Verstappen three-peat, Hamilton retirement and more things learned from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

An exciting season finale in Abu Dhabi saw Max Verstappen wrap up his stellar Formula One campaign with yet another race victory in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 November 2022
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Verstappen three-peat, Hamilton retirement and more things learned from the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

  • A sold-out Grand Prix saw scores of celebrities turn up to witness the action at Yas Marina Circuit

ABU DHABI: An exciting season finale in Abu Dhabi saw Max Verstappen wrap up his stellar Formula One campaign with yet another race victory.

A sold-out Grand Prix saw scores of celebrities turn up to witness the action at Yas Marina Circuit. From Pep Guardiola to Shaquille O’Neal to Usher to Usain Bolt… the race in the UAE capital was a star-studded affair.

Here’s what we learned from the F1 season-closer...

Max pulls off Abu Dhabi hattrick

World champion Max Verstappen picked up a third consecutive victory at Yas Marina Circuit, marking the first time he has pulled off a three-peat at the same race in his career.

The Red Bull man concluded the season with 15 victories from 22 races in 2022 and he can’t wait to try and do it all over again next year.

“It's been really enjoyable to work with the whole team and to be able to achieve something like this this year,” said Verstappen.

“I know it's going to be hard to replicate something like this. But it's also very good motivation to try and do well again next year.”

Strategy pays off for Ferrari

In the battle for the runner-up spot in the drivers’ championship, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc pipped Sergio Perez by placing second at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix ahead of the Red Bull driver, who completed the podium in third.

A one-stop strategy from Ferrari for Leclerc made all the difference and it not only secured second place for the Monegasque driver, but also second place for the Italian marque in the constructors’ championship.

“I was 110 percent from the first lap to the last lap,” said Leclerc, who outscored Perez by just three points in the drivers’ standings.

“Honestly, we had the perfect race for us, there was not much more today. I knew that the only possibility for us to beat Checo (Perez) today was with a different strategy and playing with the tyre management, which we did really well today. And we managed to make the one-stop work. So really, really happy.”

Vettel hopes to leave lasting legacy

Sebastian Vettel’s F1 career ended with a 10th place finish in Abu Dhabi and featured some thrilling battles with Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo.

The four-time world champion enjoyed an emotional weekend filled with tributes from within the F1 paddock and beyond and he left the track with some lovely words about the legacy he hopes to leave behind in the sport.

“I feel a bit empty, to be honest, it's been a big weekend,” said the Aston Martin driver.

“I think the last two years have been very, maybe disappointing from a sporting point of view, but very, very useful and important to me in my life, a lot of things happened. A lot of things that I realized.

“I think it's a huge privilege being in the position that we are in and with that comes some responsibility. So I hope to pass on a little bit to the other drivers to carry on some of the good work.

“It's great to see that we have the power to inspire you with what we do and what we say. So I think there are far bigger and far more important things than racing in circles, but obviously it's what we love and through that if we can transfer some of the really important values that's big.

“And I think for that the last two years have been great for me.”

Hamilton’s streak is broken

Lewis Hamilton’s streak of 15 consecutive seasons in which he has won at least one race has come to an end after failing to top the podium at any Grand Prix throughout his 2022 campaign.

Since making his F1 debut in 2007, Hamilton had won a race in every single year he has competed in Formula One up until this season.

2022 is also the first season in Hamilton’s career in which he hasn't scored a pole position.

His year to forget ended with a car retirement at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with just three laps to go, and the seven-time world champion is grateful his season with Mercedes’ W13 car is finally over.

“I’m looking forward to the end of Tuesday because it’s the last time I will drive this car and I don’t ever plan to drive this one again,” Hamilton had said after qualifying on Saturday.

He joked on Sunday that he might “call in sick” so he doesn’t have to drive the car during the Pirelli test at Yas Marina Circuit on Tuesday.

“I always believed right until the last race that there was potentially a chance [to win],” Hamilton said after his DNF in the UAE capital.

“I think it’s important to hold onto hope and just keep working. I gave it everything and the last race was almost like the whole season; it summed up the whole year. Glad it’s done.”

Wolff focused on giving drivers a competitive car

Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said on Saturday the W13 provided a necessary learning experience for them and joked that it will “not be forgotten as the car that dominated the Brazilian Grand Prix”.

“I think this car will always have a special place in our collection, very far back. But I think that hopefully the next years will do her justice. Because the learning curve with that car was enormous. Our fundamental understanding of aerodynamic, vehicle dynamics correlation has gone through a step change of learning.”

