Indy’s here

Jacques Villeneuve’s comments about F-1 drivers continue while he’s not still on the racetrack. Or perhaps it was because a bored journalist felt the easiest way to get a story at Montreal was to talk to the big-mouthed Canadian. A few days after he lashed out at the aggressive driving of Lewis Hamilton – precisely his ‘chopping’ overtaking moves – the Brit answered with a flawless performance from qualifying till the chequered flag at Montreal, a circuit named after Jacques’ father Giles Villeneuve. Hamilton did not even need to overtake, he led the race from start to finish. Take that, Jacques.

But the image of that race had to be Robert Kubica’s crash. Fortunately, crashes like those – ones that take the breath out of any spectator watching – rarely happen in Formula-1 nowadays. Kubica was safe, and the team promptly decided to rest him for the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis.

Germany’s Sebastian Vettel replaced him, and the teenager did well to qualify seventh at Indy, a track very similar to the one at Montreal. Hamilton literally grabbed pole, after trailing his team-mate Fernando Alonso in the first two periods of the qualifying session. The Ferraris were struggling, but still managed to park themselves on the second row for the race-start, with Massa ahead of Raikonnen.

Nick Heidfeld was fifth in the BMW, followed by Heikki Kovalainen in the Renault, a good performance from the rookie. Jarno Trulli, Mark Webber and Giancarlo Fisichella make up the back-end of the top ten. The Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello are once again outside the front 10, and at one point the Super Aguri of Anthony Davidson threatened to out-qualify them both.

Speaking of the Super Aguri, can one forget the moment that reminded us how sport can be a great leveller? A double world champion in the best car was overtaken by a driver in a car mostly sidelined to be happy amongst the backmarkers. Many a time, Takuma Sato would have had to give way to Fernando Alonso before the blue flags would start waving, but this time he got an opportunity to challenge the champion and was triumphant too.

Hoping that Indy can match up to the pulsating drama that was Montreal.

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Of Raikonnen and unreliable cars

The jury’s out once again on Kimi Raikonnen following his retirement on lap nine in the Spanish GP with an alternator failure. What irked the critics even more was the fact that Raikonnen was perhaps already checking in at the airport while Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa crossed the finish line in first place. Former driver and team boss Jackie Stewart has already questioned the Finn’s commitment.

If you have been following Formula 1, you still must be wondering how Kimi is to blame for a technical snag. Yes, Ferrari has had reliability issues this season and Massa suffered in the first race of the season. However, Raikonnen is no stranger to unreliable cars. Non-finishes plagued his stint at McLaren, especially in the last two seasons. Moreover, if this trend continues at Ferrari, Kimi will be facing the heat.

After four races, the tables have surely turned this season. What started out as a Fernando Alonso v/s Kimi Raikonnen battle is now a four-way affair, with both Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton leading their more illustrious counterparts at Ferrari and McLaren respectively. Rookie Hamilton is at the head of the pack, with 30 points, followed by Alonso on 28, Massa on 27 and Raikonnen on 22. McLaren with 58 points lead next-best Ferrari by nine points.

While the talk about Hamilton is on, the Brazilian Massa has churned out two consecutive race wins in his Ferrari. If he wins the upcoming Monaco GP, will this mean that Ferrari will consider him as their top driver for the Drivers’ Championship? In addition, if that does happen over the next few races, will Raikonnen feel comfortable at Ferrari? After all, Raikonnen’s move from McLaren to Ferrari was in quest of that elusive World Championship.

Monaco Preview

The next race at Monaco would be a challenging one. Overtaking is next to impossible on the streets of Monte-Carlo, and we have seen how Alonso lost track position following the ‘racing incident’ with Massa at his home GP in Catalunya. Interestingly, in the last three seasons the drivers on pole have gone on to win the Monaco GP – Alonso in 2006, Raikonnen in 2005, and Italian Jarno Trulli in 2004.

A collision at the start could create havoc, and with the four frontrunners vying for the top slot, we could just witness one. If this indeed does happen, we could well see constructors other than Ferrari or McLaren make their presence felt on the podium. Team BMW has been closest to the podium, with four fourth place finishes in the four races held so far.

After the impressive fifth-place finish at Catalunya, Red Bull’s David Coulthard will be looking forward to Monaco. Incidentally, ‘DC’ – who had won at Monaco with McLaren in 2002 – finished third in the Red Bull last year. Many would be hoping that the 36-year old Scot repeats the performance this year and end the stranglehold that Ferrari and McLaren have had on the podium in 2007.

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History beckons the team from Down Under. In 2003, they were the first team to win three World Cups. Tomorrow, they will have the opportunity to win their third consecutive title, an achievement that will drive home the point even to the greatest of their detractors that this is by-far the best team of all-time.

‘Dad’s Army’ they were called before the tournament began. Maybe the cool and pristine surroundings in the Caribbean rejuvenated the lot. The statistics speak for themselves. Glenn Mcgrath and Matthew Hayden may be 37 and 35 respectively, but they seem to be enjoying the best form of their ODI career, topping the batting and bowling charts with ease.

If Australia achieves the feat, then skipper Ricky Ponting, vice-captain and ‘keeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist and McGrath will the first players to have won the tournament thrice (as players that is). But they face a tough nemesis in Sri Lanka, whose coach Tom Moody will also be looking forward to a third triumph. Moody was part of the Australian sides in 1987 and 1999; in the latter he played alongside Ponting, Gilchrist and McGrath.

Australia would have already accomplished the hat-trick of wins had the Lankans not beaten them in 1996. On the Lankan side, Sanath Jayasuriya, Muttiah Muralitharan, Chaminda Vaas and Marvan Atapattu remain from that victorious squad. The Aussies may not have bitter memories though, since the only players in the team today are Ponting and McGrath – two players who have gone on to achieve many greater glories in international cricket.

Sri Lanka go into the finals with an equal chance of winning, as their bowling attack is on par if not more potent than Australia’s. The way Lasith Malinga bowled on Tuesday was phenomenal, and it remains to be seen how he comes up against a formidable Aussie top-order, if he can repeat the perfromance that is. Muttiah Muralitharan is the key player. Last time when these teams met, Sri Lanka rested Malinga, Murali and Vaas. Sri Lanka failed to defend the score of 226 that they had put up. However, with the trio back, any score near that one would make for a compelling final. But the Lankans could be put on the back foot if Hayden attacks Vaas and Farveez Maharoof, who may get the nod ahead of the struggling Dilhara Fernando.

The Sri Lankan batting has looked shaky, but skipper Mahela Jayawardene will be the man that McGrath and Co. will be gunning for, apart from the dangerous Sanath Jayasuriya. Last time around, the Aussies bowlers had Sri Lanka on the mat at 27-3, but Jayawardene and Chamara Silva led a fightback and the Lankans would have been disappointed not to have scored more than 250.

For the Lankans, middle-order bat Chamara Silva has played in this World Cup at the expense of the experienced Marvan Atapattu. Interestingly, Atapattu was also on the bench during Sri Lanka’s 1996 winning campaign. A lucky charm? But then no other cricket team in the world has debunked charms, horoscopes and other myths as nonchalantly as this Australian side has.

Australia v/s Sri Lanka
Saturday, April 28
AKG: Sri Lanka
MJV: Australia

Match starts at 1900 IST on DD-1, SET MAX (English) and SAB TV (Hindi).