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Hamilton breaks records as Mercedes lock out front row

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BUDAPEST, Hungary, Jul 18 – Lewis Hamilton broke the circuit lap record and drew level with Michael Schumacher for another feat on Saturday as he claimed a record-increasing 90th pole position for Sunday’s Hungarian Grand Prix.

The six-time world champion clocked a stunning time of one minute and 13.447 seconds on his second run in final qualifying to finish just ahead of team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes reeled off their 65th front-row lockout.

It was Hamilton’s second successive pole of the COVID-19 delayed season and a Schumacher-equalling seventh pole at the Hungaroring, where he seeks his eighth victory to draw level with another Schumacher achievement for wins on the same track.

Schumacher won eight times at the French Grand Prix.

“I have to pinch myself,” said Hamilton. “It doesn’t register. It’s quite humbling because I work with an incredible bunch of people who do an amazing job here and back home.

“And Valtteri doesn’t make it easy for me. It takes perfection to do laps like that so this is one of the things I enjoy most.”

Bottas said he expected it to be close. “We seem to be on another level, pretty far ahead of the others. My laps were ok, but I couldn’t go faster really.”

Behind the two ‘black arrows’, the controversial ‘pink Mercedes’ of Racing Point were third and fourth with Lance Stroll and Sergio Perez ahead of a much-improved showing by four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc for Ferrari.

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“I am very happy at the moment,” said Stroll. “Was strong all the way through qualifying, the whole weekend, really.”

– Red Bull disappoint –

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Stroll qualified third fastest as Racing Point impressed again © AFP / Leonhard Foeger

Max Verstappen was a disappointed seventh for Red Bull, Lando Norris eighth ahead of his McLaren team-mate Carlos Sainz with Pierre Gasly, in his 50th Grand Prix, 10th for Alpha Tauri.

On a cool, damp afternoon at the Hungaroring, where blazing sunshine has been the norm over 35 years, the air temperature was 19 degrees and the track 28.6 as the session began.

The Q1 action produced drama and suspense, the track evolution – as the temperature fell — creating faster times right to the final seconds.

This resulted in the two Racing Points snatching first and second places ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes, with Perez leading Stroll in the ‘pink panthers’ private duel.

Out went Kevin Magnussen of Haas, Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri, Romain Grosjean in the second Haas, Antonio Giovinazzi and his Alfa Romeo team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, four of them powered by Ferrari engines.

For the first time since the 2018 Italian Grand Prix, Williams saw both cars through to Q2, George Russell winding up in ninth place. “That’s a lap! That’s a lap!” he shouted aloud on team radio.

In Q2, Hamilton was soon on top with 1:14.261, pursued by Bottas, two-tenths adrift, both running on medium compound tyres while behind them, on softs, Vettel and Verstappen led the chase.

Leclerc jumped to third in the final seconds as Daniel Ricciardo of Renault failed to make the top-10 shootout along with the two Williams of Russell and rookie Nicholas Latifi, Esteban Ocon in the second Renault and Red Bull’s Alexander Albon.

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The luckless London-born Thai driver complained on team radio: “Sorry, guys, but I told you ‘Don’t put me in traffic’.”

He had earlier struggled with his car’s balance and handling, problems that the team intended to solve during a ‘night’ shift on Friday.

In Q3, Mercedes again set the pace with Hamilton breaking the track lap record and the 1:14 barrier with a lap in 1:13.613 and Bottas three-tenths adrift on their opening runs.

Stroll was third quickest ahead of Verstappen and Norris before the ultimate laps saw Vettel and Leclerc move up to fourth and fifth for Ferrari ahead of the final dramas.

Stroll and his Racing Point team-mate Perez managed to jump the Ferraris, but Hamilton and Bottas reasserted Mercedes’ supremacy.

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Europe beckons for South African rugby after Kiwi snub

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JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 20World Cup-winning Springbok Schalk Brits believes the future of South African rugby lies in Europe after New Zealand said there was no room for sides from the republic in Super Rugby.

“All of this jet lag and flying across different time zones just does not work,” said the hooker who retired after the triumphant 2019 World Cup campaign.

