What we learned after Mercedes error gifts Ferrari’s Vettel Australia Grand Prix win

Sebastian Vettel capitalized on a Mercedes mistake to clinch victory in the Australian Grand Prix. (AFP)
Updated 25 March 2018
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What we learned after Mercedes error gifts Ferrari’s Vettel Australia Grand Prix win

After Sebastian Vettel stole victory at the Formula One season-opening Australian Grand Prix, Arab News takes a look at five things we learned from the race.

MERCEDES ARE FALLIBLE AFTER ALL
Mercedes said after Sunday’s opener that a software glitch could be to blame for costing world champion Lewis Hamilton victory after Vettel’s Ferrari took the podium top spot.
Hamilton was in control of Sunday’s race until Romain Grosjean’s Haas stopped on track and officials imposed a Virtual Safety Car. This caused the field to slow while Vettel, who was leading courtesy of Hamilton’s earlier stop, was able to dive into the pits for fresh tires and lose less time than under normal race conditions.
It meant Vettel emerged from the pits marginally in front of a startled Hamilton and held on to his advantage to the chequered flag for his third Australian victory.
“What just happened, guys?” Hamilton asked his Mercedes team over radio during the race. “Why didn’t you tell me Vettel was in the pits?
“We thought we were safe, but there’s obviously something wrong,” the team replied.
“Did I do anything wrong? Should I have gone faster?” Hamilton pressed further.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said an investigation would be needed to find out what happened. For a team that produce winning performances with metronome-like consistency, it was quite amusing for fans to see them off-beat for once.

FERRARI COULD BE THE REAL DEAL
Although it might have taken a collapse from Haas and a software failure on the pit-wall to give them the win, Ferrari showed that they will definitely have the necessary pace this year. Hamilton stayed with Vettel’s car after the safety car restart, but he could not get the extra speed to get around the German. And the Mercedes driver is expecting more of the same in the next Grand Prix. The next race is in the desert of Bahrain, where Ferrari are traditionally quick.
“They are always good on hot circuits — even though it is a night race it is tough on the tires,” Hamilton said, adding that Ferrari’s performance was “better than it looked.”
The world champion added: “There will be ups and downs. Ferrari are really quick on the straight. They will be rapid in the next race. I can tell you it is going to be close.”
Rather ominously, Vettel believes there is still more to come from the car. “Obviously we were a little bit lucky today, but we take it. We are not there yet where we want to be (in terms of qualifying pace),” he said.

OVERTAKING AT A PREMIUM…AGAIN
Wolff said the lack of overtaking opportunities on the Albert Park street circuit was a contributory factor in the galling defeat.
“Lewis was attacking flat-out but you can see the overtaking is pretty bad here,” he said.
“Even the mega overtakers couldn’t make a pass. Lewis had to give up because the tires wouldn’t have made it to the end.”
That does not encourage Formula One fans for the season ahead. Much is done before every season to ensure that there will be a “new era” of stunning overtaking. This race will dampen any such hopes. Hamilton tried desperately to cut the deficit, and to his credit he managed to get within a second of his championship rival for several laps. But Albert Park, notoriously one of the most difficult on the circuit to overtake, did not give any hope of a dramatic last-gasp overtake. Fans were left to watch Hamilton pull back in an effort to preserve tires as Vettel sped away to claim victory.

ALONSO HAS STILL GOT IT
The two-time world champion Fernando Alonso was full of praise for his McLaren team after he and his teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finished among the points after switching to Renault engines during the off-season. And while the team were cautiously optimistic of improvement, for Alonso to get a mediocre car up into fifth position is testament to the will and determination of the man.
The McLaren engineers have had little time to react to having to redesign some of the parts at the rear end, so two cars in the top 10 is a fantastic result not only for Alonso but the whole McLaren garage.
“The last couple of years have been difficult, and I think the winter has been difficult as well,” the Spaniard said. “We should be proud of that, but I think there’s a lot more to come from McLaren.”
Of course, one race does not make an entire season, but Alonso said there was growing optimism inside the British team, and there are signs of improvement.
“With some updates to come in the next few races, we can start to look ahead a little bit and Red Bull will be the next target,” he added.