Wolff believes Hamilton will not be too disheartened by seeing his streak of annual victories snapped and says the most important thing is to get both his drivers in a competitive car in 2023.

“Lewis says that the one victory a year isn’t really a record that bothers him,” said Wolff.

“And if I’m trying to put myself in his shoes, where I was before Brazil, it didn’t particularly bother me whether we could win a race this season because all our eyes are already on next year.

“But then having won one (George Russell’s triumph in Brazil), it felt pretty good, certainly nobody can say, ‘Well they didn’t win a race that year’.

“So I don’t think that this particular record is an important one for him. But we need to provide him with a car next year that he can fight for victories and the championship, that’s most important and he knows that.”

Alpine secure deserved fourth

Esteban Ocon can breathe a huge sigh of relief as his stressful weekend in Abu Dhabi ended with him placing seventh in the race, which helped his Alpine team lock down fourth place in the constructors’ championship, ahead of McLaren.

With his teammate Fernando Alonso unable to complete the race due to a suspected water leak in his car, Ocon carried the burden alone at Yas Marina Circuit and the Frenchman certainly delivered.

“I’m very, very pleased with the result that we got today. Obviously one more lap and we could have probably got Lando (Norris). It was very, very close race the whole way but that doesn’t matter; all the targets that we set ourselves are accomplished,” said Ocon.

“We finished fourth in the constructors’ championship, thank God for that, I lost two and a half kilos this weekend of stress and being too focused. It is also my best season in Formula One in terms of points. So I’m very pleased with that. A good job by the whole team to develop the car so much over the year and hopefully we can close even more the gap for next year.”

McLaren’s Lando Norris finished sixth in Abu Dhabi – and set the fastest lap – to end his campaign in seventh place in the drivers’ championship, just one spot off his position from last year.

“It’s where we deserve to be, P5,” said Norris of McLaren’s place in the constructors’ championship.

“I guess you feel very disappointed when there’s a shot at P4 and you could have had it. But we’ve had bad weekend of reliability. Alpine have had four, five. They’ve been the quicker car the majority of the year.

“I think to have kept in the fight with them for so long proves how good of a job we’ve done with a worse package honestly. And therefore that’s why I’m quite happy. We’re P5 but there are a lot of good things about the job that we’re doing. It’s just you need a good car and we just started too far behind in the beginning of the season.”

Ricciardo looks to ‘rebuild’ himself

Daniel Ricciardo has no idea if Abu Dhabi was his last-ever race in Formula One, but the Australian is entering the unknown with a solid perspective on how he can use his time away from the cockpit to his advantage.

McLaren ended Ricciardo’s contract early and he will be without a seat for next year. He is likely to sign a deal as a reserve driver for his former team, Red Bull, but assures he would only be around for “at most a dozen” races in 2023.

“The role I’ll have will not be 24 races. If I was there 24 races then I’ll probably be on the grid racing. I wanted to make that clear that, look, I want to still be involved, but personally for me, for my own headspace, I need some time away from the travel and everything,” explained Ricciardo.

A fan favorite and popular figure in the paddock, Ricciardo finished ninth in Abu Dhabi, despite a three-grid place penalty for his crash with Kevin Magnussen in Brazil the previous week.

“I’m relieved that the season finished like this and not like the race in Brazil. To see the chequered flag, to finish in the points, just makes me a little more at peace with how this year has ended,” said Ricciardo.

Asked about how it might feel next season being at a Grand Prix without being able to race, he said: “That’s honestly a feeling which in a way, I hope, makes me a little bit agitated, makes me hungry, makes me a little bit edgy.

“I’ll truly know then if my place is back on the grid. If I’m watching as a fan and not really caring too much, then I also have my answer that, okay then, my future looks different. I hope to get these feelings of course, I’m sure I will.

“But it also allows me some time off and some time to rebuild myself. Just to get a year of not so many highs and lows, just something a bit more balanced, also just for me personally I think will make me a little more consistent and a little happier.”

Adaptation key for Sainz in 2023

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz believes he may have to adjust his driving style to be as competitive as his teammate Leclerc next year but is pleased with the progress he has made in 2022.

The Spaniard finished fifth in the championship this year – just like in 2021 – and scored 62 fewer points than Leclerc.

Sainz says his relationship with his teammate is as strong as ever and was thrilled to see Leclerc secure second in Abu Dhabi.

“I think he absolutely deserves it,” said Sainz. “I think he deserves to finish second this year. He’s been super strong all season with this generation of cars. He’s been driving extremely well and I may have to adapt and change a bit my driving to try and be closer to him. But congrats because he did a great season.”

