Coronavirus: How drivers, engineers and cycling kit makers are helping

The sporting calendar may have been obliterated for the foreseeable future by the coronavirus pandemic, but some sports people are keeping busy by joining the fight against Covid-19.

Engineers and experts across different sectors of motorsport and cycling have halted their search for racing superiority and are now manufacturing masks and respiratory devices, and producing hand sanitiser.

And Formula E driver Alexander Sims is spending his time collecting personal protection equipment (PPE) stock from UK-based motorsport teams and delivering them to hospitals.

“The most things we’ve got is gloves,” he told BBC Sport. “Around 300-350 pairs, as well as a couple of hundred all-in-one suits, cleansing wipes and hand sanitiser.

“It’s a little bit of a mis-match because you’re just taking what some teams have got in stock. But I’ve got a very nice response from those teams that have just donated whatever they’ve got.”

The idea came from Andrea Ackroyd – Sims’ performance engineer at the Formula E team BMW iAndretti. Ackroyd’s sister works for the NHS.

Sims added: “She was just explaining the dire situation they’re in, in terms of PPE. She’s the brains behind this – I’m just the one with a bit of time on my hands to try and organise it, send out some emails, contact people and pick it up, wearing my own gloves and trying to be safe in the process and looking at the bigger picture.

“It made a lot of sense to me to try and get involved and do my bit.”

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Bringing engineering expertise to coronavirus fight

While seven Formula 1 teams work with the UK government to find ways to develop and supply much-needed ventilators and Mercedes collaborate to create their own breathing systems, there are other racing teams determined to make their mark too.

Formula E is the world’s first ‘green’ all-electric racing series, which has seen its racing calendar suspended along with almost all other sports.

Engineer Alberto Blanco from Mahindra team – Indian-owned but based in Banbury in Oxfordshire – is leading a new project designing a ventilator with Mahindra and Chinese team Nio333’s technology partner QEV Technologies.

QEV, a Barcelona-based electrical racing research and development company, is importing ventilators from China and donating them to local Spanish hospitals, while redeploying 14 engineers to research and design a new prototype ventilator.

Blanco told BBC Sport: “It’s incredible and unacceptable that some hospitals and other health centres don’t even have the most basic material weeks after the infection started.”

Engineers are using 3D printers to produce face shields which have been tested at a hospital in Barcelona already, with “thousands” expected to be rolled out in Spain in the coming days.

According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) 80% of people with Covid-19 recover without needing hospital treatment, but one person in six becomes seriously ill and can develop breathing difficulties.

To help hospitals cope with increased ventilator usage, the team have started producing bifurcators (a little like a junction) using 3D printers.

These create two airflows and mean each ventilator can serve more than one patient at a time – doubling the capacity of those already in use in hospitals across Spain.

Blanco said: “The philosophy of the Formula E championship is always looking at ways to make this world better. In our races we need to strategically manage the available energy to be as fast as possible, now it’s time to manage our personal energy to stay strong and slow down the virus until we can finally beat it.

“Our heroes, and many others that will struggle in this situation, deserve all our support.”

From rainbow stripes to washable masks

One of the worst affected areas of northern Italy, in Lallio near Bergamo, is a heartland of cycling.

Santini, the historic family-run producers of the famous cycling World Championship rainbow jerseys, have turned their resources to manufacturing reusable masks for Italy.

The country remains in a complete lockdown as a measure to slow the spread of the virus. The northern region of Lombardy has seen the highest number of deaths so far, with Italy’s total standing at 13,155 deaths on Wednesday.

A prototype was tested by authorities in Milan, and the production line began last week with the capacity to make up to 10,000 washable masks a day.

Paola Santini, marketing director and daughter of the company founder Pietro, told the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) that when the standards and criteria to produce protective masks were released, they felt they had to get involved.

“The aim was to give the opportunity to other manufacturers to create a product that can no longer be found. I looked at my sister and we said to each other ‘Let’s see if we can do something’. We live in the eye of the storm, we feel this emergency on our skin.