TECHNOLOGY NO MATCH FOR SIROTKIN’S SANDWICH SAGA
The highly controversial “Halo” system introduced this season has divided fans, drivers and experts alike. Designed to sit above the cockpit and protect a driver from flying debris on the track, it has been criticized as much for its lack of aesthetic quality as its practical effectiveness. One hopes we never have to see it tested in race conditions, but the debate about driver safety will rage on regardless.
So, it was both unfortunate but hilarious to see debutant driver Sergey Sirotkin’s race end after just five laps because of a sandwich bag being sucked into the brake duct, which caused the Russian to exit the track as his brakes overheated. Williams chief technical officer Paddy Lowe stopped short of confirming a bag was the primary reason, but admitted it was a distinct likelihood.
“It’s a theory at the moment. It’s not fully proven, we need to do some forensics on that. But we have residue of what looks like a melted plastic bag,” he added. You could not make it up.


Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Updated 17 February 2019
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Naomi Osaka throws down gauntlet to star-studded Dubai field

Tennis fans in Dubai are in for a treat this week as nine of the world’s top 10 women players do battle in the city to claim the Duty Free Championship crown, which starts today. Arab News picks out likely winners and glamor ties to keep an eye on during the tournament.

NAOMI OSAKA

The Japanese superstar, fresh from winning her second Grand Slam at the Australian Open last month, is playing her first event as world No. 1 and her first since her shock split with her coach Sascha Bajin.

The German had helped guide Osaka to back-to-back Grand Slam triumphs, with her win at the US Open last year. Osaka is yet to reveal why she decided to part ways with Bajin.

Regardless of events off-court, the Japanese will be the woman to beat and she will be playing the winner of the first-round tie between Kristina Mladenovic and Omani wildcard Fatma Al-Nabhani.

The last 12 months have seen a meteoric rise for Osaka. She started 2018 at number 68 in the WTA rankings. Going into the first Grand Slam of 2019, she was ranked 4th in the world, and thanks to Indian Wells now finds herself at the summit of women’s tennis. Expect her to go deep into the tournament in Dubai.

SIMONA HALEP

The Romanian could well face Osaka if she makes it to the semifinals, but will fancy her chances of reaching her first final in Dubai since she claimed the trophy in 2015. 

She will also be delighted that Serena Williams is not in Dubai, having been stopped in her tracks in Melbourne earlier this year by the American, her ninth defeat in 10 games to her nemesis.

She will also be buoyed by the fact that by virtue of reaching yesterday’s final in Doha, she is guaranteed to move up to world No. 2 before even serving a ball.

Halep will open her tournament against either a resurgent Eugenie Bouchard or Vera Lapko, with a tricky potential Doha rematch against Elize Mertens to come by the third round, which should she win would set up a blockbuster showdown against either Aryna Sabalenka or Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals. She comes into Dubai with the weight of expectation on her shoulders, but Halep should cope.

ELINA SVITOLINA

The two-time defending champion is part of an exclusive club as one of only three women to win back-to-back Dubai titles (Justine Henin and Venus Williams also accomplished the feat), and this week the No. 7 seed will be looking to go one better and win a third straight Dubai crown.

Svitolina will be disappointed she could not turn a commanding 4-1 lead over Halep in her Doha semifinal into a win, but will have put that loss behind her.

The Ukrainian will have to be at her best as she has been given a tough route to a potential final in Dubai. She opens against either Donna Vekic or Tunisian Ons Jabeur, the best-ranked Arab on the tour. A third-round battle with Garbine Muguruza looks likely, while Halep and Osaka could be waiting for her in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. It would be a remarkable achievement if Svitolina made it three in a row in Dubai.

PETRA KVITOVA

Having made the Australian Open final, Kvitova had to take a short break from the game to testify against the man who attacked her in 2016, reliving the traumatic life-threatening ordeal that left her with nerve damage in all five fingers of her left hand. Her courageous comeback on the tour was hailed by both players and fans.

“I’m not sure any day that I’ll be completely over that. I’m glad that this one’s over,” she said in Dubai on Saturday, referring to her testimony in court.

Kvitova knows what it takes to win in Dubai, having claimed the trophy in 2013, and opens her campaign against either Petra Martic or Katerina Siniakova in the second round.