Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Red Bull drama, Vettel's farewell and the battle for second

Analysis Red Bull’s Verstappen ultimately won his first world title in somewhat controversial fashion last year in Abu Dhabi. (AFP/File Photo)
Red Bull’s Verstappen ultimately won his first world title in somewhat controversial fashion last year in Abu Dhabi. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 18 November 2022

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Red Bull drama, Vettel's farewell and the battle for second

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: Red Bull drama, Vettel's farewell and the battle for second
  • Drivers return to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit for the finale of the 2022 campaign

ABU DHABI: Nearly 12 months on from that dramatic finish to the 2021 Formula One championship battle between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, the drivers return to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit for the finale of the 2022 campaign, albeit in very different circumstances.

This time last year, Verstappen and Hamilton arrived at the UAE capital on equal points in the championship with one race to go.

Red Bull’s Verstappen ultimately won his first world title in somewhat controversial fashion, in an eventful Grand Prix that saw race director Michael Masi make a debatable call that resulted in Verstappen pip Hamilton in a one-lap shootout.

“I don’t really think a lot about it. So I don’t really have many thoughts on the last race here,” said seven-time world champion Hamilton on Thursday.

“I’m not necessarily focused on stuff that’s behind me and I’m also trying to, not control, but trying to be the best I can moving forward, the days ahead.”

This year, Verstappen defended his championship crown, securing his second successive title with four races to spare.

Despite the championship already decided, there is still plenty to look forward to this F1 weekend in Abu Dhabi, and lots to unpack from a busy media day at Yas Marina Circuit.

Max hits out at ‘sickening’ abuse

While we’re used to seeing drama between Red Bull and Mercedes, this time, recent drama has been within the Red Bull camp after Verstappen refused to adhere to team orders in Brazil last weekend.

With Sergio Perez fighting Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc for second place in the championship, Red Bull asked Verstappen to let his Mexican team-mate pass him at Interlagos – a request Verstappen was not willing to fulfill.

The Dutchman said he had his reasons, which were discussed internally within the team, and he hit out at F1 fans on social media, as well as members of the press, for criticizing his decision not to let Perez through without knowing the full facts; facts he remains unwilling to disclose publicly.

“After that race of course a I looked very bad in the media. But also they didn't have the clear picture,” Verstappen told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

“To immediately put me down like that is pretty ridiculous to be honest. Because they don’t know how I work within the team and what the team appreciates about me. So all the things I have read are pretty disgusting.

“Even more than that, they started attacking my family, they were threatening my sister, my mum, my girlfriend, my dad. And for me that goes way too far while you don't even have the facts of what is going on. And that definitely has to stop.

“If you have a problem with me, that's fine, but don't go after my family because that is unacceptable.”

He added: “As soon as there is something negative it needs to be highlighted, it is pretty sickening being part of that.”

Checo denies Monaco wrongdoing

Verstappen acknowledges that “in hindsight” discussions within the team about possible orders to support Perez’s bid for P2 should have happened earlier and they come to Abu Dhabi with a better understanding of everyone’s position.

“I have never been a bad teammate to anyone, I have always been very helpful and the team knows that. I always put the team up front because at the end of the day it is a team effort. What we learned from that is that we have to be a little more open and we just have to communicate better to each other.”

Meanwhile, Perez believes things are back on track within the Red Bull camp and is confident he can count on his teammate’s help should he need him this weekend.

“I think we are both grown-ups and we’ll be able to put this behind us and we’ll move forward,” Perez said on Thursday.

There has been speculation that Verstappen’s grievance is related to the race from Monaco earlier this season, and there are rumors that Perez crashed on purpose during qualifying, an incident that prevented his teammate from completing his lap.

Perez denies any suggestion that he deliberately crashed, saying the “rumors are wrong”.

“Everyone makes mistakes in Monaco, in general places in qualifying. And it's not like it was done on purpose,” he added.

Red Bull have never finished a championship with their drivers ranked one and two and Verstappen says, “if we could achieve that, that would be amazing. For sure if the opportunity is there to help, as a team we’re going to do that.”

