Monday, November 16, 2009

The little BIG man of Boxing

Filipino ring icon Manny Pacquiao’s tactical demolition of Puerto Rican welterweight champ Miguel Cotto this weekend left no doubt as to the 7-division champ’s status as the best fighter of our generation competing with the likes of 70s icon Muhammad Ali and the 80’s Sugar Ray Leonard.

(Left: Cotto asks Bayless, "I object. Why is Buboy inside the ring?")

Traffic came to a halt and crime rate dropped as Filipinos eagerly anticipated PR vs RP. And when the referee Kenny Bayless stopped the fight for the running Puerto Rican, Miguel Cotto’s face was a mask of Halloween going trick or treat. Poor Cotto didn’t know what hit him. And so did Hatton, De la Hoya, Diaz, Marquez, Barrera, Morales and many others before him.

Make no mistake, there is still the undefeated Floyd Mayweather, Jr and his trash-talking father out there but who cares? Floyd is a businessman first and a defensive specialist second who relies on smaller opposition (and a bigger paycheck). Manny Pacquiao is a fighter’s champ and a people’s champ. He fights who the people want to see him fight. That is a heart of a champion.

In an era where Mixed Martial Arts is decimating boxing on attendance and PPV buys, Pacquiao’s worldwide appeal to sports fans from all walks of life badly resurrected boxing to its iconic status reminiscent of the time when Ali fought Joe Frazier in the 70s and when Sugar Ray Leonard met Hagler and Hearns in the 80s.

Humble as his roots are despite taking an historic 7th world title, the champ was gracious to his opponents even complimenting Miguel Cotto’s power left hooks which rocked Manny… a bit.

Cotto, ever gracious in defeat proclaimed Pacquiao as the best fighter he ever fought.

What’s next for Manny? Surely you cannot suggest he go after Sugar Shane Mosley? After all, Manny beat the man who beat the man.

And the business of Marquez is over. Sure it’s a fight that could have gone either way after 24 rounds of boxing but if the Mexican fought Pacquaio right now, he will end up like Hatton, knocked out for good, counted out then forgotten.

Which comes to the question of Floyd. Well, let Floyd come to Manny. Manny does not need Floyd to elevate his status. Floyd needs Manny and the pressure is on him to create that fight. If that happens, defensive tactician meets offensive specialist. Speeds kills, as Cotto just found out, which both have. But power is what Manny gives compared to Floyd’s fly flicks and eventually the pressure will be too much (276 power punches against Cotto’s 93). After the fight, Floyd will no longer be “pretty” but the opposite of what he once was.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Formula 1: 2009 in summary

And so the F1 season had ended. A new World Champion has been crowned, as well as, Constructor’s Champion. Looking back, 2009 has been punctuated by excitement and thrills only the pinnacle of motorsports racing could give.

2009 saw the demise of Honda to come out as Brawn GP, worthy successor to world class champions such as Ferrari, McLaren and Williams.

Midfield cars and drivers in 2008 were dominant in 2009. Button, Barrichello, Vettel and Webber each earned at least 2 first place podium finishes. Mercedes-powered Brawn and Renault-powered Red Bull were outclassing bigger teams.

Brawn’s Jenson Button was the dominant driver in the first half of the season while teammate Rubens Barrichello succeeded him in the second half. With a race to spare, the British driver snatched the Driver’s title from Barrichello and Vettel in the penultimate race that was in Interlagos.

Abu Dhabi showed fans what future race tracks should be like overlaid with modern amenities and the longest straight ever in the history of street racing.

2009 saw favorites Ferrari and McLaren running in the middle of the pack and it must have pained world champions Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton in such an uncompetitive car.

Of course F1 will not be F1 without its controversies. From Lewis Hamilton’s “lie-gate” scandal to Nelson Piguet’s “crash-gate” scandal, under new management with former Ferrari manager Jean Todt the FIA promises to usher more excitement in the coming season 2010.

Despite this, BMW Sauber and tire supplier Bridgestone leaves F1 racing at the end of the season.

But my favorite racing moment of 2008 has to be Kimi Raikkonen’s aggressive overtaking maneuver against Force India’s Giancarlo Fisichella in Monza. The stronger pace was with the Mercedes-powered Indian car but Ferrari had KERS which the Finn was able to utilize taking Kimi to his only 1st place finish of the season.

Runner-up for best moments would be Jenson Button’s 5 overtaking maneuvers in Brazil from 16th place eventually finishing 5th and taking home the Driver’s title for good.

