Lewis Hamilton gunning for glory at first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton gunning for glory at first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
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Lewis Hamilton is coming off a sensational win at the first ever Qatar Grand Prix. (AFP)
Lewis Hamilton gunning for glory at first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
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Mercedes’ driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates with his first place trophy on the podium following the Qatari Formula One Grand Prix at the Losail International Circuit on Nov. 21, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 04 December 2021

Lewis Hamilton gunning for glory at first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton gunning for glory at first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
  • Reigning champion heads into F1 race 8 points behind Max Verstappen, tells Arab News of balancing pressures of racing with interests off track

JEDDAH: The first ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix is almost here, and the greatest Formula 1 driver of all time could not be more relaxed, considering what is at stake.

A potential record-breaking eighth championship is back within tantalizing reach. And as the eyes of the world turn to the newly completed Jeddah Corniche Circuit, F1 has never been more popular.

And some of its newest fans have come from a most unexpected source. “I think it’s changed the game,” said Lewis Hamilton.

High praise indeed. Not for a new car, or some revolutionary technical innovation, though. Hamilton was referencing the Netflix show “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” and how it had brought the sport to a whole new global audience.

“I don’t think anybody knew what it was going to do for the sport exactly. Definitely thought it would be positive, but it’s changed the sport for good I think,” the reigning world champion added.

“I think it’s been the best thing because our sport is often quite difficult for people to understand. If you turn the TV on, you have no clue what’s going on. It’s very intricate, very complex, and there’s so many moving parts.”

The world’s most exclusive sport suddenly seems that little bit more welcoming to outsiders these days.

The 36-year-old Mercedes driver said: “Most people play football at school, play tennis, or try out these other sports. Most people don’t get the chance to race cars, so it’s been great for that show to be able to showcase that there are actual personalities within sport and the excitement in depth rather than just what you see on TV.

“And now there’s this whirlwind of new fan following, and yes the close championship makes it even more exciting.”

Not that Hamilton’s profile needed boosting.

Lewis Hamilton has helped design IWC’s Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition ‘Lewis Hamilton’. (IWC Schaffhausen)

Seven-time world champion, possessor of most pole positions (102) and race wins (102), and now gunning for a record eighth driver championship with Mercedes, Hamilton is coming off a sensational win at the first ever Qatar Grand Prix which has cut Max Verstappen’s lead at the top of the standings to eight points.

“The track was awesome. When we started driving it, just with the wind direction and the grip level, the speed of all the corners, they were all medium- and high-speed corners, I was sure the racing was not going to be great there. But it actually was, surprisingly.

“Qualifying lap, single lap, felt incredible and we had good preparation,” Hamilton added.

Having won the previous weekend in Brazil, Hamilton and Mercedes initially struggled in Doha.

“The Friday was a difficult day for me, I was nowhere, and I just kept my head down and studied hard and was fortunate, I felt, to turn it around and have a great Saturday and Sunday.

“I definitely didn’t know that at this point I’d be this close (to Verstappen in the standings) and have the performance that we finally were able to unlock with the car. I’m super grateful for it,” he said.

Next up for the rivals is this weekend’s inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, and yet another new track in Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

“I think all the drivers have driven the simulator; it is incredibly quick. It is a bit reminiscent of Montreal in terms of the long straight track that they have there, but they’re all curved at this track, and also there’s not a lot of run-off area so it really is quite a street circuit, and right in the city.

“It looks pretty epic to be honest, but we won’t fully know until we feel the rollercoaster ride of the real G-Force and speed, once we get there,” Hamilton added.

The reigning Formula 1 world champion says his interest off the track have helped him keep perspective in his racing career. (IWC Schaffhausen)

The British driver will be hoping to take the championship to the last race in Abu Dhabi, where the Yas Marina Circuit has been reconfigured for the first time since its completion in 2009.

He said: “It’s obviously an incredible circuit with the whole build-out of the place, I think they spent the most on that circuit than any other circuit, so it’s a great spectacle, beautiful last race of the season. But the layout has always been very, very difficult to follow and overtaking is quite difficult.

