Controversial, historic: 5 things we learned from Max Verstappen’s stunning Formula One championship win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Controversial, historic: 5 things we learned from Max Verstappen’s stunning Formula One championship win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took his first Formula One title after winning the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a last lap overtake of rival Lewis Hamilton. (AFP)
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Updated 14 December 2021

Controversial, historic: 5 things we learned from Max Verstappen’s stunning Formula One championship win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Controversial, historic: 5 things we learned from Max Verstappen’s stunning Formula One championship win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
  • Few can deny the Dutchman is a worthy champion, but F1 must find right balance between sport and entertainment

A wild Formula One season came to a controversial close in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, and the world is still digesting everything that happened — both on the track and in race control at the Yas Marina Circuit.

As the dust from the drama settles, we take a look at some of the things we learned from the big finale in the UAE capital.

Controversy reigns, but tough to say Max did not deserve title

In a long and taxing season that spanned 22 Grand Prix weekends between March and December, Max Verstappen won 10 races, finished second in another eight and held off an impressive late-season comeback from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton to clinch a maiden world title.

Hamilton topped the podium eight times this campaign, and arrived in Abu Dhabi having won the three previous races in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Together, Verstappen and Hamilton provided one of the most gripping championship fights in the history of the sport, and entering the final weekend on equal points was a drama no screenwriter could have scripted.

As two-time world champion Fernando Alonso said on Sunday: “I think more than any other year, if you can split the trophy in two, this was the year to do it because both of them were outstanding.”

Ultimately, a safety car introduced late in the game and some debatable decision-making from Race Director Michael Masi helped Verstappen secure the title. Mercedes were left fuming as they saw their two protests dismissed in the wake of all the action.

“We’re going to need a miracle in these last 10 laps to turn it around. He needs some luck from the racing gods,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had said during the race, almost manifesting some divine intervention.

The miracle happened and the 24-year-old Verstappen has become the fourth-youngest champion in F1 history.

At the start of the weekend, Alonso had given Verstappen a slight edge over Hamilton, saying that “Max is driving, in my opinion, one step ahead of all of us.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris echoed Alonso’s sentiments, adding: “I think the Mercedes has been the better car throughout the majority, and Max has been more unlucky and has made fewer mistakes as a driver. So I still have to congratulate him. He’s fought hard and he’s fought Lewis, who is a lot more experienced, won many world championships and so on.”

Many may disagree with Masi’s directives during the closing stages of the race, but it is impossible not to deem Verstappen a worthy champion.

Tough break for Hamilton, who remains gracious in defeat

It is difficult to predict how Hamilton will rebound from this. The Brit has stated more than once how tough this season has been, and to have the title snatched from his fingers on the very last lap of the final race of the year due to external factors — Nicholas Latifi’s crash, a safety car and Masi’s decisions — will definitely hurt.

Hamilton left the track on Sunday night without talking to the press and undoubtedly feels hard done by the race director’s calls.

“This is getting manipulated, man,” he said over the team radio as Verstappen passed him in a final one-lap shootout.

Despite it all, Hamilton was gracious on the podium and congratulated his rival on a job well done.

“Lewis has been a great sportsman in general,” Verstappen told Sky Sports. “He came up to me, congratulated me and it must have been very tough in that last lap. It also shows the respect we have for each other.”

Hamilton’s last words in his track interview with Jenson Button hinted at some question marks over his future.

“If I’m honest, we are still in the pandemic and I just really wish (people) to stay safe and have a good Christmas with their families, and we will see about next year,” he said signing off.

F1 needs to strike balance between sport and entertainment

As an entertainment product, Formula One captivated its audience as the Max vs. Lewis battle intensified over the course of the season.

Even their fellow drivers found themselves going back to their hotel rooms at the end of a Grand Prix weekend and pulling up the race highlights to see what happened between the championship contenders. It all came to a climax in Abu Dhabi and the drama held up until the very last second.  

“Just when you think the season could not get any more dramatic, it does. I don’t even know if this is good because I think people’s TVs are just going to explode. I don’t think it can handle that much drama, I don’t think the watts on a TV can handle it,” McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night.

BBC News presenter Ros Atkins summarized it best.

“Certainly there’s plenty of comfort for Formula One as it navigates this controversy; this was high-octane drama which demanded the world’s attention in a way many sports could only dream of,” he said.

