Grosjean a changed man on return to Spa

The Lotus Formula One driver was dubbed a ‘first lap nutcase’ by Australian Mark Webber last year and was banned for a race after causing a first corner collision at Spa that could have caused serious injury to Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

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The forced retirement for Alonso proved crucial to the championship, with the Spaniard missing out on his third title at the end of the season by three points to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.

Webber hurled the insult at Grosjean in Japan after another collision that destroyed his hopes of a podium finish but the Red Bull driver told reporters at Spa that he was sure the Frenchman was reformed now.

“I think he’s changed. He had to, obviously… I think he’s done a better job this year – which wouldn’t be difficult, let’s be honest,” said the Australian, who is close to Alonso.

“It was a bit of a weird one with Jenson (Button) what he did on the top chicane in Budapest (last month), so every now and again you still see snapshots of some errors but I think he’s improved,” added Webber, the oldest and most outspoken driver on the grid, who is leaving F1 at the end of the year.

“But his move on (Ferrari’s Felipe) Massa was very, very good in Budapest.”

CLEAN STARTS

Grosjean finished sixth in Hungary, the last race before the European summer break, despite a drive-through penalty and a retrospective 20 second penalty for a clash with McLaren’s Button, and was third in Germany before that.

He was also third in Bahrain and has kept out of trouble at the starts.

“I think I have a different mind from the past,” he told reporters, making clear that the change had come long before the birth of his son.

“I think I’ve progressed a lot and worked on that and I think the 2013 starts prove that I did my duties. I’ll keep pushing and trying to do my best in every circumstance,” added the Frenchman.

“I’ll keep progressing, keep working and keep doing the same things and I’ll keep doing clean starts.”

Lotus team principal Eric Boullier, who is fighting to keep 2007 champion Kimi Raikkonen at his team for next season in the face of interest from elsewhere, commended Grosjean for his attitude.

“It maybe took him a little while to settle down and start performing to the best of his ability. With that in mind, it gives me great pleasure to see him learn from those experiences and to start delivering the kind of results we’ve always known he is capable of,” he told the team website (www.lotusf1.com).

“In Germany and Hungary he really put together the complete package over two consecutive weekends… if he can keep up this level, Romain can be a future contender for titles, I’m sure of it,” Boullier added.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by John O’Brien)

Money no problem, Madrid tells IOC

The Madrid bid team, which included Spanish royalty, politicians and top athletes, delivered a heartfelt 45-minute presentation to IOC members just a few hours before they vote to decide the winner.

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Madrid has long been regarded as the outsider in the three-horse race that includes Tokyo and Istanbul because of the state of the Spanish economy, but Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy told the IOC that money was not a problem because most of the facilities were already built.

“Madrid 2020 has perhaps the most reasonable and responsible financial foundation in recent Olympic history. Eighty percent of the necessary investment has already been undertaken, and what little remains is fully guaranteed by the Government of Spain,” Rajoy said.

“We can host the Olympics in 2020 with no risk to the Olympic Movement.”

Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe also addressed the economy in his speech, telling the IOC the Games were an investment Spain was only too happy to make.

“Some people have begun to question the cost of hosting larger events in times of economic uncertainty but I don’t see it as a threat, I see it as an opportunity,” he said.

“We need this now as we need it for the generations to follow.”

Madrid is bidding for the Olympics for the third time in a row after missing out to London for 2012, and then Rio de Janeiro for 2016, but believe this is their best chance.

The centrepiece of their presentation was a polished broadcast, that featured Placido Domingo, Antonio Banderas, Alejandro Sanz and Rafa Nadal.

Spanish IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch appealed to the IOC members by quoting his late father, with the same name, who served as IOC president from 1980 to 2001, during a rousing plea.

“We’ve been preparing for years,” Samaranch said.

“Madrid wants the Games, Madrid needs the Games and Madrid makes sense, now more than ever.”

Madrid was the final city to present their bid to the IOC at the Congress in Buenos Aires, following Istanbul then Tokyo. The IOC members were to vote on the host city later on Saturday.

(Additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann and Rex Gowar; editing by Justin Palmer)

Trapattoni parts company with Ireland

The 74-year-old Italian, who had been in charge for more than five years and steered Ireland to the Euro 2012 championship, left by mutual consent, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) said.