Leclerc hopes to finish on a high

Ferrari’s Leclerc is coming off a fourth-place finish in Brazil and comes to Abu Dhabi on level points with Perez, although he is ahead of him in the drivers’ standings due to his favorable race-win tally.

The Monegasque admits things have been up and down for him the last few races but is keen to secure P2 with a strong finale at Yas Marina.

“Brazil has been good but unfortunately because of our first-lap incident, it was all about coming back to the front, but the pace was there,” said the 25-year-old.

“I hope we’ll be strong enough to fight for the top positions. Obviously we are fighting for second place in the drivers’ championship and also second place in the constructors’ championship, and after going through very tough years in 2020 and 2021, it would be good to be back fighting at the top.

“Even though our goal is to fight for the championship eventually, after these two difficult years, it would be good to be second.”

Emotional goodbyes

The sport will get ready to bid farewell to one of its biggest icons in Sebastian Vettel, as the German four-time world champion prepares for the last race of his F1 career this weekend.

Tributes have been pouring in for Vettel since he announced in July this would be his last season in Formula One and drivers are getting ready to swap helmets with the Aston Martin ace one last time.

Two-time world champion and Vettel’s long-time rival Fernando Alonso posted a heartfelt message on his Instagram, wishing the German good luck for what’s to come and revealed a special helmet design he will be wearing in Vettel’s honor this weekend in Abu Dhabi.

The helmet features the German flag stripe Vettel has raced with since 2015 and the words, ‘Danke Seb’ on either side.

See you later, not goodbye for Ricciardo

Fan favorite Daniel Ricciardo is out of a seat for next season in F1 but the Australian hopes he will still be in the paddock in some shape or form in 2023.

“Mentally I’m not treating it like it’s going to be my last ever race. It could be. I know nothing is guaranteed in the future. So I’m just going out to enjoy it, I’m not going to get too emotional about it, about the thought if it is the last one or not,” said Ricciardo, who is being replaced by Oscar Piastri at McLaren next year.

“I’m going to enjoy it and take it for what it is. I got a grid penalty, I only go better when I have penalties. I actually asked for a five-place penalty but three will do it, so there we go,” laughed Ricciardo, who collided with Kevin Magnussen in Brazil last weekend.

Speaking of his future, the ‘Honey Badger’ said: “Nothing is confirmed. But progress has been made. Hopefully you can see my good looks again next year, to some degree.”

‘Mick will get another shot’

Also leaving the paddock after this final race of the season in Abu Dhabi is Mick Schumacher, who just received the news he won’t be driving for Haas next year and is being replaced by Nico Hulkenberg.

Schumacher posted a message on his Instagram after the announcement was made, saying he’ll fight hard to return to the F1 grid, and he signed off with the letters, ‘PTW’ – meaning “prove them wrong”.

“PTW, it’s been pretty much what I’ve been saying most part of this year,” explained Schumacher. 

“I just felt like saying that because I think I want to prove everybody wrong who doesn’t believe in me because I know what I can do. I’ve proven that in the junior categories and I see no reason why I can’t do that in Formula One.”

Alpine’s Esteban Ocon is certain Schumacher will get another shot at rejoining the pinnacle of motorsport.

“I believe he will obviously work hard with his team to come back,” said the French driver of the 23-year-old Schumacher.

“I’ve been out of the sport and I know how it feels after two years to go out. But the hard work, the dedication, just being here each time there was a car that started, that’s the thing that brought me back to the sport and I’m sure he’ll have a shot again and I wish him the best.”

Russell keen to keep momentum going

Mercedes’ George Russell is still on a high after clinching a maiden race victory last week in Brazil but the Brit is keeping his feet on the ground and is holding off on celebrations until Sunday night in the UAE capital.

“I’m just very proud of the achievement. It’s something I’ve worked my whole life towards and what you dream of as a child,” said Russell.

“For sure confidence is high and the morale within the team is booming but I don’t suddenly feel transformed overnight.

“I feel we’ll be going for it [this weekend in Abu Dhabi]. I think since Austin the car has been performing really well, probably better than we could have ever hoped for.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Drivers get ready for new teammates

After two years together with Alpine, Ocon and Alonso will part ways with the latter taking Vettel’s spot at Aston Martin next season, and Pierre Gasly forming an all-French line-up alongside Ocon.

