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Countdown to big Saudi race has F1 fans awaiting serious action

JEDDAH: Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali is delighted with how hosting the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah has brought an “energy” to the city and confirms how passionate Saudis are about the sport. The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a race ambassador for the grand prix, told Arab News ahead…

Countdown to big Saudi race has F1 fans awaiting serious action

JEDDAH: Saudi trailblazer Reema Juffali is delighted with how hosting the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah has brought an “energy” to the city and confirms how passionate Saudis are about the sport.

The Kingdom’s first female racing driver, who is also a race ambassador for the grand prix, told Arab News ahead of Sunday’s race that the event is having a “massive” impact on the city.

“I mean everyone, the city, my friends and family, everyone is so excited,” she said. “You can feel the energy having an international event like this, with everything it brings, from the concerts and the events, that ripple effect Formula One has is massive,” she said.

“And I understand that now firsthand, especially the fact that I know what my city is and, now, how it’s changed with the Formula One here.

“I guess just the buildup to this weekend, today the race day, we’ve seen quite a few different things over the weekend and every day it has been very, very busy. Usually, you find some days a little less busy, but from the Friday, as soon as the gates opened, getting around you’re weaving through people.

“And I’ve been to other events and it’s generally not that busy on the Friday, so it just shows you how excited the Saudis are and how much they’re looking forward to it.”

Juffali said she feels honored and blessed to be chosen as a race ambassador and to be representing her country on an international level. She told Arab News how important telling her story will be in inspiring Saudi children to get involved in motorsport.

“I think that is what kind of brought this on, and my experience in racing single seaters has been my career and life for the past three years, so it felt like a fitting role for me and something that I very much look forward to taking on,” she said.

“A lot of it has been sharing my story, connecting with Saudis and Arabs alike, giving them a chance to dream of getting into Formula One, making that a dream for them.

“And nice to see, as well, another side to this sport because it’s not just racing, there’s a whole other world, there’s media, engineering, hospitality — it brings so much with it.

“So, I see that as my role, spreading that awareness and allowing people to understand what the sport entails,” she added.

At the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, world championship leader Max Verstappen can potentially clinch the title, but Juffali is hoping the battle between him and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton can be extended for one more week beyond Jeddah, with the season concluding in Abu Dhabi next week.

“It’s going to be interesting. I think we saw that Max was quite eager in qualifying, but you also saw that he has the speed, so it is there,” she said. “It depends on overtaking, but I think that Lewis could potentially be at a disadvantage starting at the front.

“We don’t know that for sure, but it seems like it’s not going to be as simple in terms of overtaking, so I think if he has a good start and it’s a clean race, and we don’t get safety cars (he has a chance).

 

 

“But the more the race is interrupted, the more Max will have a chance, I think. In the end, it’s about getting the championship done in the next race, at least for myself, I want to see it go to the end,” she added.

Away from the Red Sea coast of Saudi Arabia and the glamor of F1, Juffali reflected on her season driving in the UK in the British F3 championship the past year — the first in which she felt she could say she was “an actual racing driver” — and told Arab News that, while she felt she did not reach her full potential on the track, she took away many other victories and lessons from the season.

“My driving was a lot more consistent, I was in the pack, always there or thereabouts and close to a good position,” she said. “Often, something would happen, whether it was a mistake from my side or I got unlucky. So, overall, I don’t think my performance reflected my ability.

“But in terms of confidence, in terms of how I’ve grown as a driver… I felt that connection with the car, what it felt like to be able to translate to my engineer and communicate these things.

“So, there were definitely merits and it was a very enjoyable year, and I will take those to the next stage, which I will hopefully announce soon. Stay tuned, you’ll hear more about it.”

