Month: March 2019

Formula One still chasing American dream

While motor racing fans across the globe planned their Sunday around the U.

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S. Grand Prix, for Americans it was just another event on an action-packed day of National Football League (NFL) games and NASCAR.

The Circuit of the Americas carved out of the south Texas scrubland, one of the most popular stops on the calendar for paddock regulars and praised by drivers, teams and spectators alike, was supposed to provide the launching pad for a new era for F1 in the U.S. but has so far failed to take off.

When Formula One returned to the United States in 2012 after a five-year hiatus F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone stood in the paddock and enthusiastically outlined a coast-to-coast vision for the sport in America with races in Austin, New Jersey and Los Angeles.

A year later, talk of a race in Los Angeles has disappeared while the elfin Ecclestone breezed through the Austin paddock on the weekend avoiding questions about a New Jersey race that is struggling to get off the ground.

“We can always do more,” said McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh, noting that the U.S. is a major market for many F1 sponsors especially car makers such as Ferrari and Mercedes. “This is such an important market that I think we have to treat it as a new market.

“I know there have been lots of races in the States before but we have never cracked the States in the way we should have done and I think the opportunity is there and all of the stakeholders, the commercial rights holders, the teams, the promoters all of us should be working together and harder to make sure we demonstrate to the great U.S. public what a fantastic sport Formula One is.

“I think it is reasonable to say we are not doing enough.”

Unable to find a permanent home in the United States, Formula One has been forced into a string of unsatisfying one-night stands with Austin, the Texas capital, becoming the 10th venue to host the series after Sebring (Florida), Riverside (California), Watkins Glen (New York), Phoenix (Arizona), Dallas (Texas), Detroit (Michigan), Las Vegas (Nevada), Long Beach (California) and Indianapolis (Indiana).

Americans have had a long-standing love affair with the automobile but the romance of Formula One, which sets hearts of motor sports fans around the world aflutter, has never managed to get pulses racing in the United States.

NO AMERICAN DRIVER

The Circuit of the Americas, the only purpose-built F1 track in the United States, has provided an attractive foundation for the sport in the U.S. but one promoters have since been unable to build on.

Even in Austin, known as “The Weirdest City In Texas,” F1 had to battle for attention with a college football showdown between the University of Texas and Oklahoma State stealing the buzz during Saturday qualifying then going head-to-head against the NFL goliath on Sunday.

Three day attendance was announced at 250,324, a drop of 6 percent from last year’s inaugural event but remains one of the most well-attended events on the circuit.

The main reason for a lack of interest in the United States is that F1 is almost devoid of American content with no U.S. teams or drivers on the starting grid.

Attempts to form a U.S.-based team with a factory in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2010 failed and there has been no American driver on the circuit since Scott Speed left in 2007.

Even Ecclestone has acknowledged that in order for F1 to grow in the United States they need to develop an American driver who can win or, at the very least, be competitive.

Mario Andretti, who handed out trophies after Sunday’s race won by Sebastian Vettel, remains America’s best known F1 driver 35 years after he claimed the series drivers’ championship.

No American has won a Formula One race since.

Andretti’s son Michael followed his father to Europe and competed briefly in F1 for McLaren alongside the triple World Champion Ayrton Senna.

Andretti told Reuters he would like to see grandson Marco, who currently races on the IndyCar series, give F1 a shot but has no desire to be involved.

“I have no interest in creating a team, the only thing I would be interested in seeing is my grandson Marco getting some proper testing and evaluation,” Andretti told Reuters.

“That in itself could be interesting but I agree with Bernie, you don’t necessarily have to have a team but if you have a driver representing the U.S. with a top team it would make all the difference in the world as far as press interest.”

American Alexander Rossi could be the next American to appear on the F1 starting grid after leaving home at 16 to pursue his F1 dream in Europe.

A winner in F1 feeder series GP2 and currently a reserve driver for Caterham, Rossi made brief appearance in Austin during the first practice session but it is still uncertain when, or if, a full-time F1 seat will ever come.

“It doesn’t matter if you win every junior championship in America you have to go to Europe and start all over again and prove to them (F1 teams) you can race in Europe and compete against the Europeans,” Rossi told Reuters.

“That’s just the way the sport is. Formula One is a European-dominated sport and they don’t believe anyone deserves a chance unless they won and competed in Europe.”

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

Violent tornadoes kill 7 in US Midwest

Residents have sifted through piles of rubble as they recovered from violent tornadoes that ripped through four midwestern US states, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens.

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An unusually powerful fall storm spawned reports of 81 twisters in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio on Sunday along with powerful winds and heavy rain which soaked a dozen states.

Homes were smashed into rubble, cars and trucks were tossed into the air, trees were ripped out of the ground and downed power lines left hundreds of thousands of people in the dark.

