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RED BULL took their twelfth pole-position out of 12 this season in the qualifying session for today’s Belgian Grand Prix.

Reigning world champion Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) set a time of 1:48.298 (144.667-mph) around the legendary Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the final session yesterday. Vettel will be looking for his and his team’s first F1 win at Spa.

Last year’s winner, Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), will line up second on the grid after setting a time of 1:48.730, while Red Bull’s Mark Webber will start the race from third.

Pretty much all of qualifying was dictated by the infamous changeable weather in the Arden forest, and yes we do have a mixed up grid.

Fourth to tenth on the grid are: 4th) Felipe Massa (Ferrari), 5th) Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 6th) Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso), 7th) Bruno Senna (Renault. Bruno Senna has replaced the much more experienced but not as rich sponsor wise Nick Heidfeld, who is seeking to take legal action against Renault over this move. It is truly frightening to see that yellow helmet in an ‘80s style Lotus). 8th) Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 9th) Sergio Pérez (Sauber) and 10th) Vitaly Petrov (Renault).

11th-17th on the grid for today’s race are: 11th) Sébastien Buemi (Toro Rosso), 12th) Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), 13th) Jenson Button (McLaren. Button and McLaren got their timings wrong in Q2 and the 2009 world champion was left high and dry at the end of the session. But, Spa is known for its changeable weather and in those conditions Button is the best driver on the grid). 14th) Rubens Barrichello (Williams), 15th) Adrian Sutil (Force India), 16th) Heikki Kovalainen (Lotus, who got into Q2 on merit) and 17th) Paul di Resta (Force India, who was going to start 18th having fallen out of Q1, but was promoted on the grid for reasons I will now explain).

In the last seconds of Q2 Lewis Hamilton was on a flying lap as he approached the last corner, the Bus Stop, with Pastor Maldonado in his Williams right ahead of him. Hamilton forced his way past the Venezuelan rookie who he took out of the Monaco Grand Prix in the last few laps when they were fighting over a points place. Hamilton went into Q3 but Maldonado (who himself was being held up by two other cars) didn’t.

As the pair exited the first corner, La Source, and began the run down to the infamous Eau Rouge, Hamilton twitched, causing Maldonado
to pull out and pass him. Then either out of the inexperience of having only raced in 11 Grand Prixs or out of pure anger, Maldonado swiped Hamilton’s McLaren with his Williams, damaging the Silver car and forcing the Woking based team into emergence repairs.

After qualifying, Hamilton was given a warning by the Stewards and Maldonado was demoted from 16th to 21st on the grid. He’s a very lucky boy to be racing at all today in my opinion.

The drivers at the back of the grid are: 18th) Jarno Trulli (Lotus, in the last five races the driver starting 18th has scored points). 19th) Timo Glock (Virgin), 20th) Jérôme d’Ambrosio (Virgin, he is the first Belgian driver in the Belgian Grand Prix since Thierry Boutsen (Jordan) in 1993). 21st) Maldonado, 22nd) Vitantonio Liuzzi (HRT), 23rd) Daniel Ricciardo (HRT) and 24th) Michael Schumacher (Mercedes).

Schumacher’s right-rear wheel fell off on his Q1 out lap as he approached Rivage and slid into the tyre barrier. So Michael Schumacher will start his 20th anniversary Grand Prix from dead last, his worst ever grid position.

Four drivers: d’Ambrosio, Liuzzi, Ricciardo and Schumacher were all outside the 107% time (2:10.339) but will race because of the changeable
weather conditions and times in practice.

I’m not going to say who will win, because at Spa anybody can win.

Winners of the Belgian Grand Prix on the grid today:

  • Michael Schumacher, a record six-times, 1992 (his first F1 win…I wasn’t even alive when this happened) and 1995 for Benetton and 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2002 for Ferrari. Spa is also where he won his seventh world title back in 2004.
  • Felipe Massa, 2008 for Ferrari after Hamilton was (wrongly!) bumped down to third.
  • Lewis Hamilton, 2010 for McLaren.

SEBASTIAN VETTEL took his 20th career pole position in yesterday’s qualifying for today’s Monaco Grand Prix, but the session itself was marred by a huge accident suffered by Sauber’s rookie driver, Sergio Pérez.

Vettel, the reigning world champion, set a Q3 time of 1:13.556, lapping the classic Monaco circuit at an average speed of 101.800-mph. The 2009 world champion and Monaco Grand Prix winner Jenson Button (McLaren) will start from second on the grid after clocking a time of 1:13.997, while last year’s Monaco winner Mark Webber (Red Bull), starts third after posting a 1:14.019.

Fourth to eighth on the grid are (in order): 2006 & ’07 Monaco winner Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), five-times Monaco winner Michael Schumacher (Mercedes), Felipe Massa (Ferrari), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) and Pastor Maldonado (Williams).

