Lewis Hamilton clinches pole position for inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)
Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)
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Updated 04 December 2021

Lewis Hamilton clinches pole position for inaugural Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrates after qualifying in pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. (Reuters)
  • Brit heads into historic race with 103rd pole of his career, Mercedes teammate Bottas in second position

JEDDAH: Lewis Hamilton made history by becoming the first driver to clinch a Saudi Arabian Grand Prix pole position after edging out teammate Valtteri Bottas and world championship title rival Max Verstappen in qualifying on Saturday.

The two Mercedes drivers secured a one-two grid position, which will give them the advantage over the Red Bull driver on the Jeddah Corniche circuit, where overtaking may prove difficult.

It was the 103rd pole of Hamilton’s career, his fifth of the season, and comes off the back of a stellar qualification drive in the previous round in Qatar.

With Hamilton trailing Verstappen by eight points in the championship fight with just one more race remaining after Jeddah, the qualification victory for Hamilton felt crucial.

The seven-time world champion beat Finnish driver Bottas by just over a tenth of a second, and was 0.142 seconds ahead of Verstappen in third.

Ferrari’s Charles LeClerc was half a second back in fourth and Mexican Red Bull driver Sergio Perez rounded out the rest of the top five.

It was a difficult end to the session for Verstappen who hit the wall on his last flying lap, proving the perils of the relentlessly quick Jeddah circuit.

“I don’t really understand what happened (on the final flying lap),” he said. “I locked up a bit. P3 is disappointing but today did show that the car is quick around here ... so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Hamilton admitted the track is a tough challenge, while paying tribute to teammate Bottas who will be leaving the Mercedes garage at the end of the season.

“What a tough track this is,” he said. “It’s amazing what they’ve built, the speed and the pace around here is phenomenal.

“It’s a great result for the team and a great job by Valtteri, he’s the best team mate there’s ever been in this sport,” he added.

Bottas also sounded like he enjoyed the speed of the Jeddah streets.

“This was an important qualifying,” he said. “I was on the limit, this track is tough but I really enjoyed it. I will do my best tomorrow.”

Verstappen, with a slight lead over Hamilton with just two races left, will hope he can claim his first title on Sunday if he wins the race and Hamilton finishes outside the top six.

But belief remains strong in the Mercedes camp that Hamilton can close the gap in Jeddah and seal a dramatic championship victory in Abu Dhabi.


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.