Susie Wolff enjoying rush of Formula E as team principal of ROKiT Venturi Racing

Susie Wolff is looking forward to a successful start to the Formula E campaign when it kicks off in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh later this month. (Supplied)
Susie Wolff is looking forward to a successful start to the Formula E campaign when it kicks off in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh later this month. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 February 2021

Susie Wolff enjoying rush of Formula E as team principal of ROKiT Venturi Racing

Susie Wolff is looking forward to a successful start to the Formula E campaign when it kicks off in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh later this month. (Supplied)
  •  Former karting champion and Formula 1 test driver will lead her team at season-launching Diriyah E-Prix on Feb. 26

DUBAI: Not many drivers in motorsports have CVs that can match Susie Wolff’s.

She was named British Woman Kart Racing Driver of the Year in 1996, aged only 13. She was the top female kart driver in the world, with a professional racing career in the British Formula Renault Championship, claiming three podiums and two nominations for the British Young Driver of the Year award. She had a stint in Formula 3 and huge success at Mercedes-Benz in DTM, the German touring car championship, between 2006 and 2012. The highpoint of her career was joining Formula 1’s Williams Racing, first as a development driver, and then in 2015 as a test driver.

And, from 2018, she has been team principal of Formula E’s ROKiT Venturi Racing.

“I think I was incredibly lucky that I chose to stop my career; I’d come to what I felt was the end of the road,” said Wolf. “I’d always known that I was going to take the decision to retire when I felt that I couldn’t go any further. And I wanted to make sure there was something else in my life. I didn’t want to be known just as an ex-racing driver. I’m very ambitious to make this team successful.”

On Feb. 26, the 2021 Formula E season kicks off with Diriyah E-Prix - organized by Saudi's Ministry of Sports -  on the outskirts of Riyadh, and Wolff is looking forward to a successful start to the campaign.

“We saw from last year it was a fantastic event and this year it’s going to be more of a spectacle because it’s a night race,” the Scot said. “It’s a double-header, so a fantastic way to kick off the season.”

Wolff calls the track “challenging,” leaving the drivers with no room for error in their exclusively electric cars.

“How the track develops from the first time they drive to the point where qualifying and (the) race come, there’s a huge development on the speed of the track,” she said. “With it being a double-header, the drivers will have that extra challenge but it’s been so long since we’ve been racing, and I think everyone is very eager to get there and to get the season started.”

Like all sporting competitions, Formula E was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, with the organizers still facing challenges that other motorsports do not.

“Formula E has certainly been hit harder with the pandemic because of the fact that we race in city centers,” Wolff said. “It makes it more challenging to get a calendar set because obviously we’re not racing at a purpose-built site, which can be quite isolated. We’re actually in city centers, and I think that’s an important part of what Formula E is — we bring the races to the people.

“But I think Formula E have done a good job, I look forward to the second half of the calendar and being announced,” she added.

ROKiT Venturi Racing had a poor end to the truncated 2020 Formula E season, eventually finishing 10th out of 12 teams. Wolff, however, has high ambitions for the team this time round with the duo of Edoardo Mortara and Norman Nato, who replaced former Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa, in the driving seats.

“We didn’t perform well at the end of last season in the six races in nine days, which in the end dropped us in the team table,” she said. “But we have a new driver line-up this season, and we don’t underestimate the challenge ahead of us. Formula E is very, very competitive, and unlike other championships it’s very close. We know if we do a good job on any given day we have the chance of a podium if not a win. It’s about minimising the errors and maximising the opportunities.

“Certainly we’re going to Riyadh very determined to show what we’re capable of, but also realistic that in order to be successful at the end of the season in the team championship you simply need to be consistent, you need to be scoring points at every race, and not making mistakes,” she added.

Wolff believes that the next few years are crucial if Formula E’s profile is to continue rising to the point where it is attracting some of the best drivers in the business. Any comparisons with Formula 1 are, for now, too early.

