How the Hamilton-Verstappen rivalry (and Netflix) breathed new life into Formula 1 racing

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton leads Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix. (AFP)
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton leads Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2021

How the Hamilton-Verstappen rivalry (and Netflix) breathed new life into Formula 1 racing

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton leads Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix. (AFP)
  • Thanks to Red Bull’s formidable challenge to Mercedes, and a little help from the streaming giant, the 2021 season could be one of Formula One’s best and most engaging in years

DUBAI: “The fastest car always wins.”

That’s the problem with Formula 1 you see. Nothing ever happens. There’s no excitement. The fastest car always wins.

Lewis Hamilton. Max Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas.

Mercedes. Red Bull. Mercedes.

The podium finish at the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix may have had a distinct business as usual look to it. For those that keep a causal, sometimes cynical, eye on Formula 1, here was yet more proof that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Once again, it seems, we are in for season of a valiant Red Bull challenge to the  supremacy of Mercedes, with reigning champion Lewis Hamilton ultimately winning an expected, record eighth F1 title.

Except that, for the first time in years it can be said: No, Hamilton did not win a Grand Prix because he was in the fastest car. For once, the British champion was the underdog to Max Verstappen’s favourite.

Those who have been paying attention will know that it is, in fact, Red Bull that have had the fastest car in the build up to the new season.

What’s more, it was, incredibly, the first time that Verstappen and Hamilton had been the front two at any Formula One Grand Prix grid, in either order.




Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen (L) inspects Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton's winner's trophy on the podium after the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix. (AFP)

And yet, here was Hamilton, somewhat incomprehensibly now one of the older drivers on the grid, taking on the almost-certain future world champion Verstappen. And still winning.

The thing about the best cars is that they still need the best drivers inside them.

Hamilton’s brilliant win may just have seen the real birth of a rivalry between him and Verstappen.

Yes, the brilliant Dutchman may have followed up his third-place finish in 2019 with a runner-up spot last year, but it was a distant runner-up to a champion at the peak of his powers.

No one is remotely suggesting Hamilton has suddenly lost any of those powers, certainly not after his masterful drive in Bahrain, but the season had started with Verstappen favourite to win the Bahrain Grand Prix, if not the drivers’ championship. It is, for now, Verstappen who is in the fastest car. But for how long?

Formula 1 races can very often turn into processions when certain cars are clearly superior, faster, than the rest of the field, leading to accusations of lack of competitiveness.

But that does a disservice to drivers. That Juan Manuel Fangio, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Hamilton and now Verstappen ended up in the best car is merely racing Darwinism.

It is futile to speculate just how Hamilton or Verstappen would get on in a slow car, in the same way it is pointless to question how Lionel Messi or Pep Guardiola would fare at a lower ranking La Liga or Premier League team.

The best athletes invariably gravitate to the best teams.

Now we have a real F1 title race that may transcend motorsport. And nothing attracts new fans than a good old-fashioned head-to-head.

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. You don’t need to be a boxing, basketball, tennis or football fanatic to know the names.

In private, Formula 1 bosses are probably weeping tears of joy at the prospect the most exciting championship battle in recent times, in the middle of an ongoing pandemic and with live audiences mostly restricted.

Perhaps they should also say a little prayer of gratitude to Netflix, too.




The Netflix F1 documentary ‘Formula 1: Drive to Survive,’ now in its third season, has made even the most casual fan sit up and take notice of the brilliance of the sport. (Screenshot)

Thanks to the supreme Formula 1: Drive to Survive series, which on March 20 released its third season, we know now more, and crucially, care more, about the F1 field than ever before.

Suddenly, everyone knows who George Russell, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly are, never mind the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc and Lando Norris. Even the departed Nico Hülkenberg, Alex Albon and Romain Grosjean have tugged at our heartstrings.

We now know Toto Wolff and Christian Horner as two of the most powerful men in racing. We recognize that, for Leclerc and Sergio Perez, racing in the red of Ferrari carries with it a huge burden that perhaps doesn’t exist at other teams. That the drivers are infallible beings who are at risk of losing their jobs when they don’t perform, and who are susceptible to paralyzing loss of confidence and form.

