Controversial, historic: 5 things we learned from Max Verstappen’s stunning Formula One championship win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen took his first Formula One title after winning the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a last lap overtake of rival Lewis Hamilton. (AFP)
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Updated 14 December 2021
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Controversial, historic: 5 things we learned from Max Verstappen’s stunning Formula One championship win at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

  • Few can deny the Dutchman is a worthy champion, but F1 must find right balance between sport and entertainment

A wild Formula One season came to a controversial close in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, and the world is still digesting everything that happened — both on the track and in race control at the Yas Marina Circuit.

As the dust from the drama settles, we take a look at some of the things we learned from the big finale in the UAE capital.

Controversy reigns, but tough to say Max did not deserve title

In a long and taxing season that spanned 22 Grand Prix weekends between March and December, Max Verstappen won 10 races, finished second in another eight and held off an impressive late-season comeback from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton to clinch a maiden world title.

Hamilton topped the podium eight times this campaign, and arrived in Abu Dhabi having won the three previous races in Brazil, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Together, Verstappen and Hamilton provided one of the most gripping championship fights in the history of the sport, and entering the final weekend on equal points was a drama no screenwriter could have scripted.

As two-time world champion Fernando Alonso said on Sunday: “I think more than any other year, if you can split the trophy in two, this was the year to do it because both of them were outstanding.”

Ultimately, a safety car introduced late in the game and some debatable decision-making from Race Director Michael Masi helped Verstappen secure the title. Mercedes were left fuming as they saw their two protests dismissed in the wake of all the action.

“We’re going to need a miracle in these last 10 laps to turn it around. He needs some luck from the racing gods,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner had said during the race, almost manifesting some divine intervention.

The miracle happened and the 24-year-old Verstappen has become the fourth-youngest champion in F1 history.

At the start of the weekend, Alonso had given Verstappen a slight edge over Hamilton, saying that “Max is driving, in my opinion, one step ahead of all of us.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris echoed Alonso’s sentiments, adding: “I think the Mercedes has been the better car throughout the majority, and Max has been more unlucky and has made fewer mistakes as a driver. So I still have to congratulate him. He’s fought hard and he’s fought Lewis, who is a lot more experienced, won many world championships and so on.”

Many may disagree with Masi’s directives during the closing stages of the race, but it is impossible not to deem Verstappen a worthy champion.

Tough break for Hamilton, who remains gracious in defeat

It is difficult to predict how Hamilton will rebound from this. The Brit has stated more than once how tough this season has been, and to have the title snatched from his fingers on the very last lap of the final race of the year due to external factors — Nicholas Latifi’s crash, a safety car and Masi’s decisions — will definitely hurt.

Hamilton left the track on Sunday night without talking to the press and undoubtedly feels hard done by the race director’s calls.

“This is getting manipulated, man,” he said over the team radio as Verstappen passed him in a final one-lap shootout.

Despite it all, Hamilton was gracious on the podium and congratulated his rival on a job well done.

“Lewis has been a great sportsman in general,” Verstappen told Sky Sports. “He came up to me, congratulated me and it must have been very tough in that last lap. It also shows the respect we have for each other.”

Hamilton’s last words in his track interview with Jenson Button hinted at some question marks over his future.

“If I’m honest, we are still in the pandemic and I just really wish (people) to stay safe and have a good Christmas with their families, and we will see about next year,” he said signing off.

F1 needs to strike balance between sport and entertainment

As an entertainment product, Formula One captivated its audience as the Max vs. Lewis battle intensified over the course of the season.

Even their fellow drivers found themselves going back to their hotel rooms at the end of a Grand Prix weekend and pulling up the race highlights to see what happened between the championship contenders. It all came to a climax in Abu Dhabi and the drama held up until the very last second.  

“Just when you think the season could not get any more dramatic, it does. I don’t even know if this is good because I think people’s TVs are just going to explode. I don’t think it can handle that much drama, I don’t think the watts on a TV can handle it,” McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo told reporters in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night.

BBC News presenter Ros Atkins summarized it best.

“Certainly there’s plenty of comfort for Formula One as it navigates this controversy; this was high-octane drama which demanded the world’s attention in a way many sports could only dream of,” he said.