“We have got so many South Africans playing in Europe and it would be awesome to see them in action here for European clubs.”

With New Zealand favouring a trans-Tasman Super Rugby competition, South Africa Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux will address the media Tuesday about the way forward.

There has been no rugby in South Africa since mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, which claimed 5,033 lives by late Sunday, the most in an African country.

Here, AFP Sport looks at the possibilities for the world champions Springboks and Super Rugby teams the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers.

Rugby Championship

There has been speculation that the six-round annual tournament will be cut to four matches with New Zealand and Australia playing in South Africa only every second year.

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That would be a huge blow for SA Rugby coffers as the century-old rivalry with the All Blacks makes them a huge drawcard.

South Africa might consider abandoning the Championship and pursuing a suggestion by former All Blacks Justin Marshall and Jeff Wilson for three-Test tours between the great rivals.

“British and Irish Lions tours are so successful because we look forward to them,” noted another ex-All Black, John Kirwan. The same could be said of an All Blacks-Springboks series.

‘Seven Nations’

Should South African franchises move north, would the Springboks follow suit and apply to join England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales in a ‘Seven Nations’ championship?

Having the world champions on board would surely excite the organisers and costs would be greatly reduced if the Springboks played their three away matches on consecutive weekends.

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England, Ireland, France and Wales, in particular, would bring freshness for rugby followers, who have not rushed to the turnstiles for Championship visits by Australia and Argentina.

Ask the SA Rugby treasurer for his ‘dream’ line-up and he would surely say a multi-Test tour by the All Blacks and participation in the ‘Seven Nations’.

Super Rugby

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Although not official yet, the reality is that New Zealand want to play some Australian sides and the Pacific Islands in a new competition while excluding South Africa and Argentina.

The original version, a Super 10 between 1993 and 1995, was a superb competition, but constant tinkering and expansion has led to waning interest in a difficult-to-follow event.

Even those supporting the Golden Lions of South Africa could not have derived too much satisfaction from a 94-7 thrashing of Japanese visitors the Sunwolves three years ago.

South Africa sides often battled with time differences in Australasia — New Zealand is 11 hours ahead of the republic — and were weary after four-match tours.

‘Pro16’

Pro14 chief executive Martin Anayi says he would welcome Super Rugby ‘rejects’ the Bulls, Lions, Sharks and Stormers into an expanded edition.

“The tournament works well but could be even better if we added some South African teams,” he said, referring to a competition that also includes Irish, Italian, Scottish and Welsh teams.

But there may be no room for the two current South African Pro14 participants, the Cheetahs and Kings, who have experienced very different fortunes.

While the Cheetahs have been competitive, the Kings won just four of 55 matches in three seasons with some of the losing margins embarrassing.

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Currie Cup

The domestic competition has survived constant format changes to remain the vital ‘nursery’ from which Springboks emerge.

First staged in 1892, it was the bedrock of South African rugby until the dawn of professionalism after the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

As Test and Super Rugby fixtures took up an increasing amount of the season, the Currie Cup often battled for calendar space.

But it survived and this year could feature the four Super Rugby sides plus the Cheetahs, Kings, Griquas and Pumas, if play is possible amid the coronavirus.

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya records highest number of deaths from Covid-19

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Kenya’s coronavirus cases rise to 13,771 after 418 more infections

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By NATION REPORTER

Kenya on Monday reported 418 more Covid-19 infections, raising the country’s tally to 13,771 since the virus was first confirmed on March 13.

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Health Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Rashid Aman also reported four more deaths, raising the toll to 238. He rectified an earlier report about 19 deaths in a single day, which would have been the highest number ever recorded in Kenya.

The 418 new patients were found following the testing of 2,474 samples in the last 24 hours.

Four hundred and eight of them were Kenyans and 10 foreigners while male patients numbered 263 and female patients 155.

Dr Aman also announced that 494 patients had been discharged, raising the country’s total number of recoveries to 5,616.

Of the recovered patients, 465 were under home care and the rest in hospitals.

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