We know the drivers behind the helmets; the technical teams behind the drivers; and the Team Principals and owners behind it all.

Perhaps for the first time ever, casual fans are armed with the insight that makes Formula 1 racing one of the world’s most exciting and popular sports.

And the 2021 Formula 1 season, could well be the most exciting in years. As will, naturally, next season’s Drive to Survive.

Even if in the end, inevitably, the fastest car ends up winning.


Mansoor and WWE stars recall Jeddah’s ‘Greatest Royal Rumble’

Saudi Arabia’s Mansoor with WWE Superstar Sheamus. (WWE)
Saudi Arabia’s Mansoor with WWE Superstar Sheamus. (WWE)
Updated 17 May 2021

Mansoor and WWE stars recall Jeddah’s ‘Greatest Royal Rumble’

Saudi Arabia’s Mansoor with WWE Superstar Sheamus. (WWE)
  • The 50-man fight at King Abdullah International Stadium was the first major WWE event to take place in the Kingdom, where wrestling’s popularity has surged

With Saudi superstar Mansoor signing for WWE’s Raw brand and now facing the organization’s biggest names on a weekly basis, wrestling’s popularity in the Kingdom continues to rise.

On top of that, Mansoor has also been doing his bit to raise the profile of his homeland among WWE’s global audience.

In three clips that proved very popular with social media audiences, Mansoor, who was born and raised in Riyadh, was seen talking three WWE colleagues — Drew McIntyre, Sheamus and Angel Garza — into supporting each of the clubs fighting it out for the Saudi Pro League title: Al-Ittihad, Al-Hilal and Al-Shabab, respectively.

And now Mansoor and some of the WWE Superstars involved in the “Greatest Royal Rumble,” which took place in Saudi Arabia in 2018, have been looking back on that history-making night.

Held at the King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah, thousands of fans were in attendance for the first in a series of WWE events to take place in Saudi Arabia.

On April 27, 2018, the 50-man Royal Rumble was eventually won by Braun Strowman, who looks back on that victory as a significant moment in his career.

“From growing up in a small town in North Carolina, where the population is a couple of thousand, to representing my country at the Greatest Royal Rumble in history in Saudi Arabia, where I outlasted 49 other WWE superstars to hold the title over my head, was an amazing feeling,” he said.

“I never even imagined I’d be able to go to Saudi Arabia in my lifetime. I have the coolest job in the world. I’m living a fairy tale and every day it just gets better and better.”

For Mansoor, the event three years ago represented the first step in a hugely exciting journey.

“I remember having an amazing time at the ‘Greatest Royal Rumble’ in Jeddah,” he recalls. “My family were in the crowd and it was the first time I stood in the ring at a WWE pay-per-view event. Looking at the tens of thousands of people was a surreal experience. It was just after my tryout, so I was elated as I’d been chosen among four men to possibly join WWE. Here I am now, all these years later, trying to make my way, make history and cement my legacy.”

Seth Rollins and Sheamus are two of WWE’s most established performers, and they were hugely impressed by the passion of the Saudi spectators in Jeddah.

“I have a lot of great memories from the event, especially the people of Saudi Arabia and the reception we received,” says Rollins. “The WWE Universe in the Middle East is as strong as anywhere in the entire world, so that was incredible.”

Sheamus, the reigning US Champion, echoed those words, saying: “What a great crowd, the fans were electric.”

“Let me tell everybody in Saudi Arabia, I’m looking forward to the day when I can come back and hold the championship up above my head in front of all the great Celtic Warrior fans, and it won’t be too long,” he added.


Bayern Munich crowned world’s strongest football brand as ESL fallout damages Europe’s elite

Bayern Munich crowned world’s strongest football brand as ESL fallout damages Europe’s elite
Updated 17 May 2021

Bayern Munich crowned world’s strongest football brand as ESL fallout damages Europe’s elite

Bayern Munich crowned world’s strongest football brand as ESL fallout damages Europe’s elite
  • Despite negative consequences for 12 clubs behind failed project, Real Madrid remains world’s most valuable club with Barcelona in second

The failed European Super League (ESL) project has dented the brand strength of the 12 founding clubs and knocked over €600 million ($730 million) off their total brand value, according to the latest Brand Finance Football 50 report, which ranks the top 50 strongest and most valuable football club brands in the world every year.

