2017 Italian Grand Prix – Preview

The 13th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at Monza in Italy, and the battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton is set to explode, and likewise between Ferrari and Mercedes with only eight races remaining in the season.

Vettel (220 points) for Ferrari leads by a slender seven point margin over Mercedes driver Hamilton (213 points) as we head towards the most important stages of the season. Both drivers haven’t had to retire from a single race so far in 2017, and have finished inside the points in every single race, and in fact, the lowest finish both drivers have had in 2017 has been a seventh place finish (Vettel at Silverstone, Hamilton at Monaco).

Overall, Hamilton has the most race victories so far in 2017 with five, compared to Vettel’s four, but the Ferrari driver has had more podium finishes with nine, compared with seven for the Mercedes driver.

The teammates of both Hamilton and Vettel, Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Räikkönen look set to be cast into support act roles for the remainder of the season by both Mercedes and Ferrari respectively as both teams focus on the drivers’ world championship, and their lead drivers Hamilton and Vettel.

Bottas (179 points) is third in the championship, 41 points behind Vettel, and 34 points behind teammate Hamilton, and has had a wonderful season, his first season with the Mercedes team, with eight podiums, and two potentially crucial race victories in Russia and Austria when Hamilton was having a difficult weekend, preventing Vettel, who finished second in both of those races, from extending his championship lead to a greater margin.

However, Bottas will likely be deployed as a number two driver for the rest of the season, but has shown that he is very capable of stealing crucial points away from Ferrari, and in particular Vettel in the championship battle.

However, Räikkönen (128 points), who is fifth in the championship, 92 points behind teammate Vettel, and 85 points behind Hamilton, hasn’t been able to show in 2017 that he can get that crucial victory to help his teammate in the championship, and deny Hamilton of vital world championship points, but has had four podiums so far in 2017.

In saying that though, Räikkönen has been deployed by Ferrari as a number two driver throughout most of 2017, but at some point during the last eight races, he is going to be faced with a scenario where he has going to have to win a race when Vettel is in trouble, or having a difficult weekend to potentially deny Hamilton the championship. Whether he can or not remains to be seen in 2017.

However, someone who can spoil Vettel’s or Hamilton’s championship challenge is Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo, who sits fourth in the world championship on 132 points, 88 points behind Vettel, and 81 points behind Hamilton.

Ricciardo has shown that he has that uncanny knack of getting himself into the right place at the right time to pick up a race victory in Azerbaijan, as well as a further five podiums (all third places) in a car not as quick as either the Mercedes or Ferrari, but his teammate Max Verstappen has had lots of reliability issues with his car.

Currently sixth in the world championship on 67 points, Verstappen has had six retirements in the opening 12 races, most of them mechanical, and needs some luck to go his way, as he has generally been quicker than Ricciardo. I think if his car is reliable, Verstappen can win a race in 2017 in the right conditions, and have an impact on the championship battle.

In seventh and eighth position in the world championship are the two Force India drivers, Sergio Pérez (56 points) and Esteban Ocon (47 points), and while this is not a battle for the world championship, it is battle to settle their futures that has erupted out on the track with collisions in Azerbaijan and Belgium in a feud that has threatened to overheated since Canada.

And while you would suspect, due to his Mercedes connection, that Ocon will remain with the team next year, Pérez has got to be very careful because he could end up without a seat in Formula One next year if this feud continues.

In terms of the Constructors’ World Championship, Mercedes (392 points) lead by 44 points over Ferrari (348 points), with Red Bull (199 points) comfortably in third position, ahead of Force India (103 points), who are equally comfortable in fourth position in the constructors’ championship. After them is a tight battle for fifth in the championship, with Williams (45 points), Toro Rosso (40 points), Haas (35 points), and Renault (34 points) separated by just 11 points, with McLaren (11 points) and Sauber (five points) bringing up the rear of the field.

Fernando Alonso, who is currently 15th in the championship on 10 points, is getting increasingly frustrated about the reliability and performance of the Honda, and has been heavily criticised for perhaps retiring the car in Belgium when it had no problem, which was the eighth time in the 11 races he has competed in during 2017 that his car hasn’t seen the chequered flag, although two of the times he has been classified as a finish.