Indeed, having an entire sporting audience that invested in a single race is quite an achievement. But as Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz mentioned in Abu Dhabi ahead of the action, F1 — and the drivers — has a duty to prove to its followers that it is not just a show, but also a sport.

There appears to be inconsistency in the decision-making from the stewards and many are wondering if some of the calls are being made simply for the sake of producing must-see television.

At what point does it become too much, though? There is a reason “Drive to Survive” is a show on Netflix and Formula One is a sport aired live on television screens worldwide. There is, and has to be, a distinction.

If the rules are not consistently applied, and not generally understood and agreed on by all stakeholders involved, the whole thing risks becoming a gimmick.

Judgment calls exist in any sport, but fans must trust that these decisions are being made for the right reasons.  

It is great to see Formula One thrive in the fast-paced world of electronic sports and bite-sized digital content in which we live. But the sport must find a balance between entertainment and competition.

Checo the ultimate teammate

“Checo is a legend,” yelled Verstappen over the team radio during the race. “Absolute animal,” came the response from the Red Bull team engineer.

Both were apt descriptions for Sergio “Checo” Perez, who helped his teammate Verstappen in both qualifying (his tow was flawless) and the race (he held up Hamilton to narrow Verstappen’s gap to his rival), and then fulfilled his press duties while wearing a T-shirt celebrating the Dutchman’s championship triumph.

In Formula One, we are constantly reminded that teammates are each others’ biggest competitors, since they are the only two on the grid that have the same car, and can be measured against one another.

That dynamic can often lead to bitter rivalries within a team and environments turning toxic. That clearly is not the case with Red Bull Racing.

When asked if Verstappen’s win meant that much to him that he was wearing the shirt to honor it, Perez replied: “Honestly it does, because Max has been a great teammate since day one to me and the team. The team has been fantastic to me and I was in the position to support my teammate. I’m extremely happy for everyone.”

Perez added: “The legend is him now, he’s a world champion.”

Verstappen paid tribute to his teammate in a track interview and champion’s press conference.

“I also want to say a big thank you to Checo, I mean he was driving his heart out as well today. It was great teamwork and he is an amazing teammate,” he said.

“I think without Checo I wouldn’t be sitting here right now,” Verstappen later added.

“Checo is just an amazing human being, not only just to work within F1 but just a super-nice person, real family man as well. I have had a lot of good times with him, and you could see he really means it and he means well and it’s very rare to have a teammate like that.”

Sainz, Tsunoda end year on a high

Alonso laughed when asked to say a few words about Sainz’s incredible P3 finish on Sunday, which saw him secure fifth place in the championship in his first season with Ferrari.

“Yes, but no one will remember,” joked Alonso, knowing all the attention was on Verstappen and Hamilton, and the controversial end to the race.

Sainz has a lot to be proud of, though, and will certainly remember how his 2021 campaign ended with his fourth podium of the season and the highest championship finish of his Formula One career.

“It’s truly a great way to end a very positive first year in Ferrari for me,” said Sainz.

“A very challenging year, but in the end, it turned out to be a very strong one. A year that I’m quite proud of and, yeah, to finish it with a podium that probably no one will remember — I’ll add it to the collection — because of whatever was happening in front. I enjoyed it a lot and put together everything that I have learned through this first year to put probably my strongest race in Ferrari together.”

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda concluded his rookie year with a season-best fourth-place showing in Abu Dhabi — another result that may have been overlooked in all the mayhem.

Asked if he considered himself the rookie of the year, the 21-year-old Japanese joked and said: “Maybe yes, after today.”


Campenaerts wins a 3-man sprint to take Tour de France stage as Pogacar keeps yellow jersey

Updated 19 July 2024
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Campenaerts wins a 3-man sprint to take Tour de France stage as Pogacar keeps yellow jersey

  • The Lotto Dstny rider celebrated his win with his partner and baby on a video call straight after the finish
  • The main contenders for the overall win, including Pogacar and his rivals Jonas Vingegeaard and Remco Evenepoel, finished 13 minutes and 40 seconds behind Campenaerts
  • With only three stages left, Pogacar has a comfortable lead of 3:11 over two-time defending champion Vingegaard

BARCELONETTE, France: Belgian rider Victor Campenaerts posted the biggest win of his career Thursday as he claimed the tough and hilly 18th stage of the Tour de France after a three-man sprint.

