Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, of the Netherlands, after winning the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix at the Barcelona Catalunya racetrack in Montmelo, Spain, last weekend. (AP/File)
Short Url
Updated 26 May 2022

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck

Verstappen heads to Monaco where Leclerc awaits a change of luck
  • Verstappen took control of the championship by easing six points clear of Monegasque driver Leclerc of Ferrari, who was forced into retirement at the Circuit de Catalunya

MONACO: World champion Max Verstappen heads home this weekend hoping to survive the chaos and beat archrival and luckless local hero Charles Leclerc again in Sunday’s 79th running of the Monaco Grand Prix.

Just days after leading his teammate Sergio Perez over the line in a Red Bull 1-2 last weekend in Spain, the 24-year-old Dutchman will bid for a repeat to consolidate his grip at the top of this year’s title race.

Verstappen took control of the championship by easing six points clear of Monegasque driver Leclerc of Ferrari, who was forced into retirement at the Circuit de Catalunya.

He seeks a fourth consecutive win and second in the classic contest in Sunday’s potentially rain-affected race.

“Qualifying is critical, like always,” said the 2021 victor.

“Monaco is always a hectic weekend, but special. The track is old school, narrow and it makes your heart rate go so high it’s insane.

“We have to be constantly on the edge. It’s a pretty crazy place with Formula One cars! I finally won there last year — and it was a massive relief to cross the line.”

Like Leclerc, who was born and lives in the Mediterranean principality, Verstappen is based there — for climatic and tax purposes — along with several other drivers including seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

As a result, they enjoy an intimate knowledge of the circuit regarded as the most iconic and glamorous on the F1 calendar, but also the rare luxury of sleeping at home during a race weekend.

For Leclerc, however, that comfort has yet to be of any help on the tight, unforgiving and sinuous barrier-lined street track that requires total concentration and extraordinary driver skills.

At just 3.337 kilometers, it is the shortest on the calendar, offers few overtaking opportunities, rapid and multiple gear changes and tricky changes in elevation and direction. Only 42 percent of the lap is run at full speed, the lowest of the year.

Despite knowing all this and having gone by bus to school on the same stretches of asphalt, Leclerc has yet to finish his home Grand Prix in three attempts since 2018. Last year, after crashing on Saturday, he could not start Sunday’s race.

Before that, he had to retire after starting from pole in a Formula Two race in 2017 and, more recently, earlier this month, crashed a classic 1974 Ferrari, raced by Niki Lauda, at a historic demonstration event.

Yet he remains calm and optimistic, hoping a change to the classic Monaco routine this year — with practice starting on Friday, and not Thursday, as was once traditional — will help.

“I think it gives us the rhythm of the other races, which could be good so I am looking forward to that and giving it a go,” he said, deflecting any negative thoughts after a power failure in Spain, while leading, brought him his first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season.

“My attitude is always the same, regardless,” he added. “Every point is valuable. We know that even the smallest mistake can make a bid difference.”

After dominating practice and starting from pole in Spain, Leclerc and Ferrari will hope they can continue to set the pace, but they know Red Bull will be a threat and reliability a key factor.

“Since the start of the season, the team that has done everything perfectly was the one to win. We will do everything to be that team,” said Leclerc.

“We have the confidence that we can make it, which is a good starting point.”

After returning to competitive form with a heavily upgraded car in Spain, where George Russell was third and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton fifth, Mercedes will also be hopeful, but realistic.

“We made a big step and halved the advantage of the front-runners,” said team chief Toto Wolff.

“But there’s still a long way to go. And Monaco was not our happiest place in the past. My expectations are lower than at any other circuit.”

Mercedes have won only once since 2016 after winning four in a row and the unique showpiece race has been Red Bull’s twice in three years since Ferrari’s last win in 2017, with Sebastian Vettel.

To many observers, another Ferrari win and an end to Leclerc’s agonies is long overdue.


Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament
Updated 42 min 56 sec ago

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament

Branden Grace wins LIV Golf’s first US tournament
  • The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition

NORTH PLAINS, Ore.: Branden Grace won LIV Golf’s first stop on American soil.

Grace closed with a 7-under 65 on Saturday to finish at 13 under in the 54-hole tournament at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. The 34-year-old South African won $4 million.

Grace beat Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz by two strokes.

“Played flawless golf, played really, really well when I needed to do something special and came up and managed to pull it out,” Grace said.

“But just what a great day, it was amazing to come here, this new format, this new everything is amazing and everybody here is having a blast.”

Ortiz, ranked No. 119 in the world, shot a 69. Johnson (71) finished four back with Patrick Reed (67).

