F1 Korean Grand Prix Review (4-6 October 2013)

and it’s Oppa Gangnam Style time

PSY’s global phenomenon of a music video has since last year taken the world by storm. Fortunately for the growing country of Korea, same can be said of its Formula One race, which since its inauguration in 2010, has been becoming a driver’s favorite. As the 2013 F1 circus heads to Yeongam, world championship leader Sebastian Vettel has a more than comfortable lead over arch rival Fernando Alonso. With Red Bulls’ increasingly impressive run of wonderful form, the team from Milton Keys will firmly view this race as another great opportunity to put the nail further into the chasing pack’s coffin.

Coming into this grand prix, Vettel and Red Bull have been in the news for oddly the wrong reasons. Rivals from other contending teams, especially Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, have questioned the Vettel-Red Bull combination’s pace in Singapore as being “too incredible”. Hamilton mentioned during the pre-race press conference in Korea that Vettel was so dominant that he managed to put the power down his Red Bull 20 metres earlier out of corners than any other cars on track. That was of course, a massive amount of advantage in terms of traction and permitted the German to cruise to victory, lapping almost two seconds a lap faster than any other competitor at one stage.

Red Bull Racing team principal, Christian Horner insisted that there was no illegal advantage gained in Singapore. ‘It was simply the machinery and driver both working at its best condition at the same time, and other cars on the track were on different tyre strategies.’ , explained Horner.

Needless to say, fans all around the world, admittedly myself included, are hoping for a closer race here. The following are the main features and stats of the Yeongam circuit in Korea.

Race Date: 6 October 2013

Debut: 2010

Circuit Length: 5.615km

Laps: 55

Total Race Distance: 308.825km

Lap Record: 1:41.380 -Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing-Renault, 2013)

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Korean Yeongam circuit overlay with the DRS zone down the main straight out of Turn Two. – http://www.formula1.com

Qualifying was a non-dramatic affair, with Vettel once again claiming pole position over Hamilton with two -tenths to spare. Romain Grosjean in the Lotus managed a valiant effort to take third, with the Saubers of Nico Hulkenberg and Estaban Gutierrez both making into Q3, qualifying seventh and eighth respectively. This marked the first time this season that both cars from the Hinwil squad managed to make Q3 during the same grand prix weekend. Worth noting here though, was the fact that Hulkenberg’s Sauber was setting fastest purple sector times of 36.3s in Sector One throughout qualifying. Not many people thought much about this during then, but the superb first sector performance of the Sauber will come into play in the most surprising fashion come the race.

Sunday came, and as the five lights went out Vettel was again at his imperious form. The perfect start down Turn One, the German stormed away into the lead (though not in his Singapore-dominant fashion), with Grosjean overhauling Hamilton into P2. At the end of lap one, the order was as follow: Vettel (Red Bull), Grosjean (Lotus), Hamilton (Mercedes), Rosberg (Mercedes), Hulkenberg (Sauber) and Alonso (Ferrari).

As the front four pulled away from the Sauber, Alonso behind Hulkenberg struggled to find any way past the German. The main trait of the Yeongam circuit is its lack of overtaking opportunities throughout the track. Of the 18 corners, the only main overtaking areas are down into Turn One, and out of Turn Two into Turn Three, whereby slip streaming and DRS will come into play. However as mentioned earlier, this weekend the Sauber’s Sector One performance was just spectacular, its incredible traction out of Turn Two coupled with a mega straight line speed meant that no car was able to overhaul the Sauber over one lap.

Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus made a great call by coming into the pits one lap earlier than the Sauber, thus succeeding in the undercut and taking over fifth after the first round of pitstops. Hamilton however, was struggling massively with his tyres and was getting hauled in by teammate Rosberg when the latter’s front wing gave in, producing one of the most dramatic moments of this season, as sparks lighted up the track.

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Nico Rosberg (GER) and Lewis Hamilton (GBR) in action down the Turn Two-Three straight. The former’s front wing failure resulting in sparks. – http://www.bbc.co.uk

The first safety car of the race was triggered by McLaren’s Sergio Perez, with the Mexican suffering from another tyre dilamination, though it was less severe than his Silverstone blowout. As the field resumed racing under green flags however, Force India’s Adrian Sutil lost control of his car down Turn Three, collecting Mark Webber in the Red Bull, resulting in another dramatic moment as fire broke out from the Australian’s car.

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More bad luck for the Australian, as often is the case for the sister Red Bull car. – http://www.dailymail.co.uk

During the first safety car resumption, Hulkenberg utilised his superior traction out of Turn Two to take P4 from Hamilton into Turn Three. The Mercedes driver will come to rue this overhaul for the final ten laps of the race, as he failed to pass the Sauber and ended up finishing fifth. Fourth place however, is Sauber’s best result for 2013, and it came at the right time for Hulkenberg. The German is currently on the radar of Lotus for next year’s drive and a brilliant race of defending as such would certainly do his CV no harm.