Unless something dramatic happens at McLaren as far as their relationship with Honda is concerned, Alonso looks set to leave the team, and I believe he could well be heading to Williams, and I doubt he will be worried how much he is paid considering the troubles of the last three years.

Looking ahead to who will win the Italian Grand Prix, I sense it is going to be a tight battle between Mercedes and Ferrari, and I think Vettel might get the victory ahead of Hamilton in front of the patriotic Italian crowd in a thriller.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).

The 53 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).

My thoughts on CBS buying Network Ten

The news that has come through on Monday has the potential to be a massive game-changer, not only for Network Ten, but also for the media industry in Australia.

CBS Corporation has announced that it has agreed to acquire Network Ten and all of their existing platforms, including all of their television channels, as well as their major digital platform TenPlay.

They will also plan to launch its digital/video on-demand subscription service CBS All Access in Australia, and this will provide genuine competition to other services in this area, such as Netflix, Stan, and Amazon among may other subscription video services.

This is fantastic news, but what does it mean for Network Ten in terms of covering big events, such as live sport?

Well, it changes the entire equation as they were under serious threat of losing the television broadcast rights to the Big Bash League, and had already downsized its coverage of other sporting competitions, such as Formula One.

It would seem now, should to ownership acquisition of Network Ten be successful, that not only Network Ten can maintain the broadcasting rights of the Big Bash League, and Women’s Big Bash League, Network Ten can also go after the television rights of other sporting competitions and teams, and be a major competitor against the other major free-to-air networks in Australia, the Nine Network, and the Seven Network.

However, in an added bonus for Network Ten, their greater partnership with CBS could mean that they could potentially gain access to some of CBS’s sporting content, such as the National Football League (NFL) and PGA Tour golf.

However, there are potential contractual issues as far as this is concerned, with the NFL contracted to be shown on the Seven Network, primarily on their digital channel 7mate, until the end of the 2018 NFL season, and ESPN until the end of the 2020 NFL season.

The PGA Tour is currently shown Fox Sports in Australia, with their contract to show the PGA Tour coming to an end at the end of 2018, although they may be more willing to allow Network Ten to show the PGA Tour events that CBS covers, if that is the plan of Network Ten and CBS.

In addition, because of the acquisition of Network Ten, should it be completed by the CBS Corporation, will potentially turn Network Ten from the weakest free-to-air television network in Australia into the strongest free-to-air television in Australia, and this will likely mean they will go after the biggest sporting events and competitions.

This could include the Australian Football League (AFL), the National Rugby League (NRL), international cricket, the Olympic Games (both summer and winter), the Paralympic Games (both summer and winter), the Commonwealth Games, the Rugby World Cup, tennis, the FIFA World Cup, various football competitions around the world, as well as maintaining and extending their involvement in a number of sports that they currently have in their portfolio, including Formula One, MotoGP, Supercars, rugby union (Wallabies home internationals and The Rugby Championship), Saturday night matches in the A-League, plus the final series (which is a simulcast of Fox Sports coverage starting this season), and Australian Football Team matches (starting in 2018) among a host of events that Network Ten, under the ownership of the CBS Corporation, could bid successfully for, changing the landscape of sports broadcasting in Australia.

This is before considering all the other benefits that the CBS Corporation can provide Network Ten in other areas of the business, such as news and program content.

Legendary CBS Sports NFL and Golf commentator Jim Nantz described the victory of Tiger Woods at The Masters in 1997, where he became not only the youngest player to win the green jacket, but also the first African-American player to win at Augusta National Golf Club, as “A win for the ages!”

The acquisition of Network Ten by the CBS Corporation I think will be seen by many at Network Ten as just that, “A win for the ages!”

However, it will also be seen by many people within the network, as well as within the media industry as another great commentary moment from Nantz, when he described Adam Scott’s victory at The Masters in 2013 as “A life changer!”

Let’s hope, especially for Network Ten, that this is a moment that changes their lives!

 

Looking at Australia’s final two FIFA World Cup qualifiers

For Australia, their hopes of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup come down to these final two matches in the third round of qualification in Asia, Japan (away) on Thursday night in Saitama, and Thailand (home) in Melbourne next Tuesday.