Fans cannot wait for 2010—the entry of new teams, Campos Meta, US F1, Manor GP and possibly former world champions Lotus; new drivers like Kamui Kobayashi securing his new drive for Toyota, Brunno Senna, nephew of triple world champion Ayrton, for Campos, GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg for Williams, to name a few; and driver rotations—Fernando Alonso to Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen to McLaren or Toyota, Robert Kubica to Renault and Brawn driver Rubens Barrichello exchanges seat with William’s driver Nico Rosberg.

2010 will be exciting.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Formula 1: Final race at Yas Marina

Offering both day and night races in one event, the newly built Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit in Abu Dhabi is considered by many as the best in the world.

With a circuit length of 5.554 km, the tract combines high speed straights and corners in varying degrees similar to the modern anti-clockwise tracks of Turkey, Bahrain and Singapore. The KERS cars of Ferrari and McLaren will prove to be an advantage here.

While majority of the races are scheduled in daytime, Singapore last year made history by sponsoring the first Formula 1 night race in Asia and the rest of the world. This weekend, however, will prove to be another groundbreaking event for F1. Spectators will be treated to a combined day and night race— the first ever in the world.

Race day starts with drivers basked in the Arabian desert sun and end at night with stars literally sprinkled over Yas Marina.

55 laps of street track racing will entertain 50,000 fans of the premier motorsports event highlighted by some final drives of the season. The top speed will be achieved at over 310 km/hr while the average will be pegged around 200 km/hr.

Double world champion Fernando Alonso drives into the sunset with French team Renault as the Spanish ace moves to Ferrari alongside Brazilian Felipe Massa next season while highest paid driver world champion Kimi Raikkonen leaves Ferrari to think about a possible team up and return to former team McLaren or welcome a new drive with Japanese giant Toyota.

Williams will bid goodbye to engine supplier Toyota and welcome Cosworth in 2010, one of the most successful manufacturers in F1.

Rubens Barrichello will need an aggressive drive this week against Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel as the Brazilian hopes to place second in the Driver’s Championship which was won by Brawn teammate Jenson Button in Interlagos 2 weeks ago. Rubens is expected to join Williams next year.

And on a happy note, world champion Jenson Button will finally drive without the pressure this week of a points finish and concentrate entirely on racing.

Friday first practice saw Finnish driver Heiki Kovaleinen of McLaren Mercedes posting the fastest lap times but today’s Qualifying and Sunday’s Main Race will be a different event. This season has already proven to be full of surprises and anyone could be pulling off a trick or treat of their own. Watch out!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Formula 1: Button tames Rubinho

Go Rubinho! That was my last thought as I drifted slowly to sleep last night while watching the first few laps of the 2009 penultimate race in Formula 1, the Brazilian GP.

12 midnight and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. What with the race half a world away in Sao Paolo high noon while here in the Philippines, people were anticipating the arrival of yet another super typhoon.

Tough luck for the Philippines. But today’s freakish nature has a way of getting its comic relief. The Brazilian GP’s first day of practice was marred by downpours that saw the longest ever suspended practice and qualifying in F1 history.

Rain interrupted points leader and Brawn driver Jenson Button who qualified in a measly 14th place while similar luck also went to roaring German driver of Red Bull Renault Sebastian Vettel relegated to 16th place.

It was funny how the rain stopped when Rubens Barrichello stepped in for his flying lap. The Brazilian driver, 14 points adrift of Button, needed a win to bring the Driver’s title down the wire in the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi. It looked like Mother Nature was virtually handing the Brazilian the opportunity to finish the race this time in flying colors when he qualified in P1.

But alas, I may have spoken too soon. On race day, Barrichello suffered a puncture late in the race while protecting his lead. Call it perfect timing, Rubens had to pit and change tires and despite his surge he was unable to regain the lead.

Compatriot Jenson Button then needed only to finish 5th to secure the title with a race to spare. What a penultimate race!

Come to think of it, the last 2 years of the Brazilian GP were funnier. In 2008, Felipe Massa would have secured the Driver’s title had Lewis Hamilton not overtaken Timo Glock in the final corner of the final race of the year. Had Lewis finished 6th or lower, Massa would have the title but Lewis finished 5th. The Briton won by a single point.

In 2007, the title was either in the hands of then feuding McLaren teammates Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton but Kimi Raikkonen’s finish down the front line secured the Driver’s title winning by a single point.

So in the end, another Englishman wins the Driver’s title, a rookie team captures the Constructors’ title, one Brazilian gets philosophical, a German grits his teeth and an F1 nut finally gets his sleep.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Formula 1: Germany's Baby Schumi

Nicknamed “Baby Schumi”, in reference to fellow German driver and 7-time World Champion Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel is proving to be a naturally gifted driver in the pinnacle of motorsports racing, Formula One.