Sauber’s Sergio Pérez would have started today’s race from ninth on the grid, but has not been allowed to race on doctor’s orders. The 21-year old Mexican rookie crashed heavily at the Nouvelle Chicane (the chicane after the Tunnel) and hit the barrier side-on. Q3 was Red Flagged for over half an hour while the track doctors and marshals helped Pérez out of his shattered Sauber and put the barrier back together respectively. Young Pérez is reported to have suffered NO BROKEN BONES, but has suffered concussion and a sprained thigh. He crashed at the same place where Rosberg crashed his Mercedes in Saturday morning practice just hours before and where former Sauber driver Karl Wendlinger crashed in 1994 and ended up in a coma for nearly three weeks.

Thank God for TECPRO barriers. If Pérez had hit the steel barriers I shudder to think what would have happened.

Q3 was halted with just 2:26 left on the clock and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton (2008 Monaco winner) hadn’t set a time yet. His first flying lap had been spoilt by Massa appearing to block him, and his second by Pérez’s crash. With cold tyres and only one lap left Hamilton could only manage seventh on the grid, but has since been bumped down to ninth for cutting a chicane in Q3. If Hamilton has got done for this, why has Massa not also been demoted on the grid for blocking Hamilton?!

 Those who were eliminated in Q2 and staring tenth to 16th on the grid are (in order): Vitaly Petrov (Renault), Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber), Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil (both Force India), Nick Heidfeld (Renault) and Sébastien Buemi (Toro Rosso).

Q1 saw grid places 17-22 filled by: Heikki Kovalainen and 2004 Monaco winner Jarno Trulli (both Lotus), Jaime Alguersuari (Toro Rosso) and the Virgins of Timo Glock and Jérôme d’Ambrosio.

Neither HRT set a lap time in Q1. Vitantonio Liuzzi caused extensive damage to the back of his car in the last few minutes of Saturday practice after crashing at Sainte Devote while Narain Karthikeyan also had done damage to his car. But despite not making the 107% Rule time (1:20.471) both will start the race 23rd and 22nd respectively.

With regards as to who I think will win today I’m feeling slightly cheeky. I correctly predicted that Barcelona would beat Man Utd 3-1 last night, so I’m going to say that Jenson Button will win today.

JAPAN won their fourth AFC Asian football championship yesterday (29 January) after a tense final against Australia in Qatar’s Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

The competition began back on 7 January with the hosts Qatar losing 0-2 to Uzbekistan in the opening match of Group A. However Qatar made up for their opening loss by beating China 2-0 and Kuwait 3-0, which assured their passage into the Quarter-Finals as group runners-up. Uzbekistan won the group while China and Kuwait went home.

Japan almost lost their opening match in Group B against Jordan. It took a 92nd minute first ever international goal by centre back Maya Yoshida to earn a 1-1 draw to save their blushes. Japan picked themselves up just like Qatar in their next two games, beating Syria 2-1 with ten men and thrashing the surprisingly hopeless Saudi Arabia 5-0. Saudi Arabia (three times Asian champions) lost all three of their games in Qatar and only scored one goal. They came bottom of Group B with Syria also going out, with Japan winning the group and advancing alongside Jordan.

Group C consisted of two of the favourites to take the title, Australia and South Korea. The other two teams in the group, Bahrain and in particular lowly ranked India never really stood a chance and in the case of the latter, got well and truly hammered. India suffered 0-4, 2-5 and 1-4 defeats to Australia, Bahrain (Ismaeel Abdullatif scoring four goals) and South Korea respectively. Bahrain lost both of their games against the big two in the group, who drew 1-1 when it came to their match against each other. Australia won the group on goal difference from South Korea.

Group D was the ‘Group of Death’ in my eyes as it consisted of: the U.A.E., Iran, North Korea and reigning Asian champions Iraq. Iran won all three of their games (the only side to do this in the group stage) and advanced as group winners along with Iraq. North Korea and U.A.E. finished third and fourth respectively and didn’t score a single goal between them. 😦

The Quarter-Final line up looked like this: Uzbekistan vs. Jordan, Australia vs. Iraq, Japan vs. Qatar and Iran vs. South Korea.

Qatar looked to be heading into the last four when they were 2-1 up and a man up against Japan with just 20 minutes to go. Unfortunately for the host nation Japan levelled the match through Shinji Kagawa, and won it in the 90th minute thanks to Masahiko Inoha scoring his first goal for Japan in just his second match for his country. Uzbekistan knocked-out Jordan by beating them 2-1, and Australia ended Iraq’s quest to defend their title with a 1-0 extra-time victory coming courtesy of a 118th minute goal from former Leeds Utd and Liverpool winger Harry Kewell. South Korea beat Iran in the last Quarter-Final, also 1-0 after extra-time.

