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Motorsport

With the world focussed on sports that where men play with balls, we'd rather focus on one where you need them (at least figuratively). If it doesn't have an engine, it's not here.

Lewis Hamilton made perhaps the most prescient statement of recent times in Formula One. He said that Ferrari have a faster car than Mercedes. But Mercedes, he said, have the better team, saying that the systems, the strength in depth in all departments, the stability are what give him and team-mate Valtteri Bottas the machinery that allows them to do the job. And with four one-two finishes in the first four races, in each case at least in part due to Ferrari fluffing something, even in the dense air of below sea level Baku which should have increased the red cars' performance advantage, it's increasingly looking as if he's right. But the apparent Sunday afternoon jog for the two Mercedes drivers around the streets of Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, is as much to do with the failures of others as the strength of Mercedes. Ferrari are not the only ones struggling to get it together.
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F1 is fascinating for many reasons: one is the fact that there are days when one tiny event means not winning, when nearly perfect isn't good enough. And there's the fact that it's a brutal sport where fairness goes out of the window as soon as the lights go out at the first race of the season. Just three races into 2019 and it's already clear that even though much has changed, much has stayed the same.

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This day had to come: Marc Marquez has, unusually, been defeated by the forces of nature. Holding a commanding lead at the US GP at the Circuit of the Americans in Austin, one of the most fundamental aspects of motor-racing was demonstrated and he fell off leaving the result of the race, and the Championship, to cause more shaking of heads than a room full of joyous fan-boys.

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Charles Leclerc fumbled the start and saw his pole position evaporate. It was the only thing he did wrong in the entire race as he took the lead in an audacious move on his team leader, Sebastian Vettel, and didn't look back for the simple reason there was no one to see in his mirrors. Until gremlins arrived.

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I should say up front that I am not a fan of DRS but I concede that, sometimes, it's helped spice up what was an otherwise processional race. But in F1 this year, there seems to be a plan to have more DRS zones. Last night's race in Bahrain had three. When DRS was introduced, tracks had one. And, last night, DRS made an extremely positive contribution to the race but its contribution was limited and artificial. What if the DRS rules were changed to remove the limitation and artificiality?

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I've had the chance to watch an Indycar race on TV, something that, because of various rights fights, has been denied me for several years. There's good close racing but there's a lot wrong both with the rules and the way the sport is presented. What should have been edge of the seat stuff turned into a festival of yawns and a great deal of frustration. And then there's the cars.

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It's a question that three years ago had a clear answer: yes; easily. Now, it's far more complicated. How far, then, should F1 go to appease the Italian team?

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It might look like the tail fin from Concord but it's Bloodhound SSC, rescued this week by British businessman Ian Warhurst after entering liquidation last October.

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For fans of the personalities, regulations and technology of F1, the first race of the 2019 season was fascinating.

For fans of racing, it was extraordinarily dull.

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I can't claim to have known Charlie Whiting personally but I can say that, like one or two other people over my decades of enjoying Formula One as a spectator, he has been an important figure in my life. And then, suddenly, he's gone, as if someone turned out the lights. This time, they say "gone" not "go."

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MotoGP has, in recent years, had flashes of brilliance but periods of extreme dullness. If the first race of 2019, Qatar, is any guide, that's not going to be the case this season. And there's interest in the lower formulae, too.

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Paddy Lowe, one of the most successful designers in Formula One's history, is to take indefinite "leave of absence" from the Williams F1 team as responsibility and blame collide one step from the top.

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The two winter tests are done and dusted. The cars have been back to their factories, dismantled and evaluated. The data has been analysed. We, of course, know nothing at all except the colour of the cars, who will sit in them and what changes in various regulations have done to their look. We've had endless interviews and soundbites from teams and drivers and we've learned nothing of value except that Bottas has had enough of playing second fiddle and plans to shed his Mr Nice Guy image and he's got chiselled features and a bovva-boy haircut to prove it. Does that mean the season opener in Melbourne next weekend is just a prelude to the season proper? Or are the teams actually ready?

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One of the pluckiest teams in F1 for many years has been the outfit created by Peter Sauber and which has, more or less continuously, carried his name since (there was a short period where it appeared to be known as BMW). But now it's been adopted by the Fiat group which has gone from sticking the Alfa Romeo logo on the fin in return for money to a rather more involved - and stable - relationship. The announcement that the team would be renamed "Alfa Romeo Racing" made much of the long term funding. So does that mean the Sauber name is gone for evermore?

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There will be some in Formula One who will miss Force India but there will others who won't. It's a name that has close to zero connection with the team and that's been the case for a while, even before the companies behind it collapsed and were rescued by, amongst others, Lawrence Stroll. This week, it was made clear: the misnomer will come off the cars at the first opportunity and Stroll's will, at least to a degree, appear on one of them.

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