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.


360VUZ to bring football action to fans’ mobile phones

360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
Updated 24 sec ago

360VUZ to bring football action to fans’ mobile phones

360VUZ has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to bring top tier football action to fans’ mobile phones. (Supplied/360VUZ)
  • Under agreement with Saudi Professional League a new dedicated channel will allow users to navigate easily on the app and watch the top tier Saudi clubs in action

RIYADH: 360VUZ, the immersive virtual mobile app has partnered with the Saudi Professional League to offer a fuller experience to football fans, enabling them to watch highlights of the SPL games, behind the scenes videos and exclusive interviews with players all in 360 degrees.

The new partnership will play a major role in engaging 360VUZ users with the Saudi league, making it one of the first major leagues in the world to bring an immersive football content to screens.

Khaled Zaatarah, founder and Chief Executive Officer of 360VUZ, said: “We are happy to team up with Saudi Professional League to show spectacular videos of the league on our platform. In 360VUZ we strive to offer an immersive experience with vital content for all our users just through using their phones.”

360VUZ will offer a dedicated channel for SPL, which will allow the users to navigate easily on the app and watch the top tier Saudi clubs in action. The app includes KBW Ventures — founded by Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz, President of Saudi Sports For All Federation — as one of its investors.

“Seeing 360VUZ ink this partnership with the Saudi Professional League is really exciting for me as an investor,” Prince Khaled said. “During their initial pitch, I could see how well their immersive experience would work for Saudi sports enthusiasts, and now with SPL the app can bring these moments to fans both in and outside of the Kingdom.”

Abdul Aziz Al Afaleq, Chairman of the Board at Saudi Pro League, said: “We are keen on adopting the latest trends and technologies around the world, and featuring our league on 360VUZ app makes us the first league to present exclusive and immersive video content to our fans.”

“This partnership aims at enhancing our connection with the league’s fans by offering a one-of-a-kind experience to watch the league’s stars and the latest highlights of our matches,” he said.


Faf du Plessis stars as Chennai Super Kings down Kolkata Knight Riders to win fourth IPL title in Dubai

Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians. (Twitter: @IPL)
Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians. (Twitter: @IPL)
Updated 16 October 2021

Faf du Plessis stars as Chennai Super Kings down Kolkata Knight Riders to win fourth IPL title in Dubai

Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians. (Twitter: @IPL)

DUBAI: Faf du Plessis smashed an attacking half-century to help Chennai Super Kings thrash Kolkata Knight Riders by 27 runs and clinch their fourth Indian Premier League title on Friday.
Du Plessis’ 86 off 59 balls guided Chennai to 192-3, a total their bowlers defended by restricting Kolkata to 165-9 in the final in Dubai.
Opener Venkatesh Iyer hit a 32-ball 50 but the knock was not enough to stop Chennai’s M.S. Dhoni from a landmark win in his 300th match as T20 skipper.
“We had match winners coming game after game and doing really well,” said Dhoni who also praised Kolkata for reviving their fortunes in the tournament’s second leg.
“Every final is special, if you look at the stats, we may say we’re the most consistent team to lose the final too. I feel it’s important to come back strong, especially in the knockouts.”
Chennai, winners in 2010, 2011 and 2018, remain one of the most successful IPL franchises after five-time champions Mumbai Indians who failed to defend their title this season.
Shardul Thakur took three wickets including twin strikes in one over to hurt two-time champions Kolkata who came into the final on the back of four successive wins.
Spinner Ravindra Jadeja and pace bowler Josh Hazlewood took two wickets each.
Eoin Morgan’s Kolkata won the toss and elected to field but their bowlers failed to get a wicket until the ninth over and took a hammering in Dubai.
Ruturaj Gaikwad fell for 32 off spinner Sunil Narine but Du Plessis kept up the charge to raise his fifty with a six amid raucous support for Chennai at a nearly packed stadium.
The South African veteran smashed seven fours and three sixes and put on key partnerships with Robin Uthappa, who made 31, and Moeen Ali, who hit an unbeaten 37 off 20 balls.
“That was a great day. It was also my 100th game in the IPL,” said man of the match Du Plessis who scored 600 runs this season.
“I have loved my time here. I have done almost ten years here — two seasons were a bit of a break. Number four in the trophy cabinet is really good.”
Du Plessis was all praise for his opening partner Gaikwad who topped the season’s batting chart with 635 runs and named emerging player of the tournament.
Du Plessis was out on the final ball off pace bowler Shivam Mavi. Narine was Kolkata’s best bowler with figures of 2-26.
Kolkata started strongly with Iyer and Shubman Gill, who made 51, putting on a quickfire opening stand of 91.
But Chennai hit back with Thakur’s twin strikes in one over including Iyer’s key wicket as wheels came off the Kolkata chase.
“We are extremely proud of the fight we have shown. The character and fight is trademark,” Morgan said of his side that bounced back from a seventh place in the first leg to storm into the playoffs and then the final.
The tournament was halted midway due to a surging pandemic in India in may and resumed in the United Arab Emirates last month.


