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Soccer

Man Utd legend Gary Neville reveals what team-mates really thought of Wayne Rooney

Manchcester United legend Wayne Rooney was loved by his United and England team-mates, according to Gary Neville. Neville has revealed how United players forgave Rooney for wanting to leave the club because he was such a popular character.

Despite stating he wanted to leave the Red Devils on two occasions, Rooney ended up staying and becoming the club’s all-time leading goalscorer.

Actions such as that may lead to some players becoming less popular in dressing rooms but not when it came to Rooney, as Neville explained.

“He’s an honest lad but he was also driven, he had that stubbornness about him,” Neville said on Sky Sports’ Off Script podcast.

“He was getting close to the line that I’d seen players get to before and obviously they didn’t survive that line.

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“I think that when Wayne did that I thought that was the end for him, I thought that would be it, that the manager would sort of manage him out of the club over the next few months.

“And then obviously there was a new contract announced and we were all delighted from a point of playing because he was popular.

“What I would say is Wayne was so popular in the dressing room it was untrue.

“The players absolutely loved him. The England players loved him, when I was a coach, when I was a player.

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“The Manchester United players loved him, there was no one who didn’t like Wayne Rooney.

“So I think they forgave him for what would be his reasons for doing it because they liked him so much and he built up so much credit with us.

“And I think you’ve got to understand, one of the things we had in the dressing room over a 20-year period was tolerance.

“Tolerance of each other, we were all different, we were all from different countries, we were all from different parts of the world, we were all different ages.

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“We all had different characters.”

Neville also revealed how Rooney’s arrival was the signing that excited him the most when he was a United player.

“Wayne Rooney, Wayne Rooney’s probably No 1,” Neville said.

“I played with him with England and I knew what we were getting.

“We were getting a world-class player and fearless and horrible and everything that you’d want in a football player.

“Goals, tackling, running, endeavour, grit, everything that you’d want in a football player.

“So he was the one that excited me.”

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Soccer

Cristiano Ronaldo: Juventus star open to Man Utd transfer if coronavirus prompts exit

Cristiano Ronaldo would be open to moving back to Manchester United if he’s forced to quit Juventus this summer, reports say. The Portugal international spent six years at Old Trafford earlier in his career, winning three Premier League titles as well as the 2008 Champions League crown before leaving for Real Madrid.

Ronaldo loved his time at Manchester United with the Portugal international establishing himself as a club legend throughout his six years at Old Trafford.

He took a little while to find his feet in England but, after the 2006 World Cup, was a player transformed.

Ronaldo helped United end Chelsea’s Premier League dominance under Jose Mourinho, propelling them to three league titles.

He was also on target as the Red Devils beat the Blues in the 2008 Champions League final – although missed a spot-kick in the decisive penalty shootout.

Ronaldo has been tipped to leave Juventus, with the Serie A giants in a tricky situation because of the coronavirus crisis.

The 35-year-old, along with his Juventus team-mates, has agreed to take a pay cut in order to aid the club financially.

But he could leave if the Serie A giants continue to struggle to balance the books.

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And Marca say Ronaldo would be open to returning to United, with the club a ‘real option’ should Juventus decide to cash in.

It’s said he’s always left the door open for a return.

And United also have the financial muscle in order to bring Ronaldo in again, 11 years after his sensational departure.

For now, it still appears unlikely.

United have focused on signing younger, proven talent ever since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer succeeded Jose Mourinho as manager.

But they do make the odd exception and Ronaldo was one of Ed Woodward’s four fantasy targets when he replaced David Gill in 2013.

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Solskjaer played alongside Ronaldo, too, which would make the possibility of a return potentially more appealing.

But whether United choose to pursue their old No 7, particularly at a time where they’re keen on Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish, is something only time will tell.

Meanwhile, former United star Gary Neville recently opened up on when Ronaldo left – admitting the English weather was a ‘big problem’ for the Portugal skipper.

Neville told Sky Sports: “I think because he did the interview after the 2008 final where he sort of alluded to the fact that he was going, it was almost like you had an advanced warning.

“So you were almost ready-prepared for it, you knew he was leaving the year after.

“It was coming, it was obvious that one day he would want to go and experience Madrid and La Liga.”

