Grosjean fastest in Abu Dhabi first practice

17Apr

The Frenchman, comfortably faster than team mate Kimi Raikkonen who won last year’s race, lapped the Yas Marina circuit in the searing afternoon heat with a best time of one minute 44.

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241 seconds late in the session.

Lewis Hamilton, winner in 2011 and twice on pole at the circuit, was second quickest for Mercedes and just 0.192 slower than Grosjean.

Vettel was 0.258 off the pace on a slippery track that, with track temperatures hovering around 40 degrees, will be far cooler during the day-to-night race.

Raikkonen, who triggered speculation about his relationship with the team when he failed to appear for Thursday’s media activities at the circuit, finally turned up and was sixth fastest with a lap of 1:44.929.

Grosjean has beaten Raikkonen in the last two races and finished on the podium in the last three.

Vettel, who became the sport’s youngest quadruple champion when he won in India on Sunday, is chasing his seventh successive race victory to equal fellow-German Michael Schumacher’s 2004 streak.

That is the longest winning run of the modern era, with the record of nine set by Italian Alberto Ascari over the 1952 and 1953 seasons.

Red Bull have already clinched their fourth successive constructors’ title and the focus is now on whether anyone can stop Red Bull and their 26-year-old German winning the last three races of the year.

Vettel has won two of the four races held so far in Abu Dhabi, including 2010 when he clinched his first championship.

Australian Mark Webber, Vettel’s team mate, was fourth quickest with Nico Rosberg fifth for Mercedes in a session that started slowly and without a timed lap in the first half hour.

Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who had been the only man mathematically capable of making Vettel wait for the title in India, was 12th with Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa 17th.

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

Red-hot Giroud and Suarez key to heavyweight clash

17Apr

Leaders Arsenal raised plenty of eyebrows when they failed to land a striker during the transfer window, leaving Frenchman Olivier Giroud, who underwhelmed during his first season in England, to lead the line.

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Giroud has since gone on to net five goals and set up a further four in nine league matches, to prove his critics wrong and help Arsenal to the top of the table.

While there were no doubts over the ability of Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, there was plenty of speculation he was set to leave the club, possibly for Arsenal, after the Anfield side failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League.

Since his return from a 10-match suspension for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, the Uruguayan has scored six goals in four league appearances, including a hat-trick in last week’s 4-1 win over West Bromwich Albion, and has struck up a devastating partnership with Daniel Sturridge to put the doubts over his commitment to rest.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger acknowledged the impact the pair were having on their respective clubs.

“They are different styles of players,” he told reporters on Friday.

“Giroud is a real centre forward who uses space and uses his power and he’s really central. Suarez is more a player who goes on the flanks, comes deep into midfield and is more a dribbler.”

Wenger backed Giroud, who came on as a substitute for Arsenal during their League Cup defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday, to maintain his form, and gave little thought to the fact Suarez could have been lining up alongside him had Liverpool decided to sell the Uruguayan after the Gunners made a bid of just over 40 million pounds.

“I’m not focussed on that now, what is important for me, 24 hours before the game, is that I believe Giroud has proven since the start of the season that he is an exceptional striker and I am convinced that he will be up to show that tomorrow again,” said Wenger.

Midfielder Mikel Arteta will return for Arsenal after suspension but Serge Gnabry and Mathieu Flamini are out.

Philippe Coutinho could be back for Liverpool after the midfielder missed six weeks following shoulder surgery.

Arsenal have 22 points from nine games with Liverpool two points behind.

(Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by Alison Wildey)

Coulson ‘used phone hacking to verify tip’

17Apr

Former News of the World editor Andy Coulson allegedly used “phone hacking, surveillance and confrontation” in an attempt to confirm a bogus tip about an affair involving then-home secretary Charles Clarke.

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Prosecutor Andrew Edis QC told the Old Bailey that the News of the World (NotW) heard a false rumour in May 2005 that Clarke was seeing his “attractive special adviser”, Hannah Pawlby.

The newspaper tasked private investigator Glenn Mulcaire with hacking Pawlby’s voicemails and “door-stepped” her, but Coulson also called and left her voicemails, the court heard.

“The prosecution suggests that Mr Coulson, who is now the editor of the NotW, he is not the man who stands outside people’s houses hoping to catch them out, he is the man who likes to put the story to people to see what they will say,” Mr Edis said.

He said the NotW used three ways to investigate stories: phone hacking, surveillance, and confrontation.

“The editor is personally involved in the third. Obviously he knows about the second, surveillance, he must do. What about the first? Does he know about phone hacking? He says he doesn’t, we say `Oh yes, he did’.”

Rumours about an affair involving Clarke were first picked up by the NotW’s features desk when a source who was sexually interested in Ms Pawlby was told: “Don’t bother wasting your time, she’s with Charles.”

A tape of voicemails taken from her phone on at least three occasions was seized from Mulcaire’s home in August 2006.

Investigators also found entries on the private investigator’s computer which had Ms Pawlby and her sister as “Projects”.

During the period she was being investigated, Ms Pawlby’s grandparents received anonymous calls asking for information about her, Mr Edis said.

Meanwhile, former chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck and former reporter James Weatherup oversaw surveillance of Ms Pawlby’s movements.