Thus the Semi-Final line up was complete with Japan vs. their footballing nemesis South Korea, while surprise package Uzbekistan would take on Australia.

Japan and South Korea were level at 1-1 after 90 minutes and South Korea once again went into extra-time. They fell behind in the 97th minute, but Hwang Jae-Won scored his first goal for South Korea in the very last minute of extra-time to take the match to a penalty shoot-out. Sadly there was to be no fairy tale ending for the Taegeuk Jeonsa (Warriors) as Japan held their nerve to win the shoot-out 3-0. In stark contrast Australia’s match against Uzbekistan was a stroll in the park for the Socceroos who won 6-0! 😮

Uzbekistan’s luck didn’t change in the third place Play-Off match either. South Korea took the bronze medal with a 3-2 win.

And so we came to The Final, Australia vs. Japan. Australia were looking to become the first team ever to win two different continental championships and to become Asian champions at just the second time of asking in the country that was (wrongly) awarded the 2022 World Cup instead of them. Australia is hosting the 2015 Asian Cup as well, so to go into their own tournament as reigning champions would be a huge boost. Japan on the other hand were out to win a record fourth Asian championship. They were currently level on three championships with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Japan also wanted to keep their 100% success rate in Asian Cup finals.

The match itself was a really tense, nail biting affair with chances galore – especially for Australia – but after 90 minutes nobody had broken the deadlock, so to extra-time (again for Japan) we went. Extra-time was just as gripping as the previous 90 minutes, but Japan finally made Australia pay dearly for all their missed chances with just 11 minutes to go. Making just his second senior appearance for Japan, Tadanari Lee found himself unmarked in the middle of the Australian penalty area and hit one of the sweetest and coolest left-footed volleys that I have ever seen. Aussie goalkeeper and now their most capped player, Mark Schwarzer (Fulham’s keeper) could only watch the ball fly into his net. This was Lee’s first goal for Japan and he had only been on the pitch for nine minutes when he scored! It is not every day that a footballers boyhood dream comes true is it?

Super-sub Lee celebrates the most important goal he will probably ever score.

Lee’s goal proved to be the winner meaning that Japan had won the 2011 Asian Cup, their third triumph in the last four tournaments and record fourth in the last six. What makes their achievement even more remarkable is the fact that Japan’s first Asian Cup appearance wasn’t until 1988 when they didn’t even score a goal. But next time around in 1992 they won the title at home and added the 2000 and 2004 titles to the trophy cabinet before their triumph yesterday.

Japan’s Keisuke Honda was awarded ‘Most Valuable Player’, while South Korea won the ‘Fair Play’ award and their midfielder Koo Ja-Cheol top scored after netting five goals in the tournament.

The Blue Samurai (Japan) have well and truly earned their title back and will represent Asian in the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil. But before that they have a chance of winning the Copa América (the South American championship) later this year in Argentina. They along with Mexico have been invited to be the 11th and 12th teams in the tournament alongside all of the South American nations. Surly Japan can’t hold both the Asian and South American titles at the same time? Watch this space.

Japan – Worthy champions indeed.

FERNANDO ALONSO of Ferrari took his second pole position in two races ahead of today’s night-time Singapore Grand Prix around the Marina Bay circuit.

The Spaniard who ‘won’ the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 took pole with a Q3 lap time of 1:45.390, an average speed of 107.600 mph. Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel will start the race alongside him, with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton third on the grid.

The rest of the top ten are from fourth to tenth: Jenson Button (McLaren), Mark Webber (Red Bull), Rubens Barrichello (Williams), Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), Robert Kubica (Renault), Michael Schumacher (Mercedes) and Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber).

William’s Nico Hülkenberg has taken a five-place grid drop for having his gearbox changed and will start the race from 17th on the grid.

Nick Heidfeld makes his Grand Prix return with Sauber in place of Pedro de la Rosa, and starts from 14th. Christian Klien is also starting his first race since the 2006 Italian Grand Prix for HRT. He qualified 22nd on the grid, and was over a second faster than his team-mate Bruno Senna. Sakon Yamamoto (HRT) has food poisoning.

But the big story from qualifying is that Ferrari’s Felipe Massa will start from dead last after his car stopped out on track before he could even set a lap.

As always I want to see a McLaren 1-2, but being the sceptical realist that I am I believe that Vettel will win this race. But on the other hand Alonso has all of the momentum at the moment. We’ll just have to wait and see.

DON’T worry; I will do my race review this week. It’s just that with all of the football going on it’s hard to find the time, but I’ll find it somewhere.