Author Archives: Dev Tyagi

F1 2021: Drivers that Need a Good Hungarian GP Later Today

The gloves are off, and we are back to the F1 battleground. The stage has shifted from Silverstone to the Hungaroring that holds much promise to offer another enticing Hamilton versus Verstappen duel.

With Sir Lewis Hamilton taking a record-breaking ninth career pole at the Hungaroring, the most by any driver at the venue, the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix is poised to be an exciting battle. Even more so since Max Verstappen, who’s authored a great challenge to the king of the throne thus far, has managed a third in qualifying.

And perhaps what only exacerbates Red Bull, aggrieved given their plea against Hamilton’s penalty at Silverstone wasn’t entertained by the FIA, is that none of their drivers start from the front grid, with Valtteri Bottas slated to begin second.

A lot of action and drama is poised to be unfurled at Round 11 of the 2021 World Championship, an event where there are a few drivers who’d be determined to up their game.

So let’s find out which drivers need to deliver a strong Hungarian GP?

Carlos Sainz

Carlos Sainz has ground to make up after his qualifying crash. Image: Ferrari

After sliding outside of the track in Q1, Ferrari newcomer Carlos Sainz Jr., who had been much quicker than Charles Leclerc for the better part of Friday. The talented Spaniard will be keen to pounce on the challenging midfield in the next few hours.

Starting today’s 70-lap challenge from fifteenth on the grid, Sainz will know that he’s got a car that’s nearly as quick as the McLaren. If not in terms of straight-line speed where, one has seen the other Ferrari of Leclerc being challenged, such as in events like Baku, where it didn’t take Hamilton and Mercedes long to pass the pole-sitter.

That being said, having been the better finisher among the two Ferraris, finishing above Leclerc in both rounds at Austria and having gathered a strong P6 at Silverstone, it’ll be brilliant for Sainz to collect a strong race finish at Hungary.

READ MORE: 2021 HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX – FP1 & FP2 REPORT: COULD BOTTAS UPSET THE TITLE FIGHT?

Yuki Tsunoda

Tsunoda has flattered to deceive after his incredible debut in Bahrain

The rookie Japanese driver, who collected points in his very first outing in Formula 1 has shown lukewarm form where the recent events stand. Although, where the last four Grands Prix are concerned, the Sagamihara-born driver managed to beat a more experienced teammate in Gasly on two occasions.

Picture the Steierkmark Grand Prix and the recent race at Silverstone saw Tsunoda finished ahead of Gasly.

Though, for Sunday’s Hungarian contest, Yuki begins from sixteenth on the grid, having failed to put together a strong lap in Q1, from which he was knocked out.

Knowing that he’s got a car perhaps slightly stronger than the Aston Martin and at par with Alpine Racing, Tsunoda should be in a position to contest the packed midfield shortly. But will he improve on his lowly starting position?

Max Verstappen

Verstappen will need to overtake at least one of the Mercedes to maintain his championship lead. Image: F1

Having crashed out in two important races now, one each at Baku and the next, at Silverstone, for no fault of his own, Verstappen, regardless of some of the way he’s been portrayed on social media, will be feeling crestfallen.

Someone who himself stopped the interviewers from hurling him questions related to the Silverstone saga, Max would know he has better things to focus on.

And right now, it’s to find a way to do better than what he managed during qualifying.

Aware that he’s starting from third on the grid and isn’t nearly as close to Hamilton as what he’d have liked in order to pose an early challenge, it will be an interesting sight to see the resilience of Hamilton being challenged by the aggression of a talented and fiery driver.

Moreover, for the sake of extending his lead over the world championship, instead of seeing it shrink, the chances of which are highly likely, Verstappen has to deliver a very fine Hungarian GP. Importantly, it also happens to be a venue where he’s never won a race before.

READ MORE: F1 BLAST FROM THE PAST: BUTTON ENDS LONG WAIT FOR FIRST FORMULA 1 VICTORY

Kimi Raikkonen

Kimi Raikkonen’s season has yielded only one point so far

The Iceman with his thirteenth on the grid during Saturday’s qualifying provided a moment of reprieve to himself – provided he felt pressure in all this time- and to millions of fans who were rightly distraught at having seen a driver of such fine caliber having been knocked out in Q1 itself for the last four consecutive qualifying battles.

Starting P13, Raikkonen, given his penchant to move swiftly up the grid not long after the red lights turn green, would want to demonstrate a similar act, doing which he could land himself in a point-scoring chance.

Something that hasn’t happened for long, Baku being the last and only occasion where the sport’s most enigmatic and experienced driver scored a point and that too, a solitary one.

Having scored 9 of his 103 career podiums at Hungary, while a top-three finish is about as probable as is imagining the Adriatic sea minus water and fishes, Kimi’s task is clear and cut out- he’s to fight for points and make a possible race finish inside the top 10. Some would reckon even a P10 won’t hurt so much. But is it going to actually happen? We shall have to wait and see.

Grid Talk Podcast

If you want more reaction to yesterday’s qualifying session, the Grid Talk crew have you covered with their latest podcast. Ruby Price hosted Steve Jackson and Tom Downey in their 2021 Hungarian GP qualifying analysis. Audio and video versions of the show are both available below:

Faf du Plessis – The Vigilante of South African Cricket

In an age where the narrative around Cricket is constantly changing, a sport that once had just two formats to now accommodating even The Hundred, where basing a career in has taken a backseat to milking money from. Where talents play as opponents first only to become teammates the next day thanks to T20 leagues, it’s rare to find consistency. 

Rather, time has come to ask fans and those who dabble with punditry- just how important is consistency in an age where Cricket, apart from being commercialised, is seen filling the vacuum of entertainment?

And if holding the baton for one’s nation still as relevant as finding oneself adapting to whatever cricket’s changing vagaries ask of its devotees- then have we properly examined Faf du Plessis? 

Who is Faf du Plessis?

For a career that was born amid crisis- South Africa on the brink of a great defeat at Adelaide, only to find a young debutant hold his ground in striking a century (110 v Australia)- and continues to flourish amid one- think those 11,000 plus international runs, aged 37, at a time where political control over their cricket is still very much a reality- Faf is no less than a national hero. 

Except the country to which he belongs doesn’t believe in making Gods out of mortals, which is actually even better for all that Faf du Plessis – former captain, rescuer, smooth sailor, frequent run hitter – has done for South Africa. This makes one react with awe given he’s a man of flesh and blood albeit one of a lion-hearted will. 

22 centuries, 56 fifties, a highest individual score of 185 in ODIs, over 1,500 T20I runs, pounding 888 Test runs versus Australia and striking Sri Lanka with 1,100 ODI runs, Francois du Plessis has done more than what he’s gotten in return for a country for whom de Villiers is an icon and Faf is not nearly as great. 

Though in reality, it was Faf who extended the love for the game and blazed a legacy that de Villiers, the genius left behind, with unfettered excellence and boundless enthusiasm. 

Not to mention, an astonishing show of dominance in white-ball cricket where starting 2017-19, having reached the declining years of prowess and reflexes, Faf scored ODI runs at an average of 60, 62, and 67- respectively. 

