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.


Russian MMA superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov arrives at Abu Dhabi Fight Island for UFC 254

Updated 20 October 2020

Russian MMA superstar Khabib Nurmagomedov arrives at Abu Dhabi Fight Island for UFC 254

  • With 28 career wins and no losses, Nurmagomedov holds the longest active undefeated streak in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA)

LONDON: Russian UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov arrived at Abu Dhabi’s “Fight Island” on Yas Island on Tuesday ahead of his upcoming fight with interim Lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. 

The reigning Lightweight champion and the American interim champion will complete final preparations before their unification bout on Saturday as part of UFC 254 at the Flash Forum, with the winner becoming the champion of the Lightweight division.

UFC stars Robert Whittaker and Jared Cannonier, who are fighting in the Middleweight category, have also arrived at the Yas Island coronavirus “safe zone” ahead of their bout.

With 28 career wins and no losses, Nurmagomedov holds the longest active undefeated streak in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), and is the first Muslim to hold a UFC title.

The Russian, nicknamed the Eagle, fought the first defense of his lightweight title against Conor McGregor at UFC 229 on 6 October, 2018 in Las Vegas.