“It’s quite interesting that they’ve made these changes and I really think it’s going to unlock the potential of that circuit, to be more of a racing circuit. Because it’s so hard for us to follow each other, when they make these types of small changes, it’s hard to follow those through.

“So, from the simulator driving that I’ve done it looks like it’s going to make it very, very difficult to hold, to even keep position. It looks like it could be something where you’re constantly switching and changing. They might move to one of the best racing circuits, we’ll see when we get there,” he added.

Of Hamilton’s seven titles, six have been won with Mercedes in the last seven years, and such was his dominance at times, often it seemed that he was racing against himself, and history.

The closeness of this season’s battle with Verstappen and Red Bull is something Hamilton is cherishing.

“I really am because each year you’re faced with different scenarios. I wouldn’t say that it’s ever been a choice for me. I’ve never had it easy, in my younger days starting with an old go-kart, having to always race from the back.

“And particularly in karting, there was always wheel-to-wheel racing, super close. It was always down to that last lap, you had to be very, very tactical to make sure you came out first. I miss that in racing, and as you get through your cars you get less and less of that, and it’s more about positioning and holding the position.”

Red Bull have certainly raised the stakes this season, but Hamilton and Mercedes have risen to the challenge in recent weeks; the gap to Verstappen is down to only eight points in the drivers’ championship, while the team now leads Red Bull by five points.

Hamilton said: “Then of course we have all these disparities between cars each year, one team does well, and the other team doesn’t. We’ve done well for quite a few years, it’s amazing to now have this close battle again because it’s reminiscent of my karting days in terms of how close it is.

“But it also meant that we all have to elevate and perfect our craft even more. That’s what sport is about, right? That’s why it’s been super exciting. It’s been challenging for my engineers, for the mechanics, how do they dig deep and squeeze more out of their potential. It’s been a rollercoaster of emotions, but something I’ve really enjoyed.”

Should Hamilton win the title in Abu Dhabi, it will be a very popular victory among the natives. The organizers of the race at Yas Marina Circuit still speak with pride at how Hamilton — who races in No. 44 — took part in the UAE’s 44th National Day celebrations in 2015.

Having spent a significant part of his life racing around the world, Hamilton has seen first-hand how F1 has grown in the Middle East.

“Each time we go out to Bahrain, the crowds seem to get bigger and bigger. Abu Dhabi gets bigger and bigger each time we go and of course we have more and more presence now particularly with Qatar and Saudi,” he added.

Crucially, more young people are taking up motorsports in this part of the world, especially karting.

“I just spoke to someone from Saudi, I don’t know a lot of people in Saudi, but they are talking to me about how there are a lot of girls, and boys, where their first choice is not football, it’s racing,” Hamilton said.

“It’s quite cool to see there is a new generation out in the Middle East that are car crazy and want to be racing. So, who knows, maybe in the future we’re going to see a Formula 1 driver from somewhere in the Middle East, I think that could be quite cool. Would be even better if that was female.”

Hamilton, famously, has developed many interests, and supported many causes, outside racing.

“Being an athlete, being a sportsman, most often that’s all you do and for me it’s been important to find other outlets, other areas, because if you focus on one thing it doesn’t always lead to happiness.

“You’ve got to be able to fill and explore your other potential, other avenues that you might be good at. It’s always great to be able to turn your mind off from racing, and focus on something else, something that you can be creative with,” he added.

Lewis Hamilton's career

  • 1

    Joins Mclaren and wins first F1 Grand Prix in Canada

    Timeline Image 2007

  • 2

    Joins Mercedes

    Timeline Image 2013

  • 3

    92nd win [new record] at Portuguese Grand Prix

    Timeline Image 2020

  • 4

    100th win at Russian Grand Prix

    Timeline Image 2021

Unlike most other drivers, or athletes, Hamilton has had ventures into music and fashion. He has also built a close relationship with Swiss watch manufacturer IWC Schaffhausen — for whom he is an ambassador — over the last few years, helping design his very own timepiece, Big Pilot’s Watch Perpetual Calendar Edition Lewis Hamilton.

“So, I really enjoyed the whole process, from sitting in the car at Hockenheim with Christopher (Grainger-Herr, chief executive officer of IWC Schaffhausen), driving to the airport and talking about a potential collaboration, and talking about the intricacies of a watch, and saying I want my own watch one day, to now having my own timepiece.

“It was really challenging for me, sitting there working with them because I have a lot of appreciation for the brand’s work and expertise, but I also wanted to add my own touch. I had questions like, what can we change on the dial? The tourbillon, I want to get the tourbillon in one of my pieces because it’s one of my favorite movements, if not my favorite movement,” he said.

In recent years, activism has played a big part in Hamilton’s life away from F1, and he has become an outspoken advocate for social equality, diversity in sport, and environmental sustainability, his own X44 team taking part in the first ever electric SUV rally series, Extreme E, this year.

Hamilton noted that it was vital for him to work with people who shared his values.

“So, I’ve been on calls with my partners at IWC Schaffhausen talking about things like, what are you doing during this time about diversity? How diverse is your company, what are your goals, how are you going to be more inclusive moving forward? And they’re fully on board with that.

“That for me is amazing to see, that people are conscious of sustainability, brands are conscious of the impact that we’re having on the planet. I only really like to engage with people that are like-minded in that sense, rather than just business-minded,” he added.

Far from being distractions, his interests away from racing have helped him keep an almost zen-like sense of perspective in his career, as his continued brilliance on the track has shown.

He said: “Tapping into different things helps take the pressure off this crazy, intense world that I have over here. Because if I stop and think about that and only think about the racing, I have 2,000 people working flat out, depending on me at the end to pull it through.

“Partners, and my own expectations can be super overwhelming, so these other things help me dilute that pressure and feed that energy into something positive.”

Still, when he lands in Jeddah for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend, expect one thing, and one thing only, to be on Lewis Hamilton’s mind.

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open
Updated 17 January 2022

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open

Nadal, Barty impress but Djokovic looms over Australian Open
  • Osaka successfully opens title defense but Gauff an early big-name casualty

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal and Ashleigh Barty made devastating starts to their Australian Open title campaigns on Monday as the Grand Slam attempted to move on from the Novak Djokovic visa saga.

Naomi Osaka launched the defense of her women’s crown with victory but Coco Gauff was an early big-name casualty. The American 17-year-old dumped out in straight sets by Wang Qiang, who is ranked outside the top 100.

The only Australian Open champion in the men’s draw after nine-time winner Djokovic’s deportation, Nadal started his quest to become the first male to win 21 Grand Slams by sweeping aside 66th-ranked Marcos Giron, 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

The draw has opened up for the Spanish great with defending champion Djokovic out of the picture and the other member of the “Big Three,”  Roger Federer, not at Melbourne Park because of injury.

But the 35-year-old Nadal said he was just relieved to be playing tennis after Djokovic’s refusal to get vaccinated against COVID overshadowed the first Grand Slam of the year right up until the last moment.

Although Djokovic’s absence is good news for Nadal’s tilt at men’s tennis history, he said he would rather the world No. 1 from Serbia was playing.

“The ideal situation in the world of sport is that the best players are on court,” said Nadal, who plays Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second round.

He may not be there, but Djokovic still looms over the tournament.

Nadal was all guns blazing at Rod Laver Arena, showing no apparent ill effects from a foot injury he suffered last year and then being “very sick” with COVID in December.

“Today is one victory in the first Grand Slam. Happy for that. One month ago situation had been different — looks very ugly in some way,” he said.

Other winners in the men’s draw on day one of the so-called “Happy Slam,” where crowds have been capped at 50 percent because of the pandemic, included seventh seed Matteo Berrettini.

The Italian defeated American Brandon Nakashima in four sets despite tummy trouble.