“Our prototype is reusable, sterilisable and washable up to 90-95C with the integrity of the fabric being guaranteed for use up to 10 times. It is made of dense and very compact polyester fabric, which makes the mask completely waterproof.”

And of the cost? She said: “We decided to put a price that only covers the cost of the technical fabric – high quality and Italian – and production.”

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A hand sanitiser factory built in 10 days?

Chemical giant Ineos, which sponsors cycling’s Team Ineos, last week announced an ambitious project to build a new factory near Middlesbrough within 10 days to manufacture up to one million bottles of hand sanitiser per month.

The UK company said it intends to replicate its new factory in Germany and will donate the supply to the NHS, as well as restocking near-empty supermarket shelves.

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Coronavirus: Belgian season set to end, Club Brugge set to be awarded title

Club Brugge are set to be crowned Belgian champions after the Jupiler Pro League’s board of directors recommended the season should be ended early because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The recommendation, made on Thursday, now just needs to be endorsed at a general assembly meeting on April 15, a process which is understood to be a formality.

Club Brugge were 15 points clear with one game remaining of the Belgian regular season, after which the top six teams would have competed in a play-off competition to determine who was crowned champion and which teams awarded European places for next season.

The Pro League said via a statement the decision had been made under the advice that it was “highly unlikely” games would be played in front of the public before June 30, a date after which they consider it undesirable to continue the season beyond.

“A resumption of the competition would in no way outweigh the health risks for players, employees and everyone involved in the competition organisation and the necessary maintenance of order,” the statement said.

“In addition, possible contamination of a player or the core of the team risks to influence the sporting course of the further competition in an unacceptable manner.

“Even if games behind closed doors could theoretically be possible, the additional pressure they place on health and order services should be avoided.”

The Belgian post-season format would usually see a second playoff competition between the remaining 10 teams in the top flight and the top six teams from the second tier, with the winner going on to face a team from the other play-off competition for the country’s final European place.

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Supercars young gun finds himself on F1 grid

Monday morning’s alarm will be an early one for Supercars young gun Andre Heimgartner, but he is determined to ensure it is worthwhile.

The 24-year-old has been picked to race in this weekend’s official Formula 1 Eseries Grand Prix, with lights out set for 6am on Monday morning.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, motorsport has gone virtual.

The Kiwi will represent the Renault DP World F1 Team on the virtual grid for this weekend’s Formula 1 Eseries Grand Prix, to be staged at Melbourne’s Albert Park circuit on the same weekend that would have seen the Vietnam Grand Prix contested.

Supercars driver Andre Heimgartner cannot wait to get behind the wheel on the virtual grid.Source:Supplied

“I think it’s every young driver’s dream to race in Formula 1 and to get to do it online against some of the best in the world will be something I’ll never forget,” Heimgartner said.

“I’ve got a bit of Eracing experience which I think will help, but it will be interesting to see how different it is compared to Supercars.

“I’m grateful to BP-Castrol for putting my name forward and hopefully I do Supercars and everyone at Kelly Racing proud; I’m looking forward to it.”

Current and former F1 drivers plus celebrities including golfer Ian Poulter, One Direction band member Liam Payne will contest the race.

Melbourne driver Andre Heimgartner has been hand-picked to race in this weekend’s official Formula 1 Eseries Grand Prix.Source:Supplied

Heimgartner will then compete in the opening two races of the Supercars All Stars Eseries, which begins next Wednesday night.

The F1 race will begin at 6am Monday 6 April AEST and will be broadcast live in Australia on Fox Sports and Kayo.

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Originally published asSupercars young gun finds himself on F1 grid

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Nico Rosberg makes Max Verstappen title prediction as coronavirus forces major F1 changes

Nico Rosberg has backed Max Verstappen to mount a serious title challenge if F1 chiefs are forced to slash races off the 2020 calendar due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s schedule has already seen three Grands Prix wiped off it entirely due to the spread of Covid-19 across the globe.

Meets in Bahrain, Vietnam, Holland, Spain and Azerbaijan, meanwhile, await rescheduling after being postponed.