Despite some tension between Ocon and Alonso due to a dramatic last weekend in Brazil, the Frenchman had nothing but positive things to say about the departing two-time world champion.

“I think we can be happy with what we’ve done over the last two years with Fernando, in trying to get that team further up, and we’ve done so,” said Ocon.

“In 2021, through the year we really stepped up and gave, at times, 125 percent of what the car was capable of doing and we really delivered on a lot of occasions. And this year, we created that fourth place together, it’s not finished yet.

“I don’t know how you say it in English, “il ne faut jamais vendre la peau de l'ours avant de l'avoir tué” (don’t try to sell the bear’s skin before actually killing it). I think we can be happy with what we created and I’m sure that’s going to leave a good legacy for what’s coming next.”

Meanwhile, Kevin Magnussen has mixed feelings about Schumacher’s Haas exit, and the impending arrival of Hulkenberg.

“It’s a double-sided thing, because on one hand it’s exciting getting someone like Nico in, with all his experience and capabilities. And on the other hand I feel bad for Mick because I know how that feels, I’ve been in that situation myself. I think he’s done a good job this year. I like him as a person as well, I think it’s easy to feel bad for him,” said the Dane, who scored an incredible pole position for Haas in Brazil last week.

“F1 is tough but it’s also possible to make it back; I’ve done that twice. I hope he can keep fighting and try to make it back on the grid.”


How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges
Updated 07 February 2023

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges

How Manchester City came to face Premier League charges
  • The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven

GENEVA: The English Premier League vs. Manchester City: A legal fixture for the ages.

Soccer’s richest and most watched club competition challenged its defending champion on Monday with more than 100 charges of alleged financial wrongdoing and failures to cooperate with an investigation that took more than four years.

Dozens of charges allege breaches of the league’s financial monitoring rules dating from 2009, or the first full season Man City was owned by the ruling family of Abu Dhabi. Thirty more charges relate to Man City’s lack of cooperation in the past five seasons with a Premier League investigation that opened after leaked, and likely hacked, club internal communications were published in 2018.

That leaked evidence led UEFA investigators to examine likely breaches of financial rules designed to create stability in an often-volatile European soccer industry. UEFA-appointed judges imposed a two-year ban from the Champions League in 2020, which the club overturned on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Man City seem more at risk from the English case, which does not involve a statute of limitations on evidence that was a problem for UEFA lawyers.

The Premier League rule book — signed off by member clubs like Man City — gives its disciplinary commissions sweeping powers to punish teams if charges are proven. That could range from imposing a fine to taking away a title or even ejecting Man City from England’s top division.

Here’s a closer look at the case:

WHAT ARE THE FINANCIAL RULES?

Known as Financial Fair Play, the regulations are aimed at preventing clubs from spending more than they earn. FFP was established in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, which deepened worries in European soccer that clubs could go out of business if the cost of player transfers and wages kept rising.

Critics believed they would favor storied clubs with established global appeal, such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Manchester United. They said FFP would be used to thwart emerging clubs who had wealthy owners ready to spend heavily and accelerate growth.

At the same time, historically underachieving Manchester City were bought in September 2008 with sovereign wealth from the UAE. When UEFA in 2011 began monitoring finances of clubs who qualified for European competition, City had made progress by big spending on players.

The first round of FFP judgments in 2014 saw the heaviest penalties for Man City and Paris Saint-Germain — each lost 20 million euros ($21.4 million) in Champions League prize money.

Both were suspected of booking inflated revenue in their accounts through sponsor deals at above market rates with companies from Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

“If clubs use unrealistic deals as a way to get around Financial Fair Play,” Arsène Wenger had warned in 2012 when coach at Arsenal, “it will make a mockery of the rules.”

The English Premier League later adopted a version of UEFA FFP rules.

WHAT WAS THE LEAKED EVIDENCE?

In November 2018, Man City was the Premier League champion with three titles in the first decade of its Abu Dhabi era, and a lavishly talented squad coached by Pep Guardiola.

Yet skepticism remained about the club’s commercial results.