Australia, are currently in third position in Group B in the third round of FIFA World Cup qualification for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), equal with second-place Saudi Arabia on 16 points, but behind on goal difference, and one point behind group leaders Japan.

Ange Postecoglou has put together a strong squad for these two critical qualifying matches, including midfield stars Tom Rogic and Aaron Mooy, as well as the one and only Tim Cahill, that could well determine whether Australia qualifies for just their fifth FIFA World Cup automatically or not.

Australia haven’t played since June, where they put in an encouraging performance with their 3-2-4-1 formation, playing their normal possession-based game, at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, achieving two draws against Cameroon (1-1) and Chile (1-1) after a narrow loss against world champions and eventual winners Germany (3-2).

However, like at the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup, they will be without regular captain Mile Jedinak for the final two matches of the qualification campaign due to a groin injury.

Australia will come against a Japan team that is under serious pressure, with talk surrounding the future of their coach Vahid Halilhodžić, with some reports suggesting that he could be sacked if they were to lose against Australia.

Japan have plenty of quality players, led by the likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Makoto Hasebe, Shinji Okazaki, Yūto Nagatomo, and Maya Yoshida, who have combined for 560 international caps like most of the players in the Japan squad, are playing at the top clubs in Europe, and will pose a significant danger for Australia in Saitama, especially Honda, Kagawa, and Okazaki, who have combined for 114 goals in 286 appearances for Japan.

It should be noted though that Japan are guaranteed to finish in third at least in Group B, which would mean they would face the third-place team from Group A in a two-leg playoff, with the winner going onto play the fourth-ranked team from CONCACAF qualification section in a two-leg playoff to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

However, they would not want to go through that kind of torture, and would want a win against Australia in front of their home crowd in Saitama on Thursday night to qualify for just their sixth FIFA World Cup.

However, Australia won’t want that to happen, and will be wanting at least a draw against Japan before coming home to play Thailand in Melbourne next Tuesday night for what will likely be a must win clash to gain automatic qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

However, Thailand won’t be an easy match for Australia, as Australia found out for themselves in Bangkok in November last year, when they had a two-all draw, the third match in a run of four draws for Australia.

After 57 minutes of that match, Australia were trailing by two goals to one after a double from Teerasil Dangda, but a goal from Mile Jedinak eight minutes later completed his own brace, and salvaged a much needed draw for Australia at that stage of the campaign, the fifth match of the campaign.

In fact, Australia are undefeated throughout the third round of FIFA World Cup qualifying in Asia with four wins and four draws, but face the potentially real possibility of not qualifying automatically for Russia 2018, even if they were to remain undefeated.

However, you would think that four points for Australia in the final two matches against Japan on Thursday night and Thailand next Tuesday night should be enough for Australia to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, should results go their way, but winning both of their last two matches will qualify them for Russia 2018.

I think Australia will qualify automatically for their fifth FIFA World Cup, but it will not be easy.

New Zealand vs. Australia (TV style) – My call (The Rugby Championship/2nd Test – Bledisloe Cup 2017)

Earlier tonight, I called the third match of the 2017 Rugby Championship between New Zealand and Australia, which was held at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin in New Zealand.

After suffering a huge loss last week against the All Blacks (54-34), the Wallabies were looking to bounce back as a team, especially defensive, where they were exposed massively.

However, it was going to be a tough challenge for the Wallabies, having won only 15 times (out of 73 matches) against the All Blacks in New Zealand.

So, would the All Blacks win the Bledisloe Cup for the 15th-straight year? Or would the Wallabies keep their hopes of reclaiming the Bledisloe Cup alive?

 

Find out right here, and enjoy my sports commentary!

Wests Tigers vs. North Queensland Cowboys (TV style) – My call (Round 25, 2017)

Earlier tonight, I decided to commentate the Round 25 match in the 2017 National Rugby League (NRL) season between the Wests Tigers and the North Queensland Cowboys, which was held at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney.

The Tigers have won 16 of their last 23 matches against the Cowboys, including 13 of their last 19, 12 of their last 17, nine of their last 13, four of their last seven, three of their last five, and their last two matches against the Cowboys.

