic challenger.
Hamilton-Vettel may be several laps behind the high drama of Prost-Senna, Lauda-Hunt or even Hamilton-Rosberg, which had its own modern-day reality show-like intrigue in 2015. But still, it is a rivalry and one which forms the backdrop to the new season. When Liberty purchased F1 for $3.3 billion in 2016, their motives were clear, with a desire to introduce a sense of modernity and, after Ecclestone’s world tour to new outposts such as Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Russia and Azerbaijan, capture the imagination of their own American audience. We are still only in the formative stages of Liberty’s reign and while work has been done on the surface to give F1 a new lease of life with a new logo, greater social media presence and banishing grid girls into the past, the fact remains that without more exciting racing or a greater and wider level of competition, they cannot hope to steal Stateside petrolheads away from NASCAR or IndyCar.
There is considerable history on the line this year as not only does the iconic French GP return after a 10-year absence, Hamilton and Vettel compete for a fifth world title, to tie Juan Manual Fangio in second on the all-time list (Michael Schumacher has seven).
It gives Hamilton and Vettel’s duel an additional layer of narrative but for all the focus on the top two drivers, Mercedes and Ferrari, F1 ultimately needs more than just a fiercely contested title battle between two of the best drivers of all time.
Hamilton has been talking up the chances of Red Bull duo Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, arguably two of the most likeable and exciting drivers on the grid who were plagued by reliability issues in 2017. Pre-season testing in Catalunya saw Red Bull complete 100 laps more than in 2017, a welcome start and relief after last year’s troubles throughout spring and summer.
Focus will also fall on McLaren, trying to rebound from one of their worst seasons in their 52-year history in the sport, with Fernando Alonso’s tragi-comedy of seven retirements simply not good enough for him, the team or the sport itself. Alonso has boldly declared they are ready to become a fixture in the top five this season.
Outside of the big names, it will be intriguing to see how last year’s big overachievers Force India fare with an increased level of expectation, and with McLaren, Renault and Williams all snapping at their wheels to be “best of the rest.”
F1 desperately needs the excitement factor, beyond the inevitable of Hamilton vs. Vettel. Not just for Liberty and their grand plans but for the sport itself to force its way back into the wider consciousness, because in an age of instant gratification, quick fixes and short attention spans, it is well off the pace.

WHO ELSE CAN JOIN THE TITLE PARTY?

Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
The Finn produced a solid debut season for the Silver Arrows in 2017 with three race wins to finish third overall. A more confident Bottas should once again be a regular face on the podium but he’s unlikely to unseat Hamilton in the Mercedes pecking order.

Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
It’s almost unconceivable that Verstappen won’t be a world champion one day. On his day, perhaps the quickest of all 20 drivers, certainly the most adventurous and aggressive. If the RB14 can stay on the track for the course of the season, he should at least able to exceed his two race wins of 2017.

Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
The perma-smiling Australian will want to make an instant impact on his home GP, a race where he has failed to finish three times. If an early foundation can be built he has the skills and driver smarts to compete with Hamilton and Vettel. The main question, like Verstappen, however falls on the consistency of his car.


Liverpool are scared of no one, claims confident Jurgen Klopp ahead of PSG clash

Updated 18 September 2018
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Liverpool are scared of no one, claims confident Jurgen Klopp ahead of PSG clash

  • Reds boss wants side to prove march to last season's final was no fluke.
  • Liverpool face French powerhouses PSG at Anfield on Tuesday.

LIVERPOOL: Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes his side shouldn’t be scared of any side as they look to go one step further in the Champions League after reaching the final last season.
The visit of Paris Saint-Germain to Anfield on Tuesday gives Klopp’s men an early chance to show their run to the final in Kiev was no fluke, particularly after a summer of what already appears shrewd business in the transfer market.
Liverpool have won all five of their opening Premier League games after spending a then-world record fee for a goalkeeper on Alisson Becker, bolstering their midfield options in Naby Keita and Fabinho and adding extra back up to a prolific front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane with Xherdan Shaqiri.
“The players we spoke to in the summer or a little earlier, they were different talks to those I had the previous year or before,” said Klopp, who has transformed Liverpool’s fortunes in just under three years in charge.
“In the moment, it is a different club to the club I joined when I came in.
“We are in the place where we want to be without being satisfied with anything. We are a challenger and we are a challenger again for pretty much everything, especially in each game.
“I don’t think there is any game in the world where you would say beforehand, ‘No chance Liverpool,’ which is good.”
Liverpool upset Premier League champions Manchester City and scored five against Porto and Roma on their way to the final before losing to Real Madrid, which Klopp believes has restored some of the fear factor of going to Anfield on a European night.
“I think we got a lot of respect because of the way we played last season and I think everyone who saw the final saw that we could have won it against a side in a completely different moment,” he added.
“They see the games we played. They saw City, they saw Rome, they saw Porto. They saw so many games which we played in a really good way. There was a lot of respect.
“The best way is when you are experienced you use your new knowledge and start again, like a virgin if you want.”