While the ESL announcement visibly damaged the brand strength of the 12 clubs involved — Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG — German champions have emerged as the world’s strongest football brand.

For the breakaway clubs, there was an average decrease score of -3.0 points in their Brand Strength Index, which is a balanced scorecard of metrics used to benchmark the power of brands to drive success for the business. For football clubs, this scorecard includes market research among fans, rating clubs across a range of attributes, including strong heritage, how well the club is run, and the owners’ care for the fans.

As well as damaging the strength of the 12 founding clubs’ brands, the ESL proposal has also knocked €606 million off the total brand value of the clubs, equating to a 6 percent year-on-year decrease.

Before the plans collapsed, Brand Finance calculated that the ESL could have stripped €2.5 billion — or 25 percent of the total — in brand value from the 12 clubs. Although much of this damage has been averted, the impact on the perceptions of all stakeholders is still significant.

The results can already be seen, with Liverpool losing the sponsorship of Tribus Watches and Manchester United being said to have missed out on a £200 million deal from locally based The Hut Group.

“The origin and demise of the European Super League is a story of branding. The 12 clubs considered their brands too strong and attractive to be sanctioned by other associations and above the footballing pyramid that validates their success,” Hugo Hensley, head of sports services, Brand Finance, said. “However, the communication, promotion, and positioning of the project were poorly executed, fueling a backlash from all stakeholders, leading to the dissolution of the group and resulting in painful brand damage.”

Unaffected by the ESL fiasco, and thus avoiding the disastrous damage, Bayern Munich has claimed the title of the world’s strongest football club brand this year, with a brand strength score of 91.9 out of 100 and the corresponding elite AAA+ rating.

On the pitch, Bayern’s performance has been unrivaled over the past year, winning the sextuplet of the Bundesliga, DFB Cup, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, and DFL Super Cup, ultimately leading them to be named the Laureus World Team of the Year for 2021. They are the first team ever to lift the Champions League with a 100 percent record, which included a famous 8-2 win over Barcelona and the 1-0 victory over PSG in the final.

Bayern’s leading brand strength score has contributed to an increase in brand value to €1,068 million and climbing up to fifth position overall in the ranking. The club’s enterprise value has also rocketed up by nearly €300 million to €3,606 million, allowing them to take the crown in that ranking too.

Bayern is finding out that it pays off to be perceived as the nice guy, with the club leading the figures for commercial revenue generation of any football team at €360.5 million, a key contributing factor to the year-on-year increase in enterprise value. Real Madrid, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City round up the top five for enterprise value.

“The German 50+1 supporter shareholding model means that the fan is respected as the ultimate stakeholder,” Hensley said. “This has kept Bayern Munich out of the European Super League fiasco, while on-pitch performance has further boosted the brand’s strength. This is a positive signal for future sponsorship performance, and Bayern is already the football club with the highest commercial revenue in the world. These factors all come together to boost brand and business value.”

Despite the recent developments, Real Madrid remains the most valuable football club brand in the world for the third consecutive year at €1,276 million, with fierce rivals Barcelona in the second spot, with a brand value of €1,266 million.

While the LaLiga giants remain on the podium for 2021, it has now been three years since a Spanish club has reached the final of the UEFA Champions League, with the last appearance being Real Madrid’s victory over Liverpool in 2018. Despite this, both Spanish clubs have consistently been able to secure Champions League qualification year after year, with the last time either club failed to reach the group stages now more than 20 years ago. This consistent influx of Champions League revenues and status has played a central role in both clubs’ overall success.

Manchester United has retained third place despite suffering a 14 percent decline in brand value to €1,130 million, while 2021 Champions League finalists Manchester City are now just 1 percent (€12 million) behind their rivals.

After Bayern in fifth come 2019 Champions League and 2020 Premier League winners Liverpool, followed by PSG, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal, with declines in brand value recorded across the board.