Post-captaincy

When de Villiers stepped back from the captaincy in December 2016, a period in which South Africa were nearing their decline accentuated by frequent injuries to key names, one man stood up and made himself counted. 

Not the man with silken touch, Hashim Amla and not the force with Steyn-gun of deadly pace either; it was Faf du Plessis. The man under whose leadership South Africa registered a famous Test series win in Australia, 2016, the man under whose captaincy South Africa hammered India in 2018 at home. 

The very man, who after rescuing South Africa, time and again from the unlikeliest of situations, today finds himself having to knock on the doors for selection in the upcoming T20 World Cup squad. 

The conundrum, if any, that surrounds Faf, who’s played 50 T20Is for South Africa, remaining unbeaten in 7, and scoring runs at a strike rate north of 134, is not of capability or availability but of the team’s make up! 

Whether Faf should play a key ICC event reminds one of his importance to the team, a lifelong example of which would lead the Protea fan to revisit a heart-breaking albeit meltingly beautiful semi-final contest (50 over World Cup) of 2015, where he single handedly made 82 of South Africa’s 281 runs. 

In the aftermath of the contest where everyone was in tears, the South African hearts crushed, one man controlled his tears, not because the river ran dry but because the true measure of a man is his poise under pressure and his control amid adversity. 

That was Francois du Plessis! 

Whether Faf is made to play ultimately will rest in hands of those who probably may not consider his selection as being a litmus test where alongside exuberance of youth, what one may need is also experience, that of a soldier unwilling to put the gun down. 

The truth certainly is that whilst his career doesn’t boast of multiple double hundreds nor has seen South Africa lift a prominent ICC crown, Faf has seldom choked under pressure and fought fire to fire when the chips were down. 

Picture 2019 ODI World Cup where no South African went on to hit the three-figure mark save their captain- Faf du Plessis, whose 100, that came at better than a run a ball gave fans something to cheer about when the scenes were listless. 

Not that Faf du Plessis’ 100, which came against a Starc and Hazlewood-powered Australia helped ease the hurt the campaign brought to a team that had seen far better days in the past. 

Though forget not that in an age where Faf too may have gladly retracted and decided to take it easy, playing the safe option as did a few in their times, he continued fighting bowlers and detractors alike with the bat. 

In 2019, when aged no spring chicken at 35, du Plessis hammered 814 runs in the ODI calendar year. 

In some ways, he’s matured like fine wine that gets better with age minus any hang-ups or bitterness toward anyone. Make no mistake though- he’s no monk and been found guilty of ball tampering, a controversial saga that’s hurt the South Africa-Australia contests in the path. 

But whenever the team needed a figurehead to hold it together- Faf held it close to his, against a beating heart displaying- not showing off- those throbbing veins and that burlesque Sparta-like figure. 

What verdict might one pass on the career of a hard-as-nails cricketer who emerged as a tough cookie, stroking a deadly 199 against Sri Lanka just last year to help his team achieve yet another series triumph against an opponent its often toyed with? 

That’s a matter that cricket will be convinced to pass a ruling on and cannot shy away from akin to the soldier who never shied away too in rescuing an often-embattled Proteas, much like a lion, often single-handedly. 

Caught at Point Podcast

For more info on the South African vigilante of cricket, check out Caught at Point’s Podcast where Dev Tyagi and Pranay Rangra discuss his impact on the sport:

F1 2021: 5 Drivers who Need a Good Austrian gp today

2021 Austrian GP

After winning the French and Steiermark Grands Prix from pole, Max Verstappen clearly starts as the favourite to win the 2021 Austrian GP, having captured his first hat-trick of pole positions in Formula 1. This is going to be a race which should the young Dutchman win, will mark his fourth victory at the famous Styrian hills-bound Spielberg circuit. More importantly, it would mean a show of absolute dominance by a Red Bull driver at the Milton Keynes-based outfit’s home race event.

Though in order to do so, Max Verstappen will have to defy the staunch attack of a driver who always gives his hundred percent in a duel, not Lewis Hamilton for a change; but young Lando Norris who starts from a career-best qualifying position of second on the grid.

So what we shall get to se in the next few hours will hopefully be a mouth-watering prospect of seeing two young forces of Formula 1 getting embroiled in a close duel, but what about the rest?

That being said, which drivers failed to impress on Saturday and therefore, must deliver a strong Austrian GP today?

Lewis Hamilton

For someone so habitual of finishing at the top step of the podium, one Grand Prix after another, it’s honestly hard to believe that Lewis Hamilton hasn’t won a single race in the last five contests. Another failure to win a race today at Austria would mean that this will be the only occasion in the turbo-hybrid era of Formula 1 where a giant has been defined a victory for five consecutive occasions. 

Though what must be hurting Hamilton, who just hours ago, signed a new contract extension deal with his Mercedes team (which means he will remain in the sport, at least, until 2023) would be a rather forgettable qualifying run, which yielded a fourth on the grid.

It is, therefore, absolutely essential that the great Briton fights on and salvages, at least, a podium, if a race win is out of reach.

But then, you never know what a true titan of a sport can manage- do you- especially when confronted by pressure?

Antonio Giovinazzi

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Antonio Giovinazzi’s most memorable moment of the season came well over a month ago, at the famous Principality of Monaco, where the man fondly described as the ‘Italian Jesus’ scored a fighting tenth, and thus helped his outfit open its account in 2021.

Since then, while he’s shown flashes of blazing speed, managing to outperform a much experienced teammate- also his idol- Kimi Raikkonen, on race-day, however, it’s Raikkonen who’s managed to get the better of him.

Now, starting from fifteenth on the grid, having comfortably been inside the top six in the opening session of Qualifying on Saturday, the Martina Franca-born driver will be keen to cover lost ground, especially on a venue which is very close to his heart. Why? It was here in 2019, where Antonio scored his first Formula 1 points, courtesy a fighting tenth. 

But he must think of doing even better as lights go out soon for the 2021 Austrian GP.

Fernando Alonso

For someone who looked so strong in Saturday’s qualifying run, managing to put, if only for a few seconds, the fastest time on the sheets during Q2, before being eclipsed by Hamilton and then, Perez, respectively, Fernando Alonso will be raring to drive a strong race in the next few hours. He may not be liking his P14 a great deal, truth be told. Not someone who likes to rest on easy laurels, such as outperforming his teammate in qualifying, which Alonso did manage with relative ease on Saturday, it will all boil down to his race performance for the 71-laps that are soon to unfold.

Moreover, why Alonso needs a strong race finish is also down to the fact that he’s clearly been on song in the last few races, starting with a very strong sixth at Baku, followed by an eighth at France, before managing a ninth at the Steiermark Grand Prix, all of which clearly suggest he can do great in the Gand Prix event, further extending the advantage that Alpine currently enjoy over the likes of an Alfa Romeo, Williams, and Haas.

Charles Leclerc

(Photo by Dan Istitene – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

The simplest reason why Charles Leclerc must deliver a strong Austrian GP boils down to his last two Grands Prix results. While a P7 at the same venue a week earlier isn’t exactly disastrous, that he earned a sixteenth at the French Grand Prix supports the fact that Leclerc desperately needs a top five race finish.

