2018 Austrian GP – Preview

After a weekend where Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes seized the initiative in their battle with Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari for the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship by winning the French Grand Prix at the Circuit Paul Ricard, the grid heads to Austria, and the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for Round Nine of the championship, and the second leg of Formula One’s first-ever triple-header.

Hamilton (145 points) leads the world championship by 14 points over Sebastian Vettel (131 points) after dominating the first French Grand Prix since 2008 from pole position, leading all but one lap to claim his third victory of the season while all the carnage happened behind him, with Vettel being given a five-second time penalty for colliding with Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, which damaged both of their cars, with Vettel managing to drive his way back through the field to claim fifth, although over a minute behind Hamilton, in what was a strong damage limitation effort.

And with the difficulties for Bottas, Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer driver Daniel Ricciardo (96 points) has jumped back up to third in the championship, despite some difficulties during the race caused by a damaged front wing, which ultimately cost him a podium finish, finishing in fourth position, while Bottas (92 points) moves down to fourth position after a tough race in France, finishing seventh with a wounded car.

Kimi Räikkönen (83 points) is fifth in the world championship for Ferrari after securing his 25th podium in his last 103 races (102 starts), but with no victories in those 25 podiums after finishing third in France after showing some strong pace after a bad start, overtaking his ailing teammate in Vettel, who was struggling with his tyres, as well as the ailing Ricciardo, who had a damaged front wing, to secure his fourth podium of the season.

Max Verstappen (68 points) is sixth in the championship, but is quickly finding some strong form after picking up his third podium of the year, finishing second, and keeping Hamilton honest for much of the race. However, the hopes of Ricciardo, Bottas, Räikkönen, and Verstappen catching Hamilton and Vettel in the world championship battle appear to be evaporating by the race, and are slowly becoming non-serious championship contenders.

Behind the top six in the championship, Nico Hülkenberg (34 points) moves up to seventh in the standings for Renault after finishing ninth at the Circuit Paul Ricard, a position behind his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. in what was a tough weekend for the German after starting in 12th position on the grid.

Fernando Alonso (32 points) has dropped a spot in the championship to eighth after being classified 16th after stopping late in the race with suspension issues with his car in what was a disastrous weekend for McLaren-Honda, while Sainz Jr. (28 points) and Kevin Magnussen (27 points) complete the top 10 in the championship for Renault and Haas-Ferrari.

Looking at the Constructors’ Championship standings, Mercedes (237 points) have extended their lead over Ferrari (214 points) in the championship to 23 points, while Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (164 points) continue to lock down a comfortable third in the championship. Behind them, Renault (62 points) have pulled away from McLaren-Renault (40 points) in the battle for fourth, while Force India-Mercedes (28 points) hang onto sixth position by a point ahead of Haas-Ferrari (27 points), while Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (19 points), Sauber-Ferrari (13 points), and Williams-Mercedes (four points) complete the standings.

So, who will win the Austrian Grand Prix?

I think if the new power-unit from Mercedes gives them the sort of advantage that they had in France, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will be very hard to beat, but I suspect Ferrari will also be a strong contender for the race win, particularly with Sebastian Vettel.

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2018 Dutch TT (MotoGP) – Preview

After a second-straight victory for Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona to continue his form resurgence for the Ducati Team before his move to the Repsol Honda Team next year, the grid heads to Assen in the Netherlands, and the TT Circuit Assen for Round Eight of the 2018 FIM MotoGP World Championship with a very familiar face, as it will be for Lorenzo next year, leading the championship.

Marc Márquez (115 points) leads the world championship for the Repsol Honda Team by 27 points over Movistar Yamaha MotoGP rider Valentino Rossi (88 points) after finishing second at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, bouncing back from the crash at Mugello, but despite putting in an impressive performance, Márquez and his Honda couldn’t match the pace of Lorenzo and his Ducati, something he will be hoping that changes this weekend at a circuit which should be better on paper for Márquez and Honda.

While for Rossi, it was another third-place finish, his third in a row, and his fourth of the season, and despite another strong performance, you sense that Yamaha may struggle to win a race this season, and that Assen might be their best chance to win a race. Right now, Rossi is not a serious championship, and he would know this because the bike hasn’t seriously looked like winning a race in 2018, with the exception of Johann Zarco in the madness of the race in Argentina back in Round Two.

Rossi’s teammate Maverick Viñales (77 points) is third in the championship after finishing sixth in Barcelona, 38 points behind Márquez, and other than his second-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas back in Round Three, the story of his season has been his failure to get a strong start off the line. In every race, except at the Circuit of the Americas, he has been 10th or lower after the opening lap, with his two worst starts of the season coming in the last two races in Italy and Catalunya, losing eight and six places respectively, with many people explaining that his starting woes are due to dealing with a heavy-fuel tank, but I don’t think this is the case.