Two-time Tour champion Tadej Pogacar kept the race leader’s yellow jersey as the top of the overall standings remained unchanged with just three days of racing left.

Campenaerts spent most of the day at the front and jumped away from a breakaway group some 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the finish together with Frenchman Matteo Vercher and former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland.

Campenaerts, who won a Giro stage in 2021, patiently waited behind his rivals in the last kilometer and did not panic when Vercher attacked. He stayed in the wheel of Kwiatkowski, then launched his sprint from behind.

The Lotto Dstny rider celebrated his win with his partner and baby on a video call straight after the finish.

“After the (spring) classics, I had a very difficult time,” Campenaerts said, holding back tears. “I had a verbal agreement with the team about extending the contract and I got ignored for a long time and it was really difficult. I was on a long altitude camp but my girlfriend was there and she supported me every day, highly pregnant, and I was struggling to finish my training schedules. But I changed my mind, I have a bright future now still in cycling, I became a father and it was like blue skies, only blue sky.”

There was a flurry of attacks at the start of the rollercoaster 180-kilometer stage featuring five climbs as riders tried to break away before the first ascent, the Col du Festre. But the peloton rode at a high speed, thwarting all those early efforts.

About 20 riders finally managed to open a gap during that climb and were joined by Wednesday’s stage winner Richard Carapaz and other talented contenders for the stage win, including Ben Healy and Geraint Thomas.

With the best-placed rider in that large group already lagging nearly 34 minutes behind Pogacar overall, the pack let the break get away. The main contenders for the overall win, including Pogacar and his rivals Jonas Vingegeaard and Remco Evenepoel, finished 13 minutes and 40 seconds behind Campenaerts.

Earlier, Healy attacked twice from the leading group in the Cote de Saint-Apollinaire but his move eventually backfired as the Irishman got dropped when others upped the pace. A pivotal moment came in the Cote des Demoiselles when Kwiatkowski accelerated to move away and was later joined by Campenaerts and Vercher. The trio collaborated well as counter-attackers looked hesitant and reacted too late to catch them.

With only three stages left, Pogacar has a comfortable lead of 3:11 over two-time defending champion Vingegaard. Tour debutant Evenepoel is lagging 5:09 off the pace.

The battle between Pogacar, Vingegaard and Evenepoel is expected to resume on Friday. At less than 150 kilometers, the 19th stage to the ski resort of Isola 2000 is short, but tough. Riders will climb above 2,000 meters three times, including the climb to the summit of La Bonette, the highest road in France at an altitude of 2,802 meters.
 


Israel clear to play in Olympic soccer tournament after FIFA postpones decision on possible ban

Updated 19 July 2024
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Israel clear to play in Olympic soccer tournament after FIFA postpones decision on possible ban

ZURICH: FIFA has postponed a decision on a Palestinian proposal to suspend Israel from international soccer because of the conflict with Hamas, clearing the way for the Israeli men’s national team to play at the Paris Olympics.
Soccer’s world governing body had been set to make a decision Saturday at an extraordinary council meeting after asking for an independent legal assessment of the Palestinian proposal two months ago. That decision would have come just four days before the start of the Olympic soccer tournament, where Israel has been drawn into a group with Japan, Mali and Paraguay.
However, FIFA said Thursday that it had pushed back the timeline because “more time is needed to conclude this process with due care and completeness” — meaning a decision is now set to come after the Olympics have finished.
FIFA said both parties had made requests for extensions “to submit their respective positions” and that the independent assessment will now be shared with FIFA by Aug. 31 at the latest.
The men’s Olympic final is set to take place on Aug. 9.