Only 22 years old, a lot of F1 nuts consider Vettel as amongst the top 3 in the mythical pound-for-pound list of drivers, regardless of car or manufacturer, which include double World Champion Fernando Alonso of the current Renault drive and 2008 World Champion Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes.

In the circuit that was Suzuka last weekend, Vettel’s precision driving allowed him to lead in all qualifying sessions and start from pole to finish on race day, notwithstanding this being the German’s first try in the 5.8-km, high-speed, figure of 8, free flowing tract owned by Toyota which was last raced on by F1 in 2006.

The German driver has now converted 3 of his 4 pole positions into victories. Outstanding feat.

Eclipsing Lewis Hamilton, who was then the youngest driver to win a GP at 23, who in turn eclipsed Fernando Alonso’s record of 24, Vettel’s first GP win at 22 years old under Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari in the drenched Italian Grand Prix last year in Monza was the beginning of the German’s ascent into the driver’s pound-for-pound.

Currently third in the driver’s standings with 2 races to go, Vettel, in the Red Bull Renault, will have to win both upcoming penultimate race in Brazil and the first ever season ending combined day and night race in Abu Dhabi for a chance to grab the 2009 Driver’s title away from Brawn duo Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello. He takes inspiration much like the title race in 2007 when Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen, 17 points adrift, jump started frontrunners (and feuding) teammates Hamilton and Alonso in the last 2 races of that season winning by a single point.

But Vettel will have to nurse his engine well, high revs or not, in the coming races. He no longer has the luxury of a replacement having already used all 8 engines for the season.

Title in the bag for the Englishman? Anything can happen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Formula 1: Driver changes

Yeah Lewis won in Singapore but so what? On Friday practice, the British champion was ready to convene the FIA complaining about the poor quality of the Marina Bay circuit. But on raceday, Lewis was having the time of his life dominating Qualifying and enjoying his Grand Prix finish in the most boring race I have seen to date.

Enough said.

Alonso has been found to be wanting. And like the genie of old times past, his wish of a Scuderia drive has been granted.

The double world champion of 2005 and 2006 is set to be signed on with Ferrari this week leaving ING-less Renault to toil alone for 2010. Call it an open secret, much speculation and anticipation has been gathered amongst F1 fans and bloggers alike about the possibility of a Massa-Alonso or a Kimi-Fernando partnership.

Felipe Massa, the sentimental favorite in Ferrari, is set to retain his seat and drive while 2007 Driver’s Champion Kimi Raikkonen will be released by Ferrari $40 million richer next year.

The Iceman is a prized commodity, make no mistake about that. Brawn GP, set to release the wily veteran Rubens Barrichello, and McLaren, set to replace underperforming Heiki Kovaleinen, are interested parties.

A Massa-Alonso red pair will actually benefit both team and drivers alike. Like title contenders and Brawn GP teammates Button and Barrichello, each complements the other.

Consistent despite relegated to the middle of the pack by an underpowered Renault 2.4-liter V8, Fernando Alonso’s skill and stamina make him a perfect balance to Felipe Massa’s off and on driving intensity manifested by the Brazilian’s preference to dry races than wets.

The grid for 2010 will have more driver changes in the coming weeks not to mention new teams, old and new.

That will be the day!

But until then, Suzuka comes into view.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Formula 1: Singapore GP expectations

Preparations are under way for the most anticipated Formula 1 event of the year, Singapore’s night race.

Started in 2008, the Formula 1 Singtel Singapore GP was a huge success, one which was widely participated by racing aficionados and F1 nuts and fanatics all over the world.

Seeing those million dollar technologically advanced single-seater open-cockpit racing machines from atop the Suntek Tower 4 last year and experiencing more than 90 decibels of squealing 2.4-liter V8s was an adrenaline rush by itself.

Never mind that the race last year was conveniently fixed by a few desperate people, Fernando Alonso’s win was by no means considered a fluke. The Spanish ace was already flat out on Qualifying if not for a mechanical problem. This was proven by the fact that the double world champion duplicated his feat in front of Japanese fans a week later.

Powered by 12 powerful independent generators sending more than 3 million watts of light with digiflag displays around the circuit, Singapore’s tract illuminates drivers and fans alike.

Together with Turkey and Bahrain, the race is anti-clockwise covering 61 laps with a race distance of over 309 km. Average speed is a little over 170 km/hr with maximum attained at over 295 km/hr, one of the slowest in F1. The track covers 23 turns—10 to the right, 13 to the left.