It is more likely that the problems for Viñales are being caused by either a failure to set-up the bike well enough, which is why Yamaha are struggling in 2018, as well as the inability for Viñales to ride around the problems of his bike to get a good result compared to Rossi and Zarco.

Talking about Zarco (73 points), he is fourth in the championship after finishing just behind Viñales in seventh at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, and is ahead of Alma Pramac Racing rider Danilo Petrucci (71 points), who has been really consistent in 2018, and is currently the leading Ducati in the championship after finishing eighth in Barcelona.

Behind them in the championship is LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow (69 points), who finished a solid fourth in Barcelona, ahead of Lorenzo (66 points), who has of course won the last two races. Lorenzo’s teammate Andrea Dovizioso (66 points), and Team Suzuki Ecstar rider Andrea Iannone (66 points) are on the same amount of points as Lorenzo after disappointing races in Catalunya, with Dovizioso crashing out, and Iannone finishing in 10th position.

Jack Miller (49 points) completes the top ten in the championship despite crashes and technical issues forcing him to retire from the last two races, with Márquez’s teammate Dani Pedrosa (40 points), and Iannone’s teammate Alex Rins (33 points) looking like the strongest contenders from outside of the top 10 to challenge for podiums, and perhaps victories.

So, who will win the Dutch TT at Assen?

I think all 12 of these riders could contend for the victory, and it always produces a great race, but I am going to tip Marc Márquez to win in a titanic struggle with Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.

2018 French GP – Preview

After a dominant victory for Sebastian Vettel in Montreal, achieving his 50th win in Formula One career in the process, becoming just the fourth driver in Formula One history after Michael Schumacher, Lewis Hamilton, and Alain Prost to achieve this feat, and a disappointing fifth-place finish for Hamilton at the Canadian Grand Prix, Round Eight of the 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship takes place at the Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet in France for the first French Grand Prix since 2008, but the first one at the Circuit Paul Ricard since 1990, with only a point separating the two main championship contenders.

Vettel (121 points) leads the world championship for Ferrari by a single point over Hamilton (120 points) heading into the French Grand Prix. Vettel has been good without being dominant in 2018 with his victory in Canada being his third of the season (the most of any driver), but his first since the second race of the season in Bahrain, while Hamilton has been trying to find consistent form for Mercedes with perhaps his two best performances of the season so far being in Australia, where a win was taken away from him due to the circumstances of the virtual safety car back in the opening race of the season, and in Spain, where he won by a dominant 20.593 seconds over his teammate Valtteri Bottas to claim his second victory of the season in a Mercedes one-two in backing up the surprising victory he had in Azerbaijan.

However, beyond Vettel and Hamilton, the battle in the championship is starting to heat up beautifully for third in championship between Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen, and perhaps Max Verstappen.

Bottas (86 points) has regained third in the championship after an impressive second-place finish in Montreal, making it four-straight podiums for the Finnish driver in Canada, while Ricciardo (84 points) slips to fourth for Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer after finishing fourth.

He is ahead of Vettel’s teammate Räikkönen (68 points) in the championship after finishing a disappointing sixth, but is still ahead of Ricciardo’s teammate Verstappen (50 points) in the standing, despite the Dutch driver having his cleanest, and best weekend of the season so far, finishing third from third on the grid after topping all of the practice sessions.

In terms of the battle towards the back-end of the top 10 in the championship, Fernando Alonso and Nico Hülkenberg are both locked on 32 points in seventh and eighth in the championship for McLaren-Renault, and Renault respectively, with Alonso ahead of Hülkenberg in the championship due to a fifth-place finish in Australia, compared to two sixth-place finishes for Hülkenberg.

Alonso will be coming into the French Grand Prix on a high after winning the 2018 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota Gazoo Racing alongside Sébastien Buemi (Scuderia Toro Rosso driver 2009-2011), and Kazuki Nakajima (Williams driver 2007-2009), completing the second leg of the Triple Crown (Monaco Grand Prix, 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Indianapolis 500) he is attempting to achieve after winning the Monaco Grand Prix twice (2006 and 2007), which has been a huge subject in regards to his future in Formula One, as well as the competitiveness of his McLaren.

Only time will tell in terms of what he does next.

Completing the top 10 in the championship is Hülkenberg’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. (24 points), and Haas-Ferrari driver Kevin Magnussen (19 points).