Beleaguered Olympic boxing has a new look in Paris: Gender parity, but the smallest field in decades

Updated 19 July 2024
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Beleaguered Olympic boxing has a new look in Paris: Gender parity, but the smallest field in decades

  • 12 years after women’s boxing made its Olympic debut with just 36 fighters in three weight classes in London, the sport likely has achieved gender parity, reaching the overall Olympic movement’s goal
  • The 248 fighters in Paris are a shadow of the Olympic-record 432 who participated in Seoul in 1988, and it’s even down sharply from the 289 boxers who participated in Tokyo

PARIS: Boxing is already on the Olympic ropes after an epic fight between its banished governing body and the IOC. Although the sport has been a staple of Olympic programs for over a century, it could be dropped before the Los Angeles Games if big changes in governance don’t happen in the next year.

The fights are still on in Paris this month, but this Olympic tournament will look like nothing fans have seen in decades — for better in some ways, and probably for worse in others.

Twelve years after women’s boxing made its Olympic debut with just 36 fighters in three weight classes in London, the sport likely has achieved gender parity, reaching the overall Olympic movement’s goal. Give or take a few last-minute additions or dropouts, half of the 248 boxers in Paris will be women fighting in six weight classes.

But this milestone was reached by sharply cutting the number of male boxers in an overall field that will be the smallest for Olympic boxing since 1956. While there will be 23 more women fighting in Paris than in Tokyo three years ago, there will also be a whopping 63 fewer men, and they’re fighting in only seven weight classes — the fewest since 1908.

In fact, Paris will have dozens fewer boxers than in every other Games in the 21st century. The 248 fighters in Paris are a shadow of the Olympic-record 432 who participated in Seoul in 1988, and it’s even down sharply from the 289 boxers who participated in Tokyo.

USA Boxing head coach Billy Walsh has been an ardent proponent of the women’s sport ever since he coached Katie Taylor of his native Ireland to a gold medal in London, and he says the addition of three women’s weight classes in Paris is “fantastic.”

Walsh still recognizes the drawbacks to the sport’s growth when it comes up against the IOC’s typically firm cap on total Olympic participants. It’s rare to add more athletes to a traditional Olympic sport, particularly while the IOC is adding trendy new sports to each Games.

“It is sad in a sense for the men,” said Walsh, who competed for Ireland in the Seoul Olympics in 1988. “Because when I boxed, they had 12 (men’s) weight divisions. They went down to 10, and then down to eight, and now we’re down to seven.”

In Rio de Janeiro eight years ago, 250 men had the career-defining honor of being Olympic boxers. That number has been halved just eight years later, with 124 men competing at three fewer weights than in Rio.

Men’s boxing in Paris will have its fewest weight classes since 1908 in London, where the second boxing tournament in the modern Olympics was contested at just five weights. Three years earlier in Tokyo, men’s boxing already dropped to eight weight classes for the first time since 1948.

That means there is no longer an Olympic weight class between 71 kilograms (156 pounds) and 80 kilograms (176 pounds). Professional middleweights fight at 160 pounds, and super middleweights weigh in at 168 pounds, but any fighter who couldn’t go down or up to the Olympic limits was out of luck.

That’s a concern to Walsh and many others around the sport. The elimination of weight classes encourages fighters to stretch the limits of their bodies to see if they can fit into a less-than-ideal weight class for qualification — and that can lead to mismatches up and down the scales.

“When we’ve narrowed down the numbers, it’s also put a big gap in the weight divisions,” Walsh said. “There’s so much gap now. There’s a reason why there are (weight classes). It’s because of the power of the punch. These guys are hurting you. There’s damage you can do. If some guy is barely making the welterweight division, he’s got 10 kilos he has to put on, and the other guy is coming down from four or five kilos above that, it’s a lot of power in the punch. It’s a combat sport, and people do get hurt, do get injured. I worry about that.”

Fewer overall fighters means smaller teams for many nations — and fewer chances to win gold, even for the traditional powers of the sport.

The US, which has won the most total medals and gold medals in Olympic history, qualified eight fighters for Paris under a challenging new qualification system administered by the IOC task force overseeing the tournament. The American team will have fewer fighters than Australia — which had an extraordinarily easy path to Paris under the new system — Brazil, Ireland or modern amateur boxing powers Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Cuba, which ranks right behind the US in Olympic achievements, improbably will have only five fighters in Paris after two men failed to clinch a spot during the final qualifying tournament. Cuba also has no women on its team for the fourth straight Olympics, even though the nation belatedly lifted its internal ban on the women’s sport in late 2022.

