Alonso switch sparks F1 driver market frenzy with Piastri and Schumacher ones to watch

By Sports Desk August 01, 2022

The first domino in the Formula One driver market has fallen with Aston Martin's confirmation that Fernando Alonso will be driving for the team in 2023.

Sebastian Vettel's retirement announcement ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix was always going to lead to movement on the grid but Alonso's move from Alpine is a significant statement of intent from the Silverstone-based team.

Alpine are currently vying for the best of the rest tag in 2022, alongside McLaren, while it has been a year to forget so far for Aston Martin – but they still boast one of the most recognisable brands on the grid and Alonso is a stellar acquisition.

There will be further movement, with a number of teams yet to confirm their full driver line-up for the 2023 season – with Alpine, Haas, Alfa Romeo, AlphaTauri having one spot open, while Williams have not confirmed either driver.

That leaves six seats up for grabs as it stands, with some of the outcomes easier to analyse than others – Alonso's departure from Alpine solves their headache as it leaves a slot open for reserve driver Oscar Piastri.

The Australian was already heavily tipped to take a seat on the grid for 2023 but, with Esteban Ocon and Alonso at Alpine, just where that spot would open was up for debate, with a Williams move touted, but it should now be a fairly easy decision.

For Williams, it could result in the continuation of their partnership with Mercedes. With Alex Albon expected to retain his seat, a replacement for Nicolas Latifi is on the agenda and the leading option may now be Nyck de Vries.

Toto Wolff had already conceded that De Vries, who is on their young driver programme, could be let go in order for him to open avenues in F1, but a seat becoming available at Williams would be perfect for all parties – potentially lining-up De Vries as Lewis Hamilton's long-term successor.

Another option for Williams is Jamie Chadwick, who has dominated the W series and has her eyes set on a seat in F1, though she has expressed doubt as to whether women can cope with the physical demands of the series.

Seats at Haas, Alfa Romeo and AlphaTauri are harder to assess but Mick Schumacher could play a pivotal role for the trio. Yet to be confirmed by Haas for 2023, the young Ferrari driver could make a sidewards move to continue his F1 career.

Given AlphaTauri's relationship with Red Bull, Alfa Romeo seems the more likely option for Schumacher if he was to depart Haas and an opportunity to drive alongside Valtteri Bottas could aid his development – though Alfa Romeo have a young talent of their own waiting in the wings in the form of Theo Pourchaire.

Felipe Drugovich, the runaway leader in F2 this season, and American Logan Sargeant are alternative options within the young driver ranks, while both have additional appeal due to their respective nationalities, Brazil and the United States, both of which are areas of growth for F1.

The break period in the F1 season is usually the time where teams line everything up for the next year, so the next few weeks before the season resumes in Belgium are likely to be extremely busy – and there could be some surprises in store.

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  • Messi to make 1,000th appearance, but career-defining match may still be to come Messi to make 1,000th appearance, but career-defining match may still be to come

    Lionel Messi will walk out the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium tunnel on Saturday with the expectations of millions on his shoulders when Argentina face Australia in the last 16 of Qatar 2022.

    That is nothing new, of course, for this will be the 1,000th match of a remarkable career that may yet to have peaked – though that will depend on whether Messi can inspire his country past Australia and all the way to World Cup glory.

    Now aged 35, Messi has already accepted this will be his final chance to lift the most famous trophy of them all, a little over a year on from helping La Albiceleste end their 28-year wait for a major title with Copa America success.

    Ahead of the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's milestone match, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind his previous 999 appearances for club and country – and why the next two weeks could yet define his career.

    Barca Breakthrough

    October 16, 2004. It would not be hyperbolic to suggest this was a day that football as we know it changed, with a 17-year-old Messi replacing Deco from the substitutes' bench in Barcelona's 1-0 win over city rivals Espanyol.

    In a sign of the mini maestro's longevity, he has since played alongside two players born after his Barcelona debut – Warren Zaire-Emery and El Chadaille Bitshiabu, born in March 2006 and May 2005 respectively.