In the hard-hit town of Washington, Illinois, Michelle Cumrine came back from a trip on Monday to find that her house was completely gone.

“A lot of people have a pile of rubble still,” Cumrine said in disbelief as she stared at the destruction. “I don’t have anything. It’s gone. I don’t know where it went.”

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn declared a state of emergency in seven counties where hundreds of homes and business were destroyed and six of the storm’s fatalities were reported.

“As we pray for the families of those who have lost their lives and others who are injured, the state of Illinois will do everything necessary to help these communities recover,” Quinn said in a statement.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence said he was thankful that despite the massive property damage and significant number of injuries “there has been no loss of life in the Hoosier state.”

“We will help these families pick up the pieces and move on with their lives,” he told reporters after touring some of the damage.

President Barack Obama was briefed about the storms and will receive regular updates, the White House said.

The fast moving storm weakened overnight but still caused damage as it marched east through New York and Philadelphia, the National Weather Service said.

The service predicted stormy conditions for much of the northeastern United States on Monday, including hail and isolated tornados, but said it would likely be over by the afternoon.

At least two victims were killed in the small town of New Minden, Illinois, Washington County Coroner Mark Styninger told AFP.

Joseph Hoy, 80, was found dead on his farm while his 78-year-old sister Frances was pronounced dead in hospital.

“It just happened so fast,” said Styninger.

Some 55 people were treated at St. Francis hospital in Peoria, the biggest town in largely rural central Illinois. Of those, 16 were so badly injured they needed to be admitted, the hospital said.

The dangerous weather caused the National Football League to suspend a game in Chicago, asking fans and players to take cover in the stadium. The game resumed almost two hours later.

The town of Washington, Illinois was among the hardest-hit with entire blocks of homes flattened.

Tears welled up in the mayor’s eyes as he struggled to describe the damage.

“Devastating. A war zone,” Mayor Gary Manier told reporters. “I walked through one of the hardest hit areas and four streets of homes are gone. … I couldn’t tell what street I was on.”

In Kokomo, Indiana the storm pushed a two story house off its foundation and into the middle of the street.

Michael Gardner, 21, had just come home from church with four friends when the storm hit. They rushed into the basement for shelter, with the last person having to jump down the stairs as the house started to move.

“It all caved in on us,” Gardner told the Kokomo Tribune. “We were buried in rubble.”

A Michigan man was killed when his car was crushed by a fallen tree Sunday night in rural Jackson county, MLive news reported.

The storm also grounded flights across the region.

Moody Maldonado blamed again for F1 crash

Pastor Maldonado’s future in Formula One has been the subject of renewed conjecture following his high-speed collision with Adrian Sutil in the United States Grand Prix.

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The moody Venezuelan had already stirred up discussion over his on-track value to a team – despite bringing $US40 million ($A42.7 million) in sponsorship with him – after accusing Williams of sabotage on Saturday.

He is leaving Williams to be replaced by incoming Brazilian Felipe Massa, released by Ferrari, next season and is currently linked with both the Lotus and Sauber outfits for 2014.

With a massive sponsorship deal to offer, he is effectively in a position to buy one of the remaining available seats on next season’s grid despite a reputation as an often dangerous driver.

That reputation, once tarnished by a series of collisions and rows, took a new blow when he was accused of steering his Williams into Sutil’s Force India on the back straight during the opening lap on Sunday.

The collision sent the German into the barriers, wrecking his car and ending his race.

“On a very big straight, with a lot of space left and right, for some reason I got a hit on the left tyre in the middle of the straight and lost the car,” said Sutil afterwards.

“It was very shocking. You’d never believe something like that, but it happened. There was no reason to be so close. I was on my line and I didn’t do anything different.

“I was staying straight with my steering wheel and to the left and right there was a lot of space. I don’t understand why someone then hits you.”

Maldonado, whose F1 career has been punctuated by erratic performances and similar crashes, is currently looking for a new team in a competitive late-season drivers’ market.

He has always appeared to be a man who behaves as if he is insulated by the massive sponsorship package he has to offer from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company.

Typically, he blamed Sutil for their accident.

“It was quite strange,” Maldonado said. “I didn’t expect that contact from Sutil. We were side by side and I was losing a little bit on the straight because he was moving past.

“He either didn’t see me or was thinking he was already fully ahead. My front wing was there and we touched.

‘Bring on England’, says Gibraltar coach ahead of UEFA debut

Jitters abound but the mood is ebullient at the Gibraltar training camp 24 hours before their UEFA debut against Slovakia at Portugal’s Algarve stadium (Tuesday 1830 GMT).

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“We are looking at the nerves of our players. It’s something new, the historic moment, the emotion. One minute (into the match) and it’s got to be out of the way. If not, that can play against us,” Bula told Reuters in an interview.