Tyson Fury says heavyweight showdown against Anthony Joshua to take place in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14

Tyson Fury says heavyweight showdown against Anthony Joshua to take place in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14
Updated 17 May 2021

Tyson Fury says heavyweight showdown against Anthony Joshua to take place in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14

Tyson Fury says heavyweight showdown against Anthony Joshua to take place in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 14
  • 'All eyes of the world will be on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,' Fury says in Twitter video
  • Between them, the two British boxers hold all four major versions of the heavyweight title

LONDON: Tyson Fury said Sunday his long-awaited world heavyweight title unification bout against Anthony Joshua would take place in Saudi Arabia on August 14.
"Massive announcement FURY VS JOSHUA IS ON AUGUST 14 in The kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The worlds (sic) biggest sporting event all eyes on us," Fury tweeted.


Between them, the two British boxers hold all four major versions of the heavyweight title.
Saudi Arabia staged the 31-year-old Joshua's rematch against Andy Ruiz, when the Briton regained his WBA, IBF and WBO titles in December 2019, putting him on a collision course with Fury, who became the WBC champion shortly afterwards.
In a video posted to Twitter, Fury said: "I have got some massive news. I have just got off the phone with Prince Khalid of Saudi Arabia and he told me this fight is 100 percent on, August 14."
Fury, a year older than Joshua, added: "All eyes of the world will be on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
"I cannot wait, I repeat, cannot wait to smash Anthony Joshua on the biggest stage of all-time.
"This is going to be the biggest sporting event ever to grace the planet Earth. Do not miss it."
What is widely expected to be the richest fight in British boxing history started to loom into view when Fury stopped Deontay Wilder to win the WBC title in February last year after Joshua had avenged the only loss of his professional career by defeating Ruiz.
Joshua retained his three belts in December with a ninth-round knockout of mandatory challenger Kubrat Pulev.
Meanwhile a third fight between Fury and Wilder has failed to take place, meaning the 'lineal champion' has been inactive in more than 12 months since stopping Wilder in Las Vegas.

 


Perfect 10 as Nadal defeats Djokovic; Swiatek whitewashes Pliskova in Rome

Perfect 10 as Nadal defeats Djokovic; Swiatek whitewashes Pliskova in Rome
Updated 17 May 2021

Perfect 10 as Nadal defeats Djokovic; Swiatek whitewashes Pliskova in Rome

Perfect 10 as Nadal defeats Djokovic; Swiatek whitewashes Pliskova in Rome
  • In the women's edition, Polish teenager Swiatek crushed Czech ninth seed Karolina Pliskova win her first Masters 1000 trophy on the red clay at the Foro Italico

ROME: Rafael Nadal defeated world number one Novak Djokovic to win a 10th Italian Open title on Sunday while fellow French Open champion Iga Swiatek whitewashed Karolina Pliskova in just 45 minutes to claim the women’s tournament.
Second seed Nadal won through 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in 2hr 49min against the defending champion to match Djokovic’s record of 36 Masters 1000 titles and lay down a key marker two weeks out from the defense of his Roland Garros crown.
“I really wanted this title. This had been one of the first important titles I won in my career. I’d won 10 in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros and really wanted this one too,” said 34-year-old Nadal.
Polish teenager Swiatek crushed Czech ninth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 to win her first Masters 1000 trophy on the red clay at the Foro Italico.
“I’m overwhelmed, at the beginning of this tournament I would not have dreamed of winning it,” said an emotional Swiatek, who will break into the Top 10 as a result of her run in Rome.
“When I was playing I didn’t even know what was the score,” admitted the 19-year-old.
“When my coach told me it was 6-0, 6-0, I was, like, Really? Isn’t that a mistake?“
Djokovic and Nadal were facing each other for the 57th time, having last played in the 2020 French Open final which the Spaniard won easily in straight sets.
The pair have won 15 of the last 17 Rome titles between them, while Nadal leads their head-to-head in finals in the Italian capital 4-2.

 Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates with the trophy after winning the Italian Open final against Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova. (REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane)

Despite losing his opening service game Nadal broke back in the third game hitting twice as many winners as the Serb with 21 in the set.
A dip in form in the second set allowed Djokovic, 33, to break twice and get back into the game.
But Nadal got back on track in the third with Djokovic having played nearly five hours on court on Saturday between his rain-delayed quarter-finals and semifinal matches.
The Spaniard saved two break points on his serve in the fifth game and broke for love for 4-2.
Djokovic saved a first match point in the eighth game but Nadal made no mistake on his second chance in the following to seal his 88th career title after winning in Barcelona earlier this month.
“I’m disappointed not to win, but pleased with my level,” said five-time Rome winner Djokovic, who leads their overall head-to-head 29-28.
“Going into Paris it’s a good sensation. I feel like I want to feel on clay.”
The French Open gets underway in Paris on May 30 where 13-time champion Nadal will be chasing a record 21st Grand Slam title.
Djokovic, the 2016 champion at Roland Garros, will be hoping to become the first man in over half a century and just the third in history to win all four majors more than once.
Earlier Swiatek, ranked 15, claimed her third WTA title after a win in Adelaide in January.
She swept through the first set in just 20 minutes, allowing Pliskova four points, dropping just 13 in total throughout the match.
Pliskova tried to fight back in the third game of the second set, holding a double break to win the third game, but the Polish player ruthlessly snuffed out any return.
“From the beginning I felt that she may be a little bit nervous, and I wanted to use that and actually play as many games with that vibe as I can,” said Swiatek.
“But it’s not easy to win the first set 6-0, because you always have in the back of the mind that your opponent may start playing better and they can change the tactics completely, and then you have to adjust and then you’re going to start worrying.”
“I will just quickly forget about today,” said Pliskova, the world number nine, who was playing in her third consecutive Rome final.
The former world number one retired injured in last year’s final while trailing 6-0, 2-1 to Romania’s Simona Halep.
“I just was feeling horrible out there today,” said the 29-year-old, who has won 16 WTA titles most recently in Brisbane last year.


Kane strikes as Spurs continue Champions League quest

Kane strikes as Spurs continue Champions League quest
Updated 17 May 2021

Kane strikes as Spurs continue Champions League quest

Kane strikes as Spurs continue Champions League quest
  • The top four in the Premier League are assured of a place in the 2021/22 Champions League

LONDON: Harry Kane scored his 22nd Premier League goal of the season as Tottenham Hotspur beat Wolves 2-0 on Sunday to maintain their hopes of a top-four finish.

England captain Kane fired Spurs ahead on the stroke of half-time before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg doubled their lead in the 62nd minute.

Victory left Spurs in sixth place, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, with a maximum of six points available to them from their final two league games.

The top four in the Premier League are assured of a place in the 2021/22 Champions League.

Already crowned Premier League title-winners Manchester City and Chelsea will contest this season’s Champions League final in Porto on May 29.

But if the Blues — beaten in Saturday’s FA Cup final by Leicester — remain in the top four there won’t be an additional Champions League place given to the fifth-placed side in the Premier League.

Deposed English champions Liverpool, currently fifth, will move to within a point of Chelsea if they win away to already-relegated West Bromwich Albion later Sunday.

Eighth-placed Everton, Liverpool’s local rivals, are at home to bottom of the table Sheffield United in the day’s concluding Premier League match.

Kane gave Spurs the lead running onto Hojberg’s through ball behind center backs Conor Coady and Romain Saiss.

The Spurs star side-stepped Coady’s challenge and rounded goalkeeper Rui Patricio, before curling the ball into the corner of the net.

Hojberg made it 2-0 just after the hour when he followed up Gareth Bale’s shot and tapped the ball in after Patricio could only parry.

Earlier, Crystal Palace twice came from behind to beat Aston Villa 3-2, with Tyrick Mitchell’s first goal for the club sealing victory six minutes from time.

John McGinn’s third goal of the season put Villa ahead in the 17th minute at Selhurst Park before Christian Benteke equalized against his former club with a 32nd-minute header.

But Palace fell behind again two minutes later when Anwar El Ghazi scored from close range.

The Eagles equalized for a second time in the 76th minute when Wilfried Zaha grabbed his 11th goal of the season with low shot deflected in off Ahmed Elmohamady.

The comeback was complete in the 84th minute when the 21-year-old Mitchell followed up from close range after teammate Eberechi Eze had miscued.

Victory lifted south London club Palace to 13th.