Driver of the day the last week for having mounted an excellent recovery drive at the very same venue after the skirmish with Pierre Gasly, Leclerc does succeed in managing to get that extra bit out of his car at the venue. Perhaps on Sunday, he would reminisce the great battle with Max Verstappen in 2019, where he all but succeeded in grabbing a mega win.

So Forza Charles, gets deliver a cracker of a race today!

Daniel Ricciardo

The ‘Honeybadger’ who starts his Austrian GP from thirteenth on the grid, not the most powerful qualifying performance, actually bagged a P13 in his last race, at the same Spielberg-bound serene venue.

But in order to have serenity prevail at the end of the day, Ricciardo will have to do a lot better in the race, the chances of which aren’t difficult but will be probed by several faster cars that the Australian will have to counter.

Take the example of the twin Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc, who too will be keen to pounce on the points up for grabs. More importantly, given the fact that Ricciardo failed to finish the race the last year around, albeit to due problems with his Renault (overheating of brakes) should serve him that extra bit of motivation to contest a strong Grand Prix.

F1 2021: 5 Drivers Who Need a Good French GP Today

The fact that no Red Bull driver has ever won at Le Castellet or on any other circuit at the French Grand Prix should make Sunday’s supposedly dreary and sleep-inducing contest plenty of fun, sprinkled with thrills. 

Moreover, with Max Verstappen occupying P1 on the grid, he denied both Mercedes drivers the glory of the pole. This is poised to make the 2021 French GP a slugfest of speed and one with unending surprises for how Max can convert pole into victory.

Who knows which driver will become the first to see the checkered flag? 

But what about the rest of the grid? Which drivers need to contest a strong race for the 53 lap contest based on recent form and their Saturday’s qualifying result?

Lance Stroll

For a driver who’s yet to really put a fantastic, eye-opening lap together during Saturday’s all-important qualifying session, Lance Stroll has ahead of him really testing 53 laps for Sunday.

Not only because he failed to set a lap time and finds himself down in eighteenth, even behind Kimi Raikkonen, but also because it won’t ever be easy to make it count, especially when one begins so far behind the grid.

Moreover, the pressure to keep himself embroiled in the battle with a visibly superior teammate in Sebastian Vettel will always put that extra bit of pressure on the talented Canadian. P18 was a disappointing result in quali at the end of the day, but come race day, Stroll would want to extract every bit of pace from a car that’s more than some insipid midfield machine.

READ MORE: F1 BLAST FROM THE PAST: VILLENEUVE & ARNOUX’S MESMERIC FRANCE SHOWDOWN

Yuki Tsunoda

Contesting a race for the very first time at the exhausting Circuit Paul Ricard, young Yuki found it really difficult to negotiate Turn 6 of the track. His spin and contact with the barriers prompted the red flags to come out again during qualifying.

The result of this incident-marred run was that the talented Japanese is to begin his maiden French GP drive from the very back of the field.

Though he’s aligned with a car that’s visibly quicker than the likes of Alfa Romeo and Aston Martin, the question is, can Tsunoda vault ahead right at the beginning and make amends for a horrid quali result?

Surely, moving past the likes of Raikkonen and the Williams of Latifi shouldn’t take an awful lot of effort. Moreover, one reckons, Tsunoda will have the extra motivation to make up for the lost chances at races like Monaco and Spain, where he endured a DNF and P16, respectively.

READ MORE: SMOLYAR BEATS MARTINS TO P1 IN A SENSATIONAL FIRST F3 SPRINT RACE AT PAUL RICARD

Nicolas Latifi

Yet to open his account in Formula 1, quite like his fledgeling fortunes last year, if there’s one driver who’s been quietly operating under the radar then it’s the Canadian Nicolas Latifi.

Though, credit must be given to the young Williams man for keeping the nose of his Williams ahead of that of Kimi Raikkonen’s for a sixteenth place, but Sunday’s contest will see him amid an interesting challenge.

While the Alfa Romeo driver will fancy his chances early on to pass the Williams, what Latifi will also have to contend with is the fact that Mick Schumacher, provided the German’s mechanics manage to put together his car in one piece following that scary spin at Turn 6 in Q1, wouldn’t be so keen to allow Latifi to pass through his defences.

So, can the Montreal-born 25-year-old contend solidly and gather a respectable finish at the French Grand Prix?

Daniel Ricciardo

Finding himself outpaced by his teammate yet again, Ricciardo, not in the greatest form this year, is set to begin his French GP challenge from tenth on the grid. Meanwhile, his teammate is already on P8.

But we know Ricciardo’s prowess at real racing, he’s not called the master of late braking for nothing. Having failed to score at Monaco and managing a somewhat lowly P9 at Baku, this is his golden opportunity to make amends and score some decent points.

A finish ahead of Norris, if at all possible, should serve him the mental advantage that all’s not lost yet since the 2021 world championship is a pretty long and arduous season anyways.

Moreover, with a best-place finish of P6 at Imola and Spain, it doesn’t appear as if Ricciardo has got the hang of the MCL 35M thus far. Probably, about time to get to his best on-track performance.

READ MORE: TOP 10 MEMES OF THE 2021 FORMULA 1 AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX

Kimi Raikkonen

If there’s ever been a woeful season for the most experienced driver on the grid, then surely 2021 is it. A man who was easily outpacing a much younger teammate in qualifying for much 2020, has found the tables turned this time around in 2021.

How can it even be when with the same Alfa Romeo he got only a lowly and very shabby seventeenth on the grid whilst his teammate found himself a respectable P13?

Is the Ice melting? We don’t know. What we do know is that it’s best to leave Kimi Raikkonen alone, for perhaps this time, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. So maybe the answer at improving and rising back again can only come from him, not us speculative fans!

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more reaction to qualifying? The Grid Talk crew reviewed the French Grand Prix qualifying right after the session concluded yesterday. Ruby Price hosted Tom Horrox and Steve Jackson in their latest podcast. Both audio and video versions of the show are linked below:

Mignon du Preez: A Giant of Women’s Cricket Turns 32

In a game that loves to anoint famous nicknames to its icons, Meg Lanning known as “Superstar,” Sachin revered as the ‘Little Master,’ Shabnim Ismail famous for being “Cape Town Express,” and Brian Lara celebrated as ‘The Prince of Trinidad,” Mignon du Preez of the Proteas women doesn’t really have one.

Not that she would mind being this absolute beacon of simplicity.

Though, what the famous South African batswoman does have is something none around her or in her league have- a branch of South Africa’s famous SuperSport Park stadium being named after her- the Mignon du Preez gates.

Unveiled in mid-March, 2019, Mignon’s name has also been carved on the wall of fame.

Forging a path for good

In an age where cricket is still accommodating and often ‘accepting’ women in the mainstream, Mignon is a trailblazer of sorts, a character in an age favouring shenanigans, a real hero in a time where countless exist on social media landscape in virtual avatars.

Rare are moments where the game rewards itself by extending tribute to characters that have helped shaped its identity. Its stature. Its very being.