Also through was third seed Alexander Zverev in the night match, but 12th-seeded Briton Cameron Norrie lost in three sets to Sebastian Korda, the son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda.

There was to be no fairytale run for “lucky loser” Salvatore Caruso.

The Italian had earned a place in the main draw when Djokovic was deported but he fell at the first hurdle.

In the women’s draw, top seed and world No.1 Barty made a real statement of intent, crushing qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in 54 minutes, 6-0, 6-1.

The 25-year-old faces Lucia Bronzetti of Italy next as the pre-tournament favorite and home hope chases a maiden Australian Open title.

“There’s always something special about playing on a Monday night in the Australian Open,” said Barty, who will need to deal with high expectations from the home fans.

Japan’s former world No. 1 Osaka, the reigning champion, was also largely untroubled with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Colombia’s Camila Osorio.

Seeded 13 after a disrupted 2021 in which she said she had suffered “long bouts of depression,”  Osaka cruised through in 68 minutes.

“I would say I feel more comfortable in my skin, if that makes sense,” said the 24-year-old, who won the title at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021. She will play American Madison Brengle next.

Also through are French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, Greek fifth seed Maria Sakkari and reigning Olympic champion Belinda Bencic.

But there was heartbreak for Tunisian ninth seed Ons Jabeur, who did not even make it onto court and withdrew because of injury before her match.

Also out was the 18th-seeded prodigy Gauff, surprisingly losing 6-4, 6-2 to China’s Wang.

“I think just everything disappointed me about today,” said Gauff.

“I feel like in the pre-season, I worked really hard, and I felt like I was ready to have a good run here.

“Today I just didn’t perform well.”

Two Saudi skiers make history by qualifying for Winter Olympics

Saudi skiers, Salman Al-Howaish and Fayik Abdi have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing races at the Beijing Games. (Twitter/@saudiolympic)
Saudi skiers, Salman Al-Howaish and Fayik Abdi have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing races at the Beijing Games. (Twitter/@saudiolympic)
Updated 17 January 2022

Two Saudi skiers make history by qualifying for Winter Olympics

Saudi skiers, Salman Al-Howaish and Fayik Abdi have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing races at the Beijing Games. (Twitter/@saudiolympic)
  • Salman Al-Howaish qualified for the slalom and Fayik Abdi for the giant slalom, according to the international skiing federation (FIS) website

RIYADH: You might be forgiven for thinking the Beijing Winter Olympics next month might not be the kind of event at which to expect athletes from Saudi Arabia. But think again.

Saudi skiers, Salman Al-Howaish and Fayik Abdi have qualified to compete in Alpine skiing races at the Beijing Games, according to Saudi Press Agency.

The giant slalom has attracted competitors from countries with no medal-winning record in the sport — such as violinist Vanessa Mae who competed for Thailand at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Al-Howaish qualified for the slalom and Abdi for the giant slalom, according to the international skiing federation (FIS) website.

Final places are yet to be assigned by the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee, but Saudi Arabia, where temperatures can hit 52 degrees Celsius, has overcome the first hurdle in its quest to participated in its first Winter Olympics.

Other nations currently on the list to compete against Alpine skiers from countries such as Austria and Norway in Beijing include India, Brazil, Ghana, Haiti and the Philippines.

The Games run from Feb. 4-20.

Super Cup deal with Spain ‘will boost Saudi football’: Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales

Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
Updated 17 January 2022

Super Cup deal with Spain ‘will boost Saudi football’: Spanish soccer chief Luis Rubiales

Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
  • Spanish Super Cup deal underlines Kingdom’s footballing ambitions with plans to lift national team ‘to next level’

RIYADH: The deal between the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and its Spanish counterpart to host the Spanish Super Cup competition until 2029 will mean more to the country than just hosting games.

The exchange of knowledge, supporting initiatives and collaborations will open new horizons for the Kingdom’s national team and Saudi football as a whole.

