Stoffel Vandoorne looking to get new Formula E season off to a flying start as Mercedes-EQ partner with NEOM 

Stoffel Vandoorne driving the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 along NEOM's Magna Road. (Photo: Joan Gosa)
Stoffel Vandoorne driving the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 along NEOM's Magna Road. (Photo: Joan Gosa)
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Updated 23 February 2021

Stoffel Vandoorne looking to get new Formula E season off to a flying start as Mercedes-EQ partner with NEOM 

Stoffel Vandoorne driving the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 along NEOM's Magna Road. (Photo: Joan Gosa)
  • The 2020-21 Formula E season launches with the Diriyah E-Prix double header on February 26-27

RIYADH: With the Diriyah E-Prix only days away, Stoffel Vandoorne of Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team is hoping to start the 2020-21 Formula E season just as he ended the last; by winning.

The Belgian driver claimed victory in the final race of the 2019-20 season in Berlin to secure the runner-up spot in the Drivers’ Championship and third position in the Teams’ Championship.

Back in Saudi Arabia for the season-opening double-header on Friday and Saturday, Vandoorne is hoping to go one better as the all-electric series gains official FIA World Championship status.

 

“Saudi is special to me, especially regarding the tracks,” Vandoorne said. “The elevation of its tracks with the quick challenging combination of corners requires attention. The speed of the Saudi circuit is the most prominent characteristic which brings on a lot of challenge.”

Vandoorne, who will be embarking on his third season in Formula E, spoke with Arab News virtually ahead of the Diriyah E-Prix to share some of his thoughts on the race as well a new partnership between Mercedes-EQ and NEOM.

“I think it’s a great partnership because both NEOM and Mercedes have very similar targets in terms of pushing innovation for the future, and what NEOM is going to create and stand for is to build a whole new eco-city,” Vandoorne said.

NEOM’s partnership with the Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team, first established in 2020, will focus mainly on development programmes in the region and green mobility efforts to revolutionize electric vehicles. NEOM will also be the principal and founding partner to the Mercedes EQ FE Driver Development Programme, set to launch this year.

“It’s a great initiative from both sides, it’s about innovation but it’s also about developing people through a training facility in NEOM, which will have the most innovative tools and systems there to develop people and drivers. I hope to be a part of it in the future to help guide people along the way,” he added.

Footage released on Monday showed Vandoorne driving the Mercedes-EQ Silver Arrow 02 along NEOM’s Magna Road and clearly enjoying himself before the competitive action kicks in on Friday night.

“It’s been a fantastic experience visiting NEOM for the first time,” he said. “It’s great to be working alongside a partner who shares our goal to help create a more sustainable future. The location itself was spectacular, what a place to run the car! We have been working hard ahead of the season opener in Diriyah and can’t wait for the racing to begin.”

READ MORE: INTERVIEW - DGDA CEO Jerry Inzerillo on Diriyah’s Formula E

In the 24 E-Prix races Vandoorne has contested so far, he has achieved one victory, two pole positions and four podiums. Partnering him at Mercedes-EQ will be Nyck de Vries of the Netherlands.

The Diriyah E-Prix will also see Formula E’s first-ever night race spanning its seven-year history.

“It’s great, personally I love night races,” said Vandoorne. “I’ve done a few in the past in the other series I was racing in, in Formula 1 for example. I think they bring a different dynamic to racing because the cars look fantastic at night, everything looks a bit faster, driving at night you have that tunnel vision because you’re racing literally between the lights.”

“There will be a lot of hard racing, the track conditions will evolve obviously as we go into the night so it will be a bit colder, which will have an impact on the tires, on the circuit evolution during the race, and we’ll have to adapt to that,” he added. But it’s great to see Saudi is again on the front foot with bringing something new to the championship and hosting the first night race,” he added.

Vandoorne also hailed Saudi’s social reforms in the last few years regarding gender equality and commended the recent interest taken by women to join motorsports, in particular Jeddah-born Reema Juffali.

“Women can do a great job as well if they have the talent, the passion, the education for it, they absolutely have the same chances as us,” he said.

He also reflected on his time at Formula 1, saying it was an honour to work alongside veteran driver Fernando Alonso, adding that the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps remains his favourite racetrack.

“It was a good experience, Fernando is obviously one of the best drivers in the world, he’s a double world champion,” said Vandoorne. “As a rookie it’s always great to learn from drivers like that, to see how they operate within the team, how they work with the team. My time at Formula 1 has been a learning experience for me and something I’ve definitely carried forward with me into my journey in Formula E.”


