Racing Point feeling after-effects of Force India struggles

Canadian-owned Racing Point need time to recover from the effects of last year, when they were Force India and had to be rescued from administration, the Formula One team’s technical director Andrew Green said on Friday.

After two races, the Silverstone-based team are a disappointing ninth overall and ahead only of fallen champions Williams.

“We’re not a long way behind, but I think our weaknesses were probably exposed in the first couple of races,” Green told reporters at the Chinese Grand Prix.

“I think we have to remember that the car was originally conceived in the mid-to-late part of last year, when the team was in serious trouble. We were really struggling at that point. 

“We had to make quite a few decisions about the car and the architecture of the car ... not really knowing what was going to happen with the team, whether there was even going to be a team. We are still getting out of that.”

Force India, co-owned by troubled Indian magnate Vijay Mallya, went into administration in July and were taken over by a consortium led by Canadian billionaire Lawrence Stroll, starting over as Racing Point.

Stroll’s son Lance, who had raced for Williams, is now one of their drivers.

Green had said in February the team were effectively starting a new book, rather than just a new chapter, with far more resources.

Force India, despite their financial woes, finished fourth in the championship in 2016 and 2017.

Racing Point were seventh last season, an impressive feat considering they started with a clean slate from August.

With fresh funding, after Force India laboured under significant debts and had their bank account frozen towards the end, the Silverstone-based team were tipped to be among the leaders in a tight midfield group.

Green said the team no longer had to worry about finances under Stroll but it would take time for investment to bear fruit.

Racing Point have reached an agreement to use engine supplier Mercedes’ wind tunnel in Brackley starting later this year and have a plan to return to their “target level of performance”, he said.

“It’s easy now to say that we have the bills paid at the end of each month, which we never used to be able to say, so it’s one less thing to worry about,” said Green. “We’re in a much better place now, but improvements take time.”

Khadem to break a barrier for Iranian women

Two years after a clandestine impromptu training session on the hills of Tehran, Sadaf Khadem will become the first Iranian woman to contest an official boxing fight, hoping to lead the way in the Islamic Republic.

The bout will take place in western France on Saturday after the 24-year-old met with Frenchman Mahyar Monshipour, an Iranian-born former super bantamweight world champion.

“In 2017, I went to Iran for a promotional event and I ended up organizing a public training session on the hills overlooking Tehran. About 35 people showed up, and there were six women,” Monshipour told Reuters.

“She contacted me on social media to ask me to make her box but I told her it was not possible. Then about a couple of months ago the Iranian federation opened the door for women boxing and we asked them to set up an event.

“But it became apparent that it would not be possible because they wanted a female coach, female referee... so with the help of the Sports ministry we made her come to France.”

Next week Khadem will return to Iran, where Monshipour expects her to be met with ‘popular jubilation’.

He will, however, travel back with her, just in case, to a country where women have started to take off their head scarves in a peaceful protest against the compulsory hijab.

“If she ends up in custody, I will not let her down,” he said.

Khadem took up boxing four years ago, being compelled to train in private fitness rooms since public boxing facilities are reserved for men.

In Iran, women were allowed to attend a men’s soccer game for the first last October.

“It is easier for wrestling and weightlifting because they are more in our culture,” Khadem told Reuters after a training session on Thursday.

BREAK THE DAM

Some women fight but the bouts are illegal and being held in Turkey with no medical insurance. In France, Khadem trained at the National Institute of Sport and was handed a French license to practice and fight.

For the first time she trained among men, and she burst into tears at the end of a session, overwhelmed by her emotions.

“My parents were worried when I started boxing but they saw I was really loving it so now they are supporting me. I’m now steaming ahead,” said Khadem.

“I have been waiting for this moment for so long.

“I hope this first fight will pave the way and that I will go as far as I can to have my name in the history of Iranian boxing.”

But Khadem, who weighed around 100 kilograms when she started boxing compared to 68 now, is on a mission.

