Verstappen on pole in Australia as Mercedes bounce back

Verstappen on pole in Australia as Mercedes bounce back
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen competes during the qualifying round of the 2023 Formula One Australian Grand Prix at the Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne. (AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2023

Verstappen on pole in Australia as Mercedes bounce back

Verstappen on pole in Australia as Mercedes bounce back
  • Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes was third ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso
  • Last year’s winner Charles Leclerc came seventh in the Ferrari

MELBOURNE: Double world champion Max Verstappen claimed pole on Saturday for the Australian Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, but his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez had a torrid time and will start last.
In overcast and cool conditions, Lewis Hamilton in the other Mercedes was third ahead of Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso in a tight session that went to the wire.
Last year’s winner Charles Leclerc came seventh in the Ferrari, with his teammate Carlos Sainz fifth.
It was a huge performance from Mercedes, whose W14 has struggled for speed but is clearly improving as they bettered Ferrari.
Lance Stroll in the other Aston Martin will start sixth ahead of Leclerc with Williams’ Alexander Albon a shock eighth.
Alpine’s Pierre Gasly was ninth with Nico Hulkenberg in a Haas rounding out the top 10.
It was a second pole of the year for Dutchman Verstappen, and the 22nd of his career, after the season-opening race in Bahrain, which he went on to win.
He started from 15th in Saudi Arabia a fortnight ago after mechanical problems, but sliced through the field to come second behind Perez.
The 25-year-old knocked out his rivals with a flying lap at the death of one minute 16.732, 0.236 secs ahead of Britain’s Russell.
“I think the last run was very good, the whole weekend has been tough to get the tires in the right window,” said Verstappen, who has never won in Australia and will start on pole for the first time at Albert Park.
“Very happy to be on pole, already looking forward to tomorrow. I think we have a good race car but it is tricky on the tires, so going to be an interesting race for sure.”
But Mexico’s Perez — one point behind Verstappen in the championship standings — had a horror of a day, struggling with grip and balance.
He left the track four times during the third practice and it didn’t get any better in qualifying when he locked up and careened into the gravel at Turn 3 on his first lap.
His car beached and had to be removed by a crane, with the session red flagged.
“It was the same issue again,” the dejected Perez said on the team radio.
Russell, who came fourth in Saudi Arabia, was stunned with Mercedes’ performance, saying “we weren’t expecting that, that’s for sure.”
“What a session for us. The car felt alive, and to be honest I’m disappointed I didn’t get pole as the car felt awesome,” he added.
“We are learning more and more about the car, it’s still not where we want it to be, but it’s evolved from Bahrain to Jeddah to here.”
Seven-time world champion Hamilton, who has been the pole-sitter eight times in Melbourne, was briefly at the top of the timesheets and was ecstatic to be starting on the second row.
“I’m so happy with this. This is totally unexpected — just really proud of the team,” said the Briton.
“It’s a dream for us, to be this close to the Red Bull is incredible. We hope to give them a run for their money.
“Everything came together today. We’ll give it our best shot tomorrow.”
Verstappen topped Q2 from Alonso and Sainz with Alpine’s Gasly a casualty.
AlphaTauri pair Nyck De Vries and Yuki Tsunoda also missed out, along with Kevin Magnussen in his Haas and McLaren’s Lando Norris.
Verstappen was also fastest in Q1 ahead of Russell and Hamilton.
Along with Perez, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Valtteri Bottas, Williams’ Logan Sargeant and rookie McLaren driver Oscar Piastri all failed to get out of Q1.

Newgarden wins crash-filled 107th Indianapolis 500

Newgarden wins crash-filled 107th Indianapolis 500
Updated 29 May 2023

Newgarden wins crash-filled 107th Indianapolis 500

Newgarden wins crash-filled 107th Indianapolis 500
  • The American Penske Racing driver, a two-time IndyCar series champion, won the showpiece event for the first time
  • American Kyle Kirkwood escaped serious injury in a crash that had his AJ Foyt Racing car skidding upside down against the wall with sparks flying

LOS ANGELES: Josef Newgarden won the 107th Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, diving past Marcus Ericsson in the dramatic last sprint of a race that saw heavy crashes bring out three late red flags.