German magazine Der Spiegel then published the “Football Leaks” series of articles based on the club’s internal documents and communications.

They suggested Man City had broken FFP rules in financial relationships with “related-party” sponsors from Abu Dhabi, its use of image rights payments to players and the contract of Roberto Mancini, who was manager from 2009-13. He allegedly doubled his base salary for advising a club in Abu Dhabi.

Man City did not deny the documents were authentic but said they were illegally obtained by a Portuguese man, Rui Pinto. He later went on trial in Lisbon. A verdict is scheduled in April.

WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE UEFA CASE?

After the Football Leaks publication, UEFA’s club investigators revisited their case and asked the judging chamber to ban Man City from European competitions.

In February 2020, those judges banned Man City for two seasons for “serious breaches” of rules from 2012-16, including overstating sponsor revenue and failing to cooperate with investigators.

Three CAS judges overturned the ban in July 2020, ruling that some UEFA charged were not proven and other evidence was excluded as time-barred. The court “strongly condemned” Man City for obstructing UEFA’s investigation, though a €10 million ($10.7 million) fine was one-third of the original punishment.

Allowed to play in the next Champions League, Man City reached the final and earned €119 million ($128 million) in prize money.

WHAT IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE CASE?

The English case against Man City continued separately from the UEFA process in Switzerland.

The Premier League announced charges Monday. A lawyer who chairs the league’s judicial panel will appoint a disciplinary commission of three judges.

A hearing will be held in secret, with no timetable yet for a verdict. Any subsequent legal challenge should go to the Premier League’s Appeal Board.

Man City said it was surprised by the charges and “we look forward to this matter being put to rest once and for all.”


Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup
Updated 07 February 2023

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup

Benzema and Courtois among six injured Real Madrid players not going to Club World Cup
  • Madrid will debut on Wednesday in a semifinal against Egyptian club Al-Ahly

MADRID: Real Madrid go to the Club World Cup without six injured players, including striker Karim Benzema and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

Also not going to Morocco are defenders Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Lucas Vázquez and forward Eden Hazard.

Benzema, Courtois and Militao have not been ruled out of joining their teammates for an eventual final if Madrid qualify, but none of the others are expected to make it.

Madrid will debut on Wednesday in a semifinal against Egyptian club Al-Ahly.

Madrid have won the world club title a record seven times, including three times when the competition was called the Intercontinental Cup.


Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup

Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup
Updated 07 February 2023

Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup

Qatar hires coach Carlos Queiroz through the 2026 World Cup
  • The former Real Madrid coach will take charge of his seventh different national team

DOHA: Former Portugal and Iran coach Carlos Queiroz has worked at the last four World Cups and was hired on Monday by Qatar to aim for a fifth straight at the next edition hosted in North America.
The Qatar Football Association hired former Real Madrid coach Queiroz until 2026 to take charge of his seventh different national team.
As host of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar lost all three group-stage games on its tournament debut in November. This time it will try to advance through the qualifying program for the first time.
The 2026 edition in the United States, Canada and Mexico is the first 48-team finals tournament and Asia will have eight guaranteed qualifying places instead of the previous four.
Queiroz coached Iran at a third straight World Cup together since 2014 and again failed to advance to the round of 16. His team lost to England and the United States, though beat Wales, to place third in their group.
Queiroz, who turns 70 on March 1, coached his native Portugal at the 2010 World Cup and lost in the round of 16 to eventual winner Spain.
Qatar under Queiroz has two continental championships to play in the next year, first with an invitation to the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June. Qatar also hosts the Asian Cup in January.


Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory
Updated 06 February 2023

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory

Returning Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy has a cut at Saudi glory
  • Former UK champion booked for Neom Turf Cup contender on glittering race day
  • Missed The Cut’s trainer George Boughey: I wanted someone to create a bond with the horse

Oisin Murphy will have his first big-race rides since returning from a 14-month ban at the Saudi Cup meeting.

The three-time British Champion Jockey has been booked to ride Missed The Cut in the $1.5 million G3 Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi at the world’s most valuable racing fixture.