And when Cricket South Africa honoured Mignon by naming those gates after her, in truth, one was reminded fervently of a biblical expression in Revelation 21:21, “Those not fit to enter heaven are denied entrance at the gates.”

Though, in cricketing parlance, you could be anyone- a newbie, someone trying to find her feet in the international annals, an experienced ‘have-been,’ or a talent stymied by uncertainty- there’s most definitely a chance that Mignon du Preez would make space for you and there won’t be any denials!

No boundaries

At the conclusion of South Africa’s record-breaking tour to India where for the first time in history, the visitors smashed the hosts in both ODIs and T20Is, Mignon took to social media to post a picture with someone who happened to be an opponent.

Putting her hands on Deepti Sharma’s shoulders, posing with that bright smile that can electrify a city for its innocence and charm, Mignon’s caption read- “Friendship has no boundaries!”

And that’s really what makes South Africa’s most illustrious run-scorer endearing to tens of thousands around the world.

Perhaps with the Aussies and the English you can sense a bit of sternness on occasions, the occasional stare, if not a rebuke.

But what you get from the famous Pretorian is a feeling of earthiness, a down-to-earth-ness that’s hard to find in an age where fans are perhaps crazier to create rivalries between sides than the sides themselves.

Though, make no mistake. In the exact same charismatic batswoman, there exist two characters.

So, what we have here?

There’s the serious grafter of runs, who, specifically from the onset of 2018, vastly improved in the briefest form of the game, which is mostly about switching modes as a batter. This is the person who will combat all adversaries who push the Proteas women to the edge and will stand in between an opponent and the Proteas.

Then, there’s the ever-smiling persona beneath the helmet with twinkling eyes and an affability that’s rare to find. Well, exceptional for a cricketer whose name bears a plethora of achievements.

And in being all of this, forget not what Mignon du Preez has accomplished- over 5,200 international runs, 3 centuries and 23 fifties.

But while the excesses of international cricket pose threats of severity, challenging the physical frame of athletes, imposing the daunting challenge of playing all throughout the year, Mignon, hardly hampered by these demands, has emerged as a parable of longevity.

A school-girl prodigy, she was once a kid who debuted aged 18. For someone who struck a mega double hundred when she had barely entered her teens, greater heights would soon attract the smiling attacker of bowlers.

Where most cricketers dream of donning the captaincy, Mignon did so for both T20 Internationals as well as the ODIs and for well over half a decade.

To this date, she’s played in seven world cups and hasn’t merely contested but scored most runs for a South African cricketer – amassing 1750 T20 international runs at a healthy strike rate of 101 and nearly 3500 ODI runs.

And at that stage of her career where she could simply have become resistant to change, unwilling to adapt to growing demands, Mignon even excelled in the most watched premium T20 franchise-based league- Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League.

What about the future?

In a sport that likens young blood akin to a girl’s love for diamonds, a 30-year-old Mignon du Preez became the second-highest scorer for the Melbourne Stars, smashing 266 from just 14 games. But implicit in du Preez’s desire to excel is her penchant for improvement and taking each game as a new challenge.

It’s worth noting that someone whose T20I strike rate was no more than 95 two and a half years ago, currently sits north of 101.

A lot of it could be credited to a rather impressive outing she had and that too on spinning, testing sub-continental turfs of India, during the 2018 tour.

Starting with a 27-ball-31 in the opening T20, following it up with cameos like an 11-ball-17, du Preez was just beginning to get into the groove.

In the pinnacle of the contest, the 2020 Women’s World T20, her final over six on Katherine Brunt walloped England and sailed South Africa right on top of an opponent it had never previously beaten in any of the world cups.

Mignon’s contribution- an unbeaten 15 off just 11 at the crunch situation of the game!

To this day, one wonders what might have been the run tally that one of the most dependable batters around would’ve gone on to amass had we seen more Test cricket for women, which rather inexplicably misses nearly every team’s yearly calendar.

It didn’t take long for the bright-eyed right-hander to stamp her authority in cricket’s longest format, smashing 102 in the only Test she played around a decade back in time.

That the standard-bearer of excellence for Proteas women is still around, despite a 15-year-long run spells good news for just about everybody.

Mignon’s seen generations change around her, having played with the likes of Cri-Zelda Brits and Sunette Loubser to now being an anchor to the likes of Laura Wolvaardt, Tumi Sekhukhune, and Anneke Bosch.

Yet, what hasn’t changed is her desire to excel and represent what it truly means by the phrase Proteas Fire- the spark of incandescence that burns with bright hope to seek victories for South Africa eternally!

At 32, having witnessed both peaks and lows, the latter perhaps reminding one of the Proteas’ heartbreaks at the 2017 ODI world cup, where they were the semi-finalists and the 2020 T20 world cup, where they lost to Australia, Mignon is gearing to inspire a new generation of talents who desire to stoke the Proteas fire.

Just like the figurehead who sports a warm smile and commitment, but never any trace of arrogance or ire.

Caught at Point Podcast

If you want to hear more opinions on the world of cricket from Dev Tyagi and Pranay Rangra, check out the Caught at Point Podcast:

Ode to a true Australian titan – Steve Smith, a batsman like no other

Cricket expects England to continuously dominate, and the world champions truly came into their own in 2019, having demonstrated a spark of unsullied brilliance ever since 2017. Cricket also expects no less from India, who are world-beaters on their day, with the fact being that their days last longer than the ceaseless miles Usain Bolt can jog off without much sweat.

But from Australia, a bastion of cricketing excellence, the world expects something unreal. Australians are expected to regain the stronghold they particularly enjoyed over the sport back in the heydays of 2000s and throughout the nineties.

It’s not like the one among Cricket’s top three isn’t a strong force today; but it would be lovely to see Australians become the demolishing force they once were, one that instilled a fear in the mind of the opponent.

And when you look at a Pat Cummins, you see a bright future leader who’s just waiting to explore his wings. David Warner, a Test triple centurion is still going strong. There’s Hazlewood, Zampa, Stoinis, and Lyon- a quartet of match-winners.

And then there’s Steve Smith- a batsman like no other, a man who none can ever be.

Why Smith is special

A man who’s conquered inner demons, who has bitten dust and turned dust into gold, which incidentally also happens to be the colour of a jersey he wears with pride, truly aware today of the enormous responsibility it reposes on brave men who walk out there on the cricket pitch with an aim to churn magic.

And above all, Smith is the only candidate from Australia in the titanic tussle towards winning the battle of being the world’s best batsman, to which Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson are worthy competitors and enormous challengers.

No monk or beacon of self-righteousness, Steve Smith, who turns 32 today, has already endured what many might call a rollercoaster ride. He’s churned out records and attracted brickbats at express speed akin to the famous Ferrari roller coaster at Abu Dhabi-bound Ferrari world.

Smith arrives on the world stage

No sooner than he was introduced to the world of cricket did Smith go onto prove his credentials as a talented leg spinner who possessed the guile and loop to endanger the batsman’s stumps. Warne was already history and there was vacuum for an able spinner to inherit the spot.