Infantino says biennial World Cup gives countries chance to ‘dream’

Infantino says biennial World Cup gives countries chance to ‘dream’
Updated 15 October 2021

Infantino says biennial World Cup gives countries chance to ‘dream’

Infantino says biennial World Cup gives countries chance to ‘dream’
  • The biennial World Cup project has come in for heavy criticism from continental federations UEFA and CONMEBOL
  • "Our job as FIFA is to constantly think about how we can improve football in the world, to make football truly global," Infantino said in Caracas

CARACAS: FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Friday defended his plan to hold the World Cup every two years during a visit to Venezuela, a country that has never qualified for the global showpiece.
The biennial World Cup project, which has the backing of former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, has come in for heavy criticism from continental federations UEFA and CONMEBOL, as well as coaches and pundits.
“Our job as FIFA is to constantly think about how we can improve football in the world, to make football truly global,” Infantino said during an event in the Venezuelan capital Caracas.
“The FIFA president is president of the 111 countries and all those countries have the right to dream, a dream like the Vinotinto (Venezuela’s national team) dream.
“They also have to be able to achieve that dream because if you have to dream for eternity, in the end you prefer to do other things.”
Infantino insisted that a biennial World Cup would increase the chances for smaller nations to qualify.
“When it was decided to organize a World Cup every four years, more or less 100 years ago, FIFA had 40 countries. It’s time to re-analyze the issue.”
Infantino said South American sides were often at a disadvantage due to the amount of travel they have to do compared to European sides.
Europe has hosted the World Cup more than twice as often (11 times) than any other continent.
South America have welcomed the tournament five times. Africa and Asia have only hosted it once each, although the next one is in Qatar.
“If Messi has to travel 350,000 kilometers to play a World Cup and Cristiano Ronaldo 50,000 to play ... I think it’s normal that in June the South Americans are a bit more tired than the Europeans,” said Infantino.
“Since 2002, Brazil have not won a single World Cup knock-out match against a European side ... Not for 20 years, and that’s Brazil!“