“I hope to break the dam. I don’t matter. What matters is Mahyar, who made this fight possible. It could have been anyone instead of me,” she explained.

“In my country, there are a lot of women who box, this fight is also for them.”

Khadem, however, took her chance, adding hours to her fitness coach job to get ready for a 3x2 amateur bout where she will sport Iran’s colors.

Downplaying her achievement, she said: “Everyone has difficult moments in their lives. In every country it is difficult to do some things. You have to overcome the hurdles.”

Her opponent, local boxer Anne Chauvin, said she was ‘happy to be part of this fight to help the cause of women’.

Next France coach should be French, referendum decides

France’s next rugby coach should not come from abroad after amateur clubs voted against the idea in a referendum initiated by federation president Bernard Laporte, the FFR said on Friday.

The clubs voted 59 per cent against a foreign coach replacing Jacques Brunel, whose contract expires at the end of this year’s World Cup.

France, who have never been trained by a foreign coach and will host the 2023 World Cup, have slipped down to eighth in the World Rugby rankings and face an uphill task to advance from their 2019 World Cup Pool, which features England and Argentina.

Since Marc Lievremont took Les Bleus to the 2011 World Cup final, France have failed to live up to their reputation, finishing only once in the top three of the Six Nations.

“I will respect this choice,” Laporte said in a statement.

Taking a foreign coach to get France back to the top had been raised as an option with the names of Warren Gatland and Eddie Jones being cited.

Laporte will announce the name of Brunel’s successor before the World Cup starts in Japan on Sept. 20.

Mick Schumacher very like his father, says Binotto

Ferrari team boss Mattia Binotto says be can see similarities between Mick Schumacher’s approach to his recent Formula One test and how seven times champion father Michael used to go about racing.

Schumacher, 20 and a member of Ferrari’s driver academy after winning the European F3 title last year, made his test debut with the Italian team in Bahrain this month.

The outing came 15 years after Michael won the first grand prix in the Middle East at the same circuit for then-dominant Ferrari.

“I don’t think he’s looking very similar to Michael but the way he’s behaving is very similar,” Binotto, who worked closely with the champion during a golden era at Ferrari that ended in 2006, told reporters at the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday.

“The way he approaches the exercise and the way he’s interested in the car, discussing it with the technicians,” he added.

“So even in Maranello, you are looking after him but he’s always in the workshop looking at the car, speaking with the mechanics, and I think that’s very similar to his father.”

Schumacher senior, now 50, has not been seen in public since he suffered severe head injuries in a 2013 skiing accident in the French Alps.

Mick was second fastest in the test, albeit on softer and quicker tyres than anyone else, and said he felt at home in the garage.

Binotto said it was hard to assess the test because of the poor weather conditions that day and because performance had never been the aim.

“It was his very first day on an F1 car; more important for him still in the learning phase, day-by-day, is facing a completely new challenge in his F2 season,” he said.

“I think what was certainly positive was the way he approached the exercise, the approach to the day of testing, never pushing to the limit, trying to improve run-by-run, learning the car, learning the team.

“I think in that respect he did a very good job: very well focussed, concentrated and tried to do the proper job and learn. I think that’s the most you may expect on such a day.”

Arsenal, Chelsea put one foot in Europa League semis

 Arsenal and Chelsea closed in on the Europa League last four on Thursday after the Gunners saw off highly-fancied Napoli 2-0 at the Emirates, while Marco Alonso's late header earned Maurizio Sarri's side a hard-fought win at Slavia Prague.

Unai Emery's Arsenal hold a healthy advantage going into next week's second leg thanks to a fine early strike from Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey and an unfortunate Kalidou Koulibaly own goal midway through the first half, and can rue missed chances that would have put the tie completely beyond the Italians' reach.