Ferrari driver Felipe Massa was the first driver on pole but finished out of the points system after a pit lane bungle. Kimi Raikkonen, who was running on 3rd that time, crashed onto the concrete barriers just 3 laps before the chequered flag.

This year having 8 races between them, the Brawn drivers Button and Barrichello are the clear favorites bouncing back in the Italian GP to finish their fourth 1-2s.

Looking forward to race redemption is a bevy of F1 drivers with a lot to prove: Lewis Hamilton of McLaren after an embarrassing DNF (did not finish) in Monza just a few hundred meters to the podium; Raikkonen, who will probably be handed back to McLaren next year, after a disappointing showing in SG last year; Fernando Alonso, transferring to Ferrari next year and arguably the best driver out there pound-for-pound, determined to repeat last year’s win without the controversy; Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber of Red Bull looking forward to redeem title contention; veteran Rubens Barrichello fast on the heels of a driver’s title win; and Jenson Button, with a hand cemented on the title.

Qualifying on Saturday and race day on Sunday. Can’t wait.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Boxing: Lopsided boxing clinic, anyone?

Call it sweet science, Floyd Mayweather Jr won a unanimous decision victory against Mexican fighter Juan Manuel Marquez in the welterweight showdown titled “Number One Numero Uno” held in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Fresh from his 21-month long retirement, Mayweather showed top form in winning against many consider a much smaller opponent, Pacquiao nemesis Marquez.

For 12 staggering rounds, Mayweather repeatedly peppered the Mexican warrior with quick jabs and hooks with pinpoint accuracy, Mayweather’s signature shoulder roll deflecting most of JMM’s counters. Although Marquez was floored in the second round by a flash left hook, Mayweather failed to capitalize on this and the Mexican warrior continued to fight gallantly throwing ineffectual combinations against the ring tactician.

It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that the fight was a lopsided victory for the physically imposing Mayweather, smirking all throughout the fight, whose choice of Marquez as an opponent for a comeback fight was in question. Marquez has never fought over the lightweight limit of 135 lbs having only fought Joel Casamayor and Juan Diaz 18 months back in an effort to keep up with erstwhile nemesis Manny Pacquiao.

For Marquez, the defeat only showed his ability to stick it out with the best. Having drawn and been beaten by a point against Pacquiao, JMM has been following the latter’s progress through the welterweight ranks hoping a win against Mayweather cementing a possible 3rd match with the People’s Champ. That will have to wait.

It was embarrassing for Mayweather having failed to make weight the day prior the match. Weighing 4 lbs heavier than the catchweight limit of 144, Mayweather could only remove 2 lbs after strenuous exercise. He officially weigh in at 146 lbs. Marquez weigh in 4 lbs lighter. The money man reportedly paid JMM a total of $600,000.00 for the extra poundage.

The fight, which was originally scheduled last July but cancelled due to a rib injury sustained by Mayweather during training, was a preview of a possible showdown with the winner of the Pacquiao-Cotto match coming in November.

Despite the win, Mayweather’s win over Marquez will not move him up the Pound-for-Pound rankings which he previously topped before his retirement. Known to duck worthy opponents, many believe Mayweather should fight natural welterweights in his class, namely: Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Sugar Shane Mosley, and even Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

In my opinion, his prior win over the aging Dela Hoya and Ricky Hatton, another small fighter, did nothing to cement his legacy in the sweet science of boxing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Formula 1: Crashes in Monza

The Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend in Monza was one race to be remembered.

Like most fans, I fully expected Giancarlo Fisichella to deliver some relevant points finish to his new team Ferrari seeing the look of determination in the Italian’s pace while driving for Force India just 2 weeks ago catching up to Kimi Raikkonen in the Belgian GP.

Probably the pressure was just too much on the 37-year old veteran. Having been given the go-ahead signal to drive for Ferrari, an Italian team, backed up by rabid home crowd, Fisichella almost destroyed his first F60 by crashing during Qualifying.

Clearly outpaced by Mercedes this year, Ferrari’s lackluster performance can be equated by its KERS power boost system, one Giancarlo failed to capitalize by finishing only 9th. Pointless.

And like most fans, I fully expected Lewis Hamilton to bring home his McLaren front pole to podium but the Briton’s overzealous racing mindset got the better of him when he crashed his MP4 in the last few hundred meters to the chequered flag whilst chasing compatriot Jenson Button of Brawn. That hurt.

