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

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

  • 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.”

Xavi denies reports that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing him

Updated 18 May 2024

Xavi denies reports that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing him

BARCELONA: Xavi Hernández on Saturday denied a slew of reports in Spanish media outlets that Barcelona’s leadership is considering firing the coach for having said that the club’s poor finances will impede it from competing with Real Madrid.
“The club has transmitted to me that I should stay calm and continue working with the same motivation and commitment. Nothing has changed,” Xavi said at a pregame news conference.
Almost all the questions he faced were about the speculation in Spain’s sports press that club president Joan Laporta was upset with Xavi for having said earlier this week that “the situation is very difficult, above all on the economic level, for us to compete with our top rivals, whether it be Real Madrid or teams in Europe.”
The media reports said Laporta is pondering a replacement for Xavi this summer.
Xavi insisted Saturday that he had heard no such thing from the club.
“I don’t know and I don’t care where that information is coming from. I have the support of the president and Deco, our sports director,” the former Barcelona midfielder said.
Neither Laporta nor the club have made any public statements about the rumors. The club said it had no comment on them when asked by The Associated Press.
Even if it Barcelona keeps Xavi on, it is still an awkward situation for a coach who just three weeks prior had reversed a previous decision made in January to leave the club this summer. In April, Xavi said that he had changed his mind after his players showed him that they believed in the team’s potential and had improved their performances.
Laporta inherited a club mired in debts of more than 1.3 billion euros ($1.4 billion), and soccer’s most expensive payroll, when he returned to run the club for a second time in 2021.
A few months later he brought back fan favorite Xavi, who had been coaching in Qatar, to lead a team rebuild following the exit of superstar Lionel Messi.
But with no cash on hand and mounting debts, Laporta had to sell off future television revenues and other club assets, which Laporta dubbed financial “levers,” to sign Robert Lewandowski and other players two seasons ago.
With those reinforcements, Xavi guided Barcelona to the Spanish league title last campaign. But Barcelona has struggled this season and will finish it without any titles.
Xavi’s words earlier this week seemed aimed at curbing the expectations of fans used to the club making significant signings in the summer.
The club’s wages still exceed the salary cap established by the Spanish league and it is more likely to sell players this off-season than bring in new talent.
Barcelona plays Rayo Vallecano on Sunday seeking a win to lock up a second-placed finish in the domestic league and secure a spot in the Spanish Super Cup.

Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season

Updated 18 May 2024

Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus ‘very proud’ as last-gasp equalizer preserves unbeaten domestic season

  • Roshn Saudi League champions earn 1-1 draw in Riyadh derby on Friday thanks to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s injury-time penalty
  • Al-Nassr manager Luis Castro disputes penalty award and praises players’ performance

Riyadh: Al-Hilal manager Jorge Jesus saluted the resilience of his players after they preserved the club’s unbeaten domestic season with an injury-time penalty from Aleksandar Mitrovic in their Roshn Saudi League 1-1 draw against Al-Nassr.

A dramatic Riyadh derby exploded into life on Friday night after just 25 seconds when Al-Nassr midfielder Otavio thundered the hosts into the lead from distance at Al-Awwal Park. But Mitrovic ensured the champions remain on course for an invincible 2023/24 league campaign by smashing home a late spot-kick awarded after a VAR check.

In a match in which both sides created chances, both Jesus and Al-Nassr counterpart Luis Castro agreed the hosts enjoyed the better of the first half, and the title winners the second half.

While Al-Hilal could not maintain a remarkable Roshn Saudi League winning run that stretched all the way back to September — 24 games in total — Jesus said the determination shown to earn a point bears all the hallmark of champions.

“I’m very proud of my players,” he said. “They showed great resilience (to keep the unbeaten record). We have a fantastic group of players. I believe in their talents; they believe in my ideas.

“It has been a fantastic season until now. We want to finish as winners and there are three games left: two in the league and one the King’s Cup final. We not only want to be unbeaten in the next two games in the league, but also win the King’s Cup. I don’t think you can have a better season than this in local competitions.”

The penalty kick was awarded deep into injury time when Sadio Mane was deemed to have caught Saud Abdulhamid just inside the penalty area. Spanish referee Jose Maria Sanchez Martinez pointed to the spot after being called to the screen by the VAR.

Jesus believed Saud was impeded by Mane, but Castro was unhappy that the decision denied his team three points against their Riyadh rivals.

Castro said: “The penalty given to them and scored by them; it wasn’t at all a penalty. There is no injury, there is no foul at all.”

Asked whether the game will influence the upcoming King’s Cup final between the two sides that will round off the season, Castro said: “No, this was one match and that is a different match. We all saw how Al-Hilal celebrated as if they won, but they only drew. That means it was a tough match for them. We had chances to win.”