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Nico Hulkenberg (GER) fends off Lewis Hamilton (GBR) and Fernando Alonso (ESP) for P4. – theformula1.com

As the dust settled, Vettel stormed to his fourth successive victory in as many races, with the Lotus duo of Raikkonen and Grosjean completing the podium. However, the drive of the day and all the plaudits around the paddock were rightly given to Nico Hulkenberg, who definitely drove the race of his life to beat a Mercedes and Ferrari in his obviously inferior Sauber. After the race, Hulkenberg admitted that he and Sauber definitely punched above their weight in Korea, but a well deserved result nevertheless.

With this victory, Sebastian Vettel now has a monstrous 77 point lead over Fernando Alonso with only five races to go. If Vettel wins in Japan next week and Alonso fails to finish at least eighth or higher, the German will become the youngest driver to land his fourth driver’s championship crown at the tender age of 26.

One thing is for certain, the Sebastian Vettel-Red Bull Racing combination: not many will bet against them come the race in Suzuka.

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F1 Italian Grand Prix Review (6-8 September 2013)

Every calendar year, as the F1 circus heads to Italy for the final European leg of the F1 World Championships, there are only two significant aspects which characterizes the Italian Grand Prix – Ferrari and the Tifosi. For Ferrari of course, this is their home grand prix and one which every driver representing the red Prancing Horse would love to win. The Tifosi on the other hand, is by far the most passionate crowd of supporters mankind will ever witness on an F1 track.

Coming into this grand prix, Ferrari drivers Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa will be determined to put on a grand performance in front of their adoring Tifosi. The following are the main features and stats of the Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit.

Race Date: 8 September 2013

Debut: 1950

Circuit Length: 5.793km

Laps: 53

Total Race Distance: 306.720km

Lap Record: 1:21.046 -Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari, 2004)

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Monza Track overlay with two DRS zones. This Monza circuit represents the fastest circuit of the all Formula 1 entries. – http://www.formula1.com

Prior to this race, Red Bull’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel viewed this race as one which his team would struggle the most, taking into account the Red Bulls’ apparent lack of performance down the straights. Therefore, teams such as Ferrari, Mercedes and Force India came into this race with cautious optimism, hoping that their machines’ superior straight line speed would provide them with the appropriate boost to challenge for good positions in the race. This was definitely something Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were fingers crossing for, as they definitely need to take this opportunity to cut into Vettel’s lead which is painfully growing upon every race completion.

However, much to the surprise of the F1 paddock, the Red Bulls dominated all three practice sessions, with only Alonso in his Ferrari chasing Vettel close in Saturday morning’s Free Practice Session 3. Things were definitely looking not so rosy for Vettel’s championship rivals, and come Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session, their fears were inevitably realised in the most emphathic way possible.

The Red Bulls blitzed the field and Vettel led teammate Mark Webber for a front row lockout. The Ferrari cars ran them close for awhile, but eventually had to settle for P4 and P5, with Massa surprisingly out-qualifying Alonso. Championship hopefuls Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen both experienced torrid afternoons, finishing P12 and P11 respectively. The surprise of the session however, to my utmost happiness, was Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who puzzled the formbook to net P3 on the grid. As a Sauber fan I was extremely pleased, and the C32’s recent improvements were wonderfully realised.

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Top 3 qualifiers for the Italian Grand Prix, from left to right: Mark Webber (AUS, Red Bull Racing-Renault), Sebastian Vettel (GER, Red Bull Racing-Renault) and Nico Hulkenberg (GER, Sauber-Ferrari)
Image: Red Bull dominate Italian Grand Prix qualifying – http://www.worldcarfans.com

Came Sunday morning, the questions around the paddock were what can the Ferrari’s pull off come Turn 1 to challenge the Red Bulls. The red cars are well known for their lightning fast launches off the line, and any chance for a race win for them is to take at least one of the Red Bulls right at the start. Elsewhere the Sauber in P3 will be hoping to hang on as long as it realistically can to the leaders. Hamilton and Raikkonen on the other hand, would be hoping to cut through the field in double quick time before the leaders run away with the race.

As the five lights went off, bar a few lockups and Raikkonen unfortunately losing his front wing after collecting the rear of McLaren’s Sergio Perez, most cars got through rather unscathed. The Ferrari’s, as expected, were massive off their lines, with Massa up to P2 and Alonso up to P4. Hulkenberg’s Sauber then subsequently dropped to P5, holding off Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg.

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Smoke up and about as several drivers lock up coming into Turn 1.
Image: http://www.auto123.com

As the race carried on, it was slowly but surely becoming a procession. Eventually, Vettel was running away in front, with Alonso managed to claw his way up to P2, a position he would keep until the end of the race. Webber kept him honest throughout but failed to find a way through. Massa was racy early on, but settled for P4. However, my personal highlight was Hulkenberg’s unexpected great pace right till the end, finishing just a second behind the Ferrari and quite comfortably held off Rosberg’s challenge. With P5 yielding a massive chunk of 10 championship points, this would be a massive tonic to the Swiss team, who has been having a poor season so far.