The two-day festival – featuring the $20 million Saudi Cup – kicks off on Friday, Feb. 24, just eight days after Murphy is allowed to return to racing following his lengthy ban. The 2100m Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi and the Saudi Cup take place the following day.

Missed The Cut’s trainer, Newmarket-based George Boughey, was quick to snap up the services of the Classic-winning jockey.

He said: “Oisin has only ridden one winner for me, but he’s obviously a fantastic rider and I’m delighted to have him on board.

“I wanted someone to create a bond with the horse. He’s done plenty of work on him. He went to Chelmsford to ride him the other morning and he’s delighted with him, so it’s all systems go.”

Missed The Cut did not make his debut until April last year. He quickly completed a hat-trick of wins when landing the Golden Gates Handicap at Royal Ascot before ending the year with victory in the Listed Churchill Stakes on the All-Weather at Lingfield.

The form of that most recent run in November is starting to look very good, with runner-up Algiers going on to win two Group 2 races in Dubai by wide margins.

Boughey added: “He’s been in great shape and seeing his form get franked on the world stage just confirmed what he’s been showing us for a while. We’re very excited to see him out in Saudi in a few weeks.

“He’s a horse that was sold out of Shadwell dispersal sale. He was just a standout physically from the get-go. He’s still a big baby. He’s only run six times. We’re taking on much more experienced horses, but his work is improving at a rate of knots. He is the horse that could take us to the next level.”

Missed The Cut, who is likely to head off to America after his run at the Saudi Cup meeting, will be joined by Sir Busker in the $1.5 million Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi.

His owners are dreaming of a fairy-tale win at the world’s most valuable meeting at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

The 7-year-old is owned by the 16-strong Kennett Valley Thoroughbreds syndicate and is trained by Newmarket-based William Knight.

Sir Busker has progressed from handicaps to Group company, and hopes are high he can give his enthusiastic owners another memorable payday under big-race jockey Ryan Moore.

Knight said: “He’s come up through the ranks. We always liked him as a 2-year-old, and he’s improved as he’s gotten older.

“To think five years ago I’d be sitting here now talking about going out to Saudi with him — it’s things you dream of. He’s been a star for us.

“He’s owned by a lovely group of people. They’re very passionate owners. When you stand in the paddock before these big races with the owners, who all have 1/16th, it’s great.

“They realize how lucky they are. They realize he’s the horse of a lifetime. He’s given everyone so much enjoyment.”

Sir Busker had the option of running in the G1 $20 million Saudi Cup — the world’s most valuable race — but Knight is happy they have decided to go for the Neom Turf Cup presented by Altanfeethi.

He added: “We’ve talked long and hard about this. I promise you it’s changed daily as to which race we’re going to go for. It’s such an amazing opportunity to run for that sort of money in the Saudi Cup.

“Looking at the entries for both races, I think we have a better chance of being in the first three in the Neom Turf Cup. The extra distance will really suit him, and we know he goes really well on turf.”


Djibouti’s Hassan wins Beppu Oita Marathon in record time

Djibouti’s Hassan wins Beppu Oita Marathon in record time
Updated 06 February 2023

Djibouti’s Hassan wins Beppu Oita Marathon in record time

Djibouti’s Hassan wins Beppu Oita Marathon in record time
  • Ibrahim Hassan set a new record for the Beppu Oita Mainichi Marathon with a time of 2:06:43
  • Shungo Yokota came in fourth in 2:07:47, setting a record for a Japanese student runner

TOKYO: Ibrahim Hassan of Djibouti won the 71st Beppu Oita Mainichi Marathon for the first time on Sunday with a new record of 2:06:43.

Kenya’s Daniel Kipchumba crossed the finish line five seconds later for second place, and Japan’s Tsubasa Ichiyama placed third in 2:07:44.

When the pacemaker came off at 30km, Hassan and Kipchumba jumped out and Hassan took the lead after 35km.

“With the win and course record, I’m very, very happy,” the 26-year-old Hassan said. “The course was very good.”

Aoyama Gakuin University’s Shungo Yokota came in fourth in 2:07:47, setting a record for a Japanese student runner.

This year, the right to participate in the “Marathon Grand Championship (MGC)”, the qualifying event for the 2024 Paris Olympics, was at stake.