Sainz says Ferrari were “out-developed” by Red Bull and Mercedes in the second half of the season, which explains why they were unable to win any of the last 11 races of 2022.

“Very simply, Red Bull is the stronger package, together with Max and we need to catch up a bit and out-develop them next year,” added Sainz.

“We want to beat them. I think it’s fair, it’s our first year back in the fight for the championship, so there’s still things we need to learn, while Red Bull have been there with Merc the last two seasons. And we are a bit new for this. We’ll learn a lot from this.”

 

 


Professional Fighters League announces extra bouts for August playoffs

Updated 18 July 2024
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Professional Fighters League announces extra bouts for August playoffs

  • 2024 PFL Playoffs will see the return of Biaggio Ali Walsh to the SmartCage

NEW YORK: The Professional Fighters League has announced additional bouts for the 2024 PFL Global Season Playoffs in August.

On Friday, Aug. 2 in Nashville, the heavyweight and women’s flyweight divisions will take center stage.

In a marquee addition to the event, Tyrell Fortune (14-2) will face Sergei Bilostenniy (12-3) in a heavyweight alternate contest. In all, five early bouts have been added to an already stacked night of action.

Two weeks later on Aug.16, the light-heavyweight and lightweight playoffs will take place in Hollywood, Florida.

Biaggio Ali Walsh (1-0) makes his sophomore professional appearance against undefeated Korey Taylor (4-0) during the ESPN main card.

A light-heavyweight alternate bout pitting Antonio Carlos Jr. (16-6) against Karl Albrektsson (14-5) is confirmed, while a lightweight alternate fight between Elvin Espinoza (10-1) and Mads Burnell (19-6) is also official for the early card.

The playoffs will conclude on Aug. 23 in Washington D.C. with the welterweight and featherweight divisions.

A welterweight alternate bout pitting Neiman Gracie (13-5) against Luca Poclit (10-2) is confirmed, while a featherweight alternate fight between Tyler Diamond (14-3) and Enrique Barzola (20-9-2) is also official.

The PFL Regular Season has each winner of the six weight divisions receiving a $1 million purse.


Central Paris locks down for Olympics as athletes arrive

Updated 18 July 2024
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Central Paris locks down for Olympics as athletes arrive

  • The opening parade along six kilometers (four miles) of the river led to the closure of riverside central districts to most vehicles from 5:00 am (0300 GMT) on Thursday
  • Many central Metro stations will also be closed on Thursday until the day after the opening ceremony, which will see 6,000-7,000 athletes sail down the Seine on around a hundred barges and river boats

PARIS: French security forces began locking down large parts of central Paris on Thursday ahead of the hugely complex Olympics opening ceremony next week on the river Seine.

The opening parade along six kilometers (four miles) of the river led to the closure of riverside central districts to most vehicles from 5:00 am (0300 GMT) on Thursday.

Anyone wanting to enter the highest-security “grey zone” along both banks of the Seine, such as residents or tourists with hotel reservations in the area, will need a security pass in the form of a QR code.

The City of Light is transforming ahead of the July 26-Aug. 11 Olympics when around 10 million spectators are expected.

Temporary sports stadiums have sprung up at popular locations such as the Eiffel Tower, the Invalides or the Place de la Concorde, while new Olympic VIP lanes are the latest traffic-snarling addition.

“It’s true that our concept of having a large number of temporary sites in the heart of the city, obviously with that, there are constraints, but I feel like people are seeing what we’re doing,” Paris 2024 director general Etienne Thobois told AFP last month.

Many central Metro stations will also be closed on Thursday until the day after the opening ceremony, which will see 6,000-7,000 athletes sail down the Seine on around a hundred barges and river boats.

It will be the first time a Summer Olympics has opened outside the main athletics stadium, with up to 500,000 people set to watch in person from stands, on the river banks and from the overlooking apartments.

The vast security operation has been giving senior police officers cold sweats ever since it was announced in 2021 because of the difficulty of securing so many spectators in such a large, densely packed urban area.

Around 45,000 officers are set to be on duty for the July 26 parade, assisted by thousands of soldiers and private security agents.

On Wednesday, police in eastern France announced they had arrested a suspected far-right extremist who had made threats against the Games in a group on the Telegram phone application.

The installation of tens of thousands of metal security barriers all along the opening ceremony route in Paris has outraged some residents, who feel closed in.