How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
Updated 01 March 2021

How a group of Saudi female showjumpers took over the reins

The Equestrian Union was established in 2015 bu group of Saudi female riders with an aim to compete on equal footing with male counterparts. (The Equestrian Union)
  • The Equestrian Union was formed in 2015 to allow women to compete on equal footing with men in the Kingdom

DUBAI: If it doesn’t exist, create it.

That seems to be the attitude of Saudi female athletes increasingly taking matters into their own hands. Women footballers and motor-racing drivers in the Kingdom have rightly been making the headlines recently.

But a group of six female showjumpers have been riding the wave of change even before societal reforms swept through the Kingdom and brought gender equality to the fore, as part of its Vision 2030 goals.

For years, the group of friends would attend showjumping competitions throughout the season as spectators. Until one day, while at an Equestrian Federation show in Jenadriya, they decided to establish an organization that would cater to their love of the sport, and allow them to compete on equal terms with male show jumpers.

They named it the Equestrian Union.

“Equestrian Union is an initiative that we started as Saudi female riders back in 2015, addressing the fact that there were no competitions that allowed female participation in Saudi Arabia at that time,” Mashael bint Mansour Binsultan, one of the founding showjumpers, told Arab News. She has been riding horses for the past 20 years.

“We had top imported horses, professional trainers, private stables and all the unconditional support of our families. We trained daily and took care of our horses; it was a lifestyle,” she added.

There was further positive change when in 2019, the Equestrian Federation opened up opens up participation for all female riders.

After that, progress has been rapid. In December 2019, 13 female Saudi equestrians made their home debut as part of the Diriyah Season, competing with their male counterparts for the first time ever in the Kingdom.

Binsultan, along with Sara Alruwaita, Ajwa Alsaud, Loulouah Bandar, Shuaa Alakeel and Sara Aljowie, had been honing their organisational skills long before that.

“We (had) started planning and managing events during the winter season since 2015, which shed light on showjumping competitions specifically but also included many other aspects such as cycling, hiking, archery, promoting local Saudi brands, food trucks, and horse trails,” Binsultan explained. “As a result, we gained experience in managing and organizing shows and events.”

Their first show took place in October 2015 and met all the standards of the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI).

“We want to continue promoting not only showjumping, but also social family-oriented sporting events and recreational activities, which is one of the main strategic goals of the Saudi Vision 2030,” Binsultan said. “Our families and friends were extremely supportive since the beginning. We were also fortunate enough to get added technical experience and support from local and international companies that sponsored some of the showjumping classes.”

Mansour AlMugatti, an international course designer and judge, continues to lend his support with the events to this day.

“We were very happy with the support and positive feedback we had from the Equestrian Federation which came from Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad, the president of the Equestrian Federation, honoring the winners in our last event,” she added.

Binsultan said, under the administration of the Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki, equestrian tournaments, in particular the Saudi Cup, are joining some of the highest profile events in the Kingdom — such as Formula E, the Clash on the Dunes heavyweight boxing bout, the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the Asian Games 2034.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia will host international four and five star showjumping events in Riyadh during the 2020-2021 season, and the Equestrian World Games 2024.

“I was immediately interested as, at the time, we did not have shows that allowed women to compete in Saudi Arabia and it was a fun way to spend the day with my friends, family and horses,” Bandar told Arab News. “I have always been into horses. I really don’t know why or how it started but both my parents rode as children and encouraged me when I expressed interest. I have a lot of family members who owned horses so I have always been around them.”

Bandar believes the Union provides a platform for equestrian lovers to practice their skills, without the pressures that comes with competing at a federation show.

“It’s a great place to come to if you are a beginner, someone with a new horse or even someone wanting to get in extra ‘schooling’ with your horse,” said the 26-year-old. “It’s also important because, a lot of the time, riders spend weekends at shows away from their family and friends, and with Equestrian Union, they can have a day out and enjoy it with their family members and loved ones.”

Alruwaita’s passion for horse-riding began at the age of 15 and alongside a friend, she went on to open “Tack Shack”, an equestrian goods store in Riyadh.

“I loved it,” she said, addressing the changes that have taken place in the Kingdom over the last decade. “Everything changed, the sport itself, the type of competitions and even the riders. Today, we have more competitions, the riders’ levels have improved, and there are more people involved.”