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Serie A on the verge of financial ruin, says Inter CEO Marotta

Formula E champion Nyck de Vries recalls last season’s triumphs and looks forward to another win in Diriyah E-Prix RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver…

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Formula E champion Nyck de Vries recalls last season’s triumphs and looks forward to another win in Diriyah E-Prix RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver back in 2019. Then, in 2021, he broke another duck in Diriyah, this time the first of his two E-Prix victories to date – one that set the course for De Vries to eventually clinch a dramatic maiden championship for both himself and his team. Last year, under lights for the first time in the series’ history, and swaying between the 21 turns that sweep the street circuit of the UNESCO World Heritage site, there was a real romance to the races in Saudi Arabia. And De Vries – who won the first of February 2021’s season-opening double-header – was one of many that were left captivated. “It’s probably unfair to ask a driver what their favourite track is because we’re biassed, but Diriyah is definitely my favourite track on the calendar,” said De Vries on the eve of the 26-year-old’s first defence of his world title. “It treated me well last year and also in my first Formula E race back in 2019. I really like the layout because it’s twisty but fast at the same time, the slowest corner is not actually considered a slow-speed corner according to Formula E metrics. “I enjoy racing there and competing at night makes it a bit more special and unique, at night everything becomes a bit more intense and there’s more emotion.” In ABB FIA Formula E, all of that intensity, all of that emotion, is played out at speeds of up to 280 km/h and Diriyah’s third year on the E-Prix circuit set the tone for a thrilling championship in 2021. De Vries, who also emerged victorious in Valencia two stops later, eventually held out on the final race of the year to secure the drivers’ championship by just seven points. His efforts helped his Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team seal the double by an even finer margin, with four points all the separated Mercedes and Jaguar Racing by the time the chequered flag fell on the final race in Berlin last August. De Vries and Mercedes are now well-polished outfits going into the 2022 championship, but the same couldn’t be said when they entered ABB FIA Formula E hand-in-hand with Diriyah three years ago. “In 2019, I started my Formula E season before I could end my Formula 2 season so there was very little time for me to adapt and get ready,” De Vries reflected. “I did a test in the summer but I remember that we didn’t have a lot of time. It was still a very new team. Not only was I very much a rookie, but I felt like we all were as a team.” Clearly, both driver and team have come a long way since and there has been no let up for either since becoming the first ABB FIA Formula E winners under the FIA’s banner. After the final race in Berlin last year, De Vries went on to contest two rounds of the European Le Mans Series before the year was out and produced fastest times in testing for both IndyCar and FIA Formula One in December. Having described his team’s pre-Christmas testing in Valencia as going “very smoothly”, De Vries – one of the most sought-after drivers in motorsport – says the variety of his packed personal schedule helps ensure the Uitwellingerga-native remains razor sharp behind the wheel. “The only way to keep myself on my toes is to continue to race,” he explained. “I certainly want to stay in Formula E, no doubt about it. I personally believe that it’s important for a driver to stay active and continue practising racing skills in different disciplines.” Despite heading to Saudi Arabia as champion, De Vries isn’t feeling any extra pressure as he moves from being the hunter to the hunted. He added: “I’m very much looking forward to a new season and a new championship. We’re the reigning champions and I’m looking forward to being in a position to defend those championships. We have a lot of positivity and excitement in our team, we’re growing as a family and I’m very much looking forward to a new season. “There’s always pressure, I’m always nervous and I’m always stressed on race days because I care and I want to do well and I want to deliver. But being the reigning champion doesn’t change anything. I’m very grateful that I was privileged enough to experience winning the championship and everything that comes with it but there’s no added pressure.” With that being said, all eyes will be on De Vries when he returns to Diriyah for the first E-Prix of the new campaign from 28-29 January. He will no doubt be looking to write another memorable chapter of his career at the circuit he loves and, with fans back in the grandstands, De Vries was quick to share some advice for any young Saudis looking to take a leaf out of his book and pursue a career in motorsport. “Follow your passion and your dreams,” said De Vries. “No one has the right to take courage away from you or say something is impossible. “It’s a tough journey if you set yourself a goal and you always keep that in mind and work towards that then hard work pays off and further down the line you will get to where you want to be. It’s not always that straight forward but I’d say follow your passions and your dreams and believe in them.”