“It’s a bit like being in Planet of the Apes,” Aissa Yago, who lives on the Ile Saint Louis in central Paris, told AFP this week from behind a barrier. “All they need to do is throw us some peanuts.”

Elsewhere on Thursday, the first athletes are set to arrive to take up residence in the newly built Olympic Village in a northern suburb of the capital.

Comprising around 40 different low-rise housing blocs, the complex has been built as a showcase of innovative construction techniques using low-carbon concrete, water recycling and reclaimed building materials.

It was intended to be free of air-conditioning, although Olympic delegations have ordered around 2,500 portable cooling units for their athletes out of fear of the impact of high temperatures on their performances.

“The major countries are going to arrive on the first day ... so Great Britain, the US, New Zealand, Brazil, Switzerland,” the deputy head of the French delegation, Andre-Pierre Goubert, told AFP.

At full capacity, the village will host 14,500 people including 9,000 athletes.

The Olympics will be followed by the Paralympics from Aug. 28-Sept. 8.


‘Counter-Strike 2’ blasts off week 3 action at Esports World Cup

Updated 18 July 2024
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‘Counter-Strike 2’ blasts off week 3 action at Esports World Cup

  • World’s biggest gaming festival runs until Aug. 25 at Boulevard Riyadh City

RIYADH: The Esports World Cup continued its third week of action on Wednesday with several sides starring in the “Counter-Strike 2” tournament at Boulevard Riyadh City.

In the qualification matches MOUZ won 2-1 against Sashi Esports, Team Spirit 1-0 MIBR, Navi 2-0 FURIA Esports, Virtus.pro 1-0 Complexity, Team Vitality 2-0 M80, FaZe Clan 2-0 FlyQuest, and G2 Esports 2-0 The MongolZ.

The winning teams now proceed to the “Counter-Strike 2” playoffs.

The eight-week Esports World Cup features a unique cross-game structure pitting the world’s top clubs and players against each other across 22 global competitions in 21 leading games.

The tournament has a prize pool of $60 million, the largest in the history of esports, and runs until Aug. 25.

More than 1,500 players, representing over 60 nationalities, are battling it out at the Esports World Cup.

Week three also features action from the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” and “PUBG Mobile.”


LeBron James sees ‘much to improve’ before Olympics despite Serbia win in Abu Dhabi

Updated 18 July 2024
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LeBron James sees ‘much to improve’ before Olympics despite Serbia win in Abu Dhabi

  • After a narrow win over Australia on Monday, the stars and stripes were in commanding form against a Nikola Jokic-led Serbia
  • Lakers star: ‘We’ve still got so much room to improve but we want to continue to get better and not waste the opportunities’

ABU DHABI: LeBron James was pleased with the progress made by the USA in their 105-79 victory over Serbia in a friendly in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, but insists there is “so much room to improve” in the hunt for Olympic gold.
After a narrow win over Australia on Monday, that saw the United States nearly blow a 20-point lead toward the end of the clash, the stars and stripes were in commanding form against a Nikola Jokic-led Serbia.
Stephen Curry, who scored just three points in the USA’s 98-92 win over the Boomers, caught fire on Wednesday, opening the scoring with a signature three on the very first play and finishing the game with a team-high 24 points, shooting six for nine from beyond the arc.
“We drew it (the opening play) up for that particular reason, to get him going,” said James of Curry.
“He sees one go through the hoop, you see what it opens up for the rest of his game, for the rest of the game for all of us. He set the tone and we just tried to continue to keep finding him.”
Bam Adebayo also had a successful evening, coming off the bench to tally up 17 points, eight rebounds and a pair of assists.
The Miami Heat center combined seamlessly on defense with Anthony Davis, who had six blocks, six rebounds and seven points.
“Bam and AD together are really something,” US head coach Steve Kerr said.
“Just the switching, but they can also protect the rim and be in a drop if we go to that coverage.
“They’ll combine with the ball pressure that Book was putting on their point guard, I thought that really set a tone for us.”
Serbia, who lost to Australia on Tuesday, were once again without Atlanta Hawks guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, who was on the bench but did not play.
Reigning NBA MVP Jokic had a double-double 16 points and 11 rebounds but it was not enough to halt the formidable Americans, whom they will face again in their Olympics opener in Lille, France on July 28.
“We’ve still got so much room to improve but we want to continue to get better and not waste the opportunities. I felt like tonight we got better,” said James, who is gunning for his third Olympic gold medal this summer.
Kerr made one change to the starting lineup he deployed against Australia two days ago, keeping Jayson Tatum, James, Joel Embiid and Curry on the floor but opting for Jrue Holiday instead of Anthony Edwards.
Curry scored nine points within the first two minutes before Serbia picked up the pace with back-to-back threes from Aleksa Avramovic giving them an early 12-9 lead.
Kerr continued with his hockey subs pattern during these exhibition games, taking off all five starters midway through the quarter to bring in Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Davis, Adebayo, and Devin Booker.
It was Edwards who reclaimed the lead for USA, going four for four from the free throw line with 38 seconds left on the clock. Vanja Marinkovic had other ideas though, his buzzer-beating layup making sure the first quarter ended with both teams on level terms.
Curry, Edwards and Adebayo helped the USA pull ahead, and the Americans were never in trouble again beyond that first quarter.
Kerr is happy with the strategy he’s been applying so far, of subbing all five starters with an entirely new second unit and alternating those two groups every five minutes in the game.
“I think the identity of the team is our depth, the strength of the team is the depth,” said Kerr.
“And so, if we can play in four, five-minute bursts of just playing intense defense, hitting bodies, rebounding, being physical, then it makes sense to play that way.
“We’ll see if we keep doing it but for now, it’s allowed groups to get together, AD and Bam for example, Steph and LeBron, kind of learn how to play together, having a better feel for each other.
“The strength of our team is just the depth and so if we have to play that way, we’ll play that way.”
The USA head to London next, where they have two final exhibition games scheduled, against South Sudan on Saturday and reigning world champions Germany on Monday.