For Binsultan, the success of the Equestrian Union is down to the opportunities have presented themselves in the wake of societal and social change in the Kingdom.

“Everyone can see the reform that Saudi Arabia is going through with the leadership of (the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques) King Salman, and the ambitious vision of the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,” Binsultan said. “The vision touches on all aspects of life across all social and economic dimensions, with a strong focus on enhancing the quality of life with a specific focus on human well-being through the promotion of the sports sector. We wish all the best to our Kingdom and hope we can be a part of this optimistic vision.”


Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation
Updated 01 March 2021

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation

Police enter Barcelona’s stadium in search operation
  • Police said detentions were made but did not say who or how many people were taken into custody
  • The club said authorities were at the team’s headquarters but did not provide any more detail

BARCELONA: Spanish police entered Barcelona’s stadium and detained some people on Monday in a search and seize operation related to an investigation into club officials.
Police said detentions were made but did not say who or how many people were taken into custody.
The club said authorities were at the team’s headquarters but did not provide any more detail.
The operation was related to last year’s “Barçagate,” in which club officials were accused of launching a smear campaign against current and former players who were critical of the club and then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Barcelona had denied accusations that it hired — and overpaid — a company to make negative comments about its own players and opponents on social media in order to boost the image of senior club officials.
The company was accused of using fake social media accounts to discredit opposition figures when they expressed views that went against the club. Some of the figures supposedly included players such Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, as well as former coach Pep Guardiola.
The club later released an independent audit report showing that there was no wrongdoing.
Bartomeu and his board of directors resigned last year amid fallout from the controversy surrounding Lionel Messi. The club has been mired in political turmoil and debt prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The operation comes less than a week before presidential elections are to be held at the club.


Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run
Updated 01 March 2021

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run

Liverpool beats Sheffield United 2-0 to end EPL losing run
  • The 20-year-old academy graduate Curtis Jones made the breakthrough for Liverpool in the 48th minute when he fired in off Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deflected cross

SHEFFIELD, England: Liverpool halted a run of four defeats in the Premier League as it ended a miserable February with a 2-0 win over last-place Sheffield United on Sunday.
A series of fine first-half saves from Sheffield goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale kept the defending champions at bay in the first half. The 20-year-old academy graduate Curtis Jones made the breakthrough for Liverpool in the 48th minute when he fired in off Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deflected cross. There was a brief check for whether the ball had gone out of play in the buildup but there was no conclusive evidence that it had.
Oliver McBurnie sent a header wide in Sheffield’s best chance of leveling the score before Liverpool made it 2-0 in the 64th. Roberto Firmino weaved through the defense before hitting a shot which took a deflection before going past Ramsdale. The Premier League ruled it was an own-goal for Sheffield’s Kean Bryan, meaning Firmino went a seventh game without a goal in the league and Champions League.
The second goal took the game out of reach for a Sheffield team with just three league wins all season as Liverpool marked its first league game without conceding a goal since a 0-0 draw with Manchester United on Jan. 17.
However, it was not the kind of emphatic victory which might have boosted Liverpool’s confidence further after a miserable recent run which included last week’s defeat to rival Everton and losses to Manchester City and Leicester which buried an already ailing bid to retain the title.
Mohamed Salah missed from close range in the 80th and Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian, standing in for Alisson Becker after his father died, stopped a late attempt from Oliver Burke.


Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate
Updated 01 March 2021

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate

Man Utd frustrated by penalty row in Chelsea stalemate
  • United now sit 12 points behind leaders Manchester City as their title hopes fade

LONDON: Manchester United were left frustrated by a VAR penalty controversy in their 0-0 draw at Chelsea, while the revitalised Gareth Bale struck twice in Tottenham’s 4-0 rout of Burnley on Sunday.

Second-placed United had hoped to close the gap on Manchester City with a victory at Stamford Bridge.

But instead they now sit 12 points behind the Premier League leaders as their title hopes fade following a run of one win from four games.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel is unbeaten in nine matches in all competitions since replacing the sacked Frank Lampard, but the stalemate was a blow to his team’s top-four challenge.

The fifth-placed Blues are one point behind fourth-placed West Ham and four ahead of sixth-placed Liverpool, who visit Sheffield United in Sunday’s late game.

Neither side could claim they deserved to win in a game of few clear-cut chances.