F1 chief Chase Carey is envisaging a 15-18 race campaign with the American and his colleagues now scrambling to salvage as many Grands Prix as possible.

Rosberg, who beat then-Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to the World Drivers’ Championship in 2016, believes luck would have more of an impact during a shorter season.

And he thinks Red Bull driver Verstappen might just be the man who can capitalise on that to end Hamilton’s reign as the king of F1.

“It certainly increases the chances of there being a surprise champion, if there’s fewer [races], because then as well luck plays a bigger role,” said Rosberg during an appearance on Sky Sports News on Thursday afternoon.

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“I always thought that Red Bull and Max Verstappen were really going to be in the hunt this year and really be able to annoy Mercedes in a big way and give them a big run for their money. And therefore, yeah, if there’s a shorter season maybe his chances would be even bigger.”

Rosberg says Carey and co. must be innovative as they attempt to limit the damage the coronavirus pandemic will inflict on the 2020 F1 season.

And he’s offered an insight into how staging double-header weekends would be a huge change for the 10 F1 teams, who he’s adamant would need to be consulted about such an idea.

“14 [races] sounds okay,” said Rosberg. “But, if we go lower than that, I don’t know. They need to think of something then.

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“Yes, they can run the season much longer. There were some ideas of going all the way to January. Or doing some double-headers or something. I don’t know.

“But they need to get creative because us as fans, we all really love to see as much of a championship as possible.

“We were all so excited to see the season start and, considering we’re all in lockdown as well now, it would have been such an amazing distraction to have Formula 1 races on TV.

“But unfortunately, obviously, it’s not possible. I really look forward to the season getting going at some point and I hope they manage to be creative and figure something out.

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“[Running double-header weekends] of course, yes, it’s just completely different. I mean you make plans for the season to be in the way that it was planned and now suddenly you have two races per weekend.

“That would change everything; the way you use your engines, everything’s different. And so it’s very, very complicated and certainly it would need a unanimous agreement between all teams as well to make a change that big.

“But I think that’s definitely possible because everybody is open-minded and everybody wants to show the fans a great season.

“I think we can see some really nice coming together now and them agreeing on some unusual idea to make it a great show nevertheless.”

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England cricketer Ben Stokes joins Charles Leclerc in second F1 Virtual Grand Prix

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc will be taking to the track alongside England cricket star Ben Stokes in the second Formula One Esports Virtual Grand Prix on Sunday.

Following on from the inaugural virtual race around the Bahrain track a fortnight ago, a host of F1 drivers will compete around a virtual version of Melbourne’s Albert Park as they attempt to fill the void while the season remains suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Leclerc will be joined by British drivers George Russell and Lando Norris, with Nicholas Latifi and Alexander Albon also taking part.

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Stokes, meanwhile, will be on board with Red Bull for the virtual race, which will feature a qualifying session and a 28-lap race.

The BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year tweeted: “Can not wait for this.”

Leclerc, who should have been driving a real Ferrari at the first ever Vietnam Grand Prix this weekend, tweeted: “First Race of the year coming up this week-end! I will do my first ever Virtual Race this week-end organised by F1, and I like this line up.”

Racing fans can get their fix by watching the race on the official Formula One YouTube, Twitch and Facebook channels, as well as live on Sky Sports in the UK.

PA

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Gary Neville on tearful meeting with Fergie when brother Phil joined Everton

Gary Neville has recalled a tearful meeting with Sir Alex Ferguson when brother Phil Neville told the legendary Man Utd boss he wanted to leave the club.

The two siblings had been at United since the early days of their youth and had come through the fabled academy Class of '92 to achieve great success with the senior side.

Yet despite Phil's role with the first-team, he never managed to hold down a regular spot in the side, unlike right-back Gary.

And as the years ticked by, Phil eventually decided to seek pastures new, prompting an emotional showdown with Fergie.

“Phil rang me up one Sunday and said ‘I’ve made a decision, I want to leave’," Gary told Sky Sports' Off Script Podcast.