“But we are going out to win”.

The rocky territory became UEFA’s 54th member in May, following a 14-year court marathon against Spain’s objections to their football ambitions as a national side.

With that apparently put behind them for good, Gibraltar’s players, coach and staff seem to have their long-denied football fantasies finally within grasp.

If he had to pick between playing England or Spain one day, coach Bula would have little doubt.

“England, for us, it’s in our blood in our heritage. It’s a part of us.

“But, although it’s a dream to play in Wembley against England, it would be a bigger dream to play in Wembley (pause) and beat them. Let’s get that clear,” a smiling Bula said before team training.

EUROPEAN STAGE

Gibraltar is an economically self-reliant, and mostly self-governing British Overseas Territory.

Spain disputes Gibraltar’s sovereignty, ceded to Britain “in perpetuity” under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht as a spoil of the War of the Spanish Succession.

The coach said he would be happy to play Spain “any day” despite the fact that UEFA’s ruling on Gibraltar means they cannot be pooled with Spain in the Euro qualifying phase that starts after the World Cup next year.

To help ease the way on to the big European stage, Bula called up experienced duo Scott Wiseman from English Championship side Barnsley and former Manchester United defender Danny Higginbotham, now at Chester in the fifth tier.

Higginbotham, who will be sharing the pitch with mostly amateur players, is revelling at the unexpected opportunity.

“I didn’t think that at 34 I’d have the opportunity to play international football,” he said, adding he still hopes to grab a few more caps.

“My career is starting to get into the twilight so to get this opportunity is great for me.

“I haven’t done this just as a public relations stunt or for me to come away for a few days. I’m not going to be playing in five, six, seven years time but hopefully what happens in the next couple of years will have a big bearing.”

FRANCE AIM

On a cool but sunny day at Almancil, near the match venue in Portugal’s southern region of the Algarve, Bula has set his sights way beyond Tuesday’s match.

“As a manager it’s not all right for people to accept that because we are classed as minnows, smaller nations, it’s all right to lose. This will make managers not push themselves.

“We are going for qualification (for Euro 2016) and at the end of the tunnel is France. That is what I am aiming for: France.”

Tuesday’s match will be the first at their temporary home at the Algarve Stadium, situated midway between Faro and Loule in Portugal.

The stadium will be their venue for the Euro 2016 qualifiers because the 2,000-seater Victoria Stadium in Gibraltar is not big enough to meet UEFA’s minimum standards for official matches.

Gibraltar captain Joseph Chipolina admits to being nervous and struggled to hide his excitement.

“To be honest, I didn’t think I’d ever see it. Now that I am 30, I am going to make the most of it,” he said.

(Editing by Alison Wildey)

Merkel urges explanation over US spying

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for answers over “grave” US spying accusations which she said were testing transatlantic ties, including fledgling trade talks.

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Ahead of a special debate on snooping by US intelligence on German soil which included the suspected tapping of her mobile phone, Merkel addressed the US espionage claims at the start of a speech to parliament.

“The transatlantic relationship and therefore also the negotiations for a free-trade agreement are presently without doubt being put to the test by the remaining accusations against the US and the million-fold collection of data,” Merkel told the Bundestag lower house.

“The accusations are grave. They must be explained and, more important still for the future, new trust must be built,” she said to applause.

Merkel, who went on to speak about EU partnerships with Eastern European countries, did not directly mention the surveillance of her phone.

But she stressed that the relationship with the United States was of “paramount” importance for Germany and Europe, and the “common experiences, values and interests” shared by Berlin and Washington DC.

With US President Barack Obama’s June visit to Berlin still fresh in many minds, lawmakers called a special parliamentary debate on the revelations that have put the US in the firing line and strained diplomatic ties, also clouding EU-US talks on what would be the world’s biggest free-trade accord.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich criticised US intelligence policy since the first revelations from leaked National Security Agency (NSA) documents came to light.

“The silence leads to there being all sorts of conspiracy theories,” he lamented.

Calls were again heard for Germany to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who is behind the leaks that have fed near-daily media reports for months and is wanted in the US on criminal charges.

Friedrich has said the government is studying the possibility of questioning Snowden in Russia where he has temporary asylum, while Berlin has already rejected an asylum bid from him.

The government, accused of having played down the espionage claims before September elections and until Merkel herself became a target, faced criticism from opposition Green and Linke MPs for having failed to stand up to the US.

“One doesn’t forge a friendship by ducking the issue and running scared,” the Linke’s parliamentary group leader Gregor Gysi said, also calling for Snowden to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Germany is only sovereign if it listens to Mr Snowden, protects, grants him asylum and organises his safe residence,” he said.