As far as the Constructors’ Championship is concerned, Mercedes (206 points), with a new power-unit coming in time for this weekend, leads by 17 points over Ferrari (189 points), with Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer (134 points) in a comfortable third in the championship. Behind them, Renault (56 points) have pulled away from McLaren-Renault (40 points) in the battle for fourth after a double-points finish for the French constructor in Canada, with Force India-Mercedes (28 points) sitting in sixth position ahead of a battle for seventh in the championship between Scuderia Toro Rosso-Honda (19 points) and Haas-Ferrari (19 points), while Sauber-Ferrari (12 points), and the hapless Williams-Mercedes (four points) complete the standings.

So, who will win the first French Grand Prix since 2008?

Looking at the Circuit Paul Ricard, the layout of the circuit suits Mercedes and Ferrari a little better on paper compared to Red Bull Racing-TAG Heuer, but I am not willing to pick a definitive winner given how tight this season has been, but I think it will either be Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, or Kimi Räikkönen lifting the winner’s trophy come Sunday.

 

 

Catalan GP (MotoGP) – Preview

After another dramatic round in Italy, where Jorge Lorenzo ended his victory drought, and won for the first time on a Ducati after championship leader Marc Márquez crashed out of the race, the 2018 FIM MotoGP World Championship heads to the Spanish city of Barcelona for Round Seven of the championship after an interesting couple of weeks.

Márquez (95 points), despite not scoring a point at Mugello, leads the world championship for the Repsol Honda Team by 23 points over Valentino Rossi (72 points) from the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP, who managed to pick up a third podium of the season after starting from pole position at a venue where he has won at seven times in the premier class from 2002 to 2008.

However, the pace over race distance remains a concern for Yamaha, as shown by Rossi’s teammate Maverick Viñales (67 points), who slipped to third in the championship after an eighth-place, which is his worst result of the season so far, and with a second-place finish in Austin, and a distant second at that, the best finish he has finished in 2018, it doesn’t seem likely, barring any sort of divine intervention, that either Viñales or Rossi will win a race in 2018 based on the current state of play.

Someone who has already won a race in 2018 is the Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso (66 points), who has moved up to fourth position in the championship after a second place finish at Mugello behind teammate Lorenzo, completing a Ducati one-two. However, he knows that won’t be enough if he wants to genuinely compete for the championship with Márquez, and will be keen to win at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend.

Johann Zarco (64 points) is fifth in the championship for Monster Yamaha Tech3 after a disappointing 10th place finish in Italy, and will be looking to rebound this weekend in Barcelona to keep his slim championship hopes alive. Like Rossi and Viñales, he have struggled to get on terms with Márquez, and at the moment, it is very hard at the moment to see Zarco winning a race.

Behind Zarco in the championship is Danilo Petrucci (63 points) in sixth position in the championship for Alma Pramac Racing after finishing seventh at Mugello, but the big news in regards to him is that Petrucci will be joining the Ducati Team next year, while Andrea Iannone (60 points), who sits in seventh position in the championship for Team Suzuki Ecstar after finishing fourth in his home race, announced that he would be heading to Aprilla Racing Team Gresini in 2019.

Completing the top 10 in the championship are Cal Crutchlow (56 points) for LCR Honda, Petrucci’s teammate Jack Miller (49 points), and Jorge Lorenzo (41 points), with the huge announcement that Lorenzo would be leaving the Ducati Team at the end of 2018 to join the Repsol Honda Team to partner up with Márquez in 2019, a move that not many people predicted, but I certainly did! As former MotoGP commentator Nick Harris use to say, “Never Say Never in MotoGP”.

While behind Lorenzo in the championship, Iannone’s teammate Alex Rins (33 points) is 11th in the championship after a strong fifth place finish at Mugello, while Dani Pedrosa (29 points), who will be leaving the Repsol Honda Team at the end of the year is currently 12th in the championship after a crash on the opening lap of the Italian Grand Prix.

So, who is going to win the Catalan Grand Prix?

Despite his crash, and subsequent non-pointscoring finish at Mugello, I am predicting Marc Márquez to bounce back to take victory in Barcelona, with a tight battle in behind between a number of riders who won’t be wanting .

 

 

 

 

2018 FIFA World Cup – Preview and Predictions

The biggest sporting event this year, the 2018 FIFA World Cup is about to begin on Thursday (Friday morning) in Russia with the host nation taking on Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and after a qualification campaign around the world that produced many shocks and surprises, with the likes of the United States (for the first time since 1986), Chile (reigning Copa America champions), and Italy (for the first time since 1958) failing to qualify for Russia 2018, the 21st FIFA World Cup is one that is wide open.

The likes of defending champions Germany, 2014 finalists Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, five-time world champions Brazil, 1998 champions France, as well as the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal, the 2010 champions Spain, the highly-talented Belgium, and the 1964 world champions England are all considered among the favourites for football’s showpiece event.

