Ups & Downs

The sports world has had a whirlwind year, where the big upset has been Australia wresting the Ashes from England

Ups & Downs
The run-up to the 19-race 2014 Formula One season that will see all-new spec cars start off the grid has been marked with its share of ups and downs, comings and goings, and yes, accidents.

At a private testing session by tyre suppliers Pirelli earlier in the week at the Sakhir circuit in Bahrain, Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg suffered a 320 kmph blowout leading to an end of the team’s participation at the trials, which they were running in along with Red Bull, Ferrari and Toro Rosso.

Rosberg then went on social media to say, “Just spun at full speed 320km/h on Bahrain straight because my tyre blew up without warning.” Within minutes, though, the post was deleted.

Among the comings and goings, as anticipated, Sahara Force India went for Sauber’s talented Mexican driver Sergio Perez in what was virtually a swap, which means the Woking-based Indian owned team will have a new look lineup for the 2014 season at least, if not longer.

On the technical side too, there has been plenty of movement with four-time constructors’ champions Red Bull losing key staff members almost by the day. This week, Mercedes signed their chief engineer Mark Ellis and chief engineer of simulation and analysis Giles Wood for 2014, both key members of tech chief Adrian Newey’s winning combination that were behind Sebastian Vettel’s run of four straight world championships. Mercedes said in a statement the arrival of Ellis and Wood would “further strengthen the team’s technical organisation, particularly in the fields of simulation and vehicle dynamics”. The German auto giants clearly feel; they have been long enough in the shadow of Red Bull and Ferrari in particular, and have significantly upped their game for 2014 with a new management setup in place as well.

Earlier, Red Bull were hit by the departure of aerodynamics head Peter Prodromou, who has joined McLaren, and this decimation of what was obviously a well-oiled — and immensely successful — unit will leave Newey with a full plate, what with the new design and radically different engine specs coming into play in the season ahead.

Back to the “Bahrain blowout”. Pirelli later said: “The test in Bahrain is a private tyre test, so most data generated from it is confidential. However, incidents can happen, this is what testing is for. Our testing programme will continue as planned.” Given the almost serial nature of tyre problems this year, capped by the spectacular failure of Lewis Hamilton’s rear shoe at Silverstone and the fact that they have a five-year deal in place, Pirelli will want to avoid the sort of fallout that dogged them during 2013, that eventually led them to change tyre design in the middle of the season.

It’s all been a bit up and down at the Wanderers too, where India have given South Africa something of a fright in the first of two Test matches under the reduced tour programme that helped Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men crash by a 0-2 margin in the one-day internationals.

Marshalled by Virat Kohli’s fighting fifth Test century, however, the Indians have fought back in the Test arena, where they were expected to be rolled over even quicker than in the ODIs and till late on Day Two were giving the Safs something of a working over.

All the while spilling catches of course, Ravichandran Ashwin and Rohit Sharma, the two butter-fingered guilty parties in the slip cordon. SA skipper Graeme Smith benefited from the first “life” to score a half-century, while Faf du Plessis looks set for a long dig.

Kudos, though, to the Indian seam attack that seems to have worked hard on the weaknesses of the South African batsmen — and bowled accordingly. Led by the revitalised Zaheer Khan, who is in search of the coveted 300 Test wicket mark, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami have toiled away and every now and then managed to surprise the South Africans with their pace and bounce.

For Smith’s batsmen so clearly used to the home conditions and still made to hop around uncomfortably, it is not a happy thought. Australia visit them next, led by the reborn and fire-breathing Mitchell Johnson, who in the space of three Test matches, has destroyed England in emphatic and comprehensive fashion.

Three successive Ashes triumphs by England have simply been blown away by a reborn Australia, who under the Michael Clarke-Darren Lehmann captain-coach combo have done everything right — team selection, motivation, tactics — the works. England, hit by the Johnson thunderbolt at Brisbane, never recovered and now look headed for a 5-0 whitewash, only the third by Australia in Ashes history — if it happens at the Melbourne and Sydney Tests.

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