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Why Hamilton can still win the F1 drivers’ crown

November 10, 2016 in Opinion

The Brazilian Grand Prix has served up incident-packed races ever since it first appeared on the F1 calendar in 1973.

And a good dose drama at Interlagos is exactly what Lewis Hamilton needs if he is to take the drivers’ championship into the final round in Abu Dhabi.

rosberg

Hamilton cannot afford to see Rosberg celebrating a win in Brazil

His Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg will take the crown if he wins either of the year’s two remaining races, or by finishing with at least one second and third place even if Hamilton wins in both Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

So can Hamilton snatch the title out of the German’s grasp despite trailing him by 19 points?

Most petrolheads will tell you that Interlagos is a circuit that produces tantalisingly good races – contests that, down the years, have seen many championships won and lost.

So Britain’s three-time F1 champion only needs to glance through the Brazilian GP’s history to be hopeful of derailing Rosberg’s title dream.

Comebacks and drama

In 2006, Michael Schumacher proved the circuit is one for overtaking. Starting from 10th position on the grid, the German did an astonishing job after falling to 19th position due to a flat tyre.

The seven-time world champion returned to the race, having almost been lapped, and carved his way through the field to finish in fourth place.

“Hamilton will take confidence from replaying his 2008 outing at Interlagos, showing that miracles in Brazil can happen.”

‘Schumi’s’ performance was agonisingly not enough to win his eighth drivers’ crown, as Fernando Alonso successfully defended his title.

Hamilton will also surely take confidence from replaying his own 2008 outing at Interlagos, showing that miracles in Brazil can happen.

After adopting a conservative strategy to secure at least 5th place, and the title, a late-race rain shower caused unexpected problems.

Hamilton wins the championship at the last corner in Brazil 2008

Hamilton was pushed down to 5th place by Timo Glock who didn’t enter the pits for intermediates like most others.

With just three laps to go, Sebastian Vettel overtook the Briton which meant Hamilton would end up with equal points to Massa, but with one fewer victory.

Against all expectations Vettel and Hamilton were able to overtake Glock, who had lost all grip with his dry-weather tyres, in the very last corner of the race.

This meant that Hamilton ultimately grabbed the fifth place he needed to become champion.

The 2009 season saw more drama as Jenson Button sealed the drivers’ championship with a sublime recovery drive, starting in 14th but finishing fourth.

In 2012, the outcome of the championship remained in doubt until the final lap, as Vettel – who fell to the back of the field on the first lap – drove a gritty race back through the pack to seal the title.

Although Hamilton is yet to win in Brazil, he can take confidence in denting Rosberg’s maiden title hopes from the tracks record of drama.

Weather

Rain is nothing out of the ordinary at Interlagos in November, and so the weather might also give Hamilton a helping hand.

He won’t have forgetten the Monaco GP earlier this year, which he won in in wet conditions while Rosberg struggled home in seventh place.

Inclement weather often courses havoc in F1, with drivers’ race strategies hit by puddles and spray, while chopping and changing tyres from full wets, to intermediates and back to slicks can often catch them out.

rain-in-interlagos-in-2013

Rain is a regular occurrence at the Brazilian GP

The forecast for Sao Paulo suggests there is a chance of low temperatures and showers on Saturday and Sunday.

Another seventh placed finish for Rosberg and a win in the wet for Hamilton would leave the pair level on 355 points going into the final weekend in Abu-Dhabi.

Three of the last six race weekends in Brazil have featured wet weather.

Combine that with Interlagos being a tight, twisty circuit which dries out quite quickly, and unpredictability is almost guaranteed.

For example, Nico Hulkenberg won a surprise pole position for Williams on a drying track in 2010.

A full-on wet race could also swing the balance towards Red Bull who have looked strong in the rain this season.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen finished second in a wet British GP earlier this year with Hamilton winning, Rosberg third and Verstappen’s team mate Daniel Ricciardo fourth.

Rosberg overdue bad luck

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Hamilton breaks down in Malaysia

Over the course of the year Rosberg has surprisingly only won one more race than Hamilton, despite the large points difference between the two.

Hamilton has had the lump sum of bad luck between the pair. You only need to glance at the table below to see that Rosberg is due a blip.

Race’s in which Mercedes drivers have had problems

Race order Driver Problem
Bahrain Hamilton Hamilton suffered a first-corner collision dropping to 7th; he fought back to 3rd
China Hamilton Hamilton started at the back of the grid due to a power unit failure; he finished 7th
Russia Hamilton The Brit started 10th after an engine failure in qualifying; he finished 5th.
Spain Hamilton & Rosberg Rosberg and Hamilton collided on the first lap resulting in both not finishing the race
Canada Rosberg The German finished 5th after suffering a slow puncture during the race
Austria Rosberg The German turned into a corner late as Hamilton tried to pass around the outside and damaged his front wing, finishing fourth. Rosberg was given a 10-second penalty.
Belgium Hamilton Hamilton started in 21st place on the grid, after a raft of engine penalties resulting from failures early in the season. He fought back to third.
Malaysia Hamilton Hamilton’s title hopes were dealt a heavy blow when his engine failed as he led the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Just one error for Rosberg will blow the championship wide open, be it in the wet conditions he’s struggled in this season, the drama the Brazilian GP often throws up or an overdue car performance issue for the German.

