More F1 records beckon Vettel

17Jul

Sebastian Vettel can chase records after clinching a fourth world title last weekend while there is still plenty at stake for “the best of the rest” in the three remaining races of the Formula One season.

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Red Bull’s Vettel can equal Michael Schumacher’s record seven straight season victories on Sunday in the day-to-night Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Schumacher’s 13 overall season wins are also still in his sights.

Vettel won the debut race on the 5.554km Yas Marina course in 2009 and his repeat success a year later gave him a first world title.

Lewis Hamilton topped the 2011 podium and Kimi Raikkonen uttered the famous words “leave me alone, I know what I am doing” via team radio in 2012, en route to his first win since his comeback.

Vettel arrived in Abu Dhabi from two days off with his girlfriend at their home in Switzerland, during which he also relaxed by mowing the lawn, and said he has no motivation problem after taking the title.

“We are here to race and to win if we get the chance,” Vettel said on Thursday.

Raikkonen and Hamilton are among those for whom and their teams there is still plenty at stake.

Raikkonen is just 24 points behind second-placed Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, and fourth-placed Mercedes man Hamilton also still eyes a place on the final podium, another 14 points adrift and 75 still up for grabs. Red Bull’s Marc Webber and Nico Rosberg also have a mathematical chance.

Rosberg spoke of “the best of the rest” last Sunday after Vettel wrapped up the title in India, and Mercedes would love to keep second place in the constructors’ list behind quadruple champions Red Bull.

Mercedes moved four points ahead of Ferrari in India, and the Lotus team of Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean is only another 16 points behind.

Ferrari are desperate to at least get second place in both rankings after failing yet again to earn a first drivers’ title since Raikkonen triumphed in 2007 during his first term at the Scuderia, as he will return to partner Alonso next year.

Alonso was 11th in India and has never won in Abu Dhabi, but will have enough pride to aim and keep second place in the drivers’ list.

Team-mate Felipe Massa finished ahead of him in fourth place Sunday for some Ferrari damage control although they have now missed the podium in the last three races.

“It’s important to try and end this season in the best way possible,” team principal Stefano Domenicali said.

“These are crucial weeks that we have ahead of us to the end of the year, because the work we are doing in preparation for 2014 is vital if we want to be the team that puts an end to this Red Bull dominance, just as we and Fernando have been their main rivals over the past four seasons.”

But Hamilton and Rosberg, who came second in India, are ready ready to defend their current runner-up spot.

“We’re up for the challenge!” Hamilton said. “We are still pushing and there is a lot that our team can achieve in that period. It’s all about consistency now and making sure that both Nico and I score good points so that we can keep the other teams behind us,” the Briton said.

Wallabies slam tilt face early acid test

17Jul

The Wallabies are determined to nip an England uprising in the bud this weekend when their grand slam ambitions face a massive first-up test at Twickenham.

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Australia-England Cook Cup clashes are big anytime the Wallabies venture to London but even more is riding on Sunday morning’s (AEDT) European tour opener.

Ten years after the English celebrated a World Cup final victory in Australia, Stuart Lancaster’s men have already put the Wallabies on notice as they prepare to host the 2015 tournament.

Both top-four ranked nations have been drawn into the ‘pool of death’ with Wales (No.6) and England skipper Chris Robshaw wants his young side to gain an early psychological edge by turning Twickenham into a home fortress.

The ground holds no fears for Australia at present as the Wallabies have won four of their last five games there.

Newly-appointed Wallabies captain Ben Mowen agrees the tussle holds extra significance this time as the teams start looking ahead to the World Cup.

“Having in the back of the mind that we will play them in the pool match there, it is important but when you just look at it as a stand-alone game it’s England versus Australia and that’s important enough,” Mowen said.

“These are very special games for Aussie rugby players.

“We’re all well aware of the responsibility that comes with it.”

England coach Stuart Lancaster views it as the start of a “defining year” of internationals for his side but Australia (3-7) can atone for a forgettable season of their own by starting their grand slam tour successfully.

With Tests against Italy, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to follow, England loom as the biggest threat.

“The grand slam will be something that will come into more focus if we have done our job going into the last weekend in Cardiff,” Mowen said.

But helping the Wallabies is the fact the home side hasn’t played together as a top-strength unit since the 30-3 Six Nations-deciding loss to Wales early in the year.

They are also missing influential British and Irish Lions’ tight-five forwards Alex Corbisiero and Geoff Parling and damaging centre pairing Manu Tuilagi and Brad Barritt.

The injuries have left them with an inexperienced starting 15 that boasts 213 caps, 12 less than the 225 on the bench but Lancaster has selected on form and looked ahead to the future rather than rely on past stalwarts.