Twelve points separate champions Al-Hilal and second-placed Al-Nassr in the Saudi Roshn League table.

The previous league derby between the two this season saw Al-Hilal beat Al-Nassr 3-0 in December. As well as being unbeaten domestically this season, Al-Hilal also created world football history earlier in the campaign by winning 34 matches in succession across all competitions.

Pacers pummel Knicks to stay alive in NBA playoffs

Updated 18 May 2024

Pacers pummel Knicks to stay alive in NBA playoffs

  • On the brink of elimination after an embarrassing game five defeat in New York, the Pacers played with desperate aggression

LOS ANGELES: The Indiana Pacers produced another big win on their home court Friday, routing the New York Knicks 116-103 to force a decisive game seven in their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Pascal Siakam scored 25 points to lead Indiana’s scoring. Tyrese Haliburton added 15 with nine assists and Myles Turner had 17 points as six Pacers players scored in double figures.
On the brink of elimination after an embarrassing game five defeat in New York, the Pacers played with desperate aggression, out-scoring the Knicks 62-38 in the paint and winning the rebounding battle.
They hustled after loose balls, blocked eight shots and handed out 35 assists to keep their offense firing, and kept Knicks talisman Jalen Brunson in check for much of the night as they improved to 6-0 at home in this post-season.
They’ll have to follow up on the road, however, if they want to book a clash with the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, with the Knicks hosting game seven on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
“Now it’s a one game series, and it’s for all the marbles,” Haliburton said. “Where better to have a game seven than the Garden?
“No team’s won a game on the road in this series, so we’ve got to be ready to go from start to finish in 48 minutes.”
The Pacers broke open a close game with a 17-2 scoring run that pushed their lead to 13 points late in the second quarter.
Donte DiVincenzo stopped the rot for New York, draining a three-pointer from the corner that cut the Pacers’ lead to 10, 61-51, at halftime.
Brunson was limited to five points on 2-of-13 shooting in the first half. He found his range after the break, scoring 14 points in the third and finishing with 31.
Miles McBride added 20 for the Knicks, whose brief surge to open the third quarter was quickly squelched by the Pacers.
“There really isn’t any excuse for anything,” Brunson said. “Just the way they played tonight you’ve got to give them credit.”
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said it was a matter of playing harder.
He said Siakam, an NBA champion with Toronto in 2019 and acquired from the Raptors in January, had provided a key veteran presence on a young and a crucial skillset that made a big difference on Friday.
“He’s the only guy on our roster that can manufacture a 16-foot shot over a seven-foot guy and make it,” Carlisle said. “He did it three or four times in the third, fourth quarter.”
While Carlisle was pleased with his team’s bounce-back win, he was already looking ahead to the test awaiting on Sunday.
“In a series like this, you can’t sit around patting yourself on the back. That’s what gets your ass kicked the next game,” he said.
The Knicks return home with yet another injury concern after forward Josh Hart departed early in the fourth quarter with what the team called abdominal soreness.
He’d clearly been troubled by discomfort around his midriff since the first quarter.
It’s just the latest blow for the Knicks, who saw forward OG Anunoby go down to a hamstring injury in game two after they were already without Julius Randle, Bojan Bogdanovic and Mitchell Robinson.
“We’ll see,” was head coach Tom Thibodeau’s tight-lipped response on whether Hart would be available on Sunday, but he made it clear the Knicks wouldn’t be citing injuries as an excuse.
“This is the nature of the playoffs,” he said. “This is what you play for. Oftentimes it comes down to a hustle play, a loose ball .. so you’re going to get tested physically, mentally, emotionally — and you’ve got to be able to get through all of that.
“So whatever it is that we’re facing, we can overcome and just keep battling.”

Coach Thomas Tuchel says he’s still leaving after talks on extending Bayern Munich stay fell through

Updated 17 May 2024

Coach Thomas Tuchel says he’s still leaving after talks on extending Bayern Munich stay fell through

  • “We found no agreement on further cooperation so the agreement from February remains in force,” he said
  • In the three months since Bayern said Tuchel was leaving, they have tried and failed to sign a series of high-profile replacements