With this result, Vettel further increased his championship lead over closest rival Alonso up to 53 points. Signs are looking ominous for those chasing the German, with Singapore’s night race coming up next, they might need more than just luck to close in on him.

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Barclays Premier League Review – Season 2012/13 (Part 2)

As the first whistles sounded off on Matchday 1, all the previous seasons’ form books were thrown out of the backseat window, with all 20 teams beginning the season on level terms. The three month summer break was a welcoming sight for the players, but always one which the fans anxiously wait to end, whilst wondering how their respective teams will fare in the new season.

The general consensus was that the title will once again be fiercely competed between champions Manchester City, neighbors Manchester United and Chelsea. For City and Chelsea, they both head into the season confidently with high optimism as champions of England and Europe respectively. United meanwhile look to hit the ground running fast after a trophyless 2011/12 season. While these three giants were expected to battle to be crowned champions, the lucrative fourth Champions League spot will once again be contested by London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, with Merseyside teams Liverpool and Everton joining in the fray.

The first few weeks of matches portrayed to the BPL table the top three teams as how everyone predicted, with Manchester City leading from United and Chelsea. City was showing good champions form, as though not putting teams away convincingly, their 1-0 wins against their oppositions put them on good stead in terms of points. Chelsea, under manager Roberto Di Matteo, were impressing as well with the midfield trio of Hazard, Oscar and Mata running the show beautifully for the Blues. United however, were struggling defensively but new signing Robin van Persie was proving his worth by scoring goals and bailing the Reds out on many occasions, most notably his first hat trick against Southampton as the Reds came back for a 3-2 away win.

Every Manchester United fan, myself included, will always remember his first goal for the Reds. The Dutchman met a looping Patrice Evra cross from the left wing and connected it first time on the volley, scoring an incredible goal to announce himself to the Old Trafford faithful.

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van Persie scores his first Manchester United goal against Fulham at Old Trafford.
Image: Manchester United 3 Fulham 2 Robin van Persie opens account – http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Belgium playmaker Hazard settled into English football brilliantly, and along with Mata were the catalyst of Chelsea’s great early season form. He coupled his goals scored with consistent number of assists for his teammates, and as a football fan I enjoyed watching the football Chelsea was playing under their 4-3-3 formation.

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Hazard celebrates after scoring for the Blues.
Image: http://www.premierleague.com

Arsenal struggled for some matches and eventually dropped behind the top three, and the London team was even behind the surprise package of the early season, in the form of fast starting West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies, under the guidance of former Chelsea assistant manager Steve Clark, were up as high as third when the league headed into the Christmas period.

Tottenham Hotspur were still finding their feet during the early weeks, after their offseason manager change. Harry Redknapp was replaced by Andre Villas Boas and the Portugese struggled early on. Their form gradually picked up after the first 10 matches or so, and their catalogue of great results included a historical 3-2 win for Spurs away at Old Trafford.

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AVB pumps his firsts in celebration after masterminding Spurs’ 3-2 away win at Old Trafford.
Image: Spurs boss hails ‘tremendous’ performance – http://www.london24.com

One emerging star of the 2012/13 season was Tottenham’s Gareth Bale. The Welsh winger was instrumental in most of Spurs’ wins and was their top scorer with 21 league goals. So impressive was his play that he was named both the PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

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Bale with his signature cupid celebration after scoring a hat trick against Aston Villa.
Image: http://www.mirror.co.uk

Over at Liverpool, the Merseyside team was enduring a lackluster season under new manager Brendan Rodgers. Still under a transition period after the departure of ex manager Kenny Dalglish, they lingered around mid table for most of the season before breaking into the top 7 towards the end of the season. One bright spot though was the exceptional form of striker Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was enjoying his best season as a Liverpool striker and was right up there in the Golden Boot running along with van Persie and Bale.

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Suarez celebrates after scoring a wonderful effort against Newcastle United at Anfield.
Image: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

For the top teams, it usually boils down to their respective performances against their fellow title rivals. If one top team could take points off another top team, it often proves crucial as a win means a massive six-point swing. Once again it was the case this season as two massive games eventually turned the tide in the title race.

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The first Manchester derby since City was crowned champions of 2011/12, this encounter at the Etihad Stadium was a seesaw affair. A brilliant first half performance by United saw them lead 2-0 at the break, courtesy of two goals from Wayne Rooney. However City fought back in the second half to level the match at 2-2, before a dramatic late freekick by Robin van Persie settled the match in United’s favor. A top two clash prior to the match, the winner was going to take over at the submit. United duly went to the top of the league with this victory.

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van Persie bends a Samri Nasri deflected freekick into the bottom corner.
Image: @Ian Hodgson – http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Chelsea 2 Manchester United 3

Once again this was a topsy turvy affair. United took a 2-0 lead via a Robin van Persie double before Juan Mata bent a wonderful freekick past David de Gea to halve the deficit prior to the break. The second half saw Chelsea dominate and level the match at 2-2. However, controversy struck when Fernando Torres was incorrectly sent off for a second bookable offence (diving), and Javier Hernandez struck an offside winner for United. A brilliant match that was wrongly decided in United’s favor, this result pushed the Blues further away from the top two and eventually out of the title race. For once, as a Manchester United fan, I was not pleased with a victory. I thought the game was robbed by bad refereeing decisions on the night.