"I said it’s a big call, you’re playing a lot of games at United, you're winning trophies but he wanted to leave.

"We actually went around Sir Alex’s house that night and went to see him.

"I remember there being a few tears, it’s even emotional now because I’d been at United since the age of 11 and Phil had been there since he was 13, going to see Sir Alex to say that he wants to leave, that Phil wanted to go and play football every single week."

Phil departed Old Trafford in the summer of 2005 after a total of 15 years at United.

He joined Everton for a fee in the region of £3million, and made his debut against United, in which he came up against brother Gary.

His decision to leave was vindicated as he went on to enjoy an eight-year spell at Goodison Park, including being made Toffees captain.

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Coronavirus: Brescia president Massimo Cellino threatens to forfeit matches if Serie A returns

The president of bottom-of-the-table Brescia has said that it makes no sense to try to complete the Serie A season and that he would rather forfeit matches than put his team on the pitch.

A national lockdown has been place in Italy since 9 March and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Wednesday that the restrictions would remain in place until at least April 13.

He added the government would start softening the measures only with the approval of its scientific advisors, without setting an exact date.

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Meanwhile, there is no indication of when football matches, or even training, could re-start.

“This season doesn’t make sense any more,” Brescia president Massimo Cellino told Gazzetta dello Sport in an interview on Thursday. “We’ve stopped, no team will return as before, the matches will be behind closed doors plus there’s a risk to the health of the athletes. For me to go back to business is pure madness.

“If they force us to play, I’d be willing to not field the team and lose the matches 3-0 out of respect for the citizens of Brescia and their loved ones who are no longer there.”

Forfeited matches are usually awarded by a scoreline of 3-0 to the other team.

Cellino, formerly owner of Cagliari and Leeds United, ridiculed the idea that the season could be extended to August or September.

He also refuted the suggestion that he simply wanted to save Brescia from relegation, saying that his team deserved to be where they were and that “I am to blame.”

“The season has to finish on June 30, the deadline for the presentation of club balance sheets and players’ contracts,” he said.

“To extend the season, we need to change all the national and international rules: players’ contracts, balance sheets, deadlines with the banks, the transfer market, preparation, start of the new season. It will be absolute chaos and for what?”

Reuters

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NFL sky judge concept gaining support of Competition Committee, ex-VP of officials says

The NFL’s Competition Committee is coming around on the idea of a so-called “sky judge” who could help keep on-field officials from missing calls, a former league vice president of officiating says.

Dean Blandino told the Toronto Sun on Wednesday that the committee, which was unanimous in its opposition to the concept last year, is studying two proposals this year that call for an adviser who would assist with game administration and point out officiating errors. The Chargers and Ravens jointly made the proposals, according to the Sun’s report.

“I do know both (proposals) had support,” Blandino told the Sun. “There are pros and cons to having two proposals. The pros are you have two options, and you’re not just married to one proposal.

“The cons are if you get two proposals and owners are kind of split — some clubs like one, and other clubs like the other — then it’s harder to drum up enough support for either.”

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It’s not known how many teams overall are agreeable to adding a sky judge. The Sun reported that team owners are scheduled to vote on all rules proposals at their spring meetings May 19 and 20 in California. Proposals need 24 of 32 “yes” votes to be approved.

The nine-man Competition Committee, made up of team owners, current and former team executives and active head coaches, reviewed the proposals this week in a conference call that replaced a session at the annual league meeting, which the NFL canceled because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. One of the proposals reported by the Sun was highly detailed. It calls for the addition of a “Senior Technology Advisor to the Referee (STAR),” an “officiating expert who has on-field experience as a game official,” per the Sun.

The Sun added:

Specifically, the STAR would advise on-field officials on everything from game administration, to possession, to out-of-bounds or goal-line rulings, to ball placement, to where ball carriers are ruled down, to facemask and roughness calls — plus “any other information requested by the referee.”

The past two spring football leagues, the Alliance of American Football and the XFL, employed a sky judge. The person was stationed in the press box, monitored game action with the aid of television feeds, conducted video reviews, alerted referees to errors and helped to resolve other officiating issues. The video reviews were televised live. Public reaction to the system was generally positive.