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He then added: “I didn’t speak to Cristiano for instance about him staying at the club for longer. I think I may have said to him during the year when he was maybe… the weather was a big problem for Cristiano.

“I think he also wanted to obviously live in Spain and do La Liga. But the weather was a big problem for him and I felt like he’d almost travelled his path, he’d done the journey. And I didn’t feel that anything I was going to say was going to bring him out of that.

“I think generally with players that were leaving there were very few who were leaving to go up. Now Cristiano you could argue going to Real Madrid and winning four or five European Cups is a step for him where he wanted to challenge himself.

“The players that were leaving mainly were because they had come to the end of the road for one reason or another, either their contracts had run out, or their age was getting too much, or the manager had had a word with them saying they’re not going to play football too much anymore.

“Most of the players that left Man United would have wanted to stay.

“Let’s be clear, 99 per cent of the players that left Man United during the time I was there would have stayed if the manager had said you’re staying. There’s only the one or two per cent who left against the wishes of the club.”

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Soccer

Man Utd market operators exploring Edinson Cavani transfer – but there’s a problem

Manchester United market operators are looking into the possibility of signing Edinson Cavani on a free transfer this summer, reports say. The PSG star’s time in France is winding doubt and the Uruguay international is ready to pursue a new challenge elsewhere. He was linked in January but, on that occasion, the club ended up swooping for Odion Ighalo instead.

Manchester United have long admired Cavani, with interest in the 33-year-old dating back to when he played in Italy with Napoli.

The Red Devils looked to sign the Uruguay international when Louis van Gaal ruled the Old Trafford roost but, after being given an indication that he could move, he ended up staying in France.

Now, Cavani is poised to become a free agent at the end of the season.

And Area Napoli say that United market operators are looking into the possibility of signing the PSG striker for nothing this summer.

However, there’s a problem.

Boca Juniors also want to sign the veteran and pair him alongside Carlos Tevez next season.

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And Cavani would prefer to stay in Europe with Spain or Italy instead.

It’s claimed he was offered to Lazio, who would like to field him alongside Ciro Immobile up top.

But their offer didn’t please the striker and what he does next, with his contract winding down, is something only time will tell.

Boca certainly seem frontrunners for the player.

And, speaking recently, former United star Diego Forlan expressed a belief that Cavani would flourish back in South America.

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“I imagine the shirt of Boca’s, like River, is very heavy because they are so prestigious in South America, they always fight for the Argentine championship and the Libertadores,” Forlan said.

“In the prime of their career it is more difficult for them (top players) to come to either due to the economic issue, because there is no comparison to what they earn in European football.

“But if you look at the professional side and not the economic side, it is a very big challenge and a tempting challenge.

“Cavani is a top player and I could see him there.”

Meanwhile, in February, former United star Robin van Persie called on Solskjaer to bring Cavani to the Premier League.

“Edinson Cavani. I would definitely go for Cavani,” he said when asked who he’d go for.

“He’s very fit, he’s a proven goalscorer, a goal machine, he has proven it at Napoli, PSG and Uruguay.

“With him, if he starts, he will get you 25 goals a season.

“I’ve watched him play, I’ve played against him, he is like a proper goalscorer. He lives by scoring goals so I’d go for him.”

Chelsea were linked with Cavani in January but the Blues are expected to pursue other targets in the summer window. 

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Racing

Mercedes blast back as Toto Wolff tipped to quit F1 team and leave Lewis Hamilton in limbo

Mercedes have slammed speculation Toto Wolff might leave his role as head of their F1 operation to take up a position at Aston Martin. Rumours regarding Wolff’s future have rumbled on for months due to his growing friendship with Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll.

The Canadian billionaire has just injected millions of pounds into Aston Martin, which will see Racing Point rebranded with their name for the 2021 F1 season.

Wolff has, in the wake of that investment, been tipped by none other than former F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to quit Mercedes and join the board of Aston Martin.

If the Austrian headed to the British car manufacturer, it would leave Lewis Hamilton in limbo, with the driver admitting his future is linked to that of his boss.

Wolff denied last weekend that he is on course to become the chief executive of Aston Martin, blasting a story regarding the potential move as “not true”.

Mercedes have now issued their own verdict on the speculation that Wolff is set to call time on his spell as team principal.

Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 vodcast, presenter Natalie Pinkham revealed Mercedes’ theory on what’s going on.