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Chelsea striker Torres sent off after being deemed by referee to dive off a Johnny Evans challenge.
Image: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk

After about 25 matches into the season, Manchester United held a commanding lead at the top of the table, one that was never relinquished. Needless to say I was extremely ecstatic at the return of the title to the red side of Manchester.

The final table of the 2012/13 season read:

1. Manchester United 89pts ; 2. Manchester City 78pts ; 3. Chelsea 75pts ; 4. Arsenal 73pts ; 5. Tottenham Hotspur 72pts

18. Wigan Athletic 36pts ; 19. Reading 28pts ; 20. Queens Park Rangers 25pts

Hence what it meant was that United were the new champions, and along with City, Chelsea, and Arsenal, qualifieed for next season’s Champions League. It was a heartbreaking ending for Tottenham as they ended 1 point short of the coveted fourth place. At the other end of the table, Wigan, Reading and QPR were relegated after a poor season in the top flight. Wigan Athletic however, even though relegated, dramatically upset Manchester City in the FA Cup final at Wembley to lift the FA Cup.

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Wigan players celebrate their FA Cup triumph.
Image: Wigan wins FA Cup in stunning upset. – http://www.cbc.ca

Manchester United striker Robin van Persie won the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer while Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart took home the Golden Glove with the most number of clean sheets kept.

As mentioned previously, towards the end of the season there was a major news unfolding at Manchester United. After more than two incredible decades, the unthinkable has happened. The great Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement as Manchester United manager. I for one never envisaged that day would actually arrive, such was the Scot’s longevity at the helm. One that has broken record after record during his tenure as manager, he fittingly broke another one during his final match incharge. The pulsating 5-5 draw at West Bromwhich Albion was the first time in Premier League history (since its debut in 1992) that two teams each scored five goals or more in a same match.

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Sir Alex Ferguson bids farewell to the fans after his final match in charge as Manchester United manager.
Image: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

In my opinion this would be a huge impact to the league in years to come. Never in Premier League history that there was a season whereby Sir Alex Ferguson will be absent from the action. His enthusiasm, hunger for success, along with the famous hairdryer treatment and Fergie time, will be sorely missed.

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Sir Alex celebrates with his final Manchester United squad at the Champions Victory Parade in Manchester.
Image: Premier League award for Sir Alex Ferguson. – http://www.football365.com

This ends the review for Barclays Premier League’s 2012/13 season. One filled with quality football and the utmost drama, once again the best league of the world did not disappoint. With numerous player movements during this offseason’s transfer window, the upcoming season will be very interesting indeed.

The new Barclays Premier League season of 2013/14 officially kicks off in about a week’s time, when all 20 teams take to the field on the 17th of August 2013.

Let the battle commence.

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Barclays Premier League Review – Season 2012/13 (Part 1)

It was the final day of the 2011/12 season, one which was dominated by the city of Manchester. Coming down the wire, both the red and blue sides were locked on 86 points, with Manchester City leading on goal difference. As a Manchester United fan, personally I was rather optimistic that we could still steal the title away from City. Matchday 38 sees us away at Sunderland whilst City would be visiting Queens Park Rangers (who was fighting to fend of relegation on the final day). One thing about football is its unpredictability and how matches often pend out against the form book. A team fighting for survival at the wrong end of the table is always a team that is extremely tough and tricky to play against. Thus with that in mind I was hoping QPR would do us a favor.

My optimism grew immensely when we defeated Sunderland 1-0, and by the time the final whistle was blown at the Stadium of Light, City was trailing QPR by 2-1! QPR however, was a man down with Joey Barton’s dismissal, and with a barrage of City attacks the unthinkable happened. It was a Hollywood written script, when Sergio Aguero blasted a 95th minute winner to hand City the title. Two goals in the space of 5 minutes in extra time, and frankly that was the lowest point of my life as a lifelong Manchester United fan. To lose the title to our fierce neighboring rival was one thing, however to lose it in the manner everything dramatically unfolded was heartbreaking to say the very least.

When the final dust settled, the final table read:

1. Manchester City – 89pts (GD +64) ; 2. Manchester United – 89pts (GD +56)

For every Manchester United fan all around the world, it was going to be a long summer.

Credit must be given to City though. In my opinion the final BPL table never lies. People can have their views, perhaps saying that some teams were lucky/unlucky to finish where they did after 38 games. However, throughout the 38 games played, the good and bad lucks would eventually even themselves out for every single team. Therefore hats off to City for a great season and they were definitely worthy champions.

