Formula One is transforming Jeddah, says Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali

The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a Race Ambassador for the grand prix, spoke to Arab News ahead of Sunday’s raceday. (Supplied)
The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a Race Ambassador for the grand prix, spoke to Arab News ahead of Sunday’s raceday. (Supplied)
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Updated 06 December 2021

Formula One is transforming Jeddah, says Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali

The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a Race Ambassador for the grand prix, spoke to Arab News ahead of Sunday’s raceday. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ambassador says event proves how passionate Saudi Arabia is about top-level motorsport

JEDDAH: Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali is delighted with how hosting the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah has brought an “energy” to the city and confirms how passionate Saudis are about the sport.

The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a race ambassador for the grand prix, told Arab News ahead of Sunday’s race that the event is having a “massive” impact on the city.

“I mean everyone, the city, my friends and family, everyone is so excited,” she said. “You can feel the energy having an international event like this, with everything it brings, from the concerts and the events, that ripple effect Formula One has is massive,” she said.

“And I understand that now firsthand, especially the fact that I know what my city is and, now, how it’s changed with the Formula One here.

“I guess just the buildup to this weekend, today the race day, we’ve seen quite a few different things over the weekend and every day it has been very, very busy. Usually, you find some days a little less busy, but from the Friday, as soon as the gates opened, getting around you’re weaving through people.

“And I’ve been to other events and it’s generally not that busy on the Friday, so it just shows you how excited the Saudis are and how much they’re looking forward to it.”

Juffali said she feels honored and blessed to be chosen as a race ambassador and to be representing her country on an international level. She told Arab News how important telling her story will be in inspiring Saudi children to get involved in motorsport.

“I think that is what kind of brought this on, and my experience in racing single seaters has been my career and life for the past three years, so it felt like a fitting role for me and something that I very much look forward to taking on,” she said.

“A lot of it has been sharing my story, connecting with Saudis and Arabs alike, giving them a chance to dream of getting into Formula One, making that a dream for them.

“And nice to see, as well, another side to this sport because it’s not just racing, there’s a whole other world, there’s media, engineering, hospitality — it brings so much with it.

“So, I see that as my role, spreading that awareness and allowing people to understand what the sport entails,” she added.

At the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, world championship leader Max Verstappen can potentially clinch the title, but Juffali is hoping the battle between him and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton can be extended for one more week beyond Jeddah, with the season concluding in Abu Dhabi next week.

“It’s going to be interesting. I think we saw that Max was quite eager in qualifying, but you also saw that he has the speed, so it is there,” she said. “It depends on overtaking, but I think that Lewis could potentially be at a disadvantage starting at the front.

“We don’t know that for sure, but it seems like it’s not going to be as simple in terms of overtaking, so I think if he has a good start and it’s a clean race, and we don’t get safety cars (he has a chance).

 

 

“But the more the race is interrupted, the more Max will have a chance, I think. In the end, it’s about getting the championship done in the next race, at least for myself, I want to see it go to the end,” she added.

Away from the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia and the glamor of F1, Juffali reflected on her season driving in the UK in the British F3 championship the past year — the first in which she felt she could say she was “an actual racing driver” — and told Arab News that, while she felt she did not reach her full potential on the track, she took away many other victories and lessons from the season.

“My driving was a lot more consistent, I was in the pack, always there or thereabouts and close to a good position,” she said. “Often, something would happen, whether it was a mistake from my side or I got unlucky. So, overall, I don’t think my performance reflected my ability.

“But in terms of confidence, in terms of how I’ve grown as a driver... I felt that connection with the car, what it felt like to be able to translate to my engineer and communicate these things.

“So, there were definitely merits and it was a very enjoyable year, and I will take those to the next stage, which I will hopefully announce soon. Stay tuned, you’ll hear more about it.”


Saudi Arabia progress to last 8 in Asian Handball Championship despite loss to Iran

Saudi Arabia progress to last 8 in Asian Handball Championship despite loss to Iran
Updated 11 sec ago

Saudi Arabia progress to last 8 in Asian Handball Championship despite loss to Iran

Saudi Arabia progress to last 8 in Asian Handball Championship despite loss to Iran
  • Host nation will take on South Korea, Qatar, Uzbekistan in 2nd round

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia suffered their first loss of the 20th Asian Handball Championship, going down 24-20 to Iran at the Ministry of Sports Hall in Dammam, but still progressed to the last eight of the competition by finishing second in Group B.