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Ireland had been in contention to claim a playoff spot for next year’s World Cup in Brazil but defeats in their last two Group C games has left them in fourth spot with two games left.

Trapattoni also took Ireland to the brink of the 2010 World Cup, missing out in a playoff after France scored a controversial winner set up by a Thierry Henry handball.

“We thank Giovanni Trapattoni, Marco Tardelli and Franco Rossi for the last five-and-a-half years during which we qualified for our first major tournament in 10 years and were close to qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa after the play-off in France,” FAI Chief Executive John Delaney said in a statement.

“This particular World Cup campaign has been disappointing but Giovanni leaves us with a group of good, young players which should form the basis of the squad that the new manager will use for the European Championship in France 2016 when 24 teams qualify.”

Former Milan player Trapattoni was one of Ireland’s highest-profile managers, having been in charge at some of Europe’s biggest club sides including Juventus, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich as well as the Italian national side.

Trapattoni said he believed he had left Ireland in good shape for the challenges ahead.

“I would also want to thank all FAI staff members, including the backroom team and the players who have been great to work with during the last three campaigns,” he said.

“I wish them well in the future and hope that the job we have done leaves everything in a good place for my successor to take over.”

Bookmaker Paddy Power installed former Celtic and Sunderland coach Martin O’Neill as favourite to take over, followed by Brian McDermott of Leeds United and Ipswich Town manager Mick McCarthy.

Other names potentially in the frame include Norwich City’s Chris Hughton and former Ireland and Manchester United captain Roy Keane.

Ireland have two World Cup qualifiers remaining in October, away to group leaders Germany and at home against Kazakhstan, though the focus will now shift to building a challenge for Euro 2016.

(Addtional reporting by Martyn Herman in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

China declines to congratulate Japan on winning bid

Ties between the world’s second- and third-largest economies have been shadowed for years by what Beijing says has been Tokyo’s refusal to properly atone for wartime atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in China between 1931 and 1945.

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More recently, relations have been troubled by a sovereignty row over tiny, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

“We have noted the decision by the International Olympic Committee,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing.

Asked specifically whether China had offered congratulations, Hong said such a question should be directed to the Chinese Olympic Committee.

The Chinese Olympic Committee, reached by telephone, said it was unable to offer an immediate comment.

Hong said that China valued its relations with Japan, but it was up to Japan to stop its provocations over the disputed islands and correctly face its wartime past.

“We have said many times that we pay great attention to relations with Japan,” he said. “At the same time we ask Japan to earnestly face up to history and facts.”

China hosted a highly successful summer Olympics in Beijing in 2008, and Hong said this was an experience China could share with Japan, as he stuck a slightly more conciliatory note.

“China and Japan are important members of the International Olympic Committee community. We are willing to share the experience of hosting the Olympics with Japan,” he added.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Hui Li; Editing by Nick Macfie)

No follow-up bids for Fellaini and Baines, says Martinez

“It’s been quiet on that front and everything has been as we have informed our fans, and I think that’s the way we are going to deal with the window now,” Martinez said at a news conference ahead of Saturday’s Premier League clash with West Bromwich Albion.

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“We’re still trying to be as strong as we can, if there is anything we need to inform our fans, we will do, but now the focus has to be our games.”

The Spaniard said the two players had not been affected by the speculation, nor by the chance to rejoin former manager David Moyes at Old Trafford.

“They are very professional and I couldn’t be prouder of their professionalism, the way they have been behaving.

“Remember they are two great assets for the football club and I think they realise what they’ve done over the past and are very, very respectful towards that.”

Paraguayan Antolin Alcaraz is unavailable for the West Brom clash, while Frenchman Sylvain Distin is in doubt after injuring himself during the 2-2 draw with Norwich City.

Tony Hibbert and Irish international Darron Gibson could feature after missing that match.

Meanwhile, Everton says it will consult with fans over the style of a new club crest to be used from next season.

A redesign earlier in the year raised the ire of fans, with the new badge changing the “tower”, and, most controversially, removing the club’s Latin motto ‘Nil Satis Nisi Optimum’ (Nothing But the Best is Good Enough).

The club later apologised to fans and promised to use the design for just one season before changing again.

Fans will be able to provide feedback on how they want the new crest to look, offer their own suggestions and take part in focus groups, before voting for a final choice.

(Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by Ossian Shine)