If Hamilton can emulate his hero Senna and notch his first win at the late Brazilian’s home circuit; the current world champ could bolster his chances of defending his crown and taking it right down to the wire in Abu-Dhabi.

Iacono flies high to win Red Bull Street Style final

November 9, 2016 in I Was There

For many people, football’s international break is a chance to catch up on missed shows such as The Walking Dead or Eastenders. For others like myself it was a chance to delve into a new sport. 

After coming across Sky Sports’ promotion of the Red Bull Street Style world final on their website, I was filled with curiosity.

With the winter months in full flow, most people would be against the idea of going out on a chilly, blustery evening, but I was willing to broaden my horizons and watch a new sport.

Tickets cost £10 – peanuts in an age when prices to see elite sportspeople in action tend to be excessive and immoderate.

A tenner to witness some breathtaking displays of showboating in a world final was without doubt value for money.

The event took place at the Roundhouse in Camden, north London, and I was filled with excitement and eagerness to see a different style of football.

History 

The Red Bull Street Style is freestyle football’s premier tournament, where the world’s top tricksters go head-to-head against one another in a bid to impress the judges with their extravagant abilities.

The competition burst onto the scene in Brazil in 2008 and has also taken place in South Africa, Italy and Japan.

The 2014 event, back in Brazil, saw the most fluent freestylers from 44 nations battling it out for the biggest prize within their sport.

Britain’s Andrew Henderson, who has performed at Old Trafford and put Barcelona’s Neymar to the test in a freestyle battle, captured his first title with some dazzling showboating.

The rules are pretty straightforward. Three minutes, two players, one ball and one victor.

Atmosphere 

As I warmed up with burger and chips, excitement rippled through the Roundhouse crowd as it was announced that former Manchester United and England defender turned TV pundit Gary Neville was on the judging panel.

Gary Neville watching some skills on show

He was joined by Sean Garnier, the winner of the very first Red Bull Street Style in 2008.

Since then, the French star has been influencing and tracking the pulse of the sport and his name needed no introduction to the fans of freestyling.

The cheers were deafening for both Garnier and Sky Sports pundit Neville and the volume only kept increasing.

The atmosphere around the place was louder than most match days at the Emirates Stadium, with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ whenever someone did something amazing with the ball, plus moans and groans when competitors failed to get out of their comfort zone.

It was a superb showcase of jaw-dropping tricks and seemingly impossible transitions that left everyone astounded.

Talent on show 

With the biggest names in freestyle looking to stamp their authority on proceedings, the level of competition was so high that no-one was safe from elimination.

Portugal’s Ricardinho, one of the favourites to win, went out in the quarter-finals.

Another casualty was Ireland’s Daniel Dennehy, who oozed class and ability but was defeated by Carlos Alberto Iacono, the man from Argentina who was hoping it would be third time lucky in 2016.

After coming up just short in the last two tournaments, the man nicknamed ‘Charly’ was determined to claim the crown in London.

Donchet double

Ahead of the men’s final, the world’s best female freestylers got their chance to show off their talents.

The final between Melody Donchet of France and Poland’s Aguska Mnich was a truly gripping encounter.

In the semi-finals, Donchet had seemingly given her all to defeat long-time rival and double world champion Kitti Szasz of Hungary.

But there was more to come from her. In a fearless performance, the French star defeated Mnich with seamless transitions from standing to sit-down tricks and back up again.

Donchet’s ability to persevere when most fans felt she had nothing left in her bag of tricks was simply remarkable.

She secured her second consecutive title and, in the process, elevated her reputation to a new high.

Iacono on top 

In the men’s final, Iacono managed to get the monkey off his back by defeating Japan’s Kosuke Takahashi.

The Argentinian’s ability to ignore the noise from the crowd was one of the main reasons to why he delivered on the big stage.

Iacono celebrates his final win

At times it seemed like Iacono did have wings as he delivered the technical moves for which he is best known.

He sealed victory with one of the hardest handstand tricks ever seen, as he juggled the ball flawlessly on his calf.

Russian’s Anatoliy Yanchev earned third with a respectable performance, however Iacono’s feat earned him a rousing reception from the arena and his piece of history showed that you should never give up under any circumstances

As he admitted afterwards: “After losing several times, I was discouraged. But my heart told me you have to try again.”