In those days, circa 2010, Smith would only swing the bat on an occasion or two, never afforded a space in the top or the middle order of a line-up, which was replete with talents like Clarke, Watson, Hussey and Bailey.

Yet the Steve Smith story owes its thrills to the fiery proclivity using which a one-time leg spinner who never had his sights on batting became one of the world’s most dominant batsman, and that too, in the sport’s most arduous format- Test Cricket.

Although, that wasn’t before biting maliciously into some ‘sandpaper!’

Remember 2018? Newslands, Capetown, days after which the usually supremely confident Smith, a bloke with boyish charm and excessive self-confidence lacked every ounce of it when he went behind the mic tearing up like a schoolboy smacked on the face for notoriety?

Smith broke down during the interview where accepted full responsibility for the ball tampering scandal

Being an Australian cricketer is hard enough. You not only have to rise through the ranks, but a well-oiled domestic structure proving it difficult to reach the top annals. But the challenge of breaking in and proving oneself to be a staple resource in Australian cricket becomes an exasperating exercise in the event of one becoming a captain.

So, when Smith was found guilty of ball tampering, being a leader, it was almost curtains down on a glowing career whose byline was enormity of run scoring and boundless potential.

That could’ve been the end, but it wasn’t

In some ways, Smith being around again and going strong is down to the fact that he’s much-loved and regarded as a true modern great of the game. It’s not the world being blindingly kind on a talented bloke who chose an erroneous path.

It’s down to the stunning numbers that Smith has amassed, in a sport where most envy longevity and dream to win the much-coveted Ashes series.

In four of his ten calendar years in Tests, Smith has smoked in excess of 1,000 runs.

And what truly indicates his herculean nature at run-scoring is the fact in seven of the ten years he’s wielded a bat in Test match cricket, he’s scored at an average north of 70.

That’s like a Cristiano Ronaldo scoring 4 games per outing or Sir Lewis Hamilton delivering a pole, win, and fastest lap for consecutively for, at least, half a Formula 1 season.

It’s bizarre meets brilliance. It’s the marriage of fire and ice.

But a number that should truly drive cricket critics who still question Smith’s inclusion in Australia having committed a sacrilege-like error of ball-tampering are his numbers against England and India, two of the strongest bowling attacks.

Of his 7540 Test runs, nearly 4500 have come against the game’s most daunting forces.

Moreover, he averages 72- read that again- 72 against India and 65 versus England.

The man who once hid behind his father’s arm for the world seemed a demon in front of his cricketing catastrophe has come back like a Thor on a battlefield just that his bat is the hammer.

And some of his Ashes outings are evident proof of that. For instance, the Perth double hundred, the revered 239 that saw Smith hold his nerve for over 500 minutes in the middle.

He scored 774 Ashes runs- a high flying effort resembling figures etched on a Boeing carrier- in 2019 Ashes and didn’t even need the full quota of 5 (the usual no.) Tests to do it.

In a ten-year journey, Smith has become the poster boy of Test heroism and dauntless consistency as also the bad boy of cricket whose every forthcoming inning seems an effort of atonement to wipe out the past mistakes.

There’s always something he brings to the crease- whether it’s his rather odd way of letting a delivery by, taking his stance, shuffling, and that trigger movement captivating much like watching someone wearing an umbrella over the head.

But to Australia it truly signals that the team is safe and under cover from harshness of the opponents.

Also, the man who’s fired 38 international centuries would definitely want to get better in the 50-over format where it seems his best is yet to come.

Though, for now, the man who turns 32 but still looks pup-eyed rules with the élan of a man made of steel, built on self-conviction and that voracious appetite at run-scoring that doesn’t look if it’ll be swayed by any more distractions.

Happy bday Steven Smith. 

Kieron Pollard – the long distance runner for West Indies cricket

A little over thirteen years ago, with the West Indies facing South Africa in an important ODI World Cup contest, one particular Protean was in outstanding form. Opening for his side and facing 130 deliveries, he fired 146 of his team’s 356 on his own. AB was on fire!

Resultantly, the West Indies were never really in contention to challenge South Africa’s authority, despite having the class of men like Lara and Chanderpaul. And though, there was a young debutant, aged just 20, someone who could only score 10 with the bat, there was something of a strong presence about him.

Tall and agile, he refused to hold himself back from athletic dives, piloting different positions on the ground moving very much in the fashion of a man who seemed here to stay. He reminded very much about what it meant to have a giant in motion in a cricket field.

Fourteen years later, as Kieron Pollard turns 34, with no fewer than 116 one day internationals under his belt, he’s recognised as more than a handy all rounder in West Indies white-ball cricket.

Leader for club and country

The man who often engages in carnage with the bat, being a total menace to some of the strongest bowlers around, little would many have thought that the man who failed in his maiden appearance for West Indies would go on to smoke 212 sixes in limited overs cricket (outside of T20 internationals) and would become the only walking player on the planet to feature in 500 T20 internationals.

If you were a spectator distraught at seeing the Caribbean side lose the world cup, despite hosting it in 2007, would you even have thought that Pollard would go on to lead the very team one day?

Today, Kieron Pollard has emerged as an irreplaceable figure for the Mumbai Indians in the famous Indian Premier League. He’s a man, who in addition to his heroics with both bat and ball has also led the Trinbago Knight Riders to a unique feat- wherein they won 12 in 12 games (during CPL 2020). This is testimony to the fact that good things come not only to those who wait but also to those who persist.

Not the batsman you’d ideally see bat throughout an inning, neither a bowler whom you’d associate with wicket-crushing yorkers or dynamite bouncers, Kieron Pollard acts well the part for that’s where the glory lies.

Pollard makes the difference

Then whether it means playing second-in-command to the mighty Chris Gayle against the Aussies in a must-win T20 semi final – circa 2012- wherein he fired a 15-ball-38 or taking the Mumbai Indians home courtesy a fireball of an 87, Pollard’s the man on whom you depend today to win you matches.

Not just a proficient all-round cricketer who fires behemoth sixes and sends the white ball into a state of perpetual disappearance, he’s emerged as a fantastic mentor to up-and-coming cricketers in the Caribbean in whose hands rests the responsibility of making West Indies cricket great again.

Take Pooran for example, who considers Kieron Pollard, his compatriot, a mentor. The guidance the elegant leftie received whilst nursing a near-fatal car accident to the smooth road to recovery emphasises the fact that Pollard is quite masterful in translating his cricketing experience into reviving someone’s fledgling career.

Today, you cannot imagine a limited overs Caribbean side without both- the master and the apprentice- can you?

Moreover, with the 2021 T20 World Cup fast approaching, it’s not only the big lashes of Gayle or the slower ones of DJ Bravo or even the wham-bam starts given by Evin Lewis on which the West Indies would depend; they’d look up to Kieron Pollard to blast past attacks and put nearly a decade and a half of his experience into nurturing West Indian hopes.

How Pollard has evolved as a player

What’s changed about Pollard is perhaps the fact that he’s not the brisk starter of an inning as he was once. What hasn’t is that despite the added pressure of leading a side tasked with the responsibility of entertaining a globe-trotting cricketing audience, in addition to countless T20 leagues, Pollard’s still the hungry athlete who desires to get better.