The American Penske Racing driver, a two-time IndyCar series champion, won the showpiece event for the first time as he denied Ericsson a repeat. American Santino Ferrucci was third.

“Everyone kept asking me why I haven’t won this race,” an emotional Newgarden said. “They look at you like a failure if you don’t win it. I wanted to win it so bad.”

He had to survive a chaotic final 14 laps that saw the race halted three times before he finally took the checkered flag.

American Kyle Kirkwood escaped serious injury in a crash that had his AJ Foyt Racing car skidding upside down against the wall with sparks flying and brought out the red flag with 14 laps remaining.

“All I know is I was up in the fence, which is never a good thing in IndyCar,” said Kirkwood, whose on-board camera showed a remarkable in-cockpit angle on his slide.

Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist had hit the wall and careened across the track and Kirkwood was unable to avoid contact, but, after his frightening ride, emergency workers righted the car and helped him climb out.

“Thank God these cars are so safe,” he said. “I saw sparks flying everywhere. That’s the scary part. You’re upside-down and you’re kind of stuck at that point.”

Miraculously, the tire that went flying over the catch-fencing missed the grandstand, landing in a parking lot with no reported injuries.

Shortly after the restart, Mexico’s Pato O’Ward lost control as he challenged to regain the lead and crashed into the wall. Augustin Canapino and Simon Pagenaud were caught up in the aftermath, bringing out another red flag with six laps remaining.

O’Ward had just been overtaken by Newgarden for the lead and was under Ericsson entering turn two when he spun.

“I was way too nice, I got onto the apron to give (Ericsson) room and I got squeezed,” O’Ward said. “I’ll remember that one.”

A chaotic restart saw five cars caught up in a mid-pack crash that brought out first the yellow and then the red flag.

Ericsson was in front when the caution came out, but he couldn’t hold off Newgarden after the green flag flew to set off the final shootout.

“I just thought it was a very unfair and dangerous end to the race,” Ericsson said of restarting on cold tires with just two laps remaining.

“Congratulations to Josef, he’s a worthy champion, but I’m very disappointed with the way it ended.”

Newgarden, who gave Penske a record-extending 19th Indy 500 victory, was weeping before he climbed out of his car to kiss the yard of bricks at the finish line.

“I was trying to stay locked in,” he said. “I was emotional the whole last 10 laps because I knew we were in position to fight for the win.”

The chaotic late stages were a contrast to a smooth start on the 2.5-mile (4km) oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Chip Ganassi’s Alex Palou and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay started one-two on the grid and patiently traded the lead through the first quarter of the race.

After the second round of pit stops, Felix Rosenqvist had filtered to the front ahead of Arrow McLaren teammate O’Ward and that’s where they stood when rookie Sting Ray Robb brought out the first caution of the race on lap 93 — slamming his Dale Coyne Racing car into the outside wall and sliding sideways to a stop in the middle of the track.

The caution brought the leaders swarming into the pits and VeeKay got loose pulling out of his stall, veered left and slammed into the exiting Palou — who was left to claw back from 28th place to finish fourth.

It was just one of the scary pit-lane incidents of the day, which also included Katherine Legge getting sideways as she tried to exit, a collision between Andretti teammates Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean and a tire getting loose during one of Ferrucci’s stops.