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Man Utd stance on Kalidou Koulibaly transfer emerges amid Matthijs de Ligt pursuit

Manchester United have both Kalidou Koulibaly and Matthijs de Ligt on their list of summer transfer targets, reports say. The Napoli and Juventus defenders have both endured difficult campaigns but that hasn’t stopped Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from pondering whether to bring them to Old Trafford come the end of the campaign.

Manchester United are monitoring De Ligt amid uncertainty over his Juventus future, with the 20-year-old yet to settle in Turin.

But ESPN say that the club also have Koulibaly on their list of transfer targets as well.

The Senegal international, like De Ligt, was linked with United last summer as Solskjaer frantically hunted for a centre-back.

And he’s endured a difficult campaign with Napoli in Serie A, clashing with club president Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Koulibaly has reportedly confirmed to the 70-year-old that he wants to leave the club this summer, with United, PSG and Manchester City all linked.

Solskjaer rates him highly, deeming the Napoli star to be one of the best centre-backs in world football.

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And with United keen to sign a centre-back, only time will tell if they go for Koulibaly or De Ligt.

From a business perspective, De Ligt would make sense.

The Juventus star is still only 20 and has years ahead of him. He was considered a generational talent when the Serie A giants snapped him up nearly a year ago.

The report says the Red Devils believe he’d fit the profile of player Solskjaer wants at Old Trafford in terms of his age, versatility and character.

However, United still feel it will be tricky to bring the 20-year-old to Old Trafford.

They think Juventus are unlikely to sanction the exit of De Ligt, despite his struggles under Maurizio Sarri this season.

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But, if they are, then United are ready to launch another bid in order to bring the Netherlands international to Old Trafford.

Meanwhile, former France star Frank Leboeuf believes United should try and use Paul Pogba as bait in order to land De Ligt.

“I do, I do [think a potential swap deal would work],” he said.

“I think alongside Maguire it would be good to have De Ligt and see what he can do.

“Obviously Pogba wants to go, that could be a good bargain for Manchester United.”

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United’s centre-backs have done well this season.

Maguire has been solid throughout the campaign and improved drastically since replacing Ashley Young as club captain back in January.

Victor Lindelof finally looks like the player the Red Devils thought they were getting when they snapped him up in 2017.

And Eric Bailly has looked good upon returning from injury.

United are expected to sell Phil Jones at the end of the campaign, with Newcastle leading the race for the England international.

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Former Tottenham coach Harry Redknapp criticises club for cutting wages of non-playing staff

Former Tottenham coach Harry Redknapp has criticised the north London club for cutting the pay of non-playing staff instead of players.

This week, Tottenham announced a 20 per cent wage cut for all 550 non-playing employees, with many people reacting negatively to the news that squad members are still being paid as normal.

Redknapp, who coached Spurs between 2008 and 2012, has now urged players at the club to sacrifice some of their pay to protect non-playing staff.

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“I can’t believe it,” Redknapp, who managed Tottenham from 2008 to 2012, told The Sun.

“Surely players should be taking a cut, this isn’t for big clubs like Tottenham. I thought the Government were going to pay ordinary people who are struggling and help small businesses who are struggling.

“But you are talking here about a club where their players earn £10-12 million a year.

“Tottenham are owned by Joe Lewis, one of the richest men in the world, and his club are cutting the wages of all their non-football staff by 20 per cent. I can’t believe it.

“Here is a club where the average player earns £80,000, £90,000, £100,000 a week. And that’s [on] average. Their top players earn £150,000 a week, maybe even £200,000 a week.

“I know their minds and they don’t want to be going it alone, but they will do it if all their team-mates do it.

“They can all afford to hand over 10 per cent and I’d like to see the captain of every Premier League club call a meeting and say: ‘Come on, guys, we are all in it together, let’s donate to help our staff.’”

The Professional Footballers’ Association met this week to discuss the possibility of implementing a means of cutting players’ wages.

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