Lewis’ crash allowed Kimi Raikkonen’s 5th trip to the podium this season, 4th successive, one the Finn is hoping to replicate in 11 days time after crashing out himself in Singapore in the last 3 laps of the race last year.

Brilliant strategy though by Ross Brawn. Setting up single pit stops enabled both drivers to finish a 1-2. I am at a loss as to why McLaren, Ferrari or Red Bull didn’t come up with that strategy. Of course, one has to take into consideration about tire graining. My guess is Raikkonen and Hamilton couldn’t do without having to change tires twice in Monza, a high speed circuit.

Speaking of crashes, Renault’s “crashgate” scandal has turned up its ugly head around. Criminal charges have been filed by Renault against father and son for alleged blackmail. This after the Piquets reported to the FIA of team orders being given to the junior Piquet to deliberately crash his Renault right after eventual Singapore GP winner Fernando Alonso was in the pits.

But why the report after almost a year from the first night race is a guess I’m willing to make. Junior Piquet, spoiled brat that he is, could not get over the fact getting the boot from Renault for, as you guessed it, driving too slow. Again, that hurt.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Formula 1: Records and allegations heading into Monza

Debuting in 1921, the Italian Grand Prix continues this weekend as round #13 in the FIA Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monza. Long favored by race drivers, together with Monaco and Silverstone, its long straights and medium downforce tract offers speeds of up to 330 kph in the 5.7-km tract, 53-lap, 306.7-km race distance.

Ferrari is the most successful car manufacturer in terms of wins in Monza and the driver with the most wins? You guessed it. It’s Michael Schumacher raking in 5 wins for Ferrari from 1996 to 2006. Lap record still holds for the 2004 spec cars (picture above) of Ferrari driven by current Brawn GP driver Rubens Barrichello.

Last year German driver Sebastian Vettel won his inaugural race for Toro Rosso (engines supplied by Ferrari, no surprise here) breaking records for the youngest driver to qualify on pole and win a Formula 1 Grand Prix at 21 years and 74 days. The German driver broke Spanish driver Fernando Alonso’s record of 23 years.

Cars with KERS like Ferrari, McLaren and Renault will be favored this weekend where the boost system, for the first time, will be allowed to be deployed twice. Fresh from his transfer from Force India, Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella will be donning his red cape for today for the tifosi and the pressure, I imagine, for an Italian in his first drive for an Italian car manufacturer like Ferrari in an Italian tract, will hit the roof.

Fisichella will have a lot to prove substituting for the injured Felipe Massa, replacing error-prone Luca Badoer and driving beside former champion Kimi Raikkonen this weekend.

Qualifying starts today and race day is Sunday at 8 pm (Philippine time).

But not without its issues. Allegations of race fixing by former Renault driver Nelson Piquet, backed by his father 3-time World Champion of the same name, has the World Council convening and investigating in what could be, if proved to be true, a ridiculous conspiracy of outlandish proportions.

After being dished out by Renault F1 Racing for failing to score points this season, not to mention being continually out driven by teammate double World Champion Fernando Alonso, the Piquets have alleged that last year’s win by the Spaniard in Singapore was no fluke.

Despite starting 15th on the grid, Fernando Alonso won the inaugural night race of Singapore after an early crash by Piquet brought out the Safety Car. At that time then, Alonso had just pitted for fuel and tires after making up 3 places on the grid on a light fuel load.

A heavy fuel load is the usual strategy for a car starting on the back of the grid but Alonso’s team decided to do otherwise predicting an early racing incident that will bring out the Safety Car. There were 2 racing incidents that day.

On lap 14, Piquet crashed while being chased by Force India’s Adrian Sutil which then brought out the SC while organizers try to clean up the debris. Overtaking or pitting is not allowed at this point lest you incur penalties.

Sure enough when race resumed and the pit lane opened, there was a mad dash for fuel and tires except for Alonso, who had already pitted early on. The Renault driver took the lead and a commanding victory in old Singapura.

Piquet alleged that the crash was deliberate allowing Alonso to take his first win of the season despite a poor performing Renault car.

If World Council finds Renault in violation of ethical standards, they will be strip of their winnings and points finish for 2008. Poor Alonso’s titles in 2005 and 2006 will also be investigated.

Deliberate, my foot! If a conspiracy did take place, the FIA would have hounded on it already. From race communications to surveillance cameras, even an oil drop can be recorded and heard by race stewards.

Piquet’s allegations are far-fetched. More like bitterness after being fired for “driving too slow.”

If, however, the World Council finds the allegations untrue, the father and son duo should be penalized and banned from attending F1 racing…forever.