Germany come into the 2018 FIFA World Cup as the No.1 team in the world according to the latest FIFA World Rankings, and the defending world champions have retained nine players from their squad in 2014, and after blitzing qualifying, winning all 10 matches, the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup champions look to be in prime position for a tilt to win a fifth World Cup, which would equal Brazil’s record.

Argentina are another one of the genuine contenders, with Lionel Messi leading his country for the second-straight World Cup at his fourth World Cup, and after retiring from international football very briefly after the heartbreak of losing the Copa América Centenario final to Chile on penalties, in which he missed Argentina’s first penalty in the shootout, he returned to international football, and after an always tough qualifying campaign in South America, Argentina managed to secure their passage to a 12th-straight World Cup after defeating Ecuador in Quito thanks to a hat-trick from Messi, scoring seven goals in qualifying overall, on what was a dramatic final day in CONMEBOL qualification.

Brazil, however, had an easier path to Russia 2018 after comfortably topping South American qualifying after failing miserably at both the 2015 Copa América, where they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Paraguay on penalties, and the Copa América Centenario, where they failed to get out of the group. However, under Tite, Brazil have looked like a completely different team, winning 17 of the 21 matches they have played under Tite, only losing once. And, despite Neymar coming into the World Cup a touch underdone after three months out with a foot injury, you sense Brazil, as they really always have been, are one of the strong favourites.

France are also primed for a challenge, especially after making the UEFA Euro 2016 final at home, while Portugal, who defeated France to become European champions for the very first time, are capable of achieving anything if Cristiano Ronaldo is at the top of his game.

2010 champions Spain are also contenders, but you feel they are still going through a transition phase after their “golden generation”, while Belgium and England, who are both in the same group (Group G) are dark-horses should a path open for them, particularly for Belgium, who should be ready to make a serious challenge for the Cup, while for England, I think they can also go far, but I think 2022 in Qatar will be a better bet for England should the influence of Pep Guardiola, who coaches Manchester City, spread across English football fully.

However, the likes of Switzerland, Poland, Peru, Denmark, Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia, and Croatia are capable, on paper, of putting up a huge challenge to the highly-fancied teams.

Switzerland, Poland, and Croatia have been consistent teams in Europe for a number of years, with Denmark also being a dark-horse to go deep in Russia 2018. Uruguay qualified second in CONMEBOL qualifying behind Brazil, with Colombia managing to qualify automatically after a 1-1 draw with Peru, who also managed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup after knocking out Chile via that draw with Colombia, before defeating New Zealand (2-0 on aggregate) after a scoreless first leg in Wellington.

However, if a team outside of Europe and South America is going to win the World Cup for the first time, it will be Mexico, who have qualified and participated in the last seven World Cups, including this one, as well as being exposed to South American football on a semi-regular basis by playing in various editions of the Copa América, and with world football getting ever closer, you feel like within the next two to three World Cups, someone from outside of Europe and South America is going to win it, and given their consistency over many years, you think Mexico will be that nation outside of Europe and South America to conquer the final frontier first.

As for Australia, I think despite the natural optimism for the team in Australia, I think they are going to struggle to get out of Group C, featuring France, Denmark, and Peru, due to the late change in coaches, as well as the inability to get team chemistry on the field to a high enough level under new coach Bert van Marwijk, because of the late change of coaches and possibly the lack of fitness of some players, to beat France, Denmark, and Peru to make it through to the knockout stages.

However, Australia must build on this campaign, their fourth World Cup in a row, and their fifth overall, and look to build to the future, to build their own team with their own unique style, and to live and learn over a long period of time, to start filling in the puzzle pieces of an infinite journey towards World Cup glory. Australia’s dream must be to win the FIFA World Cup within the next 20 to 40 years, and to become the first team from the AFC to do so!

However, should Australian football not go down this path, it will be impossible for Australia to achieve World Cup glory.

So, who is my tip to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

After thinking about this for a little while, and although I concede they may not have the strongest squad on paper, compared to the other pre-tournament favourites, I have got this gut feeling that Argentina are going to become world champions for the third time.

With the world of international football getting ever tighter, and Russia 2018 will be overall the closest yet, it is going to come down to the players who will produce their best in the key moments, or produce a piece of individual brilliance to move their team through to the next round of the competition and potentially to World Cup glory, and in my opinion, this FIFA World Cup will be Lionel Messi’s tournament, taking out the Golden Ball for the second-straight World Cup and the Golden Boot, but this time, like his hero Diego Maradona in 1986, Messi will take Argentina, after 32 years, to unforgettable World Cup glory!