Max Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to extend F1 championship lead

Max Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to extend F1 championship lead
Updated 28 May 2023

Max Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to extend F1 championship lead

Max Verstappen wins Monaco Grand Prix to extend F1 championship lead
  • Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso was a season’s best second for Aston Martin
  • Heavy rain played havoc with about 20 of the 78 laps left

MONACO: Formula One champion Max Verstappen’s lights-to-flag victory at the Monaco Grand gave the Red Bull driver his fourth victory of the season and a record 39th overall for the team as he extended his championship lead to 39 points over teammate Sergio Perez on Sunday.
Verstappen’s wins have all been with Red Bull since his first on debut for the team at the Spanish GP in 2016 when he became the youngest F1 winner at 18 years old.
Seven years and two world championships later, the Dutchman set a team record for wins as he passed former Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel’s previous tally of 38 victories when he won four straight titles from 2010-13.
“It’s great, I never thought I’d be in this position in my career,” Verstappen said. “It’s better than I could have imagined for sure.”
Spanish veteran Fernando Alonso was a season’s best second for Aston Martin as he collected a fifth podium in six races, albeit 28 seconds behind Verstappen, while Frenchman Esteban Ocon secured third place and a rare podium for Alpine.
Red Bull has won all the races so far.
“It’s super nice to win it in the way we did today with the weather and everything to stay calm and bring it home,” Verstappen said.
For most of the race, he coasted on a dry and narrow track where overtaking is the hardest in F1.
But an incident-free race in Monaco is rare and heavy rain played havoc with about 20 of the 78 laps left. Some drivers had pitted for the wrong medium tires shortly before the downpour and slid around.
“It was incredibly slippery,” Verstappen said.
Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. glided sideways into the barriers and was lucky not to damage his Ferrari. Kevin Magnussen lost control of his Haas and Lance Stroll retired after damaging his Aston Martin.
Red Bull had wisely put Verstappen on the versatile and more suited to the wet conditions intermediates on Lap 56 and they carried him to his second win in Monaco. The first was in 2021.
Lewis Hamilton finished fourth for Mercedes and picked up a point for fastest lap. His teammate George Russell was fifth, having earlier almost slammed into Perez as visibility worsened. A serious crash was somehow avoided in a hectic few minutes before the rain eased off.
“Braking was extremely fragile,” Alonso said. “I think everyone did an amazing job today to keep the cars on track.”
Alonso is third in the standings and closed the gap on Perez to 12 points. The 41-year-old Alonso’s podium was his 103rd in F1, while Ocon grabbed his third.
“I’m speechless at the moment,” Ocon said. “A little bit on my cloud at the moment.”
Russell was given a five-second penalty for rejoining the track in an unsafe manner but had just enough to keep fifth place ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Pierre Gasly (Alpine), a seething Sainz, Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri (both McLaren) rounded out the top 10.
On Saturday, Verstappen just edged out Alonso to deny him his first pole for 11 years.
Perez, who won the race last year, started from last after a clumsy crash in qualifying and finished 16th.
The sinewy 3.4-kilometer (2.1-mile) street circuit gives the pole sitter a massive advantage if he makes a clean getaway, which is what Verstappen did as Alonso’s gamble to start on hard tires didn’t work.
“Max drove super well on the medium tires on that first stint,” Alonso said. “We (went) for all or nothing. We started on the hard tire and didn’t have the pace.”
After 26 of the 78 laps Verstappen was 12 seconds clear of Alonso, who even persuaded himself he had a puncture. Twice his team assured him it wasn’t the case.
Eventually Verstappen started losing time and wanted to pit for new tires but his team told him he’d fall behind Alonso if he did that.
At the same time Perez stuck among the back markers was getting tense, almost clipping Stroll and then bumping into the back of Kevin Magnussen’s Haas.
Sainz, meanwhile, was furious that Ferrari — a team with a worrying reputation for still making bad strategy calls — pitted him too early and put on the wrong tire to cover Ocon’s stop and let his team know with an outburst over team radio.
The Spaniard had already endured a difficult day after his front wing clipped Ocon’s Alpine as he tried to overtake. A portion of the wing came off subsequently but Sainz got away with just a warning for the incident.
The sky then darkened and rain started to fall heavily soon after drivers had completed 50 laps.
“I have to drive super slow because my tires are (expletive),” Verstappen lamented on Lap 54, while Alonso pitted a lap later for mediums.
Early on, Sainz’s front wing clipped Ocon’s Alpine as he tried to overtake coming out of the tunnel. A small piece of debris came off but the wing stayed on the car, and Sainz got away with a warning.