The manager of United, Sir Alex Ferguson, has always been a demanding manager who was hungry for every bit of success. The way we lost the title was a painful experience for the great Scot. Never one to give in to adversity, Sir Alex laid down the gauntlet for the upcoming 2012/13 season by making two marquee signings – Robin van Persie from Arsenal and Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund.

van Persie (29 years of age) was the Golden Boot winner for the 2011/12 season. Upon signing the BPL’s top scorer from Arsenal, Sir Alex insisted that never again will United lose a title on goal difference. With United’s usual policy of never signing players close to 30 years of age for more than £20m, this was a major signal of intent to wrestle the title back from City.

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Robin van Persie and Sir Alex at the official press conference of the Dutchman’s £24m move from Arsenal to Manchester United.
Image: Manchester United confirm capture of Robin van Persie – http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Kagawa was captured from German champions Borrusia Dortmund for £12m, and becomes the first Japanese player to play for the Red Devils. An attacking midfielder of brilliant technique with the ball at his feet and possessing an eye for offensive play, this signing further showed the seriousness of Sir Alex in winning the upcoming season.

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Kagawa with Sir Alex as the Japanese is unveiled to the press.
Image: Kagawa happy to handle Manchester United pressure – http://www.rediff.com

Over to the other top teams in the league, surprisingly champions City did not add any major signings to their squad. Manager Roberto Mancini confessed prior to the start of the season that he had been frustrated by the lack of recruitment to his title winning squad. London club Chelsea added two big signings to their roster – Belgium attacking midfielder Eden Hazard and Brazilian playmaker Oscar. Hazard was the hottest property in Europe in the summer of 2012. The Belgium was courted by both Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but he eventually opted for the former, where Champions League football was on offer.

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Hazard officially unveiled as a Chelsea FC player.
Image: Eden Hazard has signed with Chelsea.  -www.theguardian.com

With the departure of top scorer van Persie, Arsenal took to the market in signing German international striker Lukas Podolski from German club Cologne. The London club also captured French international Olivier Giroud from Montpellier for £12m. Manager Arsene Wenger will hope for the two new arrivals’ effectiveness in front of goal as Arsenal attempts to end their long trophy drought.

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Giroud unveiled at Arsenal’s training ground.
Image: OFFICIAL Arsenal sign Olivier Giroud – http://www.nigerianeye.com

Meanwhile over at Tottenham Hotspur, the London club lost influential Dutch playmaker Rafael van der Vaart to Hamburg but signed Fulham’s Clint Dempsey in a last minute deal on transfer deadline day. The American, who had a stellar 2011/12 season for the Cottagers,  agrees a £6m deal with Tottenham with just one hour to go before the deadline. Liverpool on the other hand managed to keep hold of Luis Suarez and these two clubs will be hoping to break into the top four. Notably, Spurs and Liverpool head into the 2012/13 season with new managers in the shape of Andre Villas Boas and Brendan Rodgers respectively.

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American international Dempsey signs for Tottenham Hotspur.
Image: Clint Dempsey Signs For Tottenham Hotspur In £6m Deal – worldsoccertalk.com

The Premier League welcomed back the returning Southampton, Reading and West Ham. These three teams would be hoping for a solid season, with the ultimate aim of avoiding relegation back to the Championship. Personally, I was glad to see West Ham back in the league, with Sam Allardyce at the helm.

As all the clubs revealed their new signings for the upcoming season, fans all around the world eagerly awaited for the start of the 2012/13 Barclays Premier League season. Never a dull moment in arguably the world’s best football league, the season ultimately lived up to its great expectations and eventually ended with a large twist which would impact the league immensely in years to come.

To be continued in Part 2.

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F1 Magyar Nagydij Hungarian Grand Prix Review (26-28 July 2013)

Round 10 of the FIA Formula One World Championship sees the teams battle at the Hungarian Grand Prix, and is the race which the front running teams are all gunning to win – with it being the final race before the official summer break and the half way point of this year’s world championships. Laid out in Mogyorod, teams around the paddock will be hoping for a positive result on this track to bring back to their respective factories before everyone heads off for a month’s holiday.

The following are the main features and stats of the Hungaroring circuit.

Race Date: 28 July 2013

Debut: 1936

Circuit Length: 4.381km

Laps: 70

Total Race Distance: 306.663km

Lap Record: 1:19.071 – Michael Schumacher (Ferrari, 2004)

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Hungaroring Track Map with two DRS zones – activation points located right after Turn 14 and Turn 1.
Image: 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix Preview – http://www.fia.com

Right after the completion of the previous round in Germany, which saw the maiden home victory for Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, all the teams except Mercedes headed back to England for the Young Drivers’ Test in Silverstone. Mercedes of course, were banned from participating from the test due to their allegedly illegal test conducted with Pirelli in Barcelona few weeks back. The teams conducted tests on the new tyres for the rest of this season which have been altered by Pirelli based on the 2012 constructions and 2013 compounds.