“What I love about Formula E is that we are racing with a purpose,” she said. “We are showcasing new technology in the automotive industry, and the automotive industry is going through a huge change, one that doesn’t happen very often. We’re moving into electrification, we are at the cutting edge of that technology. The championship is only six years old, and what they’ve achieved in six years is to be respected, but we need to develop in the next few years. We’re attracting top drivers, we’re attracting larger audiences, we’re racing in iconic cities. You’ve got to keep that development curve.”

Having been in the driving seat herself, Wolff says she is determined to help more female drivers make the grade, but only on merit.

“In the end it comes down to performance, about finding the girl that is able to perform out on the track, because everything in motorsports is about performance,” she said. “Performance is power. And I think I’m passionate about making sure we get more talented women rising up the ranks because if the talent pool is bigger, you get women rising up to the top.” 

Physicality will always be a major factor in motorsports, and while Formula E is less demanding than Formula 1, it remains hugely competitive in its own right.

“In my first season in Formula E, there were nine different winners from 14 races and it’s just very, very tight, which means the driver makes a huge difference,” said Wolff. “Every team will make sure they have the best driver line-up they could possibly have. For me, it’s not about picking a woman because she’s a woman, it’s about picking the best person to go in the car. In order for that to be a woman, we need to make sure that talented young female drivers are rising through the ranks and getting the opportunity to join the very top of the sport.”

Similarly, she believes that producing young talented drivers in the Middle East is a long term project. Several initiatives she is involved in, as well as the hosting of major events in places like the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, will no doubt help the process as the emergence of one Saudi driver has already proved.

“You have one very prominent female driver, Reema Juffalli, who I’m supporting and I’m quite close to,” Wolff said. “I think definitely these things take time. I started ‘Dare to be Different’ which is now the FIA Girls on Track Initiative, to inspire the next generation and get more women into the sport, not just on track but off track. It was never going to be a project that was going to take one, two, three years. In order to see real change you need to wait five, 10 years because these sporting events can inspire, they can create role models.”

Wolff has several busy weeks ahead of the season’s start in Saudi Arabia. Her role at ROKiT Venturi Racing means that she has barely missed driving since her retirement. 

Being on the track come race day still brings a rush of adrenaline and Wolff considers herself lucky to experience the benefits of everything she loved about racing.

“When I see the challenges in Formula E, I sometimes look at my drivers and think I’m really happy I’m not in the car today. So from that perspective, no I don’t miss driving at all. I had a great career that I’m very grateful for but I’m happy with my new challenge.”

No doubt when Mortara and Nato take to their cars at Diriyah, they will be just as happy knowing Wolff is watching over them.


World No. 1 Nelly Korda joins Saudi Aramco Team Series golf championship in New York

World No. 1 Nelly Korda joins Saudi Aramco Team Series golf championship in New York
Updated 20 September 2021

World No. 1 Nelly Korda joins Saudi Aramco Team Series golf championship in New York

World No. 1 Nelly Korda joins Saudi Aramco Team Series golf championship in New York
  • The tournament is one of the European Tour championships, with prizes amounting to $1 million
  • It will be held on Oct. 14-16 at the Glen Oaks Club course

JEDDAH: World No. 1 golfer and Olympic gold medalist Nelly Korda and her sister, Jessica, have joined the list of top female golfers for the third Saudi Aramco Team Series tournament in New York.
The tournament, one of the European Tour championships, with prizes amounting to $1 million, will be held on Oct. 14-16 at the Glen Oaks Club course. The female golf professionals competing include five of the top 20 players in the world.
The organizing committee had previously confirmed the participation of American Solheim Cup stars Lizette Salas and Lexi Thompson, in addition to Anna Nordqvist, who plays for the Ladies European Tour and has won three major championships, including the 2021 Women’s British Open.
“The Solheim Cup was the best example of how much the players and fans liked the team system, so when I learned about the Saudi Aramco Teams Series championship I decided to be a part of it, and I’m really excited to have it on my calendar this year,” Saudi Press Agency cited Nelly Korda as saying.
Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation, said that the list of names participating in New York will be the strongest yet.
The Aramco Team Series system is a new concept in golf, where the players compete in teams, which is unusual in this individual sport. The prize for each championship in the series is $1 million and teams compete for a prize of $800,000, plus $200,000 for the best singles score over the weekend.


FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar

FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar
Updated 20 September 2021

FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar

FIFA to consult football leaders on international calendar
  • World football's governing body wants to launch a "new consultation phase" for the international women's and men's calendar
  • UEFA president is fiercely opposed to the proposal and threatened that European nations would boycott a biennial World Cup

PARIS: FIFA has invited football’s national federations to an online summit on September 30 to discuss the international calendar, in its push to hold the World Cup every two years instead of four.
World football’s governing body wants to launch a “new consultation phase” for the international women’s and men’s calendar, set to expire at the end of 2023 and 2024 respectively.
“There is a broad consensus within the game that the international match calendar should be reformed and improved,” FIFA said in a statement Monday.
“Following invitations to stakeholders, including all confederations, at the beginning of September, discussions are being organized in the coming weeks.
“FIFA also invited its member associations to a first online summit on 30 September 2021. This is one of several opportunities to establish a constructive and open debate, at a global and regional level, over the coming months.”
The proposal for a biennial World Cup was revived in March by former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, now head of global football development at FIFA.
The idea would be to have an international tournament each year from 2025-2026, alternating World Cups and continental tournaments like the European Championship and Copa America.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is fiercely opposed to the proposal and threatened that European nations would boycott a biennial World Cup.
South American confederation CONMEBOL said the project had “no sporting justification.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has promised decisions on staging a World Cup every two years would be made by the end of the year.
Last week FIFA published an online poll that claimed a majority of football fans support the idea of a “more frequent” World Cup.
The results of the survey came in stark contrast to the opposition of numerous national supporters groups worldwide.
Global players’ union FIFPro has denounced “the absence of a real dialogue” on the subject, pointing out the “natural physiological limits” of footballers.
“Without the agreement of the players, who bring all competitions to life on the pitch, no such reforms will have the required legitimacy,” said FIFPro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann.


Messi looks angry at being replaced; Icardi gets late winner

Messi looks angry at being replaced; Icardi gets late winner
Updated 20 September 2021

Messi looks angry at being replaced; Icardi gets late winner

Messi looks angry at being replaced; Icardi gets late winner
  • Messi stared sharply at PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and appeared to snub a handshake as he came off
  • As he was coming off, Messi made a gesture with his hands apart as if to say he didn't understand

