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)
Short Url
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.


Davis, Lakers beat Nuggets to take 3-1 lead in West finals

Updated 25 September 2020

Davis, Lakers beat Nuggets to take 3-1 lead in West finals

  • Game 5 is Saturday, when the Lakers can reach the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: The Los Angeles Lakers are a victory away from returning to the NBA Finals — and only another comeback from 3-1 down by the Denver Nuggets can stop them.
Anthony Davis scored 34 points, LeBron James had 26 and the Lakers beat the Nuggets 114-108 on Thursday night in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
Davis got the Lakers off to a fast start with his scoring and James helped them finish it with his defense, forcing Jamal Murray into some late misses after the guard had kept the Nuggets in it with an array of high-difficulty baskets.
James added nine rebounds and eight assists, and the Lakers had 12 offensive rebounds for a whopping 25-6 advantage in second-chance points.
Game 5 is Saturday, when the Lakers can reach the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade.
The Nuggets will be facing elimination for the seventh time in the bubble. They were down 3-1 against Utah in the first round and climbed out of the same hole against the Los Angeles Clippers in the West semifinals.
But they couldn’t come back in this game, getting within one point in the opening minute of the fourth quarter but constantly turned back from there by a key stop or rebound by the Lakers.
The Lakers have 16 championships, one behind Boston for the most in NBA history, but they haven’t played for one since winning their most recent title in 2010.
The Lakers started Dwight Howard at center and he had 12 points and 11 rebounds, helping put Nikola Jokic into foul trouble.
Murray had 32 points and eight assists, but Jokic finished with just 16 points and seven rebounds.
Davis scored 27 points in Game 3 but the 6-foot-10 forward acknowledged that his two-rebound performance was “unacceptable.” He came out much more aggressively Thursday after the Lakers played from behind much of the last game.
With an array of short jumpers, Davis made his first six shots before anyone else on the Lakers made a basket. Then Howard scored on consecutive follow shots before James followed with his first two field goals.
Murray kept the Lakers from getting too far away with a 7-for-8 start. He followed his acrobatic layup around James with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the half with a pair of free throws that cut it to four, before the Lakers took a 60-55 edge to the locker room.
The Nuggets shot 59% in the first half but the Lakers had an 18-2 advantage in second-chance points.
The Lakers seemed to be taking control when Rajon Rondo and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope combined for a flurry that pushed the lead to 11 with under 4 minutes remaining in the third, but Michael Porter Jr. hit two 3-pointers late in the period that cut it to 87-84 going to the fourth.
TIP-INS
Lakers: Howard hadn’t started in any of his 10 postseason appearances and didn’t play much at all in the last round, when the Lakers went small to match up against the Houston Rockets. He made two starts in the regular season. ... Caldwell-Pope scored 13 points and Rondo had 11.
Nuggets: Jerami Grant scored 17 points and Porter had 13.
THOUGHTS FOR TAYLOR
James had the words “We want justice” written next to Breonna Taylor’s name on his sneaker. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said the news a day earlier that a Kentucky grand jury brought no charges against Louisville police for the Black woman’s shooting death hit the players hard.
“It’s heartbreaking, and you know, there’s really no silver lining to it. It’s a reminder of, it’s not just — it’s hard for Breonna Taylor, her family, and everybody that was invested in this,” Vogel said.
“But it’s just a reminder of all the other acquittals when unarmed black men are being killed, and it’s just something that’s hit us hard. Just a reminder that, you know, how important it is for all of us to vote and to be educated on all the potential police reform bills that are out there, and just play our part and do everything we can to help affect change.”
MILLSAP’S VOTING LOCATION
The Nuggets announced a partnership between forward Paul Millsap and DeKalb County to make the CORE4 training facility in Chamblee, Georgia as a general election voting center. Millsap, wearing “Vote” on his jersey during the restart, is the founder of the facility that will be open for early voting from Oct. 12-30.