Indeed, having an entire sporting audience that invested in a single race is quite an achievement. But as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz mentioned in Abu Dhabi ahead of the action, F1 — and the drivers — has a duty to prove to its followers that it is not just a show, but also a sport.

There appears to be inconsistency in the decision-making from the stewards and many are wondering if some of the calls are being made simply for the sake of producing must-see television.

At what point does it become too much, though? There is a reason “Drive to Survive” is a show on Netflix and Formula One is a sport aired live on television screens worldwide. There is, and has to be, a distinction.

If the rules are not consistently applied, and not generally understood and agreed on by all stakeholders involved, the whole thing risks becoming a gimmick.

Judgment calls exist in any sport, but fans must trust that these decisions are being made for the right reasons.  

It is great to see Formula One thrive in the fast-paced world of electronic sports and bite-sized digital content in which we live. But the sport must find a balance between entertainment and competition.

Checo the ultimate teammate

“Checo is a legend,” yelled Verstappen over the team radio during the race. “Absolute animal,” came the response from the Red Bull team engineer.

Both were apt descriptions for Sergio “Checo” Perez, who helped his teammate Verstappen in both qualifying (his tow was flawless) and the race (he held up Hamilton to narrow Verstappen’s gap to his rival), and then fulfilled his press duties while wearing a T-shirt celebrating the Dutchman’s championship triumph.

In Formula One, we are constantly reminded that teammates are each others’ biggest competitors, since they are the only two on the grid that have the same car, and can be measured against one another.

That dynamic can often lead to bitter rivalries within a team and environments turning toxic. That clearly is not the case with Red Bull Racing.

When asked if Verstappen’s win meant that much to him that he was wearing the shirt to honor it, Perez replied: “Honestly it does, because Max has been a great teammate since day one to me and the team. The team has been fantastic to me and I was in the position to support my teammate. I’m extremely happy for everyone.”

Perez added: “The legend is him now, he’s a world champion.”

Verstappen paid tribute to his teammate in a track interview and champion’s press conference.

“I also want to say a big thank you to Checo, I mean he was driving his heart out as well today. It was great teamwork and he is an amazing teammate,” he said.

“I think without Checo I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Verstappen later added.

“Checo is just an amazing human being, not only just to work within F1 but just a super-nice person, real family man as well. I have had a lot of good times with him, and you could see he really means it and he means well and it’s very rare to have a teammate like that.”

Sainz, Tsunoda end year on a high

Alonso laughed when asked to say a few words about Sainz’s incredible P3 finish on Sunday, which saw him secure fifth place in the championship in his first season with Ferrari.

“Yes, but no one will remember,” joked Alonso, knowing all the attention was on Verstappen and Hamilton, and the controversial end to the race.

Sainz has a lot to be proud of, though, and will certainly remember how his 2021 campaign ended with his fourth podium of the season and the highest championship finish of his Formula One career.

“It’s truly a great way to end a very positive first year in Ferrari for me,” said Sainz.

“A very challenging year, but in the end, it turned out to be a very strong one. A year that I’m quite proud of and, yeah, to finish it with a podium that probably no one will remember — I’ll add it to the collection — because of whatever was happening in front. I enjoyed it a lot and put together everything that I have learned through this first year to put probably my strongest race in Ferrari together.”

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda concluded his rookie year with a season-best fourth-place showing in Abu Dhabi — another result that may have been overlooked in all the mayhem.

Asked if he considered himself the rookie of the year, the 21-year-old Japanese joked and said: “Maybe yes, after today.”


Edoardo Mortara wins Marrakesh E-Prix in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship

Edoardo Mortara wins Marrakesh E-Prix in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship
Updated 03 July 2022

Edoardo Mortara wins Marrakesh E-Prix in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship

Edoardo Mortara wins Marrakesh E-Prix in round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship
  • Antonio Felix da Costa finished in second place, with Mitch Evans third
  • ROKiT Venturi Racing driver Mortara tops podium for the third time this season with victory in Marrakesh, and takes lead in drivers’ championship

MARRAKESH: Edoardo Mortara hit the top of the Drivers’ World Championship with victory in the Marrakesh E-Prix round 10 as the ROKiT Venturi Racing driver fended off pressure from DS TECHEETAH teammates Antonio Felix da Costa and Jean-Eric Vergne throughout.