The 48-man field in Oregon competed for a $20 million purse, with an additional $5 million prize fund for a team competition.

There was no cut and even the last-place finisher earned a payday of $120,000.

Charl Schwartzel won the tour’s inaugural event outside of London (and the team portion) and pocketed $4.75 million.

The Four Aces team, led by Johnson, won the team competition at Pumpkin Ridge.

LIV Golf also announced Saturday that English player Pat Casey has joined the series. Casey, 44, has won three times on the PGA Tour and 15 times on the European Tour, and is ranked No. 26 in the world.

He has not played a tournament round since March because of injuries.


Carlos Sainz claims maiden F1 win in epic British Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz claims maiden F1 win in epic British Grand Prix
Updated 03 July 2022

Carlos Sainz claims maiden F1 win in epic British Grand Prix

Carlos Sainz claims maiden F1 win in epic British Grand Prix
  • The 27-year-old Spaniard, starting from his maiden pole position, resisted a charging Sergio Perez of Red Bull
  • Verstappen remained on top of the title race with 181 points ahead of Perez on 147 and Leclerc on 138 and Sainz on 127

SILVERSTONE, UK: Carlos Sainz claimed his first Formula One victory in his 150th race on Sunday when he drove his Ferrari to a spectacular triumph in a furious and crash-hit British Grand Prix.
The 27-year-old Spaniard, starting from his maiden pole position, resisted a charging Sergio Perez of Red Bull, who recovered from 17th, to take the flag by 3.7 seconds in front of a record 142,000 crowd at the high-speed Silverstone circuit.
Home hero seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes took third, to claim a record 13th podium finish on home soil, an unprecedented total by any driver at a single event.
Drawing on his fresher tires in the closing stages, Hamilton resisted and passed Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari, who finished fourth ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Alpine and Lando Norris of McLaren.
World champion and series leader Max Verstappen finished seventh for Red Bull, recovering after picking up debris and suffering a puncture, ahead of a revitalized Mick Schumacher of Haas, four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Aston Martin, who had started 18th and Kevin Magnussen in the second Haas.
“I don’t know what to say,” said a beaming Sainz. “It is amazing. My first win in Formula One on my 150th race and for Ferrari at Silverstone! It’s amazing.”
Perez was also delighted. “It was a great comeback,” he said.
“We never gave up and we kept pushing. We kept trying. It was epic in some of those final laps.”
Hamilton paid tribute to the crowd, saying Silverstone was unmatched around the world for the scale and depth of enthusiasm demonstrated at the British event, which on Sunday provided stunning entertainment.
“I gave it everything today,” said Hamilton. “I tried to chase, but the Red Bull and the Ferraris were too quick on the straights.”
Verstappen remained on top of the title race with 181 points ahead of Perez on 147 and Leclerc on 138 and Sainz on 127.
After a long delay following a high-speed multi-car collision at the start of the race, which saw Zhou Guanyu make a remarkable escape after his car skidded upside down through a gravel trap, the contest re-started an hour later using the original grid order.
Three drivers were missing — Alfa Romeo’s Zhou, Williams’ Alex Albon and George Russell of Mercedes — as the lights went out and Sainz, in ferocious fighting mood, boldly resisted Verstappen to retain the lead from his maiden pole position.
Leclerc also made an aggressive start and banged wheels with Perez, who suffered front wing damage, and Verstappen before the order settled on lap five.
Hamilton, who had lost an early position to Norris, swept past him to the delight of his army of fans to regain fourth on lap six as Perez re-joined 17th at the back after a slow pit-stop.
In a frantic spell of action, Sainz ran off-track and across the grass at Becketts on lap 10, gifting Verstappen the initiative again, but two laps later the Dutchman slowed and pitted with a puncture.
Sainz led again as a 3.1 seconds stop for Verstappen, who reported he had hit debris, dropped him to sixth.
Amid this drama, Hamilton closed on Leclerc before, on lap 21, Sainz pitted from the lead, Leclerc taking over ahead of Hamilton with the Spaniard re-joining third ahead of Norris.
Clearly inspired, Hamilton pushed again as Verstappen pitted again before Leclerc pitted on lap 25. He returned in third, behind Sainz, while Hamilton stayed out on his ‘mediums’ and revelled in leading a race for the first time this year.
Behind him, Ferrari told their drivers they were “free to fight” as Leclerc chased second-placed Sainz, who was 18 seconds adrift of Hamilton, but warned that a swap was needed. It duly came on lap 31 when Sainz let Leclerc by on Wellington Straight for second.
This left Hamilton 18.7 seconds ahead, before he pitted on lap 34 for ‘hards’, emerging third 3.4 seconds behind Sainz, but with tires that were 13 laps fresher until a Safety Car intervention with 12 laps to go when Esteban Ocon’s Alpine came to a halt.
On the re-start, Perez surged past Hamilton and Sainz overtook Leclerc to lead again, but it was tense stuff and as the Spaniard pulled clear, the trio behind him scrapped and swapped places with ferocious abandon.
Perez muscled his way to second, Leclerc and Hamilton fought and both Alonso and Norris closed to within a second, setting up a furious finale.