Hence Mercedes started the grand prix weekend right on the backfoot, and the Friday practice sessions further illustrated the Silver Arrows’ lack of pace (both on long runs and qualifying simulation runs) compared to the other competitors. Red Bull dominated both sessions with Vettel leading teammate Mark Webber, whilst Lotus and Ferrari also showed decent pace with Romain Grosjean and Fernando Alonso keeping the Red Bulls just within sight. So far this season Mercedes’ achilles heel has been tyre management, and with temperatures up to more than 40 degrees and climbing as the weekend progressed, the feeling around the paddock was that Red Bull and Lotus (both kind on their tyres) are primed to dominate the race come Sunday, with Mercedes almost definitely struggling immensely. Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg did little to lift the spirits of the german camp, with both admitting the Silver Arrows have lost pace and indefinitely ruling themselves out of contention for race victory.

Saturday morning then came with temperatures still scorching, and this time it was Lotus’ Grosjean who took P1 for Practice 3 ahead of Alonso. However the gaps between the cars were really small, and Hamilton raised him game against the weekend’s form book to take pole position in qualifying, edging Vettel by 3 hundredths of a second.

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Top three qualifiers for the Hungarian Grand Prix. From left to right: Sebastian Vettel (GER), Lewis Hamilton (GBR) and Romain Grosjean (FRA)
Image: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Hungaroring qualifying – http://www.automobilsport.com

‘Is that pole?’, a pleasantly surprised Hamilton asked his race engineer at the end of his brilliant P1 run. He admitted afterwards that he expected Vettel to better his first Q3 run, and his P1 lap was actually not perfect. Nevertheless, it secured Hamilton’s third successive pole position, dating back to his home grand prix in Silverstone.

With temperature expected to be at its peak come Sunday afternoon (50 degrees Celsius), a realistic Hamilton resigned to the fact that a miracle was needed to win the race, and his main aim was to score as many points as possible. However, from the moment the five lights went out in the race, he confounded the whole F1 paddock by dominating the race from start to finish, whilst managing his tyres quite easily.

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Hamilton led from Vettel and Grosjean in the early stages and never looked back.
Image: Hamilton claims first race win as Mercedes driver in Hungary – http://www.rte.ie

During the early stages the battle was on between the top three qualifiers, with Hamilton blinking first for tyre change. Vettel then led for a lap before coming in and Grosjean, as expected with his Lotus’ kindness to its tyres, coming in last for tyre change. The pivotal moment of the race came for both Hamilton and Vettel as they came out of their respective pit stops. Both drivers came out behind McLaren’s Jenson Button (who stayed out during the first round of pitstops as the Brit started the race on the harder compound tyre), with Hamilton clearing his old teammate with haste and Vettel struggling to do so for 14 laps. Those 14 laps of clear air for the Mercedes driver allowed him to pull out a comfortable lead of 18 seconds, one which he never relinquished.

Grosjean shadowed Vettel for the first two stints before a drive through penalty dropped him down the order. The Frenchman caught up to Felipe Massa’s Ferrari after his second stop and boldly passed the Brazilian on the outside of Turn 4’s fast left-hander. However the stewards deemed his move illegal as he had all four wheels off the track. With Massa pitting soon after, Grosjean did not have the chance to give the place back, and the subsequent penalty dropped him behind Alonso.

Almost unnoticed amidst all the action was Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen. With Lotus slightly off the pace of Mercedes and Red Bull in the long run, the Finn opted for a bold two stop strategy, and held Vettel at back for almost 20 laps before surviving for the chequered flag in second place. Once again showing the Lotus’ machinery on tyre kindness, he did a whopping 33 laps on his final set of medium tyres. Out in front, Hamilton paced and cruised himself to his first win as a Mercedes driver, comfortably ahead of the battling duo of Raikkonen and Vettel.

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Celebrations on the podium. From left to right: Kimi Raikkonen (FIN, Lotus-Renault), Ross Brawn (GBR, Mercedes AMG Petronas), Lewis Hamilton (GBR, Mercedes AMG Petronas) and Sebastian Vettel (GER, Red Bull Racing-Renault)
Image: F1 On Track Review: 2013 Hungarian Grand Prix – thejudge13.com

An exhilarating end to the first half of the FIA World Championship sees Vettel extending his lead in the driver’s standings. The German with 172 points now leads from Raikkonen (134) and Alonso (133). Hamilton brings himself back into contention with the 25-point haul and now stands with 124. In the constructor’s standings, Red Bull leads Mercedes 277 to 208, with Ferrari and Lotus completing the top four with 194 and 183 respectively.

Hamilton said after the race that he and his team genuinely never envisaged that his tyres would last so well. The pleasant surprise, perhaps a combination of the change in tyre construction and the improvement of the Mercedes when it comes to tyre management, will definitely provide a timely boost for the team as they head into the summer break.

‘If our tyres could last this well in this heat (one of the hottest race on the calendar), then it should work anywhere.’ enthused a smiling Hamilton.

As we head into the summer break and gear up for the second part of the season, those dreaded Pirelli tyre issues should no longer be of concern, now let the battle commence.