Overall, the Tigers have won 18 of their 33 matches against the Cowboys, while at Campbelltown Stadium, the Tigers had won four of their seven matches against the Cowboys.

The Tigers came into this match having lost four of their last six matches, while the Cowboys came into this match on a four-match losing streak.

So, who would win this crucial encounter (for the Tigers to avoid the wooden spoon, and the Cowboys to secure a top eight finish)?

Listen right here, and enjoy!

 

Bangladesh vs. Australia – Series Preview

For Australia, the pay dispute is over! For Bangladesh, the opportunity to challenge one of the better teams in world cricket on home soil is here!

It is Bangladesh and Australia in what is set to be one of the more intriguing series in recent times with Australia’s poor record in Asia, having only won two of their last 22 matches they have played in Asia, and while Australia last won a series in Asia back in 2011 (vs. Sri Lanka 1-0), the last time Australia won two test matches in one series in Asia was when they last toured Bangladesh, back in 2006 (2-0).

However, a lot has changed since then with both Bangladesh and Australian cricket, with Australia only the fourth-ranked Test match nation in the world, and Bangladesh, while ranked ninth in the ICC Test Match Team Rankings, are building nicely towards becoming a really strong team in the world of cricket.

However, just like in 2006 when they were led by Ricky Ponting, Australia are being led by a man who is considered by many to be the best batsman in the world in Steven Smith.

Smith in 54 Test matches has scored 5251 runs in 100 innings (14 not outs) at an average of 61.05, with 20 centuries and 20 more scores of 50 or more. However, when you discount his first 14 Test matches from this equation, in 40 Test matches, Smith has scored 4426 runs in 72 innings (11 not outs) at an average of 72.55, with 19 centuries and 15 more scores of 50 or more.

In addition, Smith has scored over 1,000 runs in the previous three years, and with 582 runs already to his name in 2017 with six test matches remaining for Australia this year, he looks set to score 1,000 runs for the fourth calendar year in a row if he continues his current vain of form.

They will also have an aggressive opening batsman in David Warner, a batsman in a similar mould, in terms of approach, to Matthew Hayden, who played in both Test matches of the series in Bangladesh back in 2006.

Warner, unlike Smith, has struggled in Asia throughout his career to date. Warner in 13 Test matches in Asia has scored 790 runs in 26 innings at an average of 30.38, with only one century, and a further five scores of 50 or more to his name.

This is compared to his performances in Australia, where Warner in 33 Test matches has scored 3257 runs in 59 innings (four not outs) at an average of 59.21, with 14 centuries, and a further nine scores of 50 or more.

However, the similarities between today’s Australian team, and the Australian team back in 2006 are few and far between, with a number of players either competing for places in the team, or wanting to find better form, particularly in Asia on turning pitches.

And although Australia will be without Mitchell Starc, they will have a strong two-man pace attack in Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins, supported by Nathan Lyon and Ashton Agar.

Both Hazlewood and Cummins performed well in the Test series against India earlier this year, with Hazlewood getting nine wickets in seven innings at an average of 32.77 in four matches, while Cummins, in his long-awaited return to test match cricket got eight wickets in three innings at an average of 30.25 in two matches.

However, it is batting, outside of Smith, that remains the question mark in Asia. Warner needs to improve his record in Asia, Matt Renshaw needs to continue his improvement at such a young age, Usman Khawaja needs to show all of us that he can play against quality spinners on turning pitches, Peter Handscomb must continue to show us that his technique can survive, both in an attacking and defensive way, on slower pitches, Glenn Maxwell must continue to show that he has the temperament for test match cricket, and Matthew Wade must continue to show that he can be dependable when the going gets tough, as well as be solid and secure with the gloves in the field.

That is without considering how strong their opposition is, particularly in their familiar conditions.

Bangladesh have really improved as a cricket team, particularly over the last three to five years, led by their wicketkeeper batsman Mushfiqur Rahim, who has been in sensational form with the bat so far in 2017, scoring 515 runs in eight innings (two not outs) at an average of 85.83 in four matches.

The other key players for Bangladesh include Shakib Al Hasan, Tamim Iqbal, Soumya Sarkar, Mehidy Hasan, and Mustafizur Rahman.