MUNICH: Thomas Tuchel says he is still leaving Bayern Munich after talks on extending his stay at the club fell through.
Bayern said in February that Tuchel would leave at the end of the season, but the coach said Friday that he held talks with the club on a “180-degree turn” that would have seen him stay after all.
“We found no agreement on further cooperation so the agreement from February remains in force,” he said.
In the three months since Bayern said Tuchel was leaving, they have tried and failed to sign a series of high-profile replacements.
Xabi Alonso is staying with Bayer Leverkusen after beating Bayern to the Bundesliga title, Tuchel’s predecessor Julian Nagelsmann signed an extension with the German national team, and Ralf Rangnick remains with Austria.
Bayern are without a trophy this season for the first time since 2012 after losing the Bundesliga title to Bayer Leverkusen, but Tuchel’s team were praised for reaching the Champions League semifinals before a narrow loss to Real Madrid.
There was also a petition from some Bayern fans calling on the club to keep Tuchel.
Strong European performances prompted the club to reach out to him in an attempt to persuade him to stay, the coach said.
“Above all, the feedback after Real Madrid over this last week was the basis to think again about the 180-degree turn, but we didn’t reach any agreement,” he said. “I don’t want to go into the individual points and the motivations behind them. That is behind closed doors and stays that way.”
There was tension last month after Tuchel said he had been insulted by comments from the club’s honorary president Uli Hoeness claiming the coach “doesn’t think he can improve” the team’s young stars.
Tuchel said at the time that Hoeness’ comments were “so far removed from reality” and added: “On the one hand it insults my honor as a coach, because I think we’ve shown as a coaching team for the last 15 years that young players, especially from the academy, always, always, always have a place with us in training and that they have a place on the field with their performances.”
Tuchel is heading into his last game with Bayern at Hoffenheim on Saturday with second place in the Bundesliga on the line. The injury list is as long as ever in a season when he has rarely had his first-choice team available.
Striker Harry Kane is undergoing treatment on a reported back injury, while Leroy Sané, Kim Min-jae, Kingsley Coman, Raphael Guerreiro and Jamal Musiala are also injured and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is unavailable with flu, Tuchel said. Right back Sacha Boey has been granted personal leave.
Bayern’s two-point advantage over third-place Stuttgart and superior goal difference mean that a draw with Hoffenheim — which is seventh and chasing European qualification — should be enough to guarantee second position. Stuttgart host Borussia Moenchengladbach.

FIFA orders legal review of Palestinian call to suspend Israel

FIFA President Gianni Infantino delivers his speech at the FIFA Congress in Bangkok, Thailand, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Updated 17 May 2024

FIFA orders legal review of Palestinian call to suspend Israel

  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says its strikes are targeted at militants

BANKOK: Soccer’s world body FIFA ordered an urgent legal evaluation on Friday of a proposal by the Palestinian Football Association to suspend Israel over the war in Gaza, promising to address it at an extraordinary meeting of its council in July.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino took the decision at an annual Congress in Bangkok, where the PFA president made an emotional plea to delegates to hold a vote to suspend Israel from all club and national competitions, accusing it of multiple breaches of FIFA statutes.
The Palestinian proposal accuses the Israel Football Association of complicity in violations of international law by the Israeli government, discrimination against Arab players, and inclusion in its league of clubs located in Palestinian territory. The IFA rejected that.
The request for sanctions against the IFA comes two years after FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions over its invasion of Ukraine.


The request for sanctions against the IFA comes two years after FIFA’s decision to suspend Russia from international competitions over its invasion of Ukraine.

“FIFA cannot afford to remain indifferent to these violations or to the ongoing genocide in Palestine, just as it did not remain indifferent to numerous precedents,” PFA President Jibril Rajoub said.
“How much more must the Palestinian football family suffer for FIFA to act with the same urgency and severity as it did in other cases? Does FIFA consider some wars to be more important than others and some victims to be more significant?“
Since an Oct. 7 cross-border raid by militant group Hamas that Israel says killed more than 1,200 people, the Gaza offensive has left more than 35,000 Palestinians dead, according to Gaza health officials. Israel says its strikes are targeted at militants.
Rajoub said 193 Palestinian players had been killed, football infrastructure destroyed, its leagues suspended and its national team required to play World Cup qualifiers abroad.

‘Cynical, political and hostile’
The proposal was sent to FIFA in March and added to the Congress agenda with the support of the Algerian, Jordanian, Syrian and Yemeni federations.
The Asian Football Confederation gave its backing on Thursday for action against Israel.
IFA chief Shino Moshe Zuares said the proposal was based on motives and ambitions that “have nothing to do with the spirit of sports or the FIFA value of separating sports from politics.”
“Today, maybe more than ever, I believe that football must be a key element in healing the fractures and the wounds, helping us and everyone to recover,” he told the Congress.
“Yet, once again, we are facing a cynical, political, and hostile attempt by the PFA to harm Israeli football.
“I am holding myself back and will not speak about the true motives out of respect for this institution,” he said.
Infantino expressed extreme shock over the Oct. 7 attacks and the offensives in Gaza and said due to the “obvious sensitivity of the issue,” independent legal experts would be brought in urgently to analyze the Palestinian allegations.
Those findings would be referred to the FIFA Council, its main decision-making body outside of the Congress, to convene an extraordinary meeting in July and take appropriate decisions, he said.