“We have seen the Saudi football team and they have a good chance of qualifying for the World Cup. I think they are doing a good job, and it is not all due to the help they receive from federations such as the Spanish one, but also because they have people who are working very well in this country,” said Luis Rubiales, president of the Royal Spanish Football Federation.

Rubiales supports efforts by Saudi footballing authorities to call on other federations around the world in order to maximize the benefits on all fronts, and acknowledges the commitment shown by the Saudi federation and its president, Yasser Al-Misehal.

Managers and coaches of both countries have been exchanging visits, developing powerful programs to create stronger homegrown players and agendas that will help lift the Saudi national team to the next level.

“We are collaborating in referee training and coach training,” said Rubiales.

The Saudi federation has also been sending players to Spain on one-year camps as part of a grassroots approach to the development of young players in the Kingdom.

A similar initiative in the 2017/2018 season followed an agreement between La Liga and SAFF, with nine Saudi players sent on loan having the opportunity to meet and train with players from La Liga.

Among those who took part were Salem Al-Dossary and Fahad Al-Muwallad, two of the key players in the Saudi national team.

Rubiales said that the two federations also have collaborated on the exchange of knowledge and development of Saudi female players in the national team.

Female players made an official visit to Spain where they met Spanish football players and federation members.

The agreement between the Saudi and Spanish federations highlights working with the latest infrastructure, including stadiums.

“It is very important to work with the best tools and best stadiums, and in that aspect there has been tremendous evolution,” Rubiales said.

King Fahd International Stadium has received an extensive upgrade, and the Saudi Ministry of Sports is committed to encouraging key investments in sports infrastructure and athletes’ development.

Rubiales said that a working formula implemented under the agreement will benefit both federations and players in the long term.

“There will be Saudi players who will go to the European league, I have no doubt,” he added.

2022 Diriyah E-Prix gives fans a shot at free tickets as all-electric racing series returns to Saudi Arabia 

2022 Diriyah E-Prix gives fans a shot at free tickets as all-electric racing series returns to Saudi Arabia 
Updated 17 January 2022

2022 Diriyah E-Prix gives fans a shot at free tickets as all-electric racing series returns to Saudi Arabia 

2022 Diriyah E-Prix gives fans a shot at free tickets as all-electric racing series returns to Saudi Arabia 
  • Formula E season eight will light up with night race doubleheader on Jan. 28-29

RIYADH: Formula E makes its return to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 28-29 with the streets of Diriyah coming alive under lights for the all-electric grid’s opening weekend of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship’s eighth season.

Racing fans have the chance to win free tickets for the doubleheader of races following the launch of experiential activation booths across Riyadh.

Booths at four popular locations in the Saudi capital — UWalk, Panorama Mall, Riyadh Park and Al-Nakheel Mall — will be open for visitors from 4 p.m. till 11 p.m. daily until Jan. 27, the eve of the first race.

Fans will be able to learn more about how Formula E is redefining motorsports through the a fusion of entertainment, sustainability, technology and innovation.

In an effort to raise awareness about environmental protection and the importance of recycling, visitors will be able to enjoy branded basketball shooting challenges in buckets of specific recycled items for an opportunity to win tickets for the race weekend. They will also be able to pose for pictures next to a condensed structure of Formula E’s Gen-2 car.

The doubleheader race has cemented its place on the Formula E calendar as it returns to the Kingdom for the fourth year running. It comes as part of a 10-year partnership between Formula E and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sport and the Saudi Automobile and Motorsports Federation.

The internationally renowned street racing track around the Diriyah UNESCO World Heritage site will come alive under the floodlights again as 11 teams and 22 drivers representing 11 nations from the US to New Zealand and Brazil to France battle it out for the first points of the new season.

Visitors will also be able to buy tickets directly from the booths, with prices starting at SR150 ($40) for grandstand access. Tickets are also available online via diriyah-eprix.com.