Chelsea meanwhile escaped from Eden Arena after a bitty display that saw Kepa Arrizabalaga have to make some fine saves to keep the Czechs out before Alonso nodded home Willian's pinpoint cross four minutes from time to seal a 1-0 win.

The Premier League pair remain on a collision course for the final in Baku, with both sides set to avoid each other if they make it through next week's second legs.

Arsenal were all over Napoli from the kick-off and got their deserved opener with 14 minutes on the clock, Ramsay waltzing in at the end of a beautiful passing move to calmly stroke home Ainsley Maitland-Niles's neat lay-off.

Napoli were completely out of sorts, barely able to get the ball out of their own half at times, and 10 minutes later the Gunners doubled their lead.

Former Sampdoria midfielder Lucas Torreira won possession in midfield and charged towards goal before letting off a weak shot that flicked off Koulibaly and flew past a bamboozled Alex Meret in the Napoli goal.

Arsenal should have made more of their first-half dominance over Carlo Ancelotti's slipshod side, but were not punished by the Serie A outfit, who through Piotr Zielinski should have bagged an away goal to take back to Naples in the second half.

- Felix on fire -

 Arsenal will almost certainly take on Valencia should they hold on at what will be an intimidating Stadio San Paolo after the La Liga side scored twice in stoppage time to win 3-1 at fellow Spaniards Villarreal.

Goncalo Guedes scored twice, including what could be the decisive third three minutes into added time, as Marcelino's side struck with two clinical breakaway goals to give them a great chance of making the semis.

Chelsea meanwhile will likely play Benfica should they go through, after young gun Joao Felix fired them to a 4-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt with a hat-trick that leaves the Bundesliga side, who had to play with 10 men for 70 minutes, with an uphill task to make the last four in Germany next week.

Felix got the ball rolling for Benfica, who are also neck-and-neck with Porto in the Primeira Liga title race, from the spot in the 21st minute after Evan N'Dicka was sent off for shoving over goal-bound Gedson Fernandes.

He put the hosts back in front just before the break after Luka Jovic -- on loan from Benfica -- scored a shock leveller against his parent club in the 40th minute.

Ruben Dias made it three when he headed in Felix's flick-on a from a corner, and the 19-year-old side-footed home Alex Grimaldo's cross to complete his treble nine minutes into the second half, before Goncalo Paciencia pulled one back with his head from a corner to keep the tie alive.

Alonso's late winner sees Chelsea edge Slavia Prague

Marcos Alonso's 86th-minute header gave Chelsea the edge over hard-working Slavia Prague with a 1-0 win in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final in the Czech capital on Thursday.

The Spanish left-back capitalised on a fine cross by Brazilian winger Willian, the tireless mastermind of Chelsea's attack on a chilly night.

Willian himself came close to scoring on 25 minutes but slammed his right-footed effort onto the crossbar.

Maurizio Sarri made seven changes from Monday's 2-0 Premier League win over West Ham, and Chelsea took some time to warm up.

Those left on the bench included Eden Hazard, who is being touted as a possible £100 million (116 million euros, $131 million) summer transfer target for Real Madrid.

Slavia had the first scoring chance but captain Simon Deli narrowly missed with a diving header from Miroslav Stoch's free-kick two minutes into the game.

The Czech top-flight leaders had a rare shot on goal in the first half as Petr Sevcik saw his long-range strike stopped by away goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.

When Chelsea, who won the Europa League in 2012/13, managed to break the solid Slavia defence, it was through Willian on the left flank, but his ideas found little response from his teammates throughout the opening period.

Hazard came on in the 59th minute and breathed life into Chelsea.

But German centre-back Antonio Rudiger saw his shot saved by Slavia keeper Ondrej Kolar and then headed wide, while Willian missed with a low shot.

Slavia kept Arrizabalaga busy shortly before conceding the only goal, as the Spanish 'keeper stopped Ibrahim Traore's blast before diving to parry away Jan Boril's acrobatic left-footed attempt.