And boy, did he deliver.

For more information about the competition, visit the Red Bull website.

RB Leipzig – Germany’s most hated football club

November 2, 2016 in News & Features

MK Dons have never been very popular outside of Milton Keynes among football fans because of their ‘Franchise FC’ roots.

But imagine how despised they might now be if they had gatecrashed the Premier League a few seasons after assuming Wimbledon’s identity, throwing wads of cash around in the process.

About as hated as Red Bull Leipzig are by other Bundesliga fans…

RBL gained promotion to the German top-flight last season, and it’s fair to say the rapid rise of the former East German minnows has enraged supporters of rival clubs.

The reason for the widespread antagonism towards them lies in the ‘Red Bull’ part of their name…

Who are RB Leipzig?

Formally known as SSV Markranstadt, they were bumbling along in Germany’s lower leagues until 2009 when the energy drink giant purchased the club and gave it a full makeover, changing its name, club badge, kit, the works.

RB Leipzig fans showing support for their team. Pic by strassenstriche.net ©. flickr creative commons.

Red Bull’s billionaire owner Dietrich Mateschitz had been looking for a club to invest in since 2006, trying without success in cities including Hamburg, Dusseldorf and Munich.

Firm plans were drawn up at one stage to purchase Fortuna Dusseldorf and rename it as Red Bull Dusseldorf, but they became public and were rejected by the club’s members.

Eventually, Mateschitz settled for buying and transforming SSV Markranstadt, and since then has pumped large sums of money into the club.

With RB Leipzig curently second in the Bundesliga, the Austrian is now reaping the rewards – and still spending.

The Bulls made a statement of intent for this season by signing Scottish international Oliver Burke from Nottingham Forest for £13m, and have Andre Wisdom on loan from Liverpool.

Success

Leipzig are the first club from the old East Germany to gain promotion to the Bundesliga for seven years, and Mateschitz has stated he wants them to win it within the next couple of seasons.

Of course, where success is perceived to be the result of becoming a rich man’s play thing, dislike – if not downright hatred – is likely to follow.

Geoff, who is a Brighton-based fans of Bundesliga rivals FC St Pauli, believes RB Leipzig’s achievements run counter to German football’s traditions.

“Germans are proud of their tradition fan culture,” he told me.  ‘It’s what’s attracts many suppporters from outside Germany to clubs like St Pauli instead of the modern football typified by the English Premier League.”

“The involvement of Red Bull financially, their branding and RB’s control of the fan membership is an abuse to the 50+1 rules”

For many, Red Bull’s involvement violates the spirit of German football’s 50%+1 rule, whereby ordinary members have a controlling stake in their local club, and commercial interests can’t gain overall control.

As Geoff explained: “The rules are in place to maintain the fans’ connection/control of the clubs and maintain fairer competition between sides.”

Abuse

Red Bull Leipzig’s meteoric rise has led to opposition fans dishing out abuse. When FC Erzgebirge Aue faced Leipzig in a Bundesliga 2 game, the Aue fans compared Mateschitz to Hitler and RB fans to Nazis.

Rival supporters are now adopting other methods of signalling their dislike, and Geoff said: “The majority of protests seem to be about boycotting periods of games – with a philosophy of if you don’t engage with them and ignore them, they’ll go away.  No interest, and the corporates will move on.”

When Borussia Dortmund played away at Leipzig in September, their supporters stayed away, with one fan group arguing that they wouldn’t travel to support their team against a side that stands “against everything we associate with football”.

However, Leipzig had the last laugh as they won the game 1-0 thanks to a goal from substitute Naby Keita.

Their fans would, of course, argue that the hatred directed at their club is borne out of envy, while pointing to RBL’s impressive youth system which has seen their players representing Germany at almost every level.

The future – more ‘company clubs’?

Red Bull’s sporting investments also include New York Red Bulls in the MLS and Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, not to mention the Formula 1 team.

“I think the response to RB Leipzig being so disliked is to dissuade other companies from getting involved in clubs”

If other companies follow their lead, are we looking at a future where more football clubs have their identities remoulded by corporate ownership in order to achieve success?

Geoff said: “RBL are the first and were unopposed. If others do follow they’ll be in competition with each other and I think it’s more likely for them to struggle.”

He added: “Fans in Germany, even if not directly affected, are very intelligent and able to look further ahead to when they themselves might be affected.

“I think the response to RB Leipzig being so disliked is to dissuade other companies from getting involved in clubs.

“The 50+1 rule is there for a reason, to protect fans’ control of their clubs.  Removing that and the Bundesliga could lose its special qualities and become another EPL with ticket prices and its customers-not-supporters approach.”

Find out more about Geoff and his FC. St Pauli fanbase in Brighton.

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