Carapaz ticks off Tour victory as Evenepoel edges Pogacar, Vingegaard

Updated 18 July 2024
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Carapaz ticks off Tour victory as Evenepoel edges Pogacar, Vingegaard

  • EF rider Carapaz dropped Simon Yates and soloed the final 10km to win his first ever Tour de France stage after finishing third overall in 2021
  • Stage 18 on Thursday is billed as one of the prettiest, with lakes and mountains in Haute Provence and an opportunity for the one-day specialists during a 179km ride from Gap to Barcelonnette

SUPERDEVOLUY, France: Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz won stage 17 of the Tour de France after the remnants of a breakaway finished ahead of the main pretenders in the High Alps on Wednesday.

EF rider Carapaz dropped Simon Yates and soloed the final 10km to win his first ever Tour de France stage after finishing third overall in 2021.

The former Giro d’Italia champion, who won the Tokyo Olympics road race, also wore the overall leader’s yellow jersey after his efforts in the second stage to Bologna.

“That was a big day for me,” Carapaz said. “I suffered but I put a cross on an objective.”

“How special it feels, I owe so much to my team,” he said of the American Education First team who will be delighted with their two million euros a year new signing.

Overall leader Tadej Pogacar, defending champion Jonas Vingegaard and Remco Evenepoel kept their powder dry until late in the medium mountain run.

The trio then produced an entertaining scrap with third-placed Evenepoel finishing 12 seconds ahead of Pogacar, with Vingegaard losing two seconds to the leader.

The relentless Slovenian said his attack was off the cuff.

“I enjoyed it, I don’t know what to say, I tested my legs and theirs. I thought I might be able to get away, so I had a go,” said the 25-year-old Pogacar.

Pogacar had been the first to try his luck and Vingegaard was unable to follow.

Evenepoel however closed the gap while Denmark’s Vingegaard then caught them both on a daredevil descent after picking up the wheel of a teammate who had been in the early attack.

“Well done to Visma for their tactics,” Pogacar said.

Belgian Evenepoel then broke again, and finished strongly to consolidate his third place overall.

A group of over 30 riders broke away early on a balmy day in the south as they climbed to the ski resort of Superdevoluy.

Nursing knee and elbow injuries, Biniam Girmay retained the green jersey for best sprinter with 387 points to Jasper Philipsen’s 354.

“It’s never easy a day after a fall, but I felt okay today,” said the Eritrean who will race at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Girmay spoke excitedly about the reaction back home where he said “from two in the afternoon until the end of the race everyone goes out onto the streets to watch the race or listen to it together.”

Stage 18 on Thursday is billed as one of the prettiest, with lakes and mountains in Haute Provence and an opportunity for the one-day specialists during a 179km ride from Gap to Barcelonnette.

The final three stages are all potential game changers, with Friday’s run taking the peloton to 2,800m altitude before a huge descent.

Saturday is also mountainous and features another downhill finale.

But the final stage could shake up the standings even more with a 34km individual time trial from Monaco to Nice.