Owned by Chinese developer Sinobo, Slavia missed around 2,000 fans banned from the stadium by UEFA over misconduct during their last-32 game against Genk.

Rugby Australia says Folau anti-gay comments are 'unacceptable'

Rugby Australia (RA) said on Wednesday that fullback Israel Folau’s latest anti-gay comments on social media were “unacceptable” and its integrity unit would look into the matter.

Wallabies international Folau, one of the nation’s top players and most marketable athletes, wrote on Instagram that gays would be condemned to “hell” if they failed to “repent”.

New South Wales Waratahs player Folau, an Evangelical Christian, made similar comments last April.

“Rugby Australia is aware of a post made by Israel Folau on his Instagram account this afternoon,” Australian rugby’s governing body said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The content within the post is unacceptable. It does not represent the values of the sport and is disrespectful to members of the Rugby community.

“The Rugby Australia Integrity Unit has been engaged on the matter tonight.”

Folau, 30, also took to Twitter to condemn a landmark decision on Wednesday by the Australian state of Tasmania to make it legally optional to list gender on birth certificates.

In February, Folau extended his Wallabies deal until 2022 ahead of this year’s World Cup, although contract negotiations were complicated by his conservative religious views.

Folau faced no sanctions in April last year for anti-gay comments after RA said it accepted his position that he did not mean to harm the game..

Folau had offered to walk away from the sport if RA found itself in an untenable position with sponsors and fans.

Threat of fines not necessary for skipping Masters interviews

No fewer than 11 players were churned through the Masters press centre for interviews at the Masters on Tuesday on such a relentless conveyor belt that it became difficult to keep up with who dropped what cliche.

Rory McIlroy was earnest as usual, Tiger Woods relaxed and Dustin Johnson so obviously bored as he ran out the clock on his semi-obligatory 25-minute interview session.

Some sports, such as tennis, fine players for refusing interview requests, but not so in golf.

Augusta National does not need to be so heavy-handed. Its importance in the eyes of players, and the aura in which the club is held, is such that when asked to go to the media centre they wouldn’t dream of declining.

Woods is almost as deft with his handling of the media as with a wedge in his hand, having long ago mastered the art of saying as little as possible, but in a very eloquent, articulate manner.

The four-times Masters champion was the only player to almost fill the interview room, showing that he is still “the man”, even 14 years removed from last Augusta victory.

There was even a ripple of applause when the 14-times major champion entered, a definite breach of protocol on behalf of the press.

He flashed his patented smile and put on his game face. As usual he did not let his mask drop.

Woods is happy to talk all day about the flex specifications of his shafts and related technical matters, but hit him with a question on his off-course life and one can expect the Tiger stare.

Last year, in the wake of his arrest upon being found asleep at the wheel of his car, he was asked at the U.S. Open how his life had improved since then.

“It’s gotten better,” he said curtly.

But if Woods had any concern that he would be hit with some uncomfortable questions on Tuesday, he need not have worried.

Among other things, he was asked about the logo on his shirt, his popularity with fans and his thoughts on the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

To be fair, he was also questioned about how surprised he was at not having won a major championship in more than a decade.

“I wouldn’t have foreseen that, for sure,” he said.

In contrast to the packed house for Woods, more than half the seats were empty when Rory McIlroy entered the room a little later, never mind that the Northern Irishman is the tournament favourite.

McIlroy is not nearly as guarded as Woods, even willing to speak about his mental approach to the game and life in general, a subject Woods would invariably shut down immediately.

Happy to reveal a list of the books he had read recently, something Woods would regard as a state secret, he cited among others “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday.

JOHNSON ECONOMICAL WITH WORDS

Later on came Johnson, who doesn’t dislike the press as much as he is bored by the whole thing, almost bemused as to why anyone would care about his thoughts.

But Johnson can be funny with his economy of words.

Asked what it was like playing with noted slowpoke Bryson DeChambeau, he deadpanned: “It takes a long time.”