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Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

The African Cup of Nations has already seen Ghana out, defending champions Algeria finish bottom of their group and now Nigeria eliminated at a relatively early stage after a shock loss at the hands of a COVID-19-ridden Tunisia on Sunday. That result really showed that the trophy could go anywhere, and as unimpressive as Egypt…

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The African Cup of Nations has already seen Ghana out, defending champions Algeria finish bottom of their group and now Nigeria eliminated at a relatively early stage after a shock loss at the hands of a COVID-19-ridden Tunisia on Sunday. That result really showed that the trophy could go anywhere, and as unimpressive as Egypt have been so far, coach Carlos Queiroz’s words after the group stage ended are looking increasingly accurate. “Now the real work begins, and now the real competition will begin,” he said. It was the kind of thing that you would expect such an experienced campaigner to say. After all, Egypt had not impressed in the group stage with a poor, to say the least, performance in a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the opener. It was followed by two unconvincing victories by the same scoreline against Guinea-Bissau and then Sudan. With criticism at home, it was understandable, then, that Queiroz, who took the job in September, wanted to look forward rather than back. Yet the 68-year-old former Real Madrid manager has taken four teams through successful World Cup qualification campaigns and knows what he is talking about. Nigeria were perhaps the best team in the group stage and were certainly the only one to take maximum points. Drawn against Tunisia then in the second round, the Super Eagles, newly installed as tournament favorites, were expected to win. Not only had they been impressive in the first round, with winger Moses Simon a real standout, but Tunisia had been anything but. The North Africans had limped through to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, winning just one game and losing against Mali and Gambia, the latter an embarrassing defeat. All their goals had come in the 4-0 win over Mauritania. The odds were against the Carthage Eagles flying any higher in the tournament. A serious outbreak of COVID-19 in the Tunisia camp lengthened the odds of a win considerably. The federation announced that as many as 12 players out of the 28-man squad had tested positive, including star striker Wahbi Khazri. By the time the Nigeria game rolled around, at least seven players were unavailable. Coach Monhder Kebaier had also tested positive and his duties were taken over by assistant Bilal Kadri. But the Tunisian coaching staff did not use the infections as an excuse at any point. Despite all the problems, or perhaps because of them, Tunisia gave everything, working harder than their opponents, who gave the impression that they expected a comfortable evening. In what was a highly disciplined performance, Tunisia gave Simon no time or space, doubled up on the Nantes star and tried to cut off the supply to the forwards. Nigeria, who had looked the most creative of all the teams in the group stage (though admittedly the bar had been set pretty low by the rest), seemed to have few ideas and only started to come alive after Tunisia took the lead early in the second half thanks to a fierce long-range shot from Youssef Msakni. But a red card given to Alex Iwobi handed the initiative back to Tunisia, and in the end, they recorded a shock but deserved win. The 2004 champions now move into the quarter-finals and a winnable tie against Burkina Faso on Saturday. The extra six days should mean that coach Kebaier can field his strongest team, and hopes are now high. If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off. With Queiroz a big fan of discipline, organization and shape, he will not have that much to learn defensively, but in terms of mood and confidence, Tunisia put the mediocrity of the group stage behind them and went out to win and, importantly, took their chances. It does not matter now how Egypt performed last week. They have a chance to reset, but they must start to take their chances after scoring only two goals in 270 minutes so far. “Look, I promise you, starting from tomorrow they are going to be doing finishing exercises from the morning until the afternoon,” Queiroz said at the weekend. “They just need to score more goals. To only play good football is not enough — we need to build up more goals and with that be more relaxed in the game.” Tunisia’s win over Nigeria serves as a perfect reminder that not only does the tournament start here, but that it is wide open. Ghana are out, Algeria are out and now Nigeria are out. It really is up for grabs.