Da Costa started on pole position and, after falling behind Mortara during the early stages, he clung to the back of the Swiss driver’s car as the race reached its climax. But the Season 6 champion couldn’t make it past the Venturi driver who remained unflustered on the way to the top step and his third win of the season, as well as the standings lead.

“I must admit after Free Practice 2, we had a lot of issues and I was not thinking we could turn this thing around, but I have an incredible team behind me and they managed to do an incredible job already in quali,” said Mortara. “Then during the race, they had a plan, they had a strategy, we executed it and it was perfect.”

“You have the guys putting you under a lot of pressure. I was trying to be intelligent, trying to manage,” he said. “There was a lot to manage today — tires obviously, but also battery temperatures, energy. It was very difficult. I had some issues with the car today, I was a little bit by myself, let’s say, but we did that and I’m extremely happy.”

Mercedes-EQ’s Stoffel Vandoorne was top of the Drivers’ World Championship going into the race but a braking glitch in qualifying left him down in 20th on the grid. He recovered to finish eighth but with just four points on the day, Mortara stands tall at the end of Round 10 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship.

Vergne had found himself in second heading into the closing stages with 2 percent of usable energy available before he slipped back behind da Costa to an eventual fourth position. Fellow title challenger Mitch Evans (Jaguar TCS Racing) fought from sixth on the grid to the podium with a final lap lunge on Vergne for silverware and a handful of extra, crucial World Championship points.

In the searing 33-degree heat, drivers and engineers elected to jump early for their two mandatory Attack Mode boosts with the school of thought being that it would be more efficient and effective in the long run to ply that extra 30kW through the batteries and powertrain. In the mix was Lucas di Grassi (ROKiT Venturi Racing), who battled to fifth and vital points for the Monegasque team.

Reigning World Champion Nyck de Vries (Mercedes-EQ) clambered to sixth and Jake Dennis (Avalanche Andretti) would have to settle for seventh. Vandoorne did make up an impressive 12 spots to finish eighth in the end after his qualifying disappointment. Sam Bird wound up ninth for Jaguar TCS Racing, and Oliver Rowland — who ran as high as second spot early on — rounded out the points-paying positions in 10th.

All that saw Mortara jump to an 11-point Drivers’ World Championship lead, with Vergne second and Vandoorne now third, having led heading into this Marrakesh E-Prix race weekend. Evans finds himself just 15 points shy of Mortara, with the top four breaking well clear of the chasing pack to set up a four-driver shootout over the final six races.

Next time out is the New York City E-Prix on July 16 to July 17 for rounds 11 and 12 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship. The much-anticipated double-header takes place on the streets of the Red Hook district of Brooklyn against the spectacular backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. 

Two more double-headers close out Season 8, with the London E-Prix weekend on July 30 to July 31 before the championship climaxes with a first visit to Korea and the Seoul E-Prix weekend on Aug. 13 to Aug. 14.


Riyadh to host Italian Super Cup between Inter and AC Milan next year

Riyadh to host Italian Super Cup between Inter and AC Milan next year
Updated 03 July 2022

Riyadh to host Italian Super Cup between Inter and AC Milan next year

Riyadh to host Italian Super Cup between Inter and AC Milan next year
  • The showpiece match between Italy’s league and cup winners was last held in Saudi Arabia in 2019

The Italian Super Cup match between league champions AC Milan and cup winners Inter is set to take place in Riyadh on Jan. 18, 2023, Italy’s national professional league, Serie A, has confirmed.

No stadium has yet been assigned for the return of the showpiece match to Saudi Arabia.

The Italian Super Cup, or Supercoppa Italiana, has often been played abroad and was last hosted outside of Italy in Riyadh in 2019, when Lazio beat Juventus 3-1 at the King Saud University Stadium.

The competition has for the last two years taken place on home soil due to COVID-19 restrictions, with Juventus beating Napoli 2-0 in Reggio Emilia in 2020 and Inter beating Juventus 2-1 last year at Milan’s San Siro Stadium.

 


Saudi Arabia to play France, Poland and Slovenia at 2023 Handball World Championship

Saudi Arabia to play France, Poland and Slovenia at 2023 Handball World Championship
Updated 03 July 2022

Saudi Arabia to play France, Poland and Slovenia at 2023 Handball World Championship

Saudi Arabia to play France, Poland and Slovenia at 2023 Handball World Championship
  • The Saudi team has faced all three Group B opponents in previous competitions

The draw for the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship on Saturday placed Saudi Arabia’s handball national team in Group B alongside France, Slovenia and co-hosts Poland.