Al-Hilal handed kind draw in 2022 AFC Champions League group stages

Al-Hilal handed kind draw in 2022 AFC Champions League group stages
Updated 17 January 2022

Al-Hilal handed kind draw in 2022 AFC Champions League group stages

Al-Hilal handed kind draw in 2022 AFC Champions League group stages
  • Asian, Saudi champions will get chance to avenge only defeat on way to last year’s record 4th continental title, while Al-Shabab, Al-Faisaly will face UAE, Qatari powerhouses

RIYADH: When Al-Hilal lifted a record fourth Asian title in November to spark celebrations among millions of fans, there was one slight tinge of regret.

The Saudi Arabian giants lost 4-1 to tournament debutants Istiklol in the group stage and only made it to the last 16 by the narrowest of margins.

The draw for the 2022 AFC Champions League, made on Monday in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, has given the Saudi champions a chance for revenge against the Tajikistan powerhouse.

Al-Hilal, who defeated Pohang Steelers of South Korea in November’s final, have been placed in Group A of this year’s edition along with Istiklol as well as Al-Rayyan of Qatar. The lineup will be completed by the winner of the play-off between Sharjah of the UAE and Iraq’s Al-Zawraa. All six group games will take place between April 7 and 27 at a yet to be disclosed venue.

It is a draw that will likely be welcomed by coach Leonardo Jardim as continental powerhouses have been avoided – the recent expulsion of Iranian giants Persepolis and Esteghlal is a shame for the tournament but does make things easier for the others.

Istiklol will not be underestimated, however. They ended 2021 with another dominant win in the Tajikistan Higher League, finishing a full 13 points clear of their closest challenger. Al-Hilal fans will remember Manuchekhr Dzhalilov who scored twice in that 4-1 win and the veteran striker ended as top scorer once more in his home league with 18 goals.

The top two teams in Qatar, Al-Sadd and Al-Duhail, have been avoided with Al-Rayyan finishing 25 points behind the former and 12 behind the runners-up. In fact, Laurent Blanc’s men were closer to relegation than the title. Al-Hilal would have few fears of facing either of the play-off winners.

Al-Shabab return to Asia for the first time since 2015 and will also be in the hunt for top spot in Group B. Last season’s Saudi Pro League runners-up will be looking at Al-Jazira of the UAE as their main rivals. The Abu Dhabi club, fifth in the current league season, are UAE champions and have one of Asia’s most feared strikers in Ali Mabkhout, although Al-Shabab, currently in second in Saudi Arabia, have plenty of attacking talent of their own in Odion Ighalo and Ever Banega.

There will be an interesting clash with Mumbai City. The Indian debutants are part of the City Football Group, are coached by Englishman Des Buckingham, and are currently fourth in the Indian Super League. Iraq’s Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya complete a group that Al-Shabab will be looking to get out of.

Al-Faisaly may currently be preoccupied with a relegation battle at home but that may mean a first-ever Asian campaign will come as a welcome respite. A meeting with Qatari powerhouse Al-Sadd, who won their local league by 13 points last season (in a league that has just 22 games) will be tough but Al-Faisaly have shown in winning the King’s Cup that they are a match for any team on their day.

They will be joined by Jordanian giants Al-Wehdat and the winner of the play-off between UAE team Baniyas and Nasaf Qarshi of Uzbekistan. It should be an interesting challenge for Daniel Ramos’ men especially if they can pull away from the drop zone at home before the continental tournament starts.

Al-Taawoun are also fighting against the drop but will move into the group stage if they win a play-off against Syria’s Al-Jaish. If so, a tough campaign awaits with Al-Duhail of Qatar, Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor, and Sepahan of Iran.

Only the top team from each of the five groups in the western zone — the tournament is divided into two geographic halves until the final — are sure of a place in the second round where they will be joined by the three best-performing runners-up.

There are also other issues to be decided. The Asian Football Confederation ruled last week that each of the groups will be held in one centralized venue. The host cities have yet to be announced.

The timings have been changed too, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the 2022 World Cup that will take place in November and December. After the group stage ends on April 27, teams will have to wait until February 2023 to start the knockout rounds. The two-legged final is scheduled to take place on Feb.19 and 26.