A month and a half back, he became the only modern day West Indian to fire six consecutive sixes against Sri Lanka in a T20 his side eventually won. He was also leading then. Since November 2019, when he was tasked with white-ball captaincy, he’s taken the West Indians to experience some highs they had hitherto lacked.

For instance, not succumbing absolutely to the Indians during their 2019 tour. Under his leadership, the Windies didn’t recede to a whitewash, and moreover, fired 207 in their maiden T20, an effort in which the captain made 37 off just 19, a game after which he’d score 68 of his team’s 173 in the final Wankhede-bound T20I.

He began his leadership role of a newly resurgent West Indian side with a commanding 3-0 hammering served to the Afghans. He was also at the helm of the affairs when Windies finally found a way to beat the Sri Lankans in the T20s in Sri Lanka, 2020.

There’ve been series wins in ODIs against Sri Lanka hosted later in the Caribbean as well as the triumph against the touring Irish.

Pollard, alongside a Gayle, Bravo, Simmons, Hope, Lewis, Holder and Roach appears akin to one among the nuclear arsenal, which on the day of launch can rip into any line-up.

While his opponents will desire nothing more than a low key outing in the mother of all sporting battles up ahead (the T20 world cup), Pollard would be aiming for one thing alone- can he inspire a very able group of youngsters into giving their best?

At 34, he’s not getting younger, but neither is the threat of bowling into his slot or pitching it short becoming a worthwhile idea.

F1 2021: 5 Drivers Who Need a Good Spanish GP today

With Sir Lewis Hamilton achieving in F1’s seven-decade journey what none have come to do, scoring 100 poles, it’s ever likely that ‘Hammertime’ is going to strike at Catalunya in the next few hours.

In upholding the dominance of Mercedes- a team that simply hasn’t allowed any rival to maintain supremacy here at Spain- Hamilton’s sixth pole at Barcelona has increased the chances of a Silvery run today.

Under these circumstances, which drivers, does it seem hold any chances to thwart Lewis’ advances? While there aren’t any assuring answers on that front, it certainly appears that there are a few who’d like to come up with an ace at Spain and deliver a strong weekend.

Let’s take a look at the 5 drivers who need a strong 2021 Spanish GP?

Valtteri Bottas

Bottas has yet to win a race this season, despite claiming pole in Portugal.

Yet to secure a win this season, Valtteri Bottas, a usual inhabitant of the top three in the F1 standings, hasn’t really gotten off to a flying start in 2021. He, in fact, trails Lando Norris (3rd) by five points.

With a DNF at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and then a P3 at Portugal has meant that Bottas is improving, but a real win for the driver with nine race wins would be to defeat Max Verstappen of Red Bull, since Hamilton seems ever out of reach of the Finn.

But the key question is, can Valtteri do that? Well, a P3 on the grid isn’t the worst place from which to start the 66-lap run. Let’s see whether Bottas can strike Max early and move himself up into a position of reckoning. He’s got a flying car with which to further his aims.

READ MORE: F1 2021 SPANISH GRAND PRIX: HAMILTON CLAIMS 100TH POLE POSITION IN FORMULA 1

Antonio Giovinazzi

Gio nor his Alfa Romeo team have scored points this season yet. Image: F1

The bright and charismatic George Russell of Williams might be Mr. Saturday, in lines with his stellar qualifying results for the British outfit. For the Alfa Romeo stable, though, it’s Giovinazzi, not Kimi who’s clearly the ‘Mr. Saturday.’

Outqualifying the most experienced driver on the grid by some margin, Giovinazzi’s P13 vis-à-vis Raikkonen’s disappointing P17 was a fine effort.

Now, the key for the man described as ‘Italian Jesus’ will be to make it finally count and at least, bag a P10, something he’s quite capable of doing having seemed fast all weekend.

Moreover, should the former Ferrari Academy Driver be able to do so, it would augur well for a decent midfield team, that is yet to open its account this season.

READ MORE: WHY GIOVINAZZI HAD A BETTER 2020 THAN MOST THINK

Yuki Tsunoda

Tsunoda showed his inexpierence in qualifying yesterday.

A driver rarely impresses in his maiden race, unless one’s talking about the likes of a Lewis Hamilton (who scored a podium) or a Kimi Raikkonen.

But when young Yuki collected a valiant P9 at Bahrain, and thus 2 points, there was furore in the F1 paddock with many stating in no uncertain terms that a new mercurial talent had arrived.

Though, ever since the 2021 Bahrain GP, Tsunoda’s performances have lagged given his twelfth at Imola and then a lowly fifteenth at Portimao. Not the kind of run you’d ideally want to have when you are armed with a speedy Italian machine.

Therefore, one of the drivers who needs to deliver the goods at the 2021 Spanish GP is the 20-year-old Sagamihara –born.

Though, the trouble for Yuki is that he’s to begin from sixteenth on the grid for today’s race. So can an express charge right at the start enable the Japanese driver to put himself into a position of reckoning?

Sergio Perez

Checo has had a few off-track excursions of late. Inage: F1

Despite having the second-best car on the grid, Perez, clearly appears is faltering regularly. Yesterday, during the qualifying at Catalunya, he even found a way to take an unlikely trip down at the acerbic gravel trap and that too during Q3.

It must have been a heart-stopping moment for the Mexican driver, who finds himself on sixth, with 22 points, when compared to teammate Verstappen’s 61, both of whom are piloting the exact same machine.

Moreover, that the talented Mexican racer is due to begin today’s race from eighth on the grid doesn’t really help his confidence.

But we’ve seen how Perez has excelled on difficult tracks in the past and risen in fine fashion. For instance, take his drive at Mexico 2019, where he beat several adversaries including Daniel Ricciardo to finish 7th having qualified 11th for the race.

But on Sunday, can the strong Mexican competitor put up a stern fight and reach at least the nearabouts of Verstappen? For nothing else will quite do.

READ MORE: THE DEVIL’S IN THE DATA: WHAT PEREZ COULD BRING TO RED BULL

Fernando Alonso

Alonso needs a good result in his home race today. Image: PlanetF1

Do you remember what happened the last time around when Alonso drove around at his home track, circa 2018?

Well, he’s not called the Spanish Samurai for nothing. Despite being aligned with a barely drivable machine, Alonso pulled that McLaren to a respectable P8, holding great battles with the likes of Sainz.

Now that the local hero is back, and this time with a far better machine, that’s neither vapid nor lackluster, it appears that Alonso, who starts from tenth on the grid, is in for a real chance to reach up around a P7 or a P8, realistically speaking.

Will the sun shine on one of Spain’s finest exports to Grand Prix racing? We will find out in the next few hours. But what’s important is that Alonso, who can do so much better than the 2 points he’s been able to collect from 3 races so far, needs an exceedingly bright weekend.