Mowen, who is yet to be offered an ARU top-up contract for next year, tipped a barnstorming game by deposed out-of-form skipper James Horwill who needs to be at his abrasive best to nullify the English pack.

The Wallabies front-row also shoulder major responsibility at scrum time and must find the consistency they’ve lacked under the new soft engagement laws.

“England are England – you know what is coming,” Mowen said.

“It’s going to be a big battle up front, and the last few years they have certainly played with more width and willingness to attack.

“It’s going to be a huge challenge.”

Tripodi ‘disappointed’ by Obeid’s secrets

17Jul

Former NSW minister Joe Tripodi has denied he was betrayed by his political mentor Eddie Obeid, who didn’t reveal hidden family interests in leases he lobbied the government over.

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But Mr Tripodi told the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) he was “extremely disappointed” the former Labor kingmaker didn’t inform him of family investments in two restaurants and a cafe on government controlled land at Circular Quay.

It came as the ICAC inquiry into alleged untoward behaviour by Mr Obeid was widened on Friday to consider whether Mr Tripodi also acted corruptly.

On Friday the ICAC heard the enterprises at the quay were owned by a front company controlled by an Obeid trust, with associate and relative John Aboud acting as the face of the business.

“If, as you say, Mr Obeid did not tell you that his family had interests in Circular Quay, then … do you not regard his behaviour to you … as a complete betrayal,” Assistant Commissioner Anthony Whealy asked Mr Tripodi.

“Definitely I would have preferred if he had told me. I’m very disappointed, extremely disappointed,” Mr Tripodi replied.

The scope of the inquiry has been extended to also investigate allegations Mr Tripodi did in fact know the Obeid family secretly owned leases.

Mr Tripodi’s former deputy chief of staff, Lynne Ashpole, told te hearing on Thursday that her boss told her in 2006 about the Obeids’ stake in the lucrative cafes, which earned the family about $2.5 million a year.

“In view of the evidence that was given, I should indicate that I propose now to amend the scope of the allegation … by including … Mr Tripodi,” Commissioner Whealy said on Friday.

During his time in the witness box, Mr Tripodi also denied he had changed policy governing the leases at Mr Obeid’s request.

The leases were to go out to public tender when they expired in August 2005.

But they weren’t renewed until 2009, without going to public tender.

Mr Tripodi, who was Minister for Ports from February 2006 until November 2009, was initially in favour of seeking expressions of interest.

He denied changes were made at the request of Mr Obeid, who Mr Tripodi agreed was urging a shift in policy.

A phone transcript tabled in the ICAC showed calls in August and September 2007 between Mr Obeid, Mr Tripodi and Steve Dunn, a senior bureaucrat who had come into the ports ministry after heading up the fisheries department under Mr Obeid.

Mr Dunn is also being investigated for corruption.

“Was the matter being discussed in the course of these telephone conversations … the development of the commercial lease policy?” counsel assisting Ian Temby, QC, asked Mr Tripodi.

“No,” Mr Tripodi replied.

“Definitely not between myself and Mr Obeid.”

The hearing, which is investigating whether Mr Obeid lobbied several state ministers to change the Circular Quay leases, continues next week.

It’s expected to last three weeks.

Are West Australians heading back to the polls?

17Jul

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Calls are growing for an unprecedented new Senate election in Western Australia.

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It comes after almost 1400 ballot papers mysteriously vanished during the drawn-out recount of votes from the election in September.

A new election would be an early test of voter satisfaction with the Abbott government – and could determine just how difficult its task may be in getting legislation through the new Senate after next July.

(Click on audio tab above to hear full item)

The fact that the ballot papers are missing came to light during the recount of Senate votes cast in Western Australia in September.

The recount was ordered because of the extremely close battle for the sixth Senate seat between Greens Senator Scott Ludlam and Palmer United Party candidate Dio Wang, who won in the initial count.

The Australian Electoral Commission says an exhaustive search has been conducted, including of all premises where Senate votes were stored, and it appears they will not turn up.

It says there is nothing to suggest anything improper has occurred but Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty has been called in to conduct an independent investigation.

Mr Keelty’s task will include identifying if fraud is involved.

Missing are 1255 formal votes and 120 informal votes from the electorates of Pearce and Forrest.

It’s expected the AEC will shortly declare a result from the recount.

After this, any candidate or West Australian voter or even the AEC itself would have 40 days to petition the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns, for a fresh election.

West Australian Senator Scott Ludlum says the Commission should not declare the result until Mr Keelty’s investigation is concluded.

Senator Ludlum says another election should be a last resort.