They will be in the same threesome on Thursday and Friday.

Another thing about news conferences is that everyone has their own agenda, which means questions can veer from topic to topic violently enough to cause whiplash.

One writer working a particular angle asked most every player about the ban on smartphones at Augusta National.

There was unanimous agreement that it was a nice change.

“Wonderful, isn’t it,” said McIlroy, who revealed he is reading a book called “Digital Minimalism”.

“How good is it that people aren’t looking at their phones.”

If it had been any other tournament, reporters would have been looking at their phones as McIlroy spoke.

But such devices are banned from the interview room as well as the course, which means tweeting of the interview would have to wait.

Par-3 winner Wallace topples old guard, sinks hole-in-one

It was a clash of the ages at the Masters Par-3 contest on Wednesday as 28-year-old Matt Wallace triumphed over 61-year-old Sandy Lyle during an afternoon of thrilling play that included four holes-in-one.

A time-honoured tradition at Augusta National, the Par-3 contest sees Masters competitors and the old guard play on a truncated course with shorter holes, with their children and spouses often serving as caddies.

Along with collecting the trophy, however, comes a famous curse as no winner has gone on to win the Masters in the same year.

Wallace, who kicks off his Masters bid on Thursday, shrugged off the so-called jinx, after a playoff win against two-times major winner Lyle.

“It got a little bit more serious than how the nine holes went and I guess I just I wanted to win this,” Wallace said. “I want to break history somewhat.”

Some of the game’s greats, such as Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus were involved alongside current players such as Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson, and for a crowd hungry to see a hole-in-one, the day did not disappoint.

Wallace landed an ace at the eighth hole, while Mark O’Meara, the 1998 Masters and British Open champion, snagged the day’s first hole-in-one to wild applause, followed by 32-year-old Shane Lowry, who sunk one on the first hole.

Nineteen-year-old Devon Bling equalled the record for the youngest registered player ever to make a hole-in-one on the course.

Last year, Nicklaus’ 15-year-old grandson, who was caddying for him, sunk a hole-in-one on the ninth hole, marking a memorable family moment in an event where one is as likely to see a toddler on the course as a major winner.

One-year-old Azalea, named after Augusta’s 13th hole, caddied for her father, 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia, and was an early crowd favourite as she toddled onto the green appearing completely at home on the course.

“The golfers are in their element but they’re having fun,” said Sean Neely, an Atlanta resident who has attended the Masters for 47 years.

Seeing players on TV “it’s like seeing a movie star,” said Pam Herzwuran, who has visited the Masters for seven years. Seeing them with their families makes them feel more accessible, she said.

“It makes it so normal.”

Carter has neck surgery after injury cost him French payday

Former All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter has undergone neck surgery to fix a problem that showed up during a medical examination that cost him a lucrative short-term contract with French club Racing 92.

Carter, a three-times world player of the year and two-time World Cup winner, had agreed a short-term contract with his former club in the French capital but it was cancelled when he failed the medical in early March.

The 37-year-old confirmed at the time he would need to have surgery.

“Another challenge to conquer!,” Carter said on Thursday on his Twitter account, which included a photograph of him lying in a hospital bed and wearing a neck brace. “Happy my neck surgery went well and now the long road to recovery starts.”

Carter, who retired from test rugby after the 2015 World Cup final, left Racing in May 2018 at the end of a three-year contract and joined Kobelco Steelers in Japan’s Top League.

He led the Steelers to their first title since 2004 last year and had been granted dispensation by the Japanese club to play for Racing as a replacement for Springboks utility back Patrick Lambie, who had to retire in February due to concussion.

French media reports had said Carter had been expected to be paid between 25,000-35,000 euros ($28,187.50-$39,462.50) a month for the contract.

The Top League, normally played from August to January has been postponed this year until next January due to the Rugby World Cup, which is being held in Japan from Sept. 20-Nov. 2.

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