The top five finishers in the competition will qualify for the 2023 World Handball Championship taking place in Poland and Sweden.

The Saudi team had ended the first half leading 13-9 lead, but the Iranians took advantage of a drop in intensity by the host nation during the second period to run out winners by four points and top the group.

Both nations qualified for the quarterfinals while in the same group Australia beat India 27-26 to finish third.

Despite the loss to Iran, the Saudi team achieved its best scoring performance in the group stages of the last five editions of the competition, notching 108 goals in three matches, at an average of 36 per game.

In the 2014 edition, the Saudi team averaged 26 goals per match, and followed that up with 27 in 2016, 30 in 2018, and 33 in 2020.

In the second round, Saudi Arabia have been placed in the same group as South Korea, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, while the second group includes Kuwait, Iran, Bahrain, and Iraq.

The top two from each group will play in the semi-finals, while the third-place teams will contest a playoff for fifth spot and a place in next year’s World Handball Championship.


Formula E reigning champion Nyck De Vries looking for repeat of Diriyah E-Prix season-opening victory

Formula E reigning champion Nyck De Vries looking for repeat of Diriyah E-Prix season-opening victory
Updated 21 January 2022

Formula E reigning champion Nyck De Vries looking for repeat of Diriyah E-Prix season-opening victory

Formula E reigning champion Nyck De Vries looking for repeat of Diriyah E-Prix season-opening victory
  • The 26-year-old Dutchman won the opening race in Riyadh last February before going on to claim overall victory in Season 7 of the all-electric championship

RIYADH: Dutch driver Nyck De Vries insists he is not fazed by the pressure of being the defending champion and is looking forward to his “favorite” race of the calendar in Saudi Arabia when the new season begins later this month.

The 26-year-old will line up for Mercedes in the eighth edition of the all-electric  championship, which will begin with the Diriyah E-Prix double-header in Riyadh on Jan. 28-29. The upcoming season will feature 16 rounds across 10 countries including the UK, Germany, the US and Italy.

De Vries — who won Season 7’s opening race at Diriyah last February — will be among 22 drivers who will be in action in the season-opener and while he is hoping to impress, he is fully aware of the strong competition he faces to replicate his title victory.

“There is always pressure and I’m always nervous and a little stressed on race days and sometimes have that different feeling because I do care and want to do well,” said De Vries. “Being the reigning champion doesn’t really change things as that was last year. Now, all of us begin equally and we have to prove ourselves again. So for me, I’m looking forward to the new season and performing better than I did in the past.”

De Vries has happy memories of racing in Saudi Arabia. In last year’s championship, he won the race, setting the platform to secure his first world ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, and admits competing under the lights will make the event even more special.

“Diriyah was good to me last year and it is my favorite event of the calendar because I do enjoy the layout,” he said. “It’s the fastest track on the calendar and doesn’t have any low-speed corners. It’s a great track and with it being a night race, it gives it an extra bit of touch and the organizers have made great use of the lighting to make it a cool race.

“There is not a huge difference compared to racing during the day, but during the night the emotions are all a bit greater. Everything looks a bit faster and intimidating and I think there’s a lot more emotion so I personally like the idea of a night race.”

The driver also outlined his ambition to continue racing in the championship, and the importance of participating regularly to become the best driver he can be.

He said: “I believe that it’s important to stay active and continue practicing your racing skills in different disciplines. When you are racing, there is always the different pressure to testing — so I am someone who would prefer to race than test as I believe testing is effective in certain stages of your career and will give you experience. However, it doesn’t put you in the situation where you get those unique, different feelings from racing. Hence, I want to be racing as much as possible and hope to continue racing in the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship and endurance racing.”


End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations
Updated 21 January 2022

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations

End of an era for champions Algeria as they suffer sad exit from Africa Cup of Nations
  • Only a few weeks ago the newly crowned FIFA Arab Cup champions were chasing Italy’s world record of 37 unbeaten matches, but a disastrous campaign in Cameroon sees them head home after the group stages

Riyad Mahrez’s penalty against Ivory Coast in the final group game of the 2021 African Nations Cup on Thursday summed up Algeria’s campaign.

With his team 3-0 down in a game the 2019 victors needed to win, Algeria were handed an undeserved spot kick. The Manchester City star, who had been anonymous for much of the group stage, hit the post. And that was the end of one of the worst tournament defenses you will see for a long time — right up there with France’s shambolic effort at the 2002 World Cup.