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Wimbledon 2013 – History is rewritten

“Game, Set and Match, Murray”

For an umpire to announce that at the end of a match is no surprise for British player Andy Murray. Coming into the grass court championships at Wimbledon as the second seed and being world number two, that has become a formality really. However, to be able to hear that in a Wimbledon Final is whole different story. 77 years since the last male British winner (Fred Perry) and a decade since the so-close-but-yet-so-far days of Tim Henman, Britain has never felt so convinced of having a home grown talent lift the silver gilt cup of Wimbledon.

Then came Andy Murray, from Glasgow, Scotland.

Before we get into a truly remarkable and historical final day at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, the first week of play had brought up plenty of shocks and drama, most notably from the men’s side of the draw. As we progressed further into the tournament, the women’s side of the draw claimed a few top players as well. Last but not least, this year’s championship was marred by huge criticism from numerous players on the apparently poor surface of many courts which led to injuries and walkovers due to slips and bad falls.

Huge Shocks in the Men’s Singles

1st Round: Steve Darcis (BEL) bt Rafael Nadal (ESP) 7-6 7-6 6-4

When the draw was released, people from all around the tennis world will be asking themselves – Who is this Steve Darcis guy? This Belgium is already at 29 years old and only has two ATP titles to his name. Prior to the match he was not even ranked in the top 100 of the ATP rankings. Rafael Nadal on the other hand, fresh from his eighth Roland Garros (French Open) title, has twelve grand slam titles to his name and is a popular ambassador to the sport of tennis.

Centre Court was treated to one of the biggest upsets in grand slam history as Darcis outplayed Nadal from the backcourt and sent the stunned Spaniard home in straight sets.

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Nadal congratulates Darcis at the net after being beaten comprehensively by the little known Belgium.

Prior to the championships, Nadal has just been crowned the French Open title and did not participate in any grass court tournaments leading up to Wimbledon. A sign of rustiness on grass perhaps? Nevertheless Nadal had little answer against a very determined Belgium who had nothing to lose, with all the expectations shouldered on Nadal to win the match.

2nd Round: Sergiy Stakhovsky (UKR) bt Roger Federer (SUI) 6-7 7-6 7-5 7-6

Bidding to win a record eighth Wimbledon crown, Roger Federer breezed through his first round match in sublime fashion, and there was little to suggest betting against him repeating such a dominant performance in the second round. However the great Swiss ran into an inspired Ukrainian on Centre Court, who played immaculate tennis and revived the days of serve-and-volley play.

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Centre Court arise to possibly the greatest ever upset in Wimbledon history.

Stakhovsky virtually played the whole match by serve-and-volleying. Obviously not used playing against this type of play, Federer just ran out of ideas in four tough sets and becomes arguably the biggest casualty yet to leave the championships. The serve-and-volley concept was the most common of plays back in the old days of tennis. However as the decades went on, the courts became slower and the tennis balls of today are heavier. With these changes the modern tennis game has very much evolved around heavy groundstrokes and long rallies. In front of a stunned crowd on Centre Court, Stakhovsky showcased an art of play which eliminated one of the greatest players of the modern era.

Big Name Casualties in the Women’s Singles

2nd Round: M. Larcher de Brito (POR) bt Maria Sharapova (RUS) 6-3 6-4

Amidst the constant grunts and screams which have been a trademark of Maria Sharapova, she has always been a fan favourite here in Wimbledon, ever since she beat Serena Williams and lifted the Wimbledon title as a 17 year old back in 2004. However she did not look convincing in her first round win and just was not good enough in this upset. Larcher de Brito handled the pressure well towards the end of the second set and thoroughly deserved this victory.

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Handshake at the net with very much different feelings behind each smile.

Serena Williams vs Maria Sharapova – this was supposed to be the scripted final between two of the more dominant players in women’s tennis. With Sharapova now out of the fray, bookies were starting to bet crowning Serena Williams as this year’s champion.

Well now, they often say we should not get ahead of ourselves.

4th Round: Sabine Lisicki (GER) bt Serena Williams (USA) 6-2 1-6 6-4

On many occasions when there is a match with Serena Williams in it, one has to feel a bit sorry for her opposition. Williams possesses arguably the fastest serve ever to grace women’s tennis and her power play from the back of the court is almost unrivaled. But funny things have happened throughout this year’s Wimbledon championships and the young Lisicki from Germany topped the lot by eliminating world number one Williams in Round 4.

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Sabine Lisicki of Germany reacts after beating Serena Williams of USA in three sets, 6-4 in the decider.

The one intriguing aspect of women’s tennis has always been its unpredictability. Unlike the men who all possess different strengths and are more consistent, women’s tennis is more linear in general. Every player in the draw goes into the tournament feeling that they have a realistic chance of clinching the title if they play the better tennis in the match. Having said that, it was still one huge shock to see Williams being sent packing in only the fourth round of the championships.