FIA president Ben Sulayem meets with Prince Albert II ahead of Monaco Grand Prix

FIA president Ben Sulayem meets with Prince Albert II ahead of Monaco Grand Prix
Updated 26 May 2023

FIA president Ben Sulayem meets with Prince Albert II ahead of Monaco Grand Prix

FIA president Ben Sulayem meets with Prince Albert II ahead of Monaco Grand Prix
  • Meeting focused on the federation’s sporting activities, sustainability issues and online abuse campaigns

MONACO: FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has held discussions with Prince Albert II of Monaco on the development of the sport, and to explore collaboration on various environmental and health campaigns.

The recent meeting, ahead of this weekend’s Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix, focused on sustainability efforts and the FIA’s Online Abuse campaign.

During the meeting, Ben Sulayem said he recognized Monaco and the Automobile Club de Monaco’s special place in the FIA, and thanked Prince Albert for his continued support of all FIA disciplines, including the level of Monegasque volunteers involved in motorsport.

On the events front, the FIA president highlighted the importance of preserving historic motorsports events on the organization’s calendar, including Formula 1, Formula E and the World Rally Championship, all of which take place in Monaco, and underlined a growing need for such events to expand to all continents.

“I was honored to meet with His Serene Highness Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, for engaging discussions on a range of topics including the heritage and prestige of the Monaco Grand Prix. We also talked about the invaluable contribution of volunteers to motorsport and the FIA’s Online Abuse Campaign,” said Ben Sulayem.

The meeting also focused on Prince Albert’s “Peace and Sport” initiative, to tackle rising threats of online harassment and abuse. The FIA president said the FIA was seeking solutions to this problem in collaboration with key stakeholders, including other international sports federations, the EU, academic institutions, and national governments.

Ethara CEO Saif Al-Noaimi claims new events firm will deliver ‘unrivalled experiences’

Ethara CEO Saif Al-Noaimi claims new events firm will deliver ‘unrivalled experiences’
Saif Al-Noaimi, CEO of Ethara. (Ethara)
Updated 26 May 2023

Ethara CEO Saif Al-Noaimi claims new events firm will deliver ‘unrivalled experiences’

Ethara CEO Saif Al-Noaimi claims new events firm will deliver ‘unrivalled experiences’
  • Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix organizers ADMM, Flash Entertainment have merged to form company
  • Entertainment, events organization also has offices in Dubai, Riyadh

Saif Al-Noaimi is always on the move, as befits someone who oversees the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“I check everything out, over the weekend, and before the weekend,” the chief executive officer of the newly formed events company Ethara, told Arab News.

“It’s part of our quality assurance and control to make sure that all of our products meet our standards and our expectations.”

The F1 season-closing race may be six months away, but already demand for tickets is hot, and, at an event held at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, Al-Noaimi has announced several new venues and the identity of three of the post-race performers.

He said: “The demand is unprecedented. We went on sale in February, and within weeks, we were pretty much sold out of the majority of our products.

“And we worked really hard over the last few months to make sure that we don’t disappoint people that are late to buy and have missed out on that, on what was on sale back in February.”

Ethara is the result of a merger between Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, and Flash Entertainment. In the past, both firms have been involved in putting on some of the UAE’s biggest sporting and entertainment events.

Al-Noaimi pointed out that “integration” was the name of the game.

“Ethara means excitement, and that’s what we’re all about, we’re about delivering events and managing venues, and making moments that matter. That’s our focus.