Shakib Al Hasan has been in terrific all-round form in 2017, scoring 550 runs in 10 innings at an average of 55, as well as taking 17 wickets in 10 innings at an average of 41.05 in five matches.

However, the big bowling threat to the Australian batsman has to be Mehidy Hasan. In his debut Test series, which was at home against England last year, he was a revelation, picking up 19 wickets at an average of 15.63 during the two match series, including picking up career best innings (6-77) and match figures (12-159) in the second test match of that series in Dhaka, the venue for the first test of this series, to help Bangladesh to their first-ever Test match victory against England. Even though he has struggled since then, this will be his first test match in Bangladesh since then, and the Australian batsman will be very worried about what he can produce.

So, who do I think will win the series?

If the weather is fine for both test matches, and the forecast doesn’t look encouraging for the first test match, which starts on Sunday from the Shere Bangla National Stadium in the Dhaka suburb of Mirpur, I believe we could have a very competitive series. I believe Australia will win the series, but it may only be a 1-0 series victory.

2017 MotoGP British GP – Preview

The 12th round of the 2017 MotoGP World Championship takes place this weekend at the Silverstone Circuit in the United Kingdom, and after a titanic battle between Ducati and Honda, and in particular Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez at the Red Bull Ring in Austria a couple of weeks ago, MotoGP is set to roar into action at the home of British motorsport.

Márquez heads into the British Grand Prix with the championship lead on 174 points on his factory Honda after finishing second at the Red Bull Ring last time out, 16 points ahead of Dovizioso, who is on 158 points on his factory Ducati after winning the Austrian Grand Prix a couple of weeks ago, which was his third race victory of the season. This is the most victories by a rider on a Ducati in a season since Casey Stoner back in 2010, who won three races in that season.

Maverick Viñales is third in the world championship on 150 points, 24 points behind Márquez after finishing sixth at the Red Bull Ring on his factory Yamaha, and is nine points ahead of his teammate Valentino Rossi.

Rossi, who will start in his 300th premier class race on Sunday, is fourth in the world championship on 141 points. The factory Yamaha bike has been performing inconsistently of late, and things will need to change at Silverstone, a track that should suit them, especially if the conditions are cool.

Fifth in the championship is Dani Pedrosa. The teammate of Márquez is currently on 139 points after achieving three podiums in the last three races, and is still in championship contention, 35 points behind Márquez in the world championship battle.

Johann Zarco is a clear sixth in the world championship on 99 points after finishing fifth at the Austrian Grand Prix a fortnight ago, and has finished inside the points in all but one race, which happened to be at the opening race of the season in Qatar.

He is 20 points clear of Dovizioso’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who sits seventh in the championship on 79 points after a fourth place finish at the Red Bull Ring. It has been a tough season for the Spaniard who has only achieved a single podium finish so far in 2017, by far his worst season in the premier class in this regard since he made his debut in 2008.

Lorenzo is closely followed in the championship by Jonas Folger (77 points), Cal Crutchlow (76 points), and Danilo Petrucci (75 points), with four points separating Lorenzo in seventh and Petrucci in 10th.

Looking ahead to the British Grand Prix, only the top 10 riders in the standings have made it onto the podium, with only the top five riders winning races so far in 2017.

This looks set to continue again, however, if two riders were to break through to claim a race victory in the remaining seven races in 2017, it would likely be Johann Zarco and Jorge Lorenzo.

As far as the circuit characteristics are concerned, this should be the perfect place for Yamaha to hit back in the championship, and both Viñales and Rossi need a victory to kick-start their championship challenge.

Viñales hasn’t won since the French Grand Prix back in May, while Rossi hasn’t won since claiming his sole victory of the season so far at the Dutch TT back in June, and considering the cooler conditions that you usually expect at Silverstone at this time of year, and considering the performance of the Yamaha in cooler conditions this year, both Viñales and Rossi should be considered the favourites to win this weekend.

However, if Yamaha aren’t on song again, then we can expect Honda to be very strong, and their bike has really improved recently, and both Márquez and Pedrosa have greater confidence with the front of the bike, particularly under braking.