2013 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final: Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs Andy Murray (GBR)

After all the shocks and upsets, the only match that actually materialised from everyone’s prediction was this. World number one Djokovic taking on home hero Murray, a showdown which promised to be a cracker. Very much to the utmost delight of a rapturous home crowd, Murray finally ended Great Britain’s 77-year wait for a male British winner by beating the Serbian 6-4 7-5 6-4.

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Novak Djokovic, winner of the 2011 Wimbledon title, stretches for a backhand return.

In a match of the highest quality tennis and of the most intense atmosphere, the final straight sets scoreline did not fairly reflect on the brilliance of the tennis match on show.

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Playing in his second Wimbledon final, Andy Murray of Great Britain reacts after the final winning point.

Djokovic had his chances throughout the match. The Serbian broke Murray’s serve early in the second set and held his subsequent service game to take a commanding 4-1 lead. He did the same in the third set and went up 4-2. Uncharacteristically for Djokovic though, he failed to close out both sets and credit to Murray, the home favourite broke back twice to save both sets and ultimately win the match.

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The two great friends embrace at the net after the match, with Djokovic very gracious in defeat.

Murray however did not make it easy for everyone who was cheering for him on Centre Court. The final point was of the utmost drama. Leading 5-4 and serving for the match, Murray quickly served his way up to 40-0 and held three championship points. Perhaps pressured by the realisation of what he was about to achieve and coupled with Djokovic’s fighting spirit, the game was brought back to deuce and Djokovic even held three break points. Willed on by a now tense crowd, Murray eventually earned himself a fourth championship point, and with Djokovic firing a backhand into the net, history was made.

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Andy Murray lifts the Wimbledon trophy, much to the delight of the home crowd.

Asked how did it feel upon stepping forward to lift the Wimbledon trophy: ‘Feels very different from last year obviously. (Referring to the heartbreaking Final defeat to Roger Federer twelve months ago on the same exact court)

‘I have no idea how did I come through those final three points, I’m so glad to have done it.’

‘I understand how much everyone wanted to see a British winner at Wimbledon and I hope everyone enjoyed it.’

Yes Andy, everyone enjoyed it very much indeed.

With this much deserved victory, Andy Murray becomes the first British man to win the Wimbledon title in the All England Club since 1936. The great Fred Perry did it 77 years ago and it is hard to bet against Murray lifting a second Wimbledon crown in the foreseeable future.

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2013 Pirelli Tyre Alterations

Amidst numerous criticism around the paddock and concerns for safety from almost everyone associated to Formula One, Pirelli has made some changes to its 2013 spec tyres.

As previously mentioned in the British Grand Prix review, when five tyre failures occurred throughout the grand prix weekend (four in the race whilst running on racing speed), Pirelli has since then been under huge pressure to deliver some alterations to ease the fear of further tyre blowouts and ensure the safety of all drivers is highlighted.

During the race in Silverstone, there were a few radio messages between the drivers and their race engineers in which they discussed the changing of tyre pressures during pit stops. Most F1 cars often have tyre pressures at a high level but different for each cars as the pressure affects the handling and balance of the car. Higher tyre pressure provides better grip, but due to the numerous tyre failures in the race the race engineers visited the thought of reducing rear tyre pressure of their cars. A move which of course reduces the car’s grip on the track but such was the severity of the situation that safety was very much on everyone’s agenda.

Another aspect of tyre failure which has been common this season is tyre delamination. Delamination is where the tread construction of the tyre disintegrates and comes off from the belt of the tyre. Drivers like Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Force India’s Paul DiResta have both suffered from delaminations this season.

Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes with left rear tyre delamination suffered during the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes with left rear tyre delamination suffered during the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Part of Pirelli’s effort to redesign this season’s tyre to eliminate this problem has been rejected by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). After the race earlier this season in Barcelona, Pirelli wanted to make changes to the tyres amid complaints that the 2013 spec tyres are having fragilities that made tyre-management too important in races. It proposed reverting to the type of tyre specification run in 2012, but keeping the type of compounds in 2013. FIA said this is against the rules.

However, effective immediately the following changes will be made by Pirelli to their tyres starting from the German Grand Prix in Nurburgring:

Rear Tyre Belt Change

Kevlar-belted rear tyres will be used on all cars, as opposed to the current steel belt variant. Kevlar-belted rears provide approximately a 10 degree drop in temperature upon running, which increases tyre life. Even though the 2013 high-performance steel-belted version is completely safe upon correct usage, the Kevlar-belted version is easily manageable. 

Tyre Operating Procedures

Minimum starting pressure front and rear – 16psi

Minimum stabilised running pressure front – 20psi

Minimum stabilised running pressure rear – 19psi

Maximum negative EOS camber front – 4.0 degrees

Maximum negative EOS camber rear – 2.5 degrees

Front and rear tyres must be used on the side of the car for which they were originally designated (no swapping from side-to-side)

Now that Pirelli has done its part, it is onto the teams to run these altered tyres starting from Free Practice 1 in Nurburgring come Friday morning. Inevitably everyone around the paddock will be finger crossing for a consistent dry weather running throughout the German Grand Prix weekend.

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