Hitting the ground running – We go together like sport and beer(virus)

UPDATE: The Australian F1 GP has been cancelled following McLaren’s withdrawal due to a team member testing positive for coronavirus. In the English Premier League, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has also tested positive and they will possibly follow the NBA in suspending the season.


If a ball bounces in a stadium, but no one is there to watch it, is it really sport?


With sporting leagues banning fans from games and postponing and rescheduling like mad, this extension of the “tree in the forest” paradox may become a reality, for the immediate future at least. Originally, this post was going to be a season preview of the upcoming Formula 1 and MotoGP seasons, and it still sort of will be, but with the coronavirus now being categorised as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the start of the MotoGP season has been postponed to 1-3 May in Jerez, Spain. The F1 opening round in Melbourne this weekend is still going ahead as at the time of writing this (Ferrari should consider themselves lucky considering the timing of the travel ban from Italy AFTER they arrived), but there are talks it may be cancelled last minute as free practice starts Friday. NCAA college basketball will complete “March Madness” with no fans and as I was writing this, the NBA issued a statement suspending the season indefinitely with the positive testing for COVID-19 by Utah Jazz player, Rudy Gobert. Both the Jazz and their opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder, have been placed into quarantine. Video footage has surfaced of Gobert poking fun at the coronavirus situation at a previous press conference, by wiping his hands all over the microphones and recorders on the table in front of him as he left…and now he has tested positive.


F1



Last season saw Lewis Hamilton eclipse his nearest rival, fellow Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, by nearly 100 points as he dominated the field towards his sixth world title. Hamilton remains the man to beat heading into the 2020 season, the last year before major structural changes will be made to the cars. Whilst most teams are already looking to 2021, it is still set to be a bumper year for F1 with the continual rise of young drivers, namely Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who is fresh off signing his new 5-year contract with the prancing horses. Ferrari’s disappointment last year was consummated in the penultimate race at Interlagos, Brazil, when Leclerc and teammate Sebastian Vettel made contact with one another which put them out of the race. The men from Maranello will be hoping to end their championship drought (since 2007, with now current Alfa Romeo Racing driver Kimi Raikkonen) as they chase the silver arrows of Mercedes, who have had a stranglehold on the championship during the turbo-hybrid era.


Moving into this season, the analysis into Ferrari’s 2019 power unit was settled by the head governing body although much has been kept under wraps, to the anger of non-Ferrari powered teams. Small wonder many people think the acronym FIA stands for Ferrari International Assistance rather than Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile. Racing Point caused a stir during preseason testing by rolling out a car which looked eerily similar to last year’s Mercedes winning car. Racing Point utilises Mercedes engines, but some of their main rivals have raised questions over the relationship between the two. Meanwhile, Mercedes themselves have developed a new system which baffled in Barcelona pre-season testing. “DAS” or Dual Axis Steering appears to alter the alignment (or “toe”) of the front wheels by pushing or pulling on the steering column which is then believed to aid tyre wear and more importantly benefit the car on circuits with long straights e.g. Monza. Straight line speed is where Ferrari have had a bit of an advantage in recent years, so it seems Mercedes wants total domination of the sport in all facets.


Can someone take it to Lewis this year? That is what I want to see the most, and for the entire season, not just a few races. There’s only so many “We have the best fans here” a man can take! Can Bottas really be the man to do a Rosberg and beat his teammate or can it be Max or Charles with their fearless youthful exuberance? What does Vettel have left in the tank? Many speculate how long he’ll remain in F1, let alone Ferrari. I’m not sure the “blue flags” are coming over the hill to help Seb.


The mid pack battle has piqued my interest more often than not and this year McLaren could rise to the “best of the rest” with both young drivers Carlos Sainz Jr and Lando Norris continuing to improve results. I love our own Daniel Ricciardo, but the Renault is just not at the point of being a competitive car week in, week out.


All in all, I’m looking for multiple battles up and down the leaderboard (and a few good performances from the timeless Kimi), but I’m really hoping someone outside of Mercedes wins for a change, or at least makes them really earn it, but it doesn’t look likely. However, as the legend Murray Walker would say, “Anything can happen in Grand Prix racing, and it usually does.”


If we have any more postponements I’ll just resort to re-watching “Drive to Survive” for my F1 fix, which recently aired season 2 of the highly popular show on Netflix. [Edit: Looks like I’ll be doing that.]


MotoGP



I really didn’t expect to go on about F1 so much so this will have to be brief, and considering they’re not racing until May, I have time, if necessary, to mention them again closer to date.

It was weird only seeing the Moto2 and Moto3 at the opening round in Qatar, the MotoGP paddock kept away by travel bans, but there was still time for a little humour amongst the Petronas team. All the classes of bikes were left there from pre-season testing, so Moto2 rider John McPhee jokingly asked MotoGP rider Fabio Quartararo if he could use his bike, to which Fabio replied “Yes, I think it will be much faster than yours” and the team responded with “The key is under the pot plant.”


Marc Marquez will enjoy the extra rehabilitation time from surgery on his right shoulder in the off-season, but still clearly remains the man to beat after another record-breaking season of riding last year. Yamaha have looked to improve the power and speed of their bike, which has been their Achilles heel and major disadvantage towards Honda and Ducati, and they were reasonably quick in pre-season testing at Sepang, but we’ll see when the flag drops what it actually means.


It’ll be interesting to see how well and how much longer living legend Valentino Rossi will continue to ride for, as Yamaha have chosen Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo to head their factory team in 2021, but have left the option open for a factory bike for Rossi should he wish to continue. Ducati seem to be making little progress, if anything, the gap is widening between them, Marquez and Honda, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a completely new rider line-up in 2021, maybe involving our own Jack Miller.


The schedules and logistics for these sports are phenomenal and down to the minute, and the re-scheduling is loading up the back end of the season and these guys, whilst racing machines, aren’t machines themselves. Safety is always the number one priority in motorsport, and I look forward to seeing them out on track whenever that eventually is.


Oh no, I’ve run over my self-imposed word limit! I knew this would happen sooner or later and I’m only at my second post! Haha! I apologise for that. Restraint will be ensured next week, see you then, who knows what topic I might travel to.

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