Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

Red Bull’s Dutch driver Max Verstappen leaves the aircraft upon his arrival to the military airport Hinterstoisser in Zeltweg, Austria on Thursday. (AFP)
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Updated 03 July 2020

Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

  • Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment

SPIELBERG, South Africa: Max Verstappen will seek a hat trick of home wins for Red Bull and an early lead in the drivers championship at this weekend’s delayed and somewhat surreal season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

For everyone involved, the race will be an unprecedented experience — the calendar is unknown beyond the first eight races in Europe in 10 weeks, all to be run behind closed doors and severe limitations introduced with a new paddock protocol forbidding meetings.

As racing returns, the COVID-19 virus remains in circulation, which requires all participants to be tested before travel to Austria on private chartered jets, ongoing tests, the separation of teams and car crews into “bubbles” and controlled hotels.

Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment, there will be no sponsors, no guests and only a limited number of accredited broadcast and written news media.

Journalists, limited to a dozen instead of 300 or more, have to pass a test within 72 hours in advance of arrival and will not be allowed to leave the media center.

All interviews and news conferences will take place by video.

The teams will be kept isolated, based in tents with awnings instead of their usual grand motorhomes — and there is expected to be a synchronized taking the knee by the drivers on the grid, to support Black Lives Matter, ahead of Sunday’s race.

Afterwards, there will be no podium ceremony.

When the race begins, it will end the longest gap between races in the sport since 1962, but with two successive races in Austria and then one in Hungary, the pressure will be immediate and intense.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “There’s been a long drought. We all do this because we love it. We’ve missed it, so we can’t wait to start.”

“It’s going to be exciting and intense. The races come thick and fast.”

Dutch driver Verstappen, who bullied his way past Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to triumph in front of a mass of his “orange army” of fans last year, says he is unfazed by high expectations or the absence of spectators at the Red Bull Ring, a remote and compact circuit in the Styrian Alps.

“I am not thinking about a hat trick,” he said.

“The most important thing for me is to have a competitive car and to perform at my best.

“I never consider myself as a favorite because, actually, when you look at the track, it’s not even our best one, but last year it was very warm and we were good at keeping the engine cool.

“So I don’t expect an easy win. I think Mercedes will be very strong again and they are the ones to beat.”

Verstappen, who has kept a low profile during the lockdown, delivered three wins and eight podiums last year as Lewis Hamilton claimed his sixth title with Mercedes, who this year seek an unprecedented seventh constructors’ and drivers’ double in succession.

Verstappen and teammate Alex Albon will have an upgraded Honda engine package, developed since the coronavirus lockdown ended, to boost them at the contest in the Styrian Alps where the 800-meter altitude can affect engine performance.

Mercedes will also have an updated package while Ferrari, struggling to match them in pre-season testing, announced Tuesday that they are updating their cars for the third race in Hungary.

Hamilton this year bids for a record-equalling seventh drivers title as he campaigns passionately for greater diversity, and against racism, in the sport.

“We are preparing the best way we can for what is going to be the most difficult season that F1 and all of us have experienced,” he said in a video from the team, which — at his prompting — is running black livery this year to support equality and diversity.


Guardiola says Man City ‘ready’ for Real Madrid test

Updated 07 August 2020

Guardiola says Man City ‘ready’ for Real Madrid test

  • City host Zinedine Zidane’s team in the 2nd leg of their last-16 tie, leading 2-1 after their win in February

LONDON: Pep Guardiola says Manchester City want to impose their game when they meet Real Madrid in their postponed Champions League match on Friday, believing his side are  ready to face the 13-time champions.

City host Zinedine Zidane’s team in the second leg of their last-16 tie, leading 2-1 after their win in the Bernabeu in February.

Guardiola’s side lost their Premier League crown to Liverpool but have a chance to finish the coronavirus-interrupted season by becoming European champions for the first time.

“We want to play our own game,” the City boss said at his pre-match press conference on Thursday.

“We want to impose our own style on the game, whether we’re defending or playing on the counter-attack or whether Madrid are countering.

“What we want to try and do is take the game to certain areas of the field where we can hurt Real Madrid, where we can show the qualities of our players.”

He added: “I had the feeling now, today, that we are ready to play the game tomorrow and do a good performance and win the game,” he said. “That’s my feeling, we are ready.”

But Guardiola warned that it was vital for his side to cut out the defensive mistakes that have hurt his side this season.

“More than conceding the goals, it’s the way that we conceded the goals,” he said. “When they are brilliant and make a good action we have to accept it.

“But for most of them it was goals that could have been avoided. We have to avoid it. Making mistakes in this competition punishes you a lot.”

Midfielder Rodri said the mood in the camp was good and he felt City were the better team.

But he believes playing Real presents unique challenges.

“They are more than a team,” he said. “I think they have that way of playing that you can never relax, even if you’re winning 3-0, 4-0. They always come back and they have the huge personality to become the champions they have been in the last 20, 30 years.

“It’s the biggest team in this competition and they have showed that to the world but now football has changed a little bit — it’s so competitive, the distances between teams are so, so narrow.

“I know we have a better team but we have to show that we are a better team on the pitch tomorrow.”

Guardiola revealed defender Eric Garcia has turned down the offer of a contract extension at the Etihad Stadium.

The highly rated 19-year-old center back has been linked with a return to his boyhood club Barcelona.

“He told us he doesn’t want to extend his contract with Manchester City,” said Guardiola. “He has one more year then after that he doesn’t want to extend.

“We want it but he doesn’t want to extend the contract. I imagine he wants to play in another place.”