And while you cannot rule out Ducati this weekend, I believe that the Yamaha will be stronger around Silverstone, and both Viñales and Rossi are due to break their victory droughts. However, if the Yamaha doesn’t prove to be the stronger bike, I expect Márquez on his factory Honda to move one step closer towards his fourth premier class world championship, and his sixth world championship across all classes.

 

MotoGP Practice on Friday at 9:55am, and 2:05pm local time (6:55pm, and 11:05pm AEST). MotoGP FP3 on Saturday at 9:55am local time (6:55pm AEST), FP4 on Saturday at 1:30pm local time (10:30pm AEST), Q1 and Q2 on Saturday at 2:10pm and 2:35pm local time (11:10pm and 11:35pm AEST). MotoGP Warm Up on Sunday at 11:00am local time (8:00pm AEST), and MotoGP race on Sunday at 3:30pm local time (12:30pm Monday morning AEST).

2017 Belgian Grand Prix – Preview

The 12th round of the 2017 Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One World Championship takes place this weekend at the famed Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium, and with nine races remaining in the season, the battle between Mercedes and Ferrari is set to explode!

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel (202 points) leads the world championship by 14 points over Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton (188 points) as the Formula One grid returns to racing after the summer break.

Vettel comes into the 12th race of the season having won four times in 2017 (Australia, Bahrain, Monaco, and Hungary), as well as claiming a further four podiums (China, Russia, Spain, and Austria) as he aims to win his fifth world championship, and win Ferrari their first drivers’ world championship since 2007.

Hamilton has also had four wins this season (China, Spain, Canada, and Great Britain), but only a further two podiums (Australia, and Bahrain), and has dominated on Saturdays, claiming six pole positions, as he aims to claim his fourth world championship.

Talking about pole positions, if Hamilton does grab pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix, he will equal Michael Schumacher’s record for the most pole positions in Formula One, at a place where Schumacher has won on six occasions.

However, as far as the championship is concerned, both Vettel and Hamilton have to be wary of Valtteri Bottas. The teammate of Hamilton is currently on 169 points, 33 points behind Vettel in the championship after taking two victories (Russia, and Austria), as well as a further six podiums (Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Azerbaijan, Great Britain, and Hungary) as he looks to challenge for his first world championship.

In fourth in the drivers’ world championship is Daniel Ricciardo. The Red Bull driver is on 117 points, 85 points behind Vettel in the championship after taking a single victory in 2017 (Azerbaijan), as a part of a run of five consecutive podiums, which included podiums in Spain, Monaco, Canada, and Austria.

Kimi Räikkönen is fifth in the world championship on 116 points, and will remain at Ferrari until the end of 2018. While he hasn’t taken a race victory so far in 2017, he has had four podiums (Russia, Monaco, Great Britain, and Hungary), and will be looking for another one at Spa-Francorchamps, a place where he has won at four times.

Max Verstappen is sixth in the world championship on 67 points in a troubled season where he has encountered a number of reliability issues, and been involved in a number of on-track incidents, most notably in Hungary, where he collided into his teammate Ricciardo, causing Ricciardo to retire from the race, and receiving a 10-second time penalty as a result, costing himself and his team a number of points.

The two Force India drivers follow in the world championship standings, with Sergio Pérez (56 points), and Esteban Ocon (45 points) separated by just 11 points in their intra-team battle, with at least one Force India driver finishing in the points in 10 of the 11 races so far in 2017, with double-points finishes in nine of those races.

Carlos Sainz Jr. is ninth in the drivers’ world championship for Toro Rosso on 35 points, ahead of Renault driver Nico Hülkenberg, who is 10th in the championship on 26 points.

As far as the Constructors’ World Championship is concerned, Mercedes lead the way on 357 points, 39 points ahead of Ferrari, who are on 318 points. Red Bull are comfortably in third spot on 184 points, with Force India in fourth on 101 points.

After this, there is a massive battle for fifth in the constructors’ championship, with Williams (41 points), Toro Rosso (39 points), Haas (29 points), and Renault (26 points) all within 15 points as we head into the final nine races of the season.

McLaren are ninth in the world championship on 11 points, with Sauber behind them on just five points.

Looking at who I think will do well at Spa-Francorchamps, I think this circuit should suit Mercedes extremely well, with the long, fast straights in sector one and sector three, and the long medium and fast speed corners suiting this year’s Mercedes perfectly.