“So Ethara brings in 300 event and venue specialists under one structure and one umbrella and creates a capability that’s unrivalled in the region.

“If you look at the portfolio of what the team in Ethara has delivered over the 15 years in both ADMM and Flash Entertainment, we’ve delivered over 700 major events. We’ve had over 16 million attendees to these events over the last 15 years.

“And these are large global events, the likes of the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, FIFA Club World Cup, Asian Football Championship, UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, NBA games in Abu Dhabi, and among those, other national celebrations and festivals.

“So, the capability that this team has, the experience, the expertise doesn’t exist (anywhere else), and creating this company Ethara brings all of that capability in-house, creates experiences, creates the ability to deliver to our guests and to our clients unrivalled experiences,” he added.

In terms of facilities, Ethara will oversee events taking place at what Al-Noaimi described as “four iconic venues.”

He said: “Yas Marina Circuit being the iconic Formula One venue, Etihad Arena, the largest indoor multipurpose arena. Etihad Park, the largest outdoor dedicated venue for concerts, and Yas Conference Center, a multifunction venue.

“So, bringing all these capabilities under one organization gives us an amazing ability and we’re really excited to see what comes out of this.”

Ethara will also continue to expand operations beyond the UAE capital, and already has established offices in Dubai and Riyadh.

“Both are very interesting markets for us. Obviously, Dubai is right next door to us. And the kingdom is a growing market for events. What’s happened there in the last few years is unbelievable and very exciting. We want to be part of that growth in that journey,” Al-Noaimi added.

One of the biggest draws to Abu Dhabi in recent years has been UFC, and the world’s biggest mixed martial arts organization will be back in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 21. UFC 294 at Yas Island will part of a long-term deal launched in 2019 between the UAE capital and the organizers.

Al-Noaimi said it was a partnership that would continue to grow.

“I think Abu Dhabi, and Yas Island specifically, has demonstrated its commitment to UFC and throughout the last three years delivered on the capability, starting with FI during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As you know, one of the first and biggest events to take place was UFC Fight Island on Yas Island. There’s a fantastic partnership that exists and we’re looking to continue and grow that,” he added.

The first ever NBA Abu Dhabi Games, which took place last year between Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks at Etihad Arena, will also return in October, this time between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves.

But it is the announcement of the post-race music concerts that has got fans excited for the 2023 edition of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Alongside US singer Ava Max and Dutch DJ Tiesto on Thursday, Nov. 23, the post-race Sunday headlining act at Etihad Park is set to be American rock band the Foo Fighters, who had been due to play Abu Dhabi in 2021 but had to pull out at a late stage.

Now they are coming back to the city and Al-Noaimi said it had not been a difficult decision for all concerned.

“They wanted to come back. They wanted to deliver the promise to their fans, because a lot of people were very excited in 2021. And yet because of unforeseen circumstances they were unable to make it to the Grand Prix. We’re really excited to have them back,” he added.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix remains the jewel in Ethara’s crown, and the viewer experience is set to be enhanced again this year.

Al-Noaimi said: “We worked really hard to create new and unique experiences, completely different perspectives of the race, areas that we’ve never done.”

For example, new areas would be created at turn two offering “fantastic new views and great new experiences.”

The additions will allow racegoers to watch the action from new locations, including a VIP perspective at Turn 2 and Deck at Two, featuring global culinary brands, Hakkasan, Nobu, and Milos.

“And at hillside terrace, we have The Main, another unique restaurant. So, these are experiences you can only get at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.”

Also on sale are tickets to the new West Straight Grandstand, which will allow fans to follow the action at the end of the longest straight at Yas Marina Circuit between turns six and seven.

On the expected attendance, Al-Noaimi said: “It’s going to be a record number. Last year was a record number for us. So, this year, we’re doing everything we did last year, plus the additions.

“I’d say we’re growing by about 5,000 more daily attendees than we had last year.”