READ MORE: IN THE PIT LANE – THE BATTLE FOR FORMULA 1’S TV RIGHTS INTENSIFIES

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more reaction to yesterday’s exciting qualifying session? The Grid Talk crew have you covered with their analysis of qualifying for the 2021 Spanish GP. George Howson hosted Adam Burns, Louis Edwards and Tom Horrox in their latest podcast. Audio and video versions of the show are linked below:

F1 2021: 5 Drivers who need a good Portuguese GP today

To some criticism, comes naturally and even uneventfully, but never discount them from a contest! Not a stern or rude warning; just an important observation after Valtteri Bottas fired his opening salvo at yesterday’s Portuguese GP qualifying.

The Finn wasted no time whatsoever in answering back Sir Lewis Hamilton, a driver who, in the two races held so far, has maintained pressure over the other Mercedes driver. Bottas controlled the proceedings of a challenging Saturday in usual quiet fashion.

He secured a fine pole, the seventeenth of his growing career. But, will it be enough for a race win on Sunday? But, as fans and inveterate lovers of Grand Prix racing, we can call out the drivers who need to do a lot better than they recently have- can’t we?

On a breezy and challenging afternoon, where there were some gains for Ferrari. There was also a pleasant surprise for the likes of Aston Martin, amid some heartbreaks for McLaren. So, which drivers need to impress today in the Portuguese GP? Here are our picks!

Valtteri Bottas

For a driver who’s found it extremely hard to keep up with the marauding pace of a seven-time world champion teammate, failing to win a single race in two attempts despite having arguably the best machine on the grid, life couldn’t be any tougher for Bottas.

But if there was a driver who could get the hang of a track as undulating as the Algarve, utterly unforgiving on the testing turns and replete with tricky elevation changes, then it is none other than polesitter Bottas.

Bottas has his best chance to win a race since Russia last year.

Beginning the first race of his season from the best-possible view of the laps to follow, can Bottas keep his cool and turn on the heat at Portimao? Not only for the chances of his own world title in 2021, but for his future at Mercedes, he got to hit hard at the very duo who’ll do everything in their might to curb the Finn’s run- Lewis and Max.

Moreover, Bottas needs a significantly improved race result considering at Imola he endured a DNF.

READ MORE: F1 BLAST FROM THE PAST: SENNA AND MANSELL COLLIDE AT ESTORIL

Sergio Perez

The newcomer at Red Bull endured what can only be called a forgettable run at the last round at Imola. In finishing eleventh, despite having begun second on the grid, even ahead of Max Verstappen, the magnificent Mexican will be raring to make amends at the 2021 Portuguese Grand Prix.

Moreover, P4 on the grid, i.e. a start from the second row isn’t entirely despicable for a driver who knows well the art of damage control. But what would be particularly exciting for Perez would be to spot an opportunity since it’s a given that Max, due to begin from third on the grid, would push hard and immediately to make a way past Hamilton.

READ MORE: THE DEVIL’S IN THE DATA: WHAT PEREZ COULD BRING TO RED BULL

Could a chance lay there for Sergio Perez and where can he manage to end the race?

He’d surely love to go better than his best performance so far, that insipid P5 at Bahrain, the season-opener- don’t you think?

Sebastian Vettel

Sebastian Vettel is a driver who, for the better part of the 2020 season, and the start of this championship, has found himself comfortably beaten by his former and current teammate. The German will be relishing the fact that he encountered a very respectable Saturday afternoon- even if that meant placing his Aston Martin on a P10.

For the first time since the 2020 British GP, Vettel made it to Q3, a fact that he’d be delighted with, but at the same time, will wish to convert into a fighting race finish.

Moreover, that as seen in the first two races of the season, a significantly under-experienced teammate was found getting the measure of a four-time world champion would just not have sat well with Vettel’s conscience.

It is about time that the racing genius answered back his critics and finished with a very healthy result at Portimao to further gain confidence since it’s a long season ahead.

But can Vettel do that?

READ MORE: WILL VETTEL REGRET HIS ASTON MARTIN MOVE?

Charles Leclerc

A driver so capable of turning a contest by the scruff of its neck, all that Leclerc’s managed thus far in 2021 is a best race performance of P4, not entirely a glittery performance for his standards.

But on Saturday, as he was found wanting in front of Carlos Sainz’s qualifying pace, there were more than a customary shock of the head at the Ferrari pit wall upon observing Mattia Binotto; there was probably a looming fear that the dashing Spaniard has got the measure of the more experienced Monegasque at Ferrari!

That being said, Leclerc, who managed a competitive P6 at Bahrain and subsequently, a respectable P4 at Imola, finishing in both instances ahead of his teammate wouldn’t want to see the tail of his Ferrari behind that of Sainz.

But surely, it must be said, that on Sunday Leclerc’s challenges would be doubled as he’d have to do something special to match the duo of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, both cars seemingly matching the Ferrari’s corner and straight-line speed.

So, can the Ferrari challenger put up with a daring act at the Algarve?

READ MORE: CHARLES LECLERC: F1’S NEXT NEW WORLD CHAMPION

Kimi Raikkonen

A year back at the very venue, under tense and slippery conditions, the laconic Finn ended up sixth at the end of the opening lap of the Portuguese Grand Prix. This is when he’d begun his Algarve challenge from sixteenth on the grid.

Mathematically speaking, what Kimi’s managed one year later is a single grid slot improvement in his qualifying result, doing no better than P15, an effort that knowing his intolerance for mediocrity he’d be simply hating. How far can he go tomorrow?

Moreover, Giovinazzi, who Kimi’s beaten fair and square in the two previous races, finished significantly higher in the quali run, gathering a very fine P11 compared to Raikkonen’s P15. This is something Kimi would surely struggle to solve in his mind.

So, what might Kimi do on Sunday is something that’ll form a question of key interest to the watchers of the midfield. All that can be said is that Raikkonen, the most-experienced driver on the grid, can do significantly better on the mediums come the race day. But again, F1 is as unpredictable as rain amid a balmy sunny morning.

What he and his fans would certainly love is to see the Finn at least open his account this season!

READ MORE: WHY GIOVINAZZI HAD A BETTER 2020 THAN MOST THINK AND WHAT IS IN STORE FOR 2021?

Grid Talk Podcast

Want more reaction to yesterday’s qualifying? The Grid Talk crew have you covered, as Ruby Price hosted Karl King and Steve Jackson in their qualifying analysis. Audio version of the show is below:

Opinion: Why Giovinazzi had a better 2020 than most think and what is in Store for 2021?

Martina Franca in Italy is not the most noisy or touristy part of a truly magnificent country, whose charm stems
from the fact that it isn’t yet overwhelmed by large swathes of visitors.

This elegant destination of around 50,000 inhabitants consists of the famous Centro Storico, a historical centre that blends a sense of serenity with free-flowing twisty white alleys.

It’s just the kind of place where one can’t have enough of what’s essentially a maze, given that most structures, despite made of pure white colour and nothing more than winding alleys, make for an ideal spot for shutterbugs.

Is that the only maze about Martina Franca?

One of the biggest mazes of the city belongs to the topsy-turvy but ultimately incredibly captivating world of Formula 1. He is tall. He is promising and has got himself a renewed contract with a Ferrari-powered team.

Despite not being some incredibly fast and mean killing machine kind of driver, Antonio Giovinazzi has found himself in business for 2021.