And while you cannot rule out Ferrari here, you would suspect this is the perfect place for Hamilton, who will start in his 200th Grand Prix on Sunday, to make a charge towards his fourth world championship.

 

The first two practice sessions (90 minutes each) are on Friday at 10am and 2pm local time (6pm and 10pm AEST).

The final practice session (60 minutes) and qualifying is on Saturday at 11am and 2pm local time (7pm and 10pm AEST).

The 44 lap race is on Sunday from 2pm local time (10pm AEST).

My thoughts on the NRL salary cap debacle

The salary cap and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has been a hot talking point in the National Rugby League (NRL), and while the clubs and the NRL themselves have agreed to having a salary cap of $9.4 million salary cap ($9.2 base salary cap, plus $200,000 for long serving and development players), the players are not willing to agree to offer being laid down to them.

The major sticking point for the Rugby League Players Association (RLPA), who are representing the players in these negotiations is the CBA itself, rather than the proposed salary cap of $9.4 million, with a number of current players, including Melbourne Storm, Queensland, and Australian captain Cameron Smith being involved in the negotiations between themselves and the NRL.

However, the growing worry for the NRL, and more importantly, the game of rugby league, is that the players within the NRL may decide to boycott a number of events, including the Dally M Awards, and more concerning, the 2017 Rugby League World Cup.

This is all due to the possible fact that the players may not be able to agree to the terms to the CBA of $1 billion that the NRL has offered them due to the RLPA wanting to clarify a number of issues within the CBA.

Looking at this, one of the things that may be affecting the CBA is the money coming from the broadcast rights, particular the television broadcast rights.

The players it seems, from the outside looking in, do not believe that they are getting the level of money that they deserve. However, what I don’t think the players understand is the complicated issue with media organisations and television networks in Australia, who are not willing to pay beyond their means for live premium sporting content, such as the NRL, meaning that the players may not be getting the amount of money overall in their CBA as they were expecting.

This is something that I touched upon when looking at the recent pay dispute between Cricket Australia, and the Australian Cricketers Association, which has been resolved, in regards to the Nine Network, who also have the free-to-air rights of the NRL, not willing to spend beyond their means to gain live premium sporting content.

It is a similar story for the Seven Network, who have the rights for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, in regards to their spending ability for live premium sporting content, while Network Ten face an uncertain future due to their mass financial and ownership issues, which will likely see them lose the rights to the Big Bash League at the end of this coming season.

And, because of the increased technology in the ways you can watch live sport, and in this case rugby league, means that the radio broadcasting rights are not worth as much as what they were in the past, which would also contribute to the amount of money within the CBA not being as great as the players would want.

However, what is of greater concern is the possible boycott of the 2017 Rugby League World Cup from NRL players, something which must have the Rugby League International Federation (RLIF) extremely concerned, and potentially very angry indeed, considering the amount of traction the international game has gained since the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

If the players in the NRL were to boycott the 2017 Rugby League World Cup, they could potentially face huge punishments from the RLIF, especially in terms of not being allowed to play international rugby league for essentially bringing the game of rugby league into disrepute, and it could result in the failure of international rugby league in a broader sense.

I hope that the pay dispute in the NRL doesn’t come to this, but it could well happen, and it would be an absolute travesty for the game of rugby league.

And, if the boycott does happen, I would be considering massive bans, and fines, if I was the RLIF, to players involved in the strike as a way of showing that no one group is bigger than the game, and that they must show the game the utmost respect.

Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs vs. Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (TV style) – My call (Round 24, 2017)

Earlier today, I commentated the Round 24 match in the National Rugby League (NRL) between the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, which was held at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.

The Bulldogs, who have lost their last four matches, and are under pressure from all quarters, have actually won nine of their last 12 matches against the Sea Eagles, including seven of their last nine, and six of their last eight.

The Sea Eagles lead the overall record against the Bulldogs, having won 64 of their 126 matches between each other, but need to find some form to make sure they secure their finals place, having lost four of their last six matches, including three of their last four.

So, who would get the two competition points?

Find out here, and enjoy my sports commentary! (Apologies for the croaky voice and sore throat!)