The biggest talking point came in the first half when United’s appeal for a penalty was rejected by referee Stuart Attwell after he consulted the pitchside monitor when Callum Hudson-Odoi appeared to handle in a challenge with Mason Greenwood.

After five defeats in their previous six league games, Tottenham eased the pressure on Jose Mourinho with a significant contribution from Bale, who made just his third league start of the season.

The Wales forward’s most impressive display since his season-long loan move from Real Madrid gave him four goals in his last four appearances.

Bale, who had clashed with Tottenham boss Mourinho over his fitness earlier in February, took just 68 seconds to score with a clinical close-range finish from Son Heung-min’s cross.

In the 15th minute, Bale’s superb long pass picked out Harry Kane’s run and the England captain’s shot deflected off James Tarkowski for his 22nd goal of the season.

Lucas Moura netted with a predatory finish after Sergio Reguilon’s cross was deflected into the Brazilian’s path by Tarkowski in the 31st minute.

Bale, in his second spell with Tottenham after leaving for Madrid in 2013, scored again with a cool strike from Son’s 55th-minute pass.

Tottenham are up to eighth, six points behind the top four with a game in hand.

“Sometimes you (the media) like to say things that are not really true but there is not one single manager in the world that doesn’t play Gareth Bale if Gareth Bale is in very good condition,” Mourinho said.

“There is not one, but now he is better than ever. It’s not just about the two goals he scored, it’s fundamentally about his physical performance.”

Arsenal delivered a hammer blow to Leicester’s faint hopes of winning the title with an impressive 3-1 win.

Mikel Arteta’s side fell behind to Youri Tielemans’ early goal at the King Power Stadium, but David Luiz equalised and Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty gave Arsenal the lead.

Nicolas Pepe’s second-half goal sealed the Gunners’ second win in their last six league games and their first success at a team in the Premier League’s top three since 2015.

Leicester remain in third place and trail City by 13 points with 12 games remaining.

After Thursday’s shock Europa League exit against Slavia Prague, it was a week to forget for Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers.

With Arsenal stuck in mid-table, Arteta has prioritised winning the Europa League as his side’s only hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

Having picked his best team for the come-from-behind win against Benfica in the last 32 second leg on Thursday, Arteta left Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka on the bench after the long trip back from the neutral venue in Greece.

After the gamble paid off, Arteta said: “Coming into this game I was concerned. They’re one of the most dangerous teams in the league to play once you go behind against them.

“The reaction was terrific, the team looked really mature.”

Third-bottom Fulham are three points from safety after a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace.


Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally
Updated 01 March 2021

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally

Ice-master Tanak claims Arctic Rally
  • Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category

ROVANIEMI, Finland: Ott Tanak held off Finnish home hope Kalle Rovanpera on Sunday to win the inaugural Arctic Rally.

The Estonian, world rally champion in 2019 when with the Finland-based Toyota team, emerged master of the demanding frozen forest circuit behind the wheel of his Hyundai.

“First, when you come to a new event it’s always a bit unexpected,” he told wrc.com.

“This weekend, we came to the home country of Toyota and we expected them to be very strong.

“The pressure was there and we knew it was going to be very complicated to take the fight. In the end we did a very good weekend — nothing too much, only one mistake yesterday (Saturday).”

Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category, added: “It’s an amazing place — definitely one of the best places to have a winter rally, especially yesterday, it was so demanding.

“I think to come back here a second time would be much more enjoyable, especially when you know where you are going!”

The 33-year-old’s Belgian teammate Thierry Neuville had to settle for third after his battle with Rovanpera, the 20-year-old who takes the early lead in the championship standings.

Tanak’s winning margin after Sunday’s two closing stages, was 17.5 seconds, with Neuville 2.5sec behind Rovanpera, the winner of the Power Stage and for whom this was the best result of his young career.

“It was a superb weekend for me and Jonne (Halttunen, his co-driver), we did all that we could and we’re happy to take second,” said the Finn, claiming his second podium place after Sweden in 2020.

He moved on to 39 points in the championship, four clear of Neuville.

A further four points behind sits France’s reigning champion Sebastien Ogier who trailed in over 10 minutes adrift after driving into a snowbank on the final turn on Saturday.

Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, climbed back into their Toyota and finished the stage but with their hopes of victory dashed.

Tanak lies fifth in the fledgling rankings, on 27 points, all earned here after retiring with a double puncture from the opening Monte Carlo Rally in January.

This second leg of the championship was held without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The WRC circus next sets up camp in Croatia at the end of April.