PARIS: Lionel Messi hit the crossbar with a curling free kick and looked angry at being taken off in the 75th minute in his home debut Sunday for Paris Saint-Germain.
Substitute Mauro Icardi scored deep into stoppage time as PSG scraped a 2-1 win over Lyon in the French league to make it six straight victories.
Messi stared sharply at PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and appeared to snub a handshake as he came off. The six-time Ballon d’Or winner, who is still chasing his first PSG goal in his third appearance following his shock move from Barcelona, sat glum-faced on the bench.
As he was coming off, Messi made a gesture with his hands apart as if to say he didn’t understand, and Pochettino attempted an explanation afterward.
“Everyone knows we have great players in the squad, we have 35 players. But we must make decisions for the good of the team. Sometimes they lead to a positive result and sometimes not,” Pochettino said through a translator. “These are decisions we need to take. Sometimes it pleases people, or it doesn’t. I asked him how he was, and he said he was fine.”
On the field, Icardi found space to head in Kylian Mbappe’s precise cross from the left in the 93rd.
PSG fell behind in the 53rd when Brazil midfielder Lucas Paqueta finished neatly, after forward Karl Toko Ekambi picked him out with a low cross to the front post.
Neymar equalized from the penalty spot in the 66th after he was fouled by 18-year-old right back Malo Gusto.
Lyon coach Peter Bosz was unhappy with the call.
“It’s not Malo who fouls Neymar, it’s Neymar who puts his hand on him and fouls him,” Bosz said. “I can understand if the referee didn’t see it, but then there is VAR.”
Lyon’s long-serving president, Jean-Michel Aulas, went even further by calling the decision “an aberration” and saying the referee should have used video review.
Messi almost scored in the 32nd.
He found Neymar down the left and sprinted to meet Neymar’s clever reverse pass, but goalkeeper Anthony Lopes read Messi’s low shot well and denied him with his legs.
Four minutes later, Lopes was stuck to the spot as Messi hit the crossbar with a free kick from 25 meters.
Messi, whose last Champions League goal for Barca was away to PSG in last season’s round of 16 return leg, also hit the bar in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Club Brugge.
PSG is five points ahead of bitter rival Marseille, having played one game more.
Marseille earlier beat Rennes 2-0 to move into second place with striker Bamba Dieng getting his third goal in two games.
After Dieng turned in a cross from midfielder Pol Lirola in the 48th, substitute Amine Harit scored in the 70th after cutting in from the left flank.
Also, Amine Gouiri missed a late penalty as fifth-placed Nice was held to a 2-2 draw by visiting Monaco in a thrilling French Riviera derby.
Gouiri had the chance to make it 3-2 from the spot in the 82nd following a hand ball by defender Benoit Badiashile. But he missed the target.
Monaco striker Wissam Ben Yedder’s penalty five minutes earlier made it 2-2, moments after Gouiri and Andy Delort set up midfielder Hicham Boudaoui.
After Nice forward Kasper Dolberg limped off with a knee injury, midfielder Aleksandr Golovin put Monaco ahead in the 39th from a right-wing cross by Gelson Martins.
Delort, who replaced Dolberg, equalized in the 50th as he headed in Gouiri’s cross. Gouiri has four goals and two assists in six games.
Struggling Monaco is in 14th spot.


‘It feels like a sporting revolution’: Saudi Karate Federation president hails KSA progress

Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
Updated 20 September 2021

‘It feels like a sporting revolution’: Saudi Karate Federation president hails KSA progress

Dr Musharraf Al-Shehri, President of the Saudi Karate Federation with Olympic silver medalist Tarek Hamdi. (Supplied)
  • Dr. Musharraf Al-Shehri says Tarek Hamdi’s Tokyo success was ‘pivotal moment’ for sport

 

JEDDAH: Tarek Hamdi’s heroic silver medal at Tokyo 2020 and the third place finish by the Saudi women’s karate team in the kata competition of the International Karate1 Premier League tournament held in Cairo recently have ushered in a new era of achievement and progress in the sport, the president of the Saudi Karate Federation has said.

Dr. Musharraf Al-Shehri told Arab News that the high-profile performances of Hamdi at the Olympics in particular “brought attention” to karate in the Kingdom and will help spur further development of the sport.

“The medal sent out a message,” Al-Shehri said. “And the message is ‘yes we can — we can compete on the biggest stage.’”

Hamdi and the successful women’s team will prove a source of inspiration for aspiring athletes to take interest in karate and other sports, he added.

“We are very happy to see Saudi Arabia gaining such a reputation in karate,” said Al-Shehri. “This confirms that we are on the right path in the the sport as per the vision engineered to develop it, enabling the Kingdom’s champions to produce honorable results.”

Al-Shehri started his career as a karateka and won the Saudi Championship seven times. He has also represented the Kingdom’s national team in many regional and international tournaments as a player, referee, and was chairman of the West Asian Karate Referees Committee, member of the Asian and Arab Referees Committee, advisor to the Athletic Federation of Saudi Universities.

“Today is one of the most important moments in Saudi karate history,” he said. It is a “game-changing moment” that will open sport up to more people than ever before, “creating new heroes and fueling future success,” he added.

“It feels like a sporting revolution and the start of something new. We want the people of Saudi Arabia to feel this change, share it, celebrate it, connect to our athletes and support them on their inspirational journeys.”

