As Lewis Hamilton aims to complete a hat-trick of wins and extend his narrow Formula One championship lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg at this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix, the F1 establishment will be nervously watching to see how Max Verstappen — too young to drive a car in his native Netherlands — handles a 300kph beast on the legendary Suzuka track today.
With five races remaining, the gap between Hamilton and Rosberg stands at just three points after the Briton recorded his seventh win of the season at the Singapore Grand Prix last month.
A win by Hamilton at the demanding circuit would be a major step toward a second championship for the 29-year-old, but he has never won at Suzuka and will face a stiffer test than in Singapore, where Rosberg had to retire his car early due to an electronics malfunction.
If not focused on the Hamilton-Rosberg rivalry, observers will be watching the 17-year-old Verstappen, son of F1 veteran Jos Verstappen, with some worried that he is taking a risk at such a tender age and others concerned about how big a star he is going to become.
The impact will start as soon as the young Verstappen climbs into a Toro Rosso to be let loose at Suzuka for a historic session of free practice before Sunday’s GP.
Max Verstappen was only 16 when he passed his racing driver’s super-licence last month. He was 17 on Tuesday and today will become the youngest-ever F1 debutant.
Jos Verstappen took part in 107 GPs between 1994 and 2003. His career highlights were two podium finishes as Michael Schumacher’s Benetton teammate at the Hungarian and Belgian GPs. The elder Verstappen is best-known as the driver who survived when his car exploded in a fireball at the 1994 German GP.
Much more is expected of Max Verstappen, already an accomplished Formula Three driver, who will replace Frenchman Jean-Eric Vergne for the morning today and permanently from next season.
“I am looking forward to taking part in a free practice session at a Grand Prix for the first time — it’s good preparation for next year even if it’s not something I could have imagined a few months ago,” said the teen, who comes off as remarkably mature. “I have spent one day driving this track on the simulator, which helps a bit, but it’s no substitute for driving it for real.”
Vergne, now hunting for an F1 job for next year, has said little. The 24-year-old will return in the afternoon aiming to record lap times better than those of the Dutch kid born in Hasselt, Belgium.
“The world is looking at him — and that’s not a small piece of pressure,” three-time champion Jackie Stewart, now 75, told the BBC. “He has been sensational early in his career, but F1 is another story. He will face more pressure than a young driver would have been exposed to years ago. I’ve seen some great young drivers come along and the pressure has been too much for them. It can go either way.”
Record-setting aside, Verstappen knows that from today he will be only be judged by his speed and not his age; Formula One can be fickle.
Uncertainty grips next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympic Games: Will there be fans or empty stadiums in 14 months? How will thousands of athletes, staff members and technical officials travel, be housed and stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic? And the Tokyo Games are not the only event. China, where COVID-19 was first detected, is to hold three mega-sports events in the year after the Tokyo Olympics are set to close. The World University Games in Chengdu, China, are to open, with up to 8,000 athletes, only 10 days after the Tokyo Games close. Next come the Beijing Winter Olympics beginning on Feb. 4, 2022,
PANDEMIC HYGIENE: Players had their temperatures checked, carried their own equipment and towels, and tapped rackets to congratulate the match winners Alison Riske and Danielle Collins of the US and Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic were among the winners on Friday, the opening day of a women’s tennis mini-tournament in Florida that offered professional players an opportunity to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The WTA women’s tennis tour canceled four more events this week and is not to resume until at least July 20. However, four women ranked in the top 60 in the world turned out for the UTR Pro Match Series event in Palm Beach, which followed a similar event for men two weeks ago. World No. 51 Collins toppled 28th-ranked compatriot Amanda Anisimova
The Rakuten Monkeys remained atop the CPBL table, despite a 5-7 loss to the Uni-President Lions in Taoyuan yesterday, while the CTBC Brothers fell to the Fubon Guardians at the Taichung Intercontinental Stadium. The visiting Guardians blasted three home runs in their 7-3 triumph, helping Dominican pitcher Henry Sosa pocket his second win of the season. Improving his record to 2-2, Sosa sailed through seven innings, allowing six hits while striking out five. He gave up one earned run in the opening frame, with two Brothers relievers mopping up the final two innings. Fubon’s marquee stars, designated hitter Hu Chin-lung and first baseman
A sudden shortage of locks in Australian rugby union has opened the door for Matt Philip to reclaim his Wallabies jersey, but the Melbourne Rebels player says that the uncertainties wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic have left him with a difficult choice. The Australian yesterday named Philip among 16 Rebels players either set to leave the Super Rugby club or seriously considering it, underscoring the challenge Rugby Australia faces to retain talent. Linked with a move to Section Paloise Bearn Pyrenees, commonly referred to as Pau, in France’s Top 14, Philip said that he had yet to settle his playing future, and