Yet the small Cuban delegation includes two-time gold medalists Arlen Lopez and Julio Cesar La Cruz. They’ll both try to join Hungary’s Laszlo Papp and fellow Cubans Teofilo Stevenson and Felix Savon as the only three-time Olympic boxing champions.

The smaller field will lead to a different kind of competition in Paris: Fewer bouts with higher stakes. That could be exciting, particularly when fresher fighters move into the medal rounds, which will be held at the famed Roland Garros tennis complex.

Many fighters only need to win two bouts to clinch an Olympic medal, including every man fighting at heavyweight and super heavyweight. Both of those divisions have only 16 competitors, and no weight class in Paris has more than 22 fighters.

The tournament won’t even run for the entire Olympiad: For the first time in decades, boxing competition will conclude one day before the closing ceremony.

“It’s going to be different, that’s for sure,” Walsh said. “But it will be exciting.”
 


Verstappen counting on Red Bull upgrades for ‘important weekend’

Updated 19 July 2024
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Verstappen counting on Red Bull upgrades for ‘important weekend’

  • The 26-year-old explained that he felt the team needed to step up the pace to boost their defense of both the drivers' and constructors' titles
  • While Red Bull fitted upgrades to their cars, McLaren were forced to close their 'Team Hub' multi-storey motor home in the paddock following a storm on Wednesday

BUDAPEST: Max Verstappen hopes that a new Red Bull upgrade package will give him momentum as he seeks increased pace in a bid to stay ahead in this year's title race starting with this Sunday's Hungarian Grand Prix.

"We brought some stuff before, but it was not particularly big, so this one is a bigger one and it is a very important weekend," said the series leader and three-time world champion who seeks to complete a Hungarian hat trick this weekend.

"I think for everyone, this is an important, important weekend."

The 26-year-old explained that he felt the team needed to step up the pace to boost their defense of both the drivers' and constructors' titles.

"You could say that," the Dutch driver said.

"I think so. If this is not giving us some good lap time, I don't know how the rest of the season is going to evolve, but at the same time, I also don't know what's coming from the other teams.

"So we just focus on ourselves. We are bringing some things to the car and of course, I hope that it will give us a bit of lap time."

For his Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez, this is another key weekend to prove he can recover his form and deliver podium finishes.

While Red Bull fitted upgrades to their cars, McLaren were forced to close their 'Team Hub' multi-storey motor home in the paddock following a storm on Wednesday.

The facility was left flooded in places only weeks after it was damaged at the Spanish Grand Prix by an electrical fire.

"The team are currently working to fix the damage and therefore unfortunately our Team Hub will not be open to any guests or media for the duration of the Hungarian GP," said a team statement.

In Spain and Austria, when the facility was out of action, team chief Zak Brown used the FIA's hospitality area as his base while drivers Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri used other McLaren facilities.

English driver Norris arrived in the paddock on Thursday to be greeted by light-hearted references to the European Championship soccer final which he attended in Berlin last Sunday.

A message on his car parking space board read '2-1 Viva Espana' in reference to Spain's Euro 2024 final win over England.

Two-time champion Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin told reporters he was not responsible, pointing out "there is another Spaniard" before it was revealed that the joke was the work of Carlos Sainz's manager Carlos Onoro.
 


Saudi Olympians meet with local mayor at Paris Games training camp

Updated 18 July 2024
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Saudi Olympians meet with local mayor at Paris Games training camp

  • Marc-Antoine Jamet spoke with pole vaulter Hussain Al-Hizam and swimmer Zaid Al-Sarraj

LONDON: The mayor of Val-de-Reuil in Normandy met with Saudi athletes preparing to compete in the upcoming Paris Olympics at their training camp in the commune on Thursday.

Marc-Antoine Jamet spoke with pole vaulter Hussain Al-Hizam and swimmer Zaid Al-Sarraj as well as the director of the Saudi team, Afnan Barnawi, and a number of camp administrators.

The mayor was joined by local children and they wished the Saudi team luck and success in their Olympic participation.

Also on Thursday, the Saudi show jumping team held a training session in the Kingdom ahead of their journey to join up with the Saudi delegation in Paris two days before the equestrian competition starts on July 27.