The joy is back for Neymar in World Cup qualifying

The joy is back for Neymar in World Cup qualifying
Updated 15 October 2021

The joy is back for Neymar in World Cup qualifying

The joy is back for Neymar in World Cup qualifying

SAO PAULO: Neymar started the week facing criticism after a poor performance in a World Cup qualifying match and his suggestion that the next tournament in Qatar might be his last.
But the striker helped erase many of those thoughts by providing key elements in all of the Brazil goals in Thursday’s 4-1 win against Uruguay.
The 29-year-old Neymar, who had a disappointing performance in Sunday’s 0-0 draw at Colombia in the previous round, arrived in the northwest Brazilian city of Manaus on Monday with dozens of fans in front of the team’s hotel. That would be the usual, were it not for a wave of criticism he has faced at home for months.
Neymar scored the opening goal against Uruguay after dribbling past goalkeeper Fernando Muslera. He then took the shot that allowed Raphinha to add the second. And then he provided two assists; one in a through pass to Raphinha and a cross that landed on the head of Gabriel Barbosa.
Midfielder Fred, who assisted Neymar on his goal, said Brazil players felt the difference in atmosphere since they arrived in Manaus. And that includes the team’s star.
“These fans gave us support every day in the stadium, in the hotel. They bought all the tickets and it was an extra strength for us,” he said, referring to the attendance of 12,500, the maximum allowed by COVID-19 protocols in Brazil. “We want them to be here supporting us, giving this great energy again in the next matches,” he added.
Raphinha praised Neymar’s performance on Thursday.
“Playing with Ney was very easy. I am a big fan of his, I take a lot of inspiration from him, in the way he plays and dribbles the opposition,” Raphinha said. “I watch a lot of his videos. To have played alongside is a dream coming true.”
Neymar also showed his reinvigorated happiness on social media.
On Instagram, he posted pictures celebrating his goal with teammate Lucas Paquetá, a montage to mark his 70th goal for Brazil and also a video of himself hugging his friend and Uruguay striker Luis Suárez.
“A giant by nature,” Neymar said in the caption of a picture of himself celebrating.
The Brazil star, who has been overshadowed by Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi’s arrival at his club Paris Saint-Germain, once again dribbled past defenders with a smile on his face.
Before Neymar’s showing against Uruguay, local fans were still accusing him of being in poor shape, failing in delivering the latest Copa America, focusing too much on his events off the pitch and, finally, of remaining mostly silent about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil.
Brazil coach Tite agreed that the first match in front of home fans boosted the team’s morale after two lackluster performances. Neymar did not play in the 3-1 win against Venezuela due to a suspension.
“Thank you, Manaus. You had extraordinary human warmth with us,” Tite said at a media conference. “With fans back in the stadium . . . celebrating when our bus arrived. It was beautiful. Maybe today’s showing had to do a little with all this love, being welcome here.”
Neymar will return to action with Brazil in November, when his team will qualify for the World Cup if it scores a home win over Colombia in the next round. A few days later he will face Messi’s Argentina in San Juan.
Brazil leads qualifiers with 31 points in 11 matches, six ahead of second-place Argentina.


Pedri signs new deal with ‘greatest club’ Barcelona

Pedri signs new deal with ‘greatest club’ Barcelona
Updated 15 October 2021

Pedri signs new deal with ‘greatest club’ Barcelona

Pedri signs new deal with ‘greatest club’ Barcelona
  • Pedri has been one of the very few bright spots for Barcelona over the past year
  • “My desire was to remain here for many years,” the 18-year-old Pedri said after signing

BARCELONA: Barcelona midfielder Pedri González signed a new contract through 2026 on Friday, with the club hoping the teenager can help it recover from the traumatic departure of Lionel Messi.
Pedri has been one of the very few bright spots for Barcelona over the past year, during which a president has resigned and its debt has skyrocketed. Barcelona had to let Messi walk away when it could not pay his wages. Painful losses on the field have followed.
“My desire was to remain here for many years,” the 18-year-old Pedri said after signing. “It is true that we are going through a difficult moment, but we are the greatest club in the world and we are going to work this out.”
Pedri is coming off a breakout season, his first with Barcelona after joining from Las Palmas. The playmaker led Barcelona with 53 appearances, helping it win the Copa del Rey.
Pedri also became a key player for Spain, helping the national team reach the semifinals of the European Championship and winning a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
His salary was not made public but Barcelona president Joan Laporta thanked Pedri for making “an effort” to reach an agreement that the cash-strapped club could afford. An exultant Laporta, who at one point in their joint news conference accidently called Pedri “Messi,” said re-signing the teenager was “of those days when it pays to be Barça’s president.”
In a sign of the expectations Barcelona has placed on Pedri, his contract includes a release clause of 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion), the highest in club history. Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany said Pedri’s release clause “means he will be off the market for several years.”
Pedri signed for Barcelona in 2019 from Las Palmas, a second-division club on his native Canary Islands. The transfer fee of 5 million euros ($5.8 million) proved a steal. At Barcelona, Pedri quickly convinced coach Ronald Koeman that he should be his central playmaker in a similar role to former great Andrés Iniesta.
Spain coach Luis Enrique took note and gave Pedri a starting spot in the European Championship, where his precision passing and ball control earned him the award for the tournament’s best young player.
With Messi gone and no money to make big signings, Pedri forms part of a youth movement at Barcelona along with forward Ansu Fati and Gavi Páez, who recently became the youngest player to debut for Spain at age 17.
Pedri is currently recovering from a left thigh injury. He said that he did not believe the injury was due to the staggering total of 74 matches he played for country and club last season.
“I am eager to get back out there and make good on the trust that (the club) has placed in me,” Pedri said.