However, Al-Shehri said that the transformation is a result of the hard work of all previous federations, and not just the current one.

“We are continuing what the previous administrations started, but for us as a new management, we hope to bring the level of karate sports to the highest level,” he added.

“What Tarek achieved left a true imprint of Saudi karate and put the name of the Kingdom on the highest platforms in the world.”

He added that the rise in standards is down to the policies of the Saudi Karate Federation and its successful plans to develop the sport, as well as the full support of the authorities responsible for Saudi sports. The federation is now hoping to compete for more medals at the 2021 World Karate Championships to be held in Dubai from Nov. 16-21.

Al-Shehri thanked everyone who has worked with him during his tenure as president, including administrators, players, coaches, referees, members and colleagues of former members of the board.

He also praised the unequivocal support of Saudi Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal, and hailed the government’s decision to include the martial art in school sporting curricula.

“I see that the future of karate is great in the Kingdom, especially in light of the great support of the generous leadership of all sports,” he added.

Speaking to Arab News at the Second Kingdom Open Championship for girls aged under 15 in Jeddah, Al-Shehri lauded the performance of the Saudi women’s team in Cairo.

“Though it was the first participation for the women’s team at the international level, the team managed to achieve a bronze medal in Cairo,” he said. “This is very promising for the future of the Saudi female team.”

With the rising popularity of karate as a sport, Al-Shehri expects participation to surpass 100,000 people at all levels as more local competitions are established.

“In fact, I think that the number is small compared to the size of the Kingdom, and I hope that the game will spread more and we will see more heroes like Tarek Hamdi, and that the competition will be high,” he said.


Saudi International and Asian Tour announce historic golf partnership

Saudi International and Asian Tour announce historic golf partnership
Updated 20 September 2021

Saudi International and Asian Tour announce historic golf partnership

Saudi International and Asian Tour announce historic golf partnership
  • New 10-year deal will see the Asian Tour sanction the championship from 2022, with an increased prize fund

SINGAPORE: The 2022 Saudi International presented by SoftBank Investment Advisers will mark the start of an historic chapter in golf, as the event becomes sanctioned by the Asian Tour as part of a new 10-year partnership.

The tournament, which will take place at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club near Jeddah from Feb. 3 to 6, 2022, will also feature an increased purse of $5 million, up from $3.5 million. The Asian Tour partnership is aiming to elevate the event in significant emerging markets around the world.

In 2021, the Saudi International presented one of the strongest fields in world golf, joining an elite group behind only the Majors and a small number of professional championships in the ranking points offered to competitors.

“Today marks a significant development for our flagship golf event and our vision to strengthen the depth of world-class golf events, both in the GCC and also on the international stage,” said Majed Al-Sorour, CEO of Golf Saudi and the Saudi Golf Federation.

“The importance and potential of Asia’s role in world golf is undeniable, not least due to its position as a global economic powerhouse,” he said, adding: “This partnership will unlock many opportunities for players, sponsors and fans of the game. Most importantly, we are eager to help build a more inclusive game for all eligible professional golfers that spans borders and cultures by fostering collaboration with major tours and see this as an exciting first step on that journey.”

The deal with the Asian Tour, the official body for golf in Asia and a full member of the International Federation of PGA Tours, will introduce new commercial prospects and enable more professional golfers to qualify and compete for life-changing opportunities.

“This is an outstanding development for the Asian Tour that will create significant benefits for our membership, key stakeholders, and fans alike,” said Cho Minn Thant, commissioner and CEO of the Asian Tour.

“The Saudi International presented by SoftBank Investment Advisers is a world-class tournament which has become truly global. We are thrilled that it will be the showcase event of the Asian Tour’s season, spearheading our expansion into new frontiers.”

While the Saudi International presented by SoftBank Investment Advisers will mark the start of a revamped 2022 schedule, the Asian Tour is also in the process of finalizing plans to complete its combined 2020-2021 schedule, which will be announced in due course.