“If this ends up in the Court of Disputed Returns with two inconclusive counts competing against each other with potentially equally legitimate claims with people saying hang on the first one was dodgy but so was the second then maybe the only way to resolve it is with a by-election. My preference though before we go there would be to make sure that if there’s a simpler opportunity ie: Mr Keelty says ‘here’s where you have gone wrong’ that we avail ourselves of that opportunity to make this a lot simpler.

The situation has been described as bizarre by Clive Palmer, who has finally won his House of Representatives seat of Fairfax in Queensland by just 53 votes.

Mr Palmer’s party will definitely have at least two Senators after next July – and three if Dio Wang gets the last Senate seat in Western Australia.

He says the AEC should either accept the result of the first count of votes, with Dio Wang as the winner, or hold a new election.

“I don’t think you can count the second vote because it hasn’t been completed so it’s invalid really. So you either go back to the first vote or you have a new election if that’s what it has to be. Now the AEC mightn’t like that. They might declare the poll based on half the of the recount or partial recount. I just don’t think that’s valid and it would certainly attack democracy.”

Independent South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon says fresh polls should be held if over one-thousand misplaced votes in Western Australia can’t be found.

And Senator Xenophon says it’s vital the matter is resolved.

“I think there ought to be a very thorough parliamentary inquiry, as the Special Minister of State has foreshadowed, to find out what occurred, in addition to the inquiry by Mick Keelty. When you consider there are only 14 votes in this, out of 1.3 million cast, then 1375 votes could have made a material difference, enough to swing the result, not just for one Senator but for two.”

Special Minister for State Michael Ronaldson says the news about the missing votes is deeply disappointing and risks damaging trust in Australia’s democratic institutions.

He says he will ask a federal parliamentary committee to review all aspects of the 2013 federal election, including the WA Senate recount process.

Clarke reprimanded for ill-discipline

17Jul

It was an unhappy day three for Australian captain Michael Clarke at Blacktown, clean bowled by Tasmanian quick Ben Hilfenhaus and then slapped on the wrist by Cricket Australia for showing dissent towards an umpire.

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Despite Clarke’s cheap dismissal, NSW were in the box seat for a season-opening win, with Tasmania 1-15 and trailing by 276 runs at stumps heading into the final day of their Sheffield Shield clash.

Clarke’s code of behaviour breach occurred the previous day, but CA announced after play on Friday that despite there being a report, his clean record meant he escaped with a reprimand and a hearing wasn’t required.

The 32-year-old was reported by the umpires for making the “T sign” with his hands when fielding at slip, to ironically indicate the men in white should go to the video for a decision they made to give a Tasmanian not out despite a low catch being claimed at gully.

There’s no television cameras let alone third umpires at Shield matches and as part of the code of behaviour, any player who uses the T sign, in jest or otherwise, will be automatically reported as it shows dissent to the umpire’s decision.

Clarke admitted guilt and accepted Match Referee Daryl Harper’s proposed penalty of a reprimand.

Ill-discipline is an unusual occurrence for the Australian skipper, as was the sight of his off-stump being dislodged when he was on 7.

Some might say claiming the skipper’s wicket isn’t the smartest career move, but for right-arm quick Hilfenhaus the prized scalp of Clarke for just 7 can only boost his hopes of a Test recall.

Hilfenhaus finished with figures of 2-42 off 14 overs, with his delivery to dismiss Clarke a beauty, nipping back nicely to take off.

The 31-year-old had a brilliant run two summers ago against India under mentor Craig McDermott, but struggled a little last year and hasn’t played a Test since December.

However, given the injury problems plaguing Australia’s quicks, Hilfenhaus will be in contention to face England throughout the summer if he performs well.

With McDermott, now returned to his post as Test bowling coach, watching from the stands, Hilfenhaus got his season off to a handy start.

“If the opportunity pops up I’m more than happy to take it. I’m just concentrating on playing well for Tassie at the moment and finding some rhythm and hopefully take a few wickets along the way,” said Hilfenhaus, who said he’s gradually bowling up his loads to be able to reach the 150km speeds he achieved two summers ago.

McDermott said Hilfenhaus was certainly in the running for the Ashes.

“He’s quite capable, he’s not too old. He’s strong, he’s fit and a couple of little tinkers here and there and hopefully he can come back,” he said.

Tasmania were set a challenging target of 295 to win, and their task got even tougher when another Test hopeful Josh Hazlewood claimed the key wicket of Ed Cowan, the type of batsman capable of sticking around in tough conditions.

Ben Dunk (12 not out) and Alex Doolan (0no) face a big task on Saturday.

NSW were bowled out for 245 from 72 overs in their second innings, with Australian middle-order batsman Steve Smith starring with 63 and Scott Henry chipping in with 65.

“I think we’re in a good position. It was nice to get Eddie out … it’s going to be tough work for them if we bowl well tomorrow,” Smith said.