That global jinx has come to the African Cup of Nations with the champions crashing and burning in the first round. It is barely believable that Algeria are out and even less so that the early exit was completely deserved. All of the continent kept waiting for the team to get going but it never happened. The likes of Manchester City, Milan, Napoli, West Ham United, Lyon and Villarreal will be surprised and delighted at getting their players back almost three weeks earlier than expected while everyone else is just surprised that the likes of Mahrez, Ismael Bennacer and Aissa Mandi, who play at the  top of the European club game, could not even inspire their team to finish third in a group containing Sierra Leone, Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast. 

Where to start? Well, in the beginning there was a team that arrived in Cameroon with a 34-game unbeaten run — just three short of Italy’s world record — and genuine ambitions of a second successive title. The second string had won the Arab Cup in December and coach Djamel Belmadi, who had been in place since August 2018, led the team to continental glory in 2019 and is hugely popular. 

The opening 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone, a team ranked 118 in the world, 78 places below Algeria, was a surprise but such things can happen in the first game. The Leone Stars defended as if their lives depended on it and the North Africans were guilty of missing chances with 18 attempts and two-thirds possession. Not to worry, there were two games to go and time to locate shooting boots. And not just that with four of the six best-performing third-placed teams in the group stage going through; there was surely little danger.

Then came a 1-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea ranked at 114 and making just a third appearance at the tournament. This was awful, without urgency or creativity, and there is a suspicion that star-studded Algeria seriously underestimated a national team representing a country of only 1.4 million. The champs could barely string a pass together and Mahrez, this season’s top scorer at Manchester City — a team thought by many to be the best in the world — was ineffective to the point of invisibility.

There was still another chance in the final game. Victory over Ivory Coast could even see Algeria finish top of the group. There was no danger of that as the champions were second best for most of the game. A lack of discipline, concentration and basic marking at the back allowed Ivory Coast to collect what was ultimately a comfortable win. At times, Algeria looked like they could get back in the game but never really had the conviction that they could do it. From the get-go, the body language was a concern and heads seemed to drop as soon as the first goal went in. Algeria were outworked and outfought.

Mahrez was the symbol and his performances, or lack of, came in for questions in the post-match inquest. Belmadi can be as combative as a coach as he was as a player for Marseille and Manchester City and hit back at journalists.

“Don’t go and point the finger at players who have given you so much happiness,” Belmadi said. “When things are not going well you start to point the finger at him or me. Did you want me to drop him to the bench? I didn’t change things. I left him in the team.”

For Belmadi, it is an unwelcome reminder of the 2015 Asian Cup. In Australia, he was in charge of Qatar and they arrived in good form and with high hopes. Then they lost all three games Down Under but this was worse as Algeria were the title-holders. In 2015, he didn’t last long as Qatar boss, but has enough credit in the bank to survive this time — however now it all comes down to the final World Cup qualification play-off in March.

“We will have to pick ourselves up, digest this, analyze it and lift our heads up. The World Cup awaits and we will need to do better,” Belmadi said.

The 2021 African Cup of Nations will forever be a painful memory for Algeria. It remains to be seen if it marks the start of a dark period or serves as a wake-up call and inspires the team to qualify for Qatar and then go on to show the world what they are made of. 

For now though, Algeria, who basked in the glory of their 2019 success, will have to deal with a very different feeling.

“This is something we have to swallow,” said Belmadi. “It is hard for us because we are not used to losing. It is a bitter taste. It is horrible.”


Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao

Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao
Updated 21 January 2022

Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao

Barca crash out of cup after extra-time defeat by Athletic Bilbao
  • Barca won the Copa del Rey last season and defending their title was probably their best chance of silverware this term

