Mercedes chief fears collision as Valtteri Bottas beats Lewis Hamilton for Spain pole

Mercedes' Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas celebrates after securing the pole position after the qualifying session at the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo in the outskirts of Barcelona. (AFP)
Updated 11 May 2019
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Mercedes chief fears collision as Valtteri Bottas beats Lewis Hamilton for Spain pole

  • Crash saw both Mercedes men out of the race three years ago
  • Bottas completed a hat-trick of pole positions Saturday when he outpaced Hamilton

MONTMELO, Spain: Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff admitted Saturday that he fears a possible reprise of Lewis Hamilton’s spectacular 2016 opening lap collision with Nico Rosberg in this Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix.
Wolff winced at the memory of the crash that saw both Mercedes men out of the race three years ago.
“I hope we will not be coming back to 2016,” he said.
“These guys (Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas) are in a totally different place with each other and they know how important it is to stay out ahead. Barcelona is a track where it is so difficult to overtake.”
But, he admitted, he was concerned.
“A bit nervous is probably the right way to describe my state of mind,” he said.
Hamilton and Rosberg’s crash in 2016 gifted a maiden victory to Max Verstappen on debut with Red Bull.
Bottas on Saturday grabbed pole position by beating Hamilton by six-tenths of a second in final qualifying, leaving them with a Mercedes front row lockout.
Wolff’s anxieties were raised by seeing the battle in Baku last month, when the pair fought for the lead on the opening lap at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
“We might have a little chat about that,” said Wolff, of his plans for Sunday’s pre-race briefing.
“But they know exactly what to do and not do.”
Bottas completed a hat-trick of pole positions Saturday when he outpaced Hamilton in a tightly-contested qualifying.
The Finn, who leads defending five-time champion Hamilton by a single point in this year’s title race, completed a treble after taking the prime grid position in both China and Azerbaijan.
Bottas clocked a stunning track record lap in 1min 15.406sec to finish six-tenths clear of his teammate in the top 10 shootout on a dry and gusty day at the Circuit de Catalunya.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari was third ahead of Max Verstappen of Red Bull, Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari and Pierre Gasly in the second Red Bull.
Romain Grosjean was seventh ahead of his Haas teammate Kevin Magnussen, Russian Daniil Kvyat of Toro Rosso and Daniel Ricciardo in his Renault.
“I really enjoyed that,” said Bottas. “The adrenaline rush you get from laps like that is great so I am really pleased.
“The season has started well, the way I hoped for, and I feel better in the car.”
Hamilton congratulated Bottas and conceded that he had been unable to extract the maximum from his car on a circuit where he was hoping to land his own hat-trick of three straight Spanish poles.
“My final laps in Q3 just weren’t strong enough. Ultimately, I didn’t do the job,” Hamilton said.
“It’s great to have another Mercedes 1-2, but I can reverse it tomorrow that would be great.”
Vettel was also disappointed as Ferrari failed to deliver the pace that could bring an end to Mercedes domination.
“The car doesn’t feel too bad, but obviously we are not quick enough,” he said. “It seems to be more than an achilles heel here... I spoke to Valtteri and they were happy with their car.”
In cooler conditions than on Friday, the opening Q1 session saw several cars struggling for grip, not helped by a gusty wind.
Nico Hulkenberg ran off track in his Renault at turn four and after traversing a gravel-trap hit the barriers. He managed to recover and, after pitting for a new front wing, rejoined the fray.
His efforts were in vain, however, and he was eliminated in 16th place along with Lance Stroll of Racing Point, Antonio Giovinazzi of Sauber and the two Williams men, British rookie George Russell and Robert Kubica.
“Thanks again everyone for getting the car ready and apologies for FP3,” said Russell on team radio, referring to his final practice crash that required a gearbox change and will land him a grid penalty.
As if to signal his intentions, Hamilton was first out for Q3, but it was Bottas who showed the way in 1:15.406 to take pole on his first run, six-tenths ahead of his Mercedes teammate.


Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

Updated 23 May 2019
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Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

  • ‘I have an obligation to speak against atrocities,’ basketball star tells Arab News
  • ‘Whatever I am going through in my personal life doesn’t impact my performance on court’

CHICAGO: NBA superstar Enes Kanter says he loves his homeland Turkey as much as he loves professional basketball. 

Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Erdogan has arrested Kanter’s father, and bullied his family after accusing the basketball player of being part of the Hizmet movement of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the president asserts was behind a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Two years ago this week, Erdogan demanded that Kanter be arrested, and fears of violence from the Turkish state have gotten so bad that the FBI installed a panic button to help protect the player.

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression.

“His (Erdogan’s) regime’s and his hostility to me began in 2013 when I first start criticizing (the) government on unjust, unfair and illegal closures of college preparatory centers linked to businesspeople in the Hizmet movement,” Kanter said.

 “This closure pretty much became the first public clash between the Erdogan regime and the Hizmet movement,” he added.

“It was obvious that there was something that Erdogan doesn’t like about the Hizmet movement. Up until the closures of college preparatory centers, no one knew about that,” Kanter said.

“The way Erdogan handled this relationship was brutal, ruthless, unjust and unfair. I can’t stand for any of these, so I stood up against this tyranny and started criticizing. Neither Erdogan stopped his approach nor I, and we’ve kept clashing since then.”

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression. (AFP)

Kanter played for the Turkish national team at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, and for the Turkish U18 national team in 2009.

He led Turkey to the bronze medal at the European Championships in France, and was named Best Player and Best Center at the 2009 European Championships by Eurobasket.com. 

Kanter signed with the Utah Jazz in 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, the New York Knicks in 2017, and the Portland Trail Blazers in February this year.

The Trail Blazers lost the Western Division Playoffs, the first step to the NBA Championships, to California’s Golden State Warriors in the final game on Monday.

Erdogan’s threats have placed enormous pressure on Kanter, but he insists it has not impacted his performance or his commitment to help the people of Turkey.

“I’m a successful professional athlete, and whatever I’m going through in my private life would never impact my performance on court,” he said.

“They’re two different worlds for me … I’ve known nothing else but basketball … since I was 13, so I guess it’s pretty important,” he added.

“I see basketball and my platform as a way to teach the younger generation how to be successful and hopeful for the future,” Kanter said.

“Once you’re a successful professional athlete, younger generations see you as a role model, so … I’m trying to do my best to set my life as a role model to them,” he added.

“I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities. I believe that as a human being I should be standing for human rights, democracy and freedom of speech … Me being a celebrity makes it easier for people to hear, see and experience what I believe.”

I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities.

Enes Kanter, Portland Trail Blazers center

On Erdogan, Kanter does not mince words. “He’s a dictator by definition. He silences media, destroys opposition, demonizes his critics … so all these make him a dictator,” Kanter said.

“Turkey deserves a leader who’s open minded, democratic, progressive, intelligent, modest and forward thinking, a leader who embraces everybody in the community regardless of their political choices.”

The harassment from Erdogan has put Kanter’s family at risk too. “I can’t say they’re safe when my dad lost his job and got jailed based on terrorism charges because I’m his son,” Kanter said. “These allegations are baseless and ridiculous, so how could I feel they’re safe?”

He said he respects Gulen and the Hizmet movement, rejecting Erdogan’s claims against them.

“I’m so close to Mr. Fethullah Gulen in terms of his life philosophy and teachings. I admire his way of extracting an individual’s inner potential … in order to be a better person in his or her community,” Kanter said.

“Erdogan should know that he’ll be brought to justice one day and pay for his mistakes. First, he should stop all his unjust, inhumane acts against the people of Turkey. Second, he should start making everybody’s life better in Turkey.”

Before moving to the US in 2009 to attend college in California, Kanter was a star basketball player in Turkey’s premier leagues.

He said despite playing for the NBA in the US, he still sees himself as a champion for Turkey and its people.

“I was Turkey’s best basketball player, and I’m still Turkey’s best basketball player. The only difference is that I’m now representing my country in the US. I left Turkey for a better opportunity in my career, to play in the NBA,” he added.

“I think everyone in society has an obligation to speak out on issues of human rights and democracy, and to stand tall against atrocities, inhumane practices and dictatorships,” Kanter said.

Celebrities like himself “have a bigger opportunity to make a difference and to raise awareness on such issues because of our platforms,” he added.

Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. (AFP)