Uncertain times for Al-Ahli as reality of relegation sinks in

Uncertain times for Al-Ahli as reality of relegation sinks in
Updated 03 July 2022

Uncertain times for Al-Ahli as reality of relegation sinks in

Uncertain times for Al-Ahli as reality of relegation sinks in
  • Shocked fans will worry that star players will leave and who will be the coach next season as they take part in Saudi second-tier football for the first time

LONDON: Monday, June 27, 2022 will live long in the memory of Jeddah football fans. It was a bad day for clubs in the city but it could actually have been worse for fans of Al-Ittihad and Al-Ahli.

Followers of the former may be devastated as their team threw away a double-digit lead at the top of the Saudi Professional League and a perfect chance to win a first title since 2009, but as bad as that was, at least they can see their bitter local rivals have it worse. That is because Al-Ahli are dealing with something that has never happened before in their illustrious history: Relegation.

Experiencing that unprecedented event would have been even more painful if their fans could have heard their Ittihad neighbors celebrating becoming champions of Saudi Arabia.

That there have been no such celebrations won’t be a comfort for too long however. Al-Ittihad have become used to not winning the title but this is new territory for Al-Ahli as they enter the second tier for the first time.

There is still shock as to how it came to this. From 2013 to 2020, the Jeddah giants didn’t finish outside the top four and won the title in 2016 and finished second in the following two seasons. The warning signs were there though, with an eighth-place finish last time around. There were reports of dressing room unrest; too many foreign players came in who did not make the difference and the quality of the local talent was not what it was. After goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais moved to Al-Hilal in January, there are no Al-Ahli players who are regular starters for the national team.

Coaches have come and gone too, without making much of an impact. There were high hopes for Besnik Hasi. The Kosovan-Albanian had done a great job with Al-Raed and came in last summer. Despite a slow start to the season, the management persevered with the former Legia Warsaw, Anderlecht and Olympiakos boss in the belief that he would turn things around. It was a rare show of patience by a big Saudi Arabian club but it didn’t work. Despite a fairly gentle start in terms of opponents, Al-Ahli did not win any of their first seven. There were just two clean sheets in their first 16 games but the 2012 Asian Champions League runners-up were still clear of the drop zone in early March when Hasi was finally fired. 

The replacement came out of left-field but Robert Siboldi was unable to offer anything different. In fact it was worse. The Uruguayan won the first game against Al-Tai but four points from the final six matches, at a time when relegation rivals were starting to collect points, meant that it all ended in disaster. Even so, had they scored just once against Al-Shabab in the final game then top-flight status would have been preserved.

What now? As well as the humiliation, the worst thing is the uncertainty. Nobody can say for sure when Al-Ahli will be back. If all goes well, the time spent out of the big time will be short but for every Newcastle United who bounce back stronger, there are teams such as Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday who spend years and years down before returning, if they return at all.

Former club president Abdullah Al-Batraji wondered if there was a chance that the planned expansion of the league from 16 to 18 teams might somehow take place this summer instead of next, thereby keeping Al-Ahli in the top flight. Such hopes are understandable but the route back to the top may be a little more traditional. Like any team that gets relegated, there are questions as to who will go and who will stay — especially as funding may be reduced.

One who fans will want to stay is star striker Omar Al-Somah. The Syrian striker still managed 10 goals in a struggling team and despite being 33, is very much in demand. There are links with clubs in Egypt, Qatar and elsewhere. The forward could also stay where he is, his current club would love that to happen, but a move does seem the likeliest and Al-Ahli are reluctant to see him move to another club in Saudi Arabia. It is also going to be hard to keep hold of Ezgjan Alioski, the other big success of the season after arriving from Leeds United last year. The Macedonian has been one of the standouts in the entire league, scoring six goals and assisting in nine. Many of the other foreign players did not impress.

There may be a shake-up in the management of the club but the big question is the coach. Siboldi was put in a difficult position in his first job in the region. The Uruguayan was not the right man to save Al-Ahli and is certainly not the right one to take them back to the big time. The question of who that may be has to be resolved, and the quicker the better.

The same can be said of Al-Ahli’s top-tier status. The quicker they return the better for football in Saudi Arabia, and even Al-Ittihad fans may agree with that.


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.