Al-Rajhi claims victory, Al-Saif takes 2nd in Tabuk-NEOM Rally

Al-Rajhi claims victory, Al-Saif takes 2nd in Tabuk-NEOM Rally
Updated 20 May 2023

Al-Rajhi claims victory, Al-Saif takes 2nd in Tabuk-NEOM Rally

Al-Rajhi claims victory, Al-Saif takes 2nd in Tabuk-NEOM Rally
  • Mohammed Al-Balooshi, Hani Al-Noumesi win bike and quad categories, respectively

TABUK, Saudi Arabia: Yazeed Al-Rajhi teamed up with German co-driver Timo Gottschalk to get the defense of his Saudi Toyota Rally Championship title underway with a comfortable victory at the new Tabuk-NEOM Rally in northern Saudi Arabia on Saturday.

The Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux driver began the second 136 km desert selective section with a lead of 19 minutes, 28 seconds, and was able to extend that to a winning margin of 34 minutes, 43 seconds. After missing the opening round following an injury sustained in a skiing accident, the result enabled the Saudi to close in on his local title rivals before the final two rounds of the series in Al-Qassim and Jeddah later in the year.

Al-Rajhi said: “Everything is going well. It was a nice race — very technical with good navigation. Sure, we are happy we came to this race in this area that we came to on Dakar and it is now in the Saudi Championship. We lead every stage. Now I look ahead to bajas in Italy and Spain.”

Emirati KTM rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi romped away from his brother Sultan and leading Saudi rider Mishal Al-Ghuneim to win the motorcycle category by 30 minutes, 11 seconds, on his KTM 450.

The three had ridden together over the closing kilometers on Friday but Mohammed led from the front through a tricky closing stage and chose his tracks wisely to seal a comfortable win.

With Al-Ghuneim slipping down to an eventual fourth place on his Beta 430RR after overcoming a very heavy crash, Kiwi rider Philip Wilson finished second on the day and climbed into third, securing the final podium place. Sultan Al-Balooshi stayed with Al-Ghuneim after his accident and sportingly rode with the Saudi to the stage finish. Abdulhaleem Al-Mogheera rounded off the top five.

Mohammed Al-Balooshi said: “It was an awesome day for me. It was attack from the very beginning. Our aim was to push while navigating. Winning is just icing on the cake. I am really happy.”

Al-Ghuneim added: “It started off really good. I caught up to Sultan in the first 20 km, rose really well and then, at 40 km, I was crossing a wadi and I think I was on the wrong track and I realized I needed to correct. While I was correcting on a flat track, my eyes went off the road book for a few seconds and I hit a massive rock at maybe 120 km per hour.

“I was launched into the air and cartwheeled and I thought it was game over. I stayed there to gain my sense of orientation and it took me about 15 or 20 minutes to decide whether I needed to be evacuated or not. I realized I could get up and I could finish the rally. The bike was damaged with the road book and I worked as a team with Sultan and we rode together to the finish of the stage.”

Saleh Al-Saif managed to squeeze past Danial Akeel on the final morning to snatch second place and victory in the T3 category for lightweight prototype cross-country vehicles in his Can-Am Maverick X3.

Akeel finished second in T3, but missed out on third overall in the general classification after falling behind Khalid Al-Feraihi on the final sprint to the finish.

“I had a great time; it was really fun,” added Akeel. “I was a bit disappointed when I saw that we had lost second place overall but I still enjoyed the drive. We learned a lot and, honestly, it was very enjoyable. For T3, it was a good performance but it is nice to compete for the overall. It’s so difficult to compete with the T1s when it is flat and fast. We don’t usually look at the T1s as competition to be honest. It was a nice surprise on day one and we had a good drive on the final stage.”

The event was organized by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation in conjunction with the Ministry of Sport, and in partnership with official sponsor Abdul Latif Jameel Motors and strategic sponsor Saudi Investment Bank.