So what’s this maze then?

What could be exciting about a tall bloke with Tarzan-like hair? He’s not even in some powerful midfield car. In 2020, he was anything but a threat to an AlphaTauri or to any team faring marginally upward than the Italian stable.

Little fault of the driver’s then that the car Gio was aligned with was only as quick as the several mules who form a key part of the animal population in the driver’s Italian hometown.

But then some things are tied to fate, aren’t they?

In a sport where Ferrari are, despite their recent string of results, bellied with more heartbreaks and anxieties than excitement. Antonio Giovinazzi is the only Italian driver on the grid. He’s therefore the only current link between the most charming Italian bloodline in Formula 1; a team that flows in the veins of countless who regard it as their lifeline in F1.

And unless the grid changes rapidly with more Italians suddenly emerging, Giovinazzi will constantly spike someone’s adrenaline considering a question that’s become quite a maze in modern F1:

READ MORE: IN THE PIT LANE – THE UAE FLASH THE CASH

Will an Italian driver finally get to race for Ferrari, Giancarlo Fisichella being the last man to do so in 2009?

Now, while that is still very much stymied by the unpredictable, what’s nearly certain is that the doors to Maranello aren’t going to be open anytime soon. At 27, Antonio Giovinazzi is as old at a Kvyat, a few years younger than a Perez, and only a few months older than Sainz.

READ MORE: IN THE PIT LANE – STROLL SEALS THE BIG DEAL AGAIN

Drivers with more points and experience than him have found themselves being handed the stick. And in 2020, despite gathering only four points, Antonio Giovinazzi found himself a 2021 drive.

Miracle? So, some extra brownie points for a model-like frame?

No.

Remember, 2020 was an extremely dull year for Alfa Romeo. Compared to 21 races in the 2019 Formula 1 season, only 17 races could be held last year in 2020, which for a small backmarker was several races less from which to score.

Even Kimi Raikkonen struggled to score points for Alfa in 2020. Image: EssentiallySport

Even in the races where it seemed the driver who was contesting in only his second F1 season, he took his chances and emerged cleanly. How is that?

If you count the negatives, then surely there are a few that just do not side with Antonio, proving clearly that he’s yet to demonstrate the steely resolve that one would expect from a young guy.

READ MORE: IN THE PIT LANE – WILL ALFA ROMEO AND SAUBER’S RELATIONSHIP CONTINUE?

Raikkonen, the sport’s oldest driver, after all, finished with exactly the same points as the much younger Italian. But if you see the positives, you’d know Antonio did the job expected of him quietly so, despite having all this while a sleepy, tawdry C39.

Antonio Giovinazzi was the first of the two drivers to open his account, and thus his team’s in 2020 – not Kimi Raikkonen. A fine P9 at the very venue where he’d collected his first Formula 1 points was a flying start no less for a driver not exactly considered a brutal force in the sport.

Think of it – his maiden 2020 drive – the P9 at Spielberg’s curtain-raiser– was actually an improvement over his last year’s result, this being with a slower car, that lacked front-line speed.

READ MORE: WHY FORMULA 1 NEEDS TO BE FREE TO AIR

Even as the next two rounds at Styria and Hungry would yield results where Kimi would win the teammate battle, Antonio bounced at Silverstone with a fourteenth, a drive which even though fared lowly, was even better than Hulkenberg (DNF, began P13) and the likes of Kvyat and Raikkonen.

While Giovinazzi didn’t once allow Nicolas Latifi and either among the Haas drivers to undermine him, despite functioning in a car that often looked even slower than the American side, the fireworks didn’t exactly belong to the Italian.

The midfield battle of 2020 was a packed battleground

But that didn’t stop Antonio Giovinazzi to make heads turn- for that’s the truth- at tracks where one would have so easily undermined him. This is because he had, never in his life stepped onto some newly introduced tracks in a Formula 1 car until last year.

And that too in the midst of a world championship with all the mounting pressure of lost chances and the persistent worries of contending in a barely-there car.

Even as he failed to put a recalcitrant machine into Q2, something Alfa achieved for the first time thanks to Kimi (P14 in quali) at Spain, the simpleton shined brightly at tracks like Imola and the desperately dangerous Nurburgring.

Two in three occasions where Antonio Giovinazzi slipped into a top-ten finish in the 2020 championship, came courtesy his P10 results. One each at Imola and the Nurburgring, the latter also the setting of a widely-watched Kimi-Gio video on YouTube!

After beating his teammate at Russia (P11- a fine improvement over his 2019’s P15), where the Finn did well enough to bag a podium once early on in his second Ferrari stint, Giovinazzi fared stronger in the final few rounds.

In a season where those who were quite literally battling to save their careers and didn’t in the end, think Magnussen, think Grosjean, as also the Russian Torpedo, all of whom have bagged podiums (the Frenchman ten of them), Antonio’s keep-it-simple-and-give-it-all approach was affable and perhaps career-saving.

Come to think of it!

Does it even occur to us fans obsessed with numbers that Antonio improved his results (via grid performance on race-day) at no fewer than Austria, Britain, Hungary, and Russia?

Have we even given him credit for it?

Actually, think of what might have the Italian managed with a slightly better package, higher downforce and at least, better straight-line speed than the sobbing (rather depleted) force he had all of 2020 had the season not been a
truncated one?

It’s easy to pass snide remarks at someone who may not immediately seem impressive akin to a “Last Lap Lando!” or a “Super Perez,” both of whom have commanding machineries and indeed, smooth race craft?

But what about the boy with dreamy eyes who made the most of the chances afforded to him.

Think Interlagos 2019! Did Giovinazzi not pounce on his chance with that P5? Did we even think that he’d lead a Grand Prix? Think Singapore that same year? As the famous saying goes – we do not know what the future holds for us, but we do know who holds that future.

In his case, the Vasseur-led side, keen to improve, hungry to outperform its closest set of rivals, has vested faith in a man who’s as stranger to shenanigans as is summers to the Arctic.

Knowing his penchant to give his honest best to every race, fair to say-Giovinazzi’s future is being held by this hope to certainly improve in the times to come.

That’s all one can say at the moment.

2019 vs 2020 Results

      2019   Grands Prix      2019   Race result     2020   Race result
  Australia  P15  –
  China  P15  –  
  Azerbaijan  P12               –
  Spain  P16  P16
  Monaco  P19              –
  Canada  P13  –
  France  P16  –
  *Austria   Round 1   Round 2      P10   –      P9   P14
  *Great Britain   Round 1   Round 2    DNF   –      P14   P17
  Germany  P13  –
        Hungary  P18  P17
  Belgium  DNF  DNF
Italy*   *Monza for 2019   *Tuscany for 2020    P9       –    P16       DNF
  Singapore  P10  –
  Russia            P15  P11
  Japan  P14  –
  Mexico  P14  –
  USA  P14  –
  Brazil  P5  –
  Nurbrugring  –  P10
  Portugal  –  P15
  Imola  –  P10  
  Turkey  –  DNF
*Bahrain   Round 1   Round 2    P11    P16   P13
  Abu Dhabi   P16
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