MADRID: Barcelona were dumped out of the Copa del Rey on Thursday as Ferran Torres’ first goal for the club failed to prevent a dramatic 3-2 defeat after extra-time by Athletic Bilbao.
Disappointment for Barca was compounded by the sight of a visibly upset Ansu Fati going off injured in the second half of normal time at San Mames.
Fati only returned earlier this month after two months out with a hamstring problem, having also come back in September following 10 months out with a knee injury.
Another spell on the sidelines for Fati would be a huge blow to Barca’s hopes of making La Liga’s top four. Pedri also asked to go off in extra-time.
Real Madrid needed an extra 30 minutes as well to defeat Elche 2-1, with Eden Hazard scoring the winner after Marcelo’s red card forced La Liga’s leaders to come from behind with 10 men.
Barca were hoping to join them in the last eight but instead it is Athletic who advance, joining Madrid, Real Sociedad, Mallorca, Rayo Vallecano, Cadiz, Valencia and Real Betis in Friday’s draw for the last eight.
Madrid will be firm favorites, particularly after Sevilla crashed out at the hands of Real Betis, who are now perhaps the greatest threat to Carlo Ancelotti’s side winning their first Copa del Rey since 2014, during Ancelotti’s first tenure as coach.
Barca won the Copa del Rey last season and defending their title was probably their best chance of silverware this term.
They are out of sight in La Liga and were beaten by Madrid in last week’s Spanish Super Cup, with the Europa League now their only realistic remaining route to a trophy.
Only 102 seconds had passed when Iker Muniain sent San Mames apoplectic by collecting Nico Williams’ cross at the back post, before turning and bending into the far corner.
But Barcelona were level in the 20th minute, and from a similar angle, as Torres shifted right, inside Oscar De Marcos, and whipped a stunning shot into the net.
Inaki Williams hit the bar with a long-range effort late on but the real drama was still to come. Athletic thought they had won it in the 86th minute when Inigo Martinez prodded in at the back post ahead of the sliding Gerard Pique.
Barcelona, though, found a way back in the 93rd, as Dani Alves bicycle-kicked Jordi Alba’s cross back into the area and Pedri’s hit on the stretch was too powerful for Julen Agirrezabala’s right hand.
Barca celebrated like it was the winner but there was extra-time to come and injuries. Fati went off and then Pedri asked to depart.
Then in the 103rd minute, a sliding Alba stopped Nico Williams’ cross with his right arm and after consulting the replay, Jose Munuera pointed to the spot. Ter Stegen dived right, Muniain shot left.


Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov

Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov
Updated 21 January 2022

Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov

Barty, Osaka on collision course as Nadal faces Khachanov
  • Osaka, who won at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021, will simultaneously be playing Amanda Anisimova on the adjacent Margaret Court Arena
  • Nadal faces dangerous Russian 28th seed Karen Khachanov in the late match

MELBOURNE: Top seed Ashleigh Barty and defending women’s champion Naomi Osaka can set up a mouth-watering last-16 clash as the Australian Open reaches the third round on Friday, with Rafael Nadal also in action as he targets a 21st Slam title.
World number one Barty, who has been in dominant form in 2022, faces the experienced Italian 30th seed Camila Giorgi to begin the night session on Rod Laver Arena.
Osaka, who won at Melbourne Park in 2019 and 2021, will simultaneously be playing Amanda Anisimova on the adjacent Margaret Court Arena.
Nadal faces dangerous Russian 28th seed Karen Khachanov in the late match, with the Spaniard warning that his best is still to come as he works his way back to peak form after an injury-hit 2021.
Barty, chasing a first title at her home Slam, has barely broken sweat so far, dropping only three games in two matches.
The Wimbledon champion won the warm-up Adelaide International with a serve that was untouchable, and it has been flawless so far in Melbourne as well.
“Just continually trying to make it a weapon,” she said of her serve, which has not been broken for 48 straight games stretching over five matches.
“I’m not the biggest girl out there, but I know I’ve got a sound technique and I know if I can get my rhythm right and use it effectively, it can be a weapon.”
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka says she has been taking unlikely inspiration during the first Slam of the year from maverick Australian Nick Kyrgios and Brit Andy Murray, who tweeted that he was enjoying watching her.
“Definitely means a lot. For me it was a really cool moment,” she said of Murray’s message.
Nadal’s path to become the first man to win 21 Grand Slams — he is tied on 20 with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic who are both absent — could see him meet Olympic champion Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals.
But first he needs to despatch Khachanov — with the prospect of another Russian, last year’s semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, awaiting in the last 16.
“I think playing against Khachanov is going to be a big challenge,” said Nadal, who said he was not looking beyond Friday’s match.
“I never think that far. Just staying focused on my daily work, on what’s coming, and that’s it. One moment in time, that’s it.”
Third seed Zverev faces Moldovan qualifier Radu Albot out on “party court” John Cain Arena, while Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini takes on Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz in the men’s draw.
The women’s action on Rod Laver begins with Belarusian former two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka taking on Ukrainian 15th seed Elina Svitolina.
They will be followed by the French Open champion and fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic against Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko.