Leclerc seeks to regain F1 lead at his unlucky home track

Leclerc seeks to regain F1 lead at his unlucky home track
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc ahead of this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, Monaco. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 27 May 2022

Leclerc seeks to regain F1 lead at his unlucky home track

Leclerc seeks to regain F1 lead at his unlucky home track
  • Leclerc has four F1 wins among his 17 podium finishes and desperately wants to add Monaco to the list
  • The late Ayrton Senna experienced difficulties at his home Grand Prix in Brazil, winning it only at the eighth attempt

AP MONACO: Charles Leclerc has a problem to solve this weekend at his home track.

After losing the Formula One championship lead last week, Leclerc is determined to claim it back from world champion Max Verstappen at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday.

The problem? Leclerc has never finished an F1 race on the famed street circuit in the tiny Principality.

That’s even more frustrating given that he grew up in an apartment overlooking the circuit and actually learned to swim on part of it.

“It’s not been the luckiest track for me overall, but it’s part of motorsport and sometimes things just don’t go your way. Hopefully this year they will,” Leclerc told reporters on Thursday. “I love it here and obviously it’s a very special event for me, having grown up here, and these roads I know so well.”

Leclerc has a unique bond with the street circuit, which passes by a swimming pool.

“My favorite part of the track is definitely the Piscine, which is the corner combination of two esses by the swimming pool,” he said. “It just feels amazing, I really enjoy driving there. It’s also where I learned how to swim as a child, so I have an emotional attachment to it, making it even more meaningful.”

Last year felt particularly cruel for Leclerc.

He was in pole position when he crashed his Ferrari on his final timed lap in qualifying, with Verstappen pressuring his leading time. The team worked hard to fix his car overnight but he pulled out just before the start of the race with a gearbox problem.

The crash moved Verstappen up to pole, and he won to claim the lead from Lewis Hamilton and top the leaderboard for the first time in his career.

Leclerc first raced here for Sauber in 2018, crashing into the back of another car late in the race. Then in his first season with Ferrari in 2019, Leclerc retired early because of damage to the car’s floor. All engines were off in 2020 when the race was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Leclerc has four F1 wins among his 17 podium finishes and desperately wants to add Monaco to the list. The late Ayrton Senna experienced difficulties at his home Grand Prix in Brazil, winning it only at the eighth attempt.

“I’d like to win (here) as soon as possible,” Leclerc said. “Ayrton was my idol and I’ve often seen his on-board (cameras) here in Monaco, which were super impressive.”

Leclerc’s retirement last Sunday in Spain due to engine failure, when he was coasting in front for Ferrari, allowed Verstappen a win and moved the Red Bull driver six points ahead — having trailed Leclerc by 46 points after just three races.

But a 52-point swing has turned momentum Verstappen’s way.

“Of course when you look at it, losing 52 points isn’t great. But once again, what I look at in the difficult moments was that the performance was there,” Leclerc said. “We’d got on top of things more with the tires and in qualifying. The championship is still long, and I’m sure we’ll have our chances to make up for it.”

Verstappen’s already up to 24 career wins at the age of 24. By comparison, seven-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton’s 24th win came when he was 29.

Verstappen’s hitting a groove and the Dutch driver has four wins from his four finishes, having retired the Red Bull car twice in the first three races. Leclerc has won the other two races this season, and Spain was his first retirement.

Leclerc is confident it was a blip.

“I think the team knows where it’s coming from so this gives me the confidence it won’t happen again,” he said. “I know the performance is in the car for us to do a great result this weekend.”

Leclerc leads with four pole positions this year, to Verstappen’s one, highlighting his one-lap speed. It was a different story last year, when Leclerc took an unexpected pole for Ferrari when the car was not as fast. Then came that crash.

“Last year’s incident was just trying to push too much and I clipped the inside wheel,” Leclerc said. “There’s no track that comes close to the adrenalin we get in Monaco. For me it’s part of F1’s history.”

For Hamilton, meanwhile, the wait goes on.

The veteran British driver is seven races without a victory since winning the penultimate race of last season at the Saudi Arabian GP. He has one podium for the struggling Mercedes and is sixth overall, 64 points behind Verstappen and 28 points behind his teammate George Russell, who is fourth.

Leclerc tips Mercedes to bounce back.

“There’s no question for me that they will be back very soon,” he said. “I hope they can join us to fight for wins because it should be exciting for Formula One to have a three-team battle, and to have George and Lewis also fighting for wins.”


Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother
Updated 16 sec ago

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother

Gabaski contract dispute places Al-Nassr in spot of bother
  • Al-Nassr risk transfer ban if Egyptian goalkeeper takes legal action
  • Rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad currently cannot sign players

The Saudi Professional League may currently be between seasons but the big clubs in the competition are never far away from the headlines.

Defending champions Al-Hilal are unable to sign new players in the current transfer window. Al-Ittihad are not only preparing for the new season and trying to improve on their second place in the league, but must do so with the knowledge that they will be unable to add players in January’s transfer market.

The common denominator in those two situations is Al-Nassr, the team that finished third last season. Al-Hilal midfielder Mohamed Kanno was found to have signed a contract with both Riyadh clubs, hence the punishment. Al-Ittihad’s ban came in early August after a dispute over Abderrazak Hamdallah. He was found guilty of, among other things, of conspiring to leave Al-Nassr who cancelled his contract in November. In January he joined Al-Ittihad and is now banned for four months.

It all meant that Al-Nassr were having an excellent time. Not only are their rivals dealing with issues, the nine-time champions have been busy this summer, starting with the appointment of former Lyon, Roma and Marseille boss Rudi Garcia, and signing stars such as Ivorian international Ghislane Konan, Luiz Gustavo of Brazil and David Ospina, the Colombian goalkeeper, from Napoli.

That last signing could be the reason behind the potentially tricky situation that Al-Nassr now find themselves in. It is the kind of situation that could end up in a similar transfer punishment coming their way.

It started at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon last January, all because of an injury to Egypt’s first choice goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shenawy. The replacement for the Al-Ahly star was Mohamed Abou Gabal. The Zamalek glovesman, also known as Gabaski, went on to become one of the stars of the tournament and played a major role as the Pharaohs reached the final. His performance in the penalty shootout victory over Cameroon in the semifinal — including sticking information about the hosts’ kickers on his water bottle — made headlines around the world.

The 33-year-old also excelled in the final, though this time Senegal triumphed on penalties. As soon as he returned back to Cairo, there were reports of interest with Al-Nassr making the strongest enquiries, so much so that Gabaski believes that a deal was done and a contract was signed.

“The player was keen on joining Al-Nassr’s pre-season preparations as he repeatedly asked through his lawyer to obtain an entry visa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and issue travel tickets to join the team,” Echo Content Sports, which represents the goalkeeper, said in a statement released last weekend.

“However, he was surprised by the official response that the club does not recognize the contract concluded between the two parties and that it is invalid for reasons we deem as illogical.”

The agency called Al-Nassr’s proposed settlement deal as being “insufficient.”

Now it seems that unless the situation changes, the player is ready to take his grievance to the world governing body.

“Accordingly, we will refer the matter to FIFA’s relevant court, demand the full payment stipulated in the contract and demand compensation because of the damages caused by Al-Nassr club.”

Sources close to the player believe that the arrival of Garcia changed Al-Nassr’s plan. With former Arsenal goalkeeper Ospina now between the sticks, the Egyptian, whose form since the Africa Cup of Nations has been erratic enough that he has lost his club spot to Mohamed Awad, was no longer seen as necessary.

Al-Nassr, however, dispute that a valid deal was ever made.

“Both parties agreed on a contract starting from August 1, based on the information provided by the player and his agent that his contract with Zamalek ended on July 1, 2022,” the club said in a statement, in reply to Gabaski’s claims.

“The information received by the club meant that the player cannot join us on a free transfer on the aforementioned date and that he will remain bound to a contract with Zamalek club until August 30, 2022.

“The player and his agent were contacted and they were asked to provide evidence that the player is available on a free transfer and is not bound to any other contract on that date but no proof was sent, and insisted that the information they provided was correct.

“After giving the player and his agent sufficient time to amend his legal status, Al-Nassr notified the player that what had been agreed upon is void and has no legal effect. Al-Nassr Football Club cannot be tied to a contract with any player that results in a serious legal violation.”

At present, the two camps have differing versions of events. It is expected that, unless Al-Nassr make an improved offer, then Gabaski will turn to FIFA.

Nobody knows what the outcome would be but if it results in Al-Nassr being unable to register new players for a while, they would at least be in good company. Officials at Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad will surely be taking a close interest.


Gamers8 launches $3m PUBG MOBILE World Invitational

Gamers8 launches $3m PUBG MOBILE World Invitational
Updated 33 min 25 sec ago

Gamers8 launches $3m PUBG MOBILE World Invitational

Gamers8 launches $3m PUBG MOBILE World Invitational
  • Hopes high for hometown heroes Team Falcons to reach final

RIYADH: Gamers8 enters the fifth and final phase of its calendar as the second annual PUBG MOBILE World Invitational gets underway on Thursday live from Boulevard Riyadh City.

First introduced in 2018 by world-famous video game developer Lightspeed & Quantum, PUBG MOBILE has since gone on to become a global gaming phenomenon. It is published in over 200 countries and downloaded over a billion times, with 50 million daily active users and an envious status as the most watched mobile esports game on the planet.

Over the next nine days, elite PUBG MOBILE teams will enter the state-of-the-art arena and battle it out for their share of the $3 million prize pool. Split into two parts, the main tournament — running for three days beginning today — welcomes 17 regional champions and one homegrown representative, with $2 million in waiting for the victors. The objective is to parachute onto the remote island and remain as the last player or team standing — competing alone or in teams of two or four to secure victory and glory.

Ahmed Albishri, chief operating officer of the Saudi Esports Federation, said: “Gamers8 thus far has been nothing short of remarkable, captivating attendees, inspiring audiences, crowning new champions, and making dreams come true for the latest generation of world-class Esports competitors. This journey has, however, by no means reached its conclusion because, as promised, PUBG Mobile has made its way to Riyadh for the biggest esports and gaming event on the planet.

“Expectations are understandably high among players, teams, and fans alike, not least due to the unprecedented success of the competitions held recently. And crucially, all the foundations are in place for the second PMWI to emulate the success of late while etching its place in esports history.”

Heading into week one of the main tournament, hopes will be high for hometown heroes Team Falcons, who have regularly competed throughout Gamers8 — reaching the final of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege — and now go up against 17 of the world’s best. Meanwhile, the Afterparty Showdown — the week two tournament taking place from Aug. 18 to 20 — will see teams competing for the remaining $1 million on offer. The Afterparty Showdown lineup will comprise the top five teams from week one, alongside six teams chosen from different regions, and one given a special invitation to compete.

James Yang, director of PUBG MOBILE, Global Esports, commented: “This year’s PUBG MOBILE World Invitational is set to be the biggest and best yet. This is our second annual world invitational, and we are excited to bring a new format of the event to the region which showcases the unique community spirit that PUBG MOBILE Esports and its talented teams have created.”

With the world’s best teams set to compete in front of a live crowd at the PMWI, fans around the world are excited for the event kickoff. Fans in Saudi will be able to enjoy the thrilling gameplay and electric atmosphere live and in-person from Boulevard Riyadh City. Alternatively, the event is being live streamed on official Gamers8 channels.


Saudi sports minister meets with OIC's Secretary General in Turkey

Saudi sports minister meets with OIC's Secretary General in Turkey
Updated 11 August 2022

Saudi sports minister meets with OIC's Secretary General in Turkey

Saudi sports minister meets with OIC's Secretary General in Turkey

TURKEY, Konya: Saudi Sports Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal has met with the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on the sidelines of the 5th Islamic Solidarity Games where Saudi athletes are representing the Kingdom in Turkey, state news agency (SPA) reported.

The prince discussed preparations for the next session of the Conference of Ministers of Youth, which will be hosted in Jeddah in September with Hissein Brahim Taha.

They reviewed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation between the OIC, the Saudi Ministry of Sports and the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF).

Taha praised efforts of the ISSF, under the leadership of Al-Faisal, in enhancing the capabilities of youth and sports in the Islamic world.


Serena says goodbye to Canada after defeat by Bencic

Serena says goodbye to Canada after defeat by Bencic
Updated 11 August 2022

Serena says goodbye to Canada after defeat by Bencic

Serena says goodbye to Canada after defeat by Bencic
  • Williams didn’t specify an actual retirement date but is expected to compete next week in Cincinnati before traveling to the US Open, which starts on Aug. 29

TORONTO: Serena Williams, who said this week she will soon call time on her storied tennis career, departed the WTA Toronto Masters for the last time Wednesday with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to Belinda Bencic.

The second-round defeat by Switzerland’s reigning Olympic gold medallist was hardly unexpected, with the 40-year-old Williams competing in only her third match of 2022.

Bencic fired eight aces and broke Williams twice in the first set and once in the second, advancing on her first match point after 78 minutes.

But as Bencic herself said in the post-match interview on court: “Tonight is about her.”

Williams’s farewell on-court interview was threaded with emotion.

“I love playing here, I’ve always loved playing here,” she said, choking up as fans who cheered her throughout the match called out their appreciation.

“I wish I could have played better tonight, but Belinda was playing so well.”

Williams, who turns 41 next month, had beaten Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz on Monday for her first singles victory since the 2021 French Open, 14 months ago.

But it sent shockwaves through the sport when she revealed in an essay in Vogue magazine and an Instagram post on Tuesday that “the countdown has begun” to her retirement from the sport.

Williams didn’t specify an actual retirement date but is expected to compete next week in Cincinnati before traveling to the US Open, which starts on Aug. 29.

She has lifted the US Open title six times, including her first Grand Slam triumph at the age of 17 in 1999.

“It’s been a pretty interesting 24 hours,” said Williams, who remains one shy of the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles won by Margaret Court.

“Like I said in my article, I’m terrible at goodbyes,” she said, her voice breaking.

“But, goodbye,” she said, then adding with a laugh “Toronto.”

“I’ve always had an amazing time here on and off the court,” Williams said. “I’ve had some really good matches and some really cool wins.

“It’s been a joy playing here all of those years.”

Williams’s match was preceded by a video tribute played for fans. Before she left the court she was presented with jerseys from the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs — and with a child’s version of the same for daughter Olympia.

In explaining that she was “evolving away” from tennis in the Vogue article, Williams said she wanted to focus on family life and new business ventures.

Her appearance highlighted a day that saw US teenager Coco Gauff — who says Williams was “the reason why I play tennis” — overcome 13 double-faults to battle past Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and into the third round.

Gauff beat Rybakina 6-4, 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/3) while world No. 1 Iga Swiatek — who beat Gauff in the French Open final this year — sailed past Australian Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-2 in 55 minutes.

Gauff lost out on four chances to close out a straight-sets victory as a quartet of match points came and went.

Kazakhstan’s Rybakina, aided by Gauff’s service struggles, had looked as if she might pull off another marathon victory after squeezing past Marie Bouzkova in the first round only for Gauff to finally prevail.

Swiatek, in contrast, needed just 55 minutes to advance. The top-seeded Pole, with six titles this season, saved six of the nine break points she faced.

“From the first practice I played here I felt really good,” Swiatek said.

Defending champion Camila Giorgi made it to the third round with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat of Belgian Elize Mertens. Spanish fourth seed Paula Badosa lasted for just 13 games before retiring as she trailed 7-5, 1-0 against Kazakh Yulia Putintseva.


Kyrgios stuns top-ranked Medvedev at Montreal Masters, Alcaraz ousted

Kyrgios stuns top-ranked Medvedev at Montreal Masters, Alcaraz ousted
Updated 11 August 2022

Kyrgios stuns top-ranked Medvedev at Montreal Masters, Alcaraz ousted

Kyrgios stuns top-ranked Medvedev at Montreal Masters, Alcaraz ousted
  • Both players were coming off weekend title wins, Kyrgios at the Washington 500 on Sunday and Medvedev at Los Cabos, Mexico, on Saturday

MONTREAL: Nick Kyrgios broke twice in the final set as he rallied to topple world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev in the second round of the ATP Montreal Masters on Wednesday.

Australia’s Wimbledon finalist beat Medvedev 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-2 to produce his second career upset of a reigning No. 1 after ambushing Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2014.

Kyrgios produced his usual on-court antics, complaining about a high bounce, hitting a ball into the stands to draw a warning and bickering with his player box in moments of tension.

But after gathering his formidable resources, the 27-year-old ranked 37th finished off the match in exactly two hours.

“This is our fourth meeting and we know each other well,” Kyrgios said. “I don’t go in looking at the rankings, just the guy in front of me.

“I had a clean objective today — play a lot of serve and volley and execute better.

“Hopefully I can keep this rolling and keep on winning. Medvedev is a machine — he’s No. 1 for a reason.”

Both players were coming off weekend title wins, Kyrgios at the Washington 500 on Sunday and Medvedev at Los Cabos, Mexico, on Saturday.

Kyrgios has won 14 of his last 15 matches to improve to 29-7 for 2022.

Medvedev lost for the 11th time in 2022, but by reaching the final at Los Cabos — where he lifted his first trophy of the season — he is assured of taking the No.1 ranking into his US Open title defense later this month.

He was barred from Wimbledon as the tournament excluded Russian and Belarussian players over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Second-seeded Carlos Alcaraz, who like Medvedev enjoyed a first-round bye, fared no better in his opening match.

American Tommy Paul spoiled the Spaniard’s Canadian debut with a 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (9/7), 6-3 victory.

The unseeded American converted his fifth match point to seal the second-round victory in three hours and 20 minutes.

Alcaraz came into the event with two prestige Masters 1000 titles from Miami and Madrid and holding a 42-7 record this season.

But the 34th-ranked Paul claimed victory on a volley winner after holding off the Spaniard’s charge from 5-2 down in the third set. The American stayed in the match as he rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the second set to start his comeback surge.

“It was nice to finish this match at the net,” said Paul, who fired 36 winners to Alcaraz’s 33. “I did a lot of things well today.

“I played a good level of tennis, comfortable tennis. I’m happy to get through and now have to recover for tomorrow.”

Fourth seed Casper Ruud backed up his defeat earlier this season of Alex Molcan, beating the Slovakian 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 in just under two hours.

The Norwegian with three trophies so far in 2022 had to work to win the opening set after dropping serve as he tried to close it out leading 5-4.

It eventually took a tiebreaker for Ruud to prevail. He sealed his third-round place in straight sets for his 36th win of the season.

“It’s always a tough fight against him,” Ruud said.

“He’s very fast and can give everyone problems,” he added of the player coached by Novak Djokovic’s former mentor Marian Vajda.

Elsewhere, Italian Jannik Sinner needed three sets to get past Adrian Mannarino 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 while Alex de Minaur lined up an all-Aussie Thursday match against Kyrgios by defeating Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 (7/4), 7-5.