Leaving her a voicemail on June 18 2005, Coulson told her: “I’ve got a story that we’re planning to run tomorrow that I really would like to speak to Charles about.”

Mr Edis said Coulson’s involvement in the story followed the same pattern as with other important men, such as former home secretary David Blunkett.

The jury heard on Thursday that Coulson confronted Mr Blunkett over an affair with a married woman while he was himself seeing co-defendant Rebekah Brooks, who was married at the time.

Coulson and Brooks deny conspiring with others to hack phones between October 3 2000 and August 9 2006.

Mulcaire, Thurlbeck and Weatherup have admitted phone hacking.

Chelsea’s form making selection tough for Mourinho

17Apr

Chelsea can go top for a few hours at least with victory at Newcastle United on Saturday, having reached the League Cup quarter-finals in midweek with a 2-0 victory at Arsenal.

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With 13 points from the last 15 available, striker Fernando Torres looking rejuvenated, options all across the pitch and an empty treatment room, Chelsea are clearly hitting their stride.

Yet, the form of his squad is causing Mourinho a few headaches, especially when it comes to deciding which players must be consigned to the substitutes’ bench or the stands.

“It’s not easy for me to leave players at home and on the bench because everybody deserves to play,” said Mourinho, who was given a reminder of Juan Mata’s quality in midweek when the Spaniard, who has not always started this season, dazzled at Arsenal.

“I’m unfair with the players I am not selecting because they are doing everything to play,” Mourinho told a news conference.

“It’s a difficult feeling for me. All of my players have a collective soul at the moment. That’s the most important thing.”

Mourinho has a full squad to choose from on Saturday for a fixture that has not always been kind to him.

“We have one of the most difficult matches of the whole season at St James’ Park but we want to try and keep winning,” Mourinho, whose only victory there was in the 2006 League Cup, told a news conference.

“October was magnificent for us but to be top or not to be top is a question in this moment of one point, two points and that is not very important.

“Of course it’s better to be first than be fifth, that’s obvious but no problem for us.”

Torres embodies the improvement in Chelsea and his performance against Manchester City last weekend, when he scored a late winner having set up the first goal, was arguably his best since joining in a 50 million pounds deal from Liverpool in 2011.

“I feel he’s just giving his best every game,” Mourinho said.

“When he’s the man of the match against Manchester City or when he’s not the man of the match, or when he’s on the bench and he comes on, I just feel he gives his best, always, and that’s the most important thing.

“I don’t like this history of one day the player is a disaster, the next day the player is phenomenal. I don’t think Fernando is a kid to be influenced by these wins, so I want him to be stable, I want him not to be too much worried about proving himself, or not to prove, or scoring or not scoring.”

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)

Lotus hail ‘prodigal son’ Raikkonen

17Apr

Speaking on the day the Finn showed up for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after missing Thursday’s media activities, Lotus chairman Gerard Lopez took to the Formula One team’s website (www.

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lotusf1team.com) to calm the situation.

The partnership with Raikkonen, he said, had been a ‘perfect fit’ for Lotus.

Far from being the taciturn ‘Iceman’, thwarting the global media in its search for a soundbite or penetrating insight, Lopez presented the Finn as “actually a very talkative, very friendly guy.

“One of the unfortunate things about being in the limelight is that people are always trying to make it look like there are huge fights going on,” he added.

“We discussed the fact that Kimi was signing for Ferrari between the two of us and it was a very frank discussion.

“The whole Iceman thing actually prevails on the track from where he is very cool-headed and a very good driver. In reality he’s a kind guy…and over the two years I’ve gained a friend in Formula One which is a difficult place to do so.”

Last weekend’s Indian Grand Prix triggered fresh speculation that the relationship was on the rocks after track operations manager Alan Permane was heard swearing at the Finn as he told him to get out of team mate Romain Grosjean’s way.

Raikkonen, who won his 2007 world championship with Ferrari, replied with a similar expletive and his manager was quoted as saying he had never heard of a team treating their driver in such a manner.

“A lot was made about the comments…during the course of a tense moment in a race, but this was just one exchange taking a matter of seconds in the course of a two-year relationship,” said Lopez.

“It certainly wasn’t the most beneficial few seconds, but you have to step back and accept that everyone is passionate about racing and sometimes these things do happen.”

Raikkonen made his comeback with the team last year after spending two years in rallying and other international motorsport series.

Lopez said Lotus had always believed in the Finn and had wanted to keep him, but had not been able to match Ferrari’s offer.

“For me this brought sadness, as it’s like the prodigal son leaving us,” said Lopez, who hailed the Finn as the only reason the team was now fighting for second place in the standings.

“The first thing that Kimi did was to remove any excuses from the team. We knew we had one of the best ever drivers in Formula One and as a result of that there was no escape from whether the cars were good enough,” he added.

“With Kimi we knew we had a benchmark.

“The second thing he did was match really well with who we are as a culture…for us essentially he was the perfect puzzle piece and for him I think it was a perfect fit. I still think it’s one of the best partnerships in Formula One.”

Lotus are 24 points behind Ferrari in the constructors’ championship, and 28 adrift of second placed Mercedes, with three races to go.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Alison Wildey)