The tournament, organized by Sweden and Poland, will run from Jan. 12 to Jan. 29 in 2023.

The Saudi team has faced all three rivals in previous versions of the competition, having twice taken on Slovenia and Poland, while facing France once.

The first meeting against Slovenia was in 2001, ending in a 35-22 defeat for Saudi Arabia, while the second meeting in 2013 resulted in a 32-22 loss.

In 2003, Saudi Arabia faced France for the first time, in a match that ended in a 33-22 loss for the Green Falcons.

Poland, too, have won both of their encounters with Saudi Arabia — with a result of 28-14 in 2013, and 32-13 in 2015.

This will be the 10th time the Saudi national team has taken part in this competition, with the first of nine previous participations taking place in 1997, and the last in 2019. The team’s highest position was 10th in the 2003 competition played in Portugal.


UAE jiu-jitsu clubs top medals table as AJP Tour Fujiarah International Pro Championship kicks off

UAE jiu-jitsu clubs top medals table as AJP Tour Fujiarah International Pro Championship kicks off
Updated 03 July 2022

UAE jiu-jitsu clubs top medals table as AJP Tour Fujiarah International Pro Championship kicks off

UAE jiu-jitsu clubs top medals table as AJP Tour Fujiarah International Pro Championship kicks off
  • Commando Group took the top position on day one, with AFNT and Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club in second and third place

FUJAIRAH: The AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Championship kicked off at Zayed Sports Complex on Saturday with stellar performances from Emirati fighters in the teens, youth, and men’s masters categories.

Commando Group came in first on the opening day of the championship while AFNT and Sharjah Self-Defense Sports Club took second and third places respectively.

About 800 athletes from 50 countries are competing in the championship, which is organized by the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation in partnership with AJP. The first day’s competitions were held across seven mats with the top finisher in each category receiving 600 ranking points under the AJP-approved ranking.

The AJP Tour Fujairah International Pro Championship is the third event of the AJP Championships, which consists of five legs held in different regions of the country.  The opening day saw the UAE take first place in the country rankings, ahead of Colombia and Brazil.

Dr. Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, minister of state for foreign trade, was presented with two commemorative shields at the event by the UAEJJF and the Fujairah Martial Arts Club in appreciation of his support for jiu-jitsu and other martial arts competitions.

“The UAE continues to excel and solidify its position as a home for jiu-jitsu,” Al-Zeyoudi said. “The strongest evidence of our country’s excellence in hosting and managing the largest sporting events and championships is the fantastic performance we saw in the Zayed Sports Complex today and the great response by the public to the competitions.”

Mohammed Salem Al-Dhaheri, on behalf of the board of directors of the federation, extended his thanks to Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Sharqi, crown prince of Fujairah, for his support for jiu-jitsu.

“The biggest assurance for the tournament’s success and achievements was his highness’ support,” he said. “The primary tenet of the nation’s leadership in this sport on a global scale is the support of our wise leadership.”


Ronaldo wants to leave Man United — reports

Ronaldo wants to leave Man United — reports
Updated 03 July 2022

Ronaldo wants to leave Man United — reports

Ronaldo wants to leave Man United — reports
  • United’s international players are due to report for training in the coming days ahead of flying to Thailand on Friday

LONDON: Cristiano Ronaldo wants to leave Manchester United this summer if the Premier League club receive an appropriate offer, according to multiple reports on Saturday.
The 37-year-old Portugal forward returned to Old Trafford from Juventus last summer but despite being United’s top scorer last season, and third in the Premier League, the campaign was overall disappointing.
United finished sixth in the Premier League, missing out on Champions League qualification, leaving the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who has a year left on his contract plus an optional year, facing the prospect of playing in the Europa League for the first time.
Manchester United are adamant Ronaldo, who scored 24 goals in all competitions, is not for sale, according to reports, with new manager Erik ten Hag keen to work with him.
Ronaldo won three Premier League titles and the Champions League during six trophy-laden years with United before leaving for Real Madrid in 2009 and Juventus in 2018, collecting more trophies at both clubs.
United’s international players are due to report for training in the coming days ahead of flying to Thailand on Friday for the start of their pre-season tour.