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Algeria and Ghana handed tough World Cup playoff ties

Mohamed Salah and fellow Arab stars must step up in Africa Cup of Nations knockout stages The group stages of the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations ended with two big surprises — the exit of defending champions Algeria and another of the favorites, five-time title-holders Ghana. A record seven Arab nations started the tournament, but…

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Mohamed Salah and fellow Arab stars must step up in Africa Cup of Nations knockout stages The group stages of the delayed 2021 Africa Cup of Nations ended with two big surprises — the exit of defending champions Algeria and another of the favorites, five-time title-holders Ghana. A record seven Arab nations started the tournament, but only four have booked a place in the round of 16: Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and, most surprisingly, Comoros. Morocco’s was perhaps the cleanest of qualifications, winning group C with seven points from two wins and a draw. The team looked to be on song and were led with distinction by Achraf Hakimi, who scored what may well be the best goal of the tournament so far against Gabon. The Paris Saint-Germain player has been ably backed by Yassine Bounou, the excellent Sevilla goalkeeper,  especially in the opening match of the campaign against Ghana. It was a match settled by a winning goal from substitute Sofiane Boufal, who plays for French Ligue 1 side Angers. Despite being benched in all three group matches, Boufal has shown his worth for coach Vahid Halilhodzic’s team. Seven-time winners Egypt got off to a poor start with an awful performance in the 1-0 loss to Nigeria and after that scraped two narrow wins to progress to the knockouts stages. Star forward Mohamed Salah, fresh from being nominated for the best FIFA men’s player award alongside Lionel Messi and eventual winner Robert Lewandowski, has often looked isolated and scored just one of Egypt’s paltry two goals at the tournament. There seems to be a lack of understanding between the Liverpool star and fellow forward Mustafa Mohamed and Omar Marmoush, an issue that needs to be resolved before Wednesday’s clash with a formidable Cote d’Ivoire team. Egypt recently took part in the FIFA Arab Cup in Qatar without any of their European-based stars, but the return of the players does not look to have improved the team visibly. Another that has disappointed is Arsenal’s Mohamed Elneny, and he and Salah have rarely been subjected to this much criticism from their own fans and media. Coach Carlos Queiroz has yet to find the right formula despite the two wins over Guinea-Bissau and Sudan. Tunisia also were far from impressive, missing three penalties against Mali, Mauritania and Gambia on their way to scraping through the group stages by finishing as one of the best third-placed teams. The missed kicks came from Zamalek’s Seif El-Din Al-Jaziri, Saint-Etienne’s Wahbi Al-Kharazi — who both partially redeemed themselves with one and two goals, respectively —  and captain Youssef Al-Masakni, who plays for Al-Arabi Club in Qatar and had recently recovered from testing positive for COVID-19. The young Manchester United star Hannibal Mejbri, one of the standout players at the Arab Cup, was again expected to take center-stage, but has so far failed to replicate his performances in Doha. The biggest shock of the tournament has been the exit of champions Algeria. Manchester City star and talisman Riyad Mahrez entered the tournament with expectations of becoming the historical top scorer for his country at the AFCON, equaling Lakhdar Belloumi’s tally of six goals. However, Mahrez and his colleagues were humiliated in the group stage, gathering only one point from a draw and two losses. Algeria’s star man even missed a penalty in the comprehensive  3-1 loss to Cote d’Ivoire. Lack of preparation for most teams has been a feature of the early part of the tournament, and Mahrez and rest of coach Djamel Belmadi’s squad have failed to adapt to the pace of the competition, perhaps due to their late arrival in Cameroon. Incredibly Algeria’s defeat in their final group match, coupled with other results, helped unheralded Comoros become the fourth Arab nation to qualify for the knockout stages. The scenes of celebrations that followed their sensational 3-2 win over Ghana — one of the results of the competition so far — will live long in the memory, and showed just what this tournament means to fans and players. While the Pharaohs’ clash with Cote d’Ivoire is the pick of the round-of-16 matches, Morocco will have a somewhat easier confrontation against Malawi, while Tunisia, with a host of players missing after testing positive for COVID-19, will face a thankless task against Nigeria, arguably the tournament’s best team. For Comoros, the party continues against hosts Cameroon on Monday. Whatever happens from now on, it has been an unforgettable experience for them. Individually, stars such as Salah and Mahrez rarely caught then eye in the group stage. Instead, it is the Cameroonian Vincent Aboubakar, who plays for Al-Nassr in the Saudi Professional League, who has been one of the stars, grabbing five goals in the three matches to top the goal-scoring table. But teams and individuals have a habit of strongly emerging throughout a tournament. A slow start often ends up being a prelude to a star turn in the knockout stages. We await Salah and co catching fire in the coming days.

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