    Both teenagers are on Paris Saint-Germain's books, where Messi is now plying his trade after ending his two-decade association with Barcelona in emotional circumstances in August 2021.

    Unsurprisingly, the majority of Messi's career appearances came during his 17 seasons at Camp Nou. He featured 778 times for Barca, scoring a staggering 672 goals and assisting 265, which amounts to 937 direct-goal involvements.

    He made more appearances against Real Madrid than any other opponent, playing 47 times against Barca's fiercest rivals.

     

    Good times under Guardiola

    Barcelona's inability to offer Messi a new contract due to their dire financial situation allowed PSG to pounce. After an underwhelming first campaign in Paris, the superstar forward has found his form this term.

    Messi has featured 53 times for the Parisians to date and has scored (23) and assisted (28) a combined 51 goals – just short of one goal involvement every match on average.

    He has already had two different managers at the Parc des Princes, with Christophe Galtier having replaced Mauricio Pochettino in the hot seat. That takes the number of head coaches Messi has worked under to 19.

    It was under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, between 2008 and 2012, that Messi played his most games as he featured on 219 occasions under the Catalan and scored 211 times.

    Luis Enrique is next on that list (158 games), followed by Ernesto Valverde (124) and Frank Rijkaard (110), the man who gave him his debut against Espanyol.


    1,000 not out

    Some 18 years and 48 days on from that first appearance comes match number 1,000 for club and country – and what a truly huge occasion it is for Messi and Argentina, who recovered from a slow start in the group phase to advance.

    Messi has featured in 22 previous World Cup matches – one more than Diego Maradona as the most ever for an Argentina player – scoring eight times and assisting six more. 

    Incredibly for a player of his game-changing quality, Messi has yet to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup – 23 efforts, zero goals. Interestingly, the same is also true of archenemy Cristiano Ronaldo (25 shots without a goal).

     

    The aim for Messi will be to put that right against Australia on what will be his 169th senior cap, 17 years on from his senior international bow against Hungary, which came just 10 games into his career for club and country.

    And while it will be a special occasion for Messi, the man many consider to be the greatest of all time will hope to make it to 1,003 matches before Argentina's Qatar campaign concludes.

    Should that be the case and Argentina go on to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1986, a centre-stage Messi will have the defining moment of a truly special career that still has some way to go yet.

  • F1 cancels 2023 Chinese Grand Prix due to 'ongoing difficulties' around COVID-19 F1 cancels 2023 Chinese Grand Prix due to 'ongoing difficulties' around COVID-19

    Formula One's 2023 season will not feature the Chinese Grand Prix after the race was scrapped due to "ongoing difficulties" surrounding the country's COVID-19 situation.

    F1 was due to return to the Shanghai International Circuit in 2023, having last raced there in 2019.

    The 2020 race, like most originally scheduled for that season, was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic and the 2021 race fell the same way. F1 could not honour its contract to race in China last season because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19.

    There will now be no race in the country for the fourth successive campaign after F1 confirmed the 2023 grand prix scheduled for April had been cancelled.

    "Formula 1 can confirm, following dialogue with the promoter and relevant authorities, that the 2023 Chinese Grand Prix will not take place due to the ongoing difficulties presented by the COVID-19 situation," a short statement read.

    "Formula 1 is assessing alternative options to replace the slot on the 2023 calendar and will provide an update on this in due course."

    China continues to operate a 'zero-COVID' policy, with strict local lockdowns enforced if even one person tests positive for the virus.

    Those who test positive are taken to a designated COVID hospital for centralised care and remain there until they have tested negative for COVID-19 multiple times, a process that can take numerous weeks.

    Reports prior to F1 confirming the cancellation indicated it was not prepared to ask teams to travel to the country amid the risk its drivers and staff could be quarantined for weeks if they caught the virus.

    F1 staff would reportedly not be given exemptions if they contracted COVID-19.

    If it does not replace the grand prix with an alternative in another country, F1 will stage a 23-race calendar in 2023 that would feature a four-week gap between the Australian Grand Prix on April 2 and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30 because of the cancellation.

    The new season is due to start on March 5 with the Bahrain Grand Prix.

  • Ghana have shot at revenge against Uruguay in ultimate World Cup grudge match Ghana have shot at revenge against Uruguay in ultimate World Cup grudge match

    As far as World Cup grudge matches go, not many – if any – can rival Ghana against Uruguay this century.

    Twelve and a half years on from 'that' match in Johannesburg, the footage of Luis Suarez celebrating his next-level dark arts – some would use a stronger term – remains engrained in the memory.

    While revenge may not be the main motive for winning Friday's latest encounter between the sides – or at least not in the view of Ghana boss Otto Addo – the Black Stars will be relishing the chance to get one over on Suarez and Co.

    The prize on the line is not as big as in 2010, when Uruguay's penalty shoot-out win took them through to the World Cup semi-finals, but should Ghana avoid defeat at Al Janoub Stadium they will be through to the last 16 in Qatar.

    Ahead of the tasty tussle, Stats Perform looks at why their only previous World Cup meeting was so notorious and what exactly is on the line this time around.

    "The hand of God now belongs to me" 

    Those are the words credited to Suarez in 2010, referencing Diego Maradona's equally as infamous goal for Argentina against England in the 1986 World Cup and clearly taking some pride in his act of gamesmanship.

    Public enemy number one in Ghana and wider parts of Africa he may have been, but back home in Uruguay he was elevated towards legendary status.

    "I always say if I was Suarez, I'd have done the same thing to save my country. He's a hero there," said Ghana great Asamoah Gyan. "People hate him, but he did what he had to do to get his country to the semi-final."

    So what exactly did Suarez do to become hated or loved to the highest degree, depending on exactly who you ask?

    No, the then-Ajax striker did not bite anyone – not in that game, at least – but rather used another part of his body to help send his country through at Ghana's expense.

     

    After Diego Forlan had cancelled out Sulley Muntari's opener to take the match to extra-time, penalties loomed to determine who would reach the last four in South Africa.

    Ghana looked the more likely side to score a winner in their bid to become the first African side to reach the semis of the competition, at which point Suarez illegally handled Dominic Adiyiah's goal-bound shot.

    "Illegally handled" is one way of putting it; a great two-handed save on the line is another. Suarez did what was necessary to prevent Adiyiah's late effort from eliminating Uruguay, who went on to lose 3-2 to the Netherlands in the next round.

    A red card was his punishment, though it was ultimately worth it as Gyan struck the crossbar from the subsequent spot-kick and it was Uruguay who went through on penalties after the game finished 1-1 at the end of 120 minutes.

     

    The state of play 12 years on

    More than the act itself, it was arguably the way Suarez stood on the edge of the pitch and wildly celebrated Gyan's missed effort that angered Ghana supporters so much.

    The man who had just denied them their greatest day was about to enjoy his own greatest day – or at least with his national side, having had so much success at club level, where he is now plying his trade for Nacional once again.

    And so we arrive full circle to the current day in Al-Wakrah, where on Friday it will be heartbreak for at least one of Ghana or Uruguay.

    After a thrilling 3-2 victory over South Korea to follow up a just as lively 3-2 loss to Portugal, Ghana are second in Group H and will be assured of a place in the knockout stage should they win.

    A draw, just like in Bloemfontein, may also be enough for Ghana should South Korea fail to beat group leaders Portugal.

    Uruguay, who have failed to score in a stalemate with South Korea and 2-0 loss to Portugal, need to win and hope Portugal avoid defeat against South Korea.

    Not quite winner takes all, then, but the stakes remain incredibly high in this huge grudge match, which Suarez will be hopeful of starting.

    "I'm a guy who doesn't think too much in the past when this incident happened," Ghana boss Addo said in the build-up to the match. "I'm a strong believer if you don't seek revenge, you get even more blessings."

    Maybe so. But by beating Uruguay on Friday to exact that revenge, Ghana will have blessings that may yet take them even further than the magical run 12 years ago that ended in the most crushing of manners.

    Either way, in what will surely be his final World Cup, you would not bet against that man Suarez taking centre stage regardless of the outcome.

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