“Just a line from Mercedes, on Toto, they truly believe that it’s all political attempts to destabilise and make mischief, this talk of him going to Aston Martin,” Pinkham said.

“‘None of it is to be taken seriously. Simply some journos are happy to be the instruments of others putting out misinformation or misinformed speculation.

“‘Toto has said very clearly he’s not going to Aston Martin. Likewise, he has a strong and very close relationship to the Daimler CEO [Ola Kallenius]’. So, absolutely slamming down those rumours that we’ve been hearing.”

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Wolff has overseen Mercedes’ dominance of F1 over the past six years, with the Silver Arrows winning drivers’ and constructors’ title doubles each season.

Hamilton has won five of the past six World Drivers’ Championships, with his former team-mate Nico Rosberg scooping the one the missed out on in 2016.

Hamilton’s £40m-a-year Mercedes contract is due to expire at the end of the 2020 F1 campaign, the start of which has been pushed back until the summer due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Ferrari are known admirers of the six-time champion and last year it was confirmed preliminary, informal talks over a possible switch had been held.

Hamilton is, though, expected to put pen to paper on a bumper new Mercedes deal in the coming months.

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Soccer

Chelsea held advanced talks with Liverpool star before he joined Reds

Chelsea were in advanced talks to sign Alisson from Roma in 2018 but missed out to Liverpool after hesitating over the transfer, according to reports. The Reds experienced no such indecision and splashed out £67m in what was then-world record fee for a goalkeeper.

They have been richly rewarded with Alisson establishing himself as one of the best stoppers on the planet, but things could have been so different if Chelsea had acted swiftly.

The Blues were reportedly in advanced talks to sign the Brazilian, who was supposedly keen on a move to Stamford Bridge.

But they missed their opportunity to finalise a deal because they were trying to convince want-away star Thibaut Courtois to remain in west London, according to The Athletic.

Courtois had made it clear that he desired a move to Real Madrid and went on strike before the start of the 2018/19 campaign in order to force through a move.

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However, Director Marina Granovskaia and the rest of the Chelsea hierarchy believed there was a chance to convince the Belgian to change his mind.

This ultimately proved a fruitless effort and the time wasted had a big impact of the Blues’ transfer plans as Liverpool swooped in for Alisson.

Chelsea instead turned to Athletic Bilbao’s Kepa Arrizabalaga, with the young Spaniard one of the only other suitable stoppers on the market at the time.

And the Blues made sure they got their man this time, setting a new world record transfer fee for a goalkeeper by stumping up £72m.

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But this signing currently represents a rare mistake from the Chelsea recruitment team, who were backed into a corner by Courtois’ actions.

The Blues are yet to see value for money and the jury is still out on the 25-year-old, who was dropped by manager Frank Lampard earlier this season following a string of poor performances.

Kepa was replaced by 38-year-old Willy Caballero but did regain his first-team spot shortly before the coronavirus pandemic brought about the postponement of all UK football fixtures.

The Blues keeper is now being linked with a summer exit while a host of high-profile names including Jan Oblak, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Andre Onana, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Nick Pope, Dean Henderson and Juan Musso have been touted as his replacement.

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As for Alisson, the 27-year-old has formed part of a resolute rearguard at Anfield and proved a vital component of Liverpool’s resurgence under Jurgen Klopp.

The Reds missed out on the Premier League title by a single point last season but won the Champions League and also picked up silverware in the Club World Cup.

They are dominating the league this time around and sit 25 points clear of Manchester City, although it remains to be seen if and when the current campaign will be completed.

Alisson has made 79 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions since his move, and has let in just 11 goals in 20 league outings this term.

Meanwhile, Kepa has conceded 43 goals in 33 appearances across all competitions so for this season, managing just eight clean sheets.

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Soccer

Man Utd warned they should only swap Paul Pogba for Matthijs de Ligt on one condition

Manchester United should only swap Paul Pogba for Matthijs de Ligt if they have a replacement midfielder lined up, says ESPN FC pundit Alejandro Moreno. United are reportedly ready to offer Pogba to Juventus in a deal that would see De Ligt head in the opposite direction to Old Trafford. Juve are keen on re-signing Pogba, four years after selling him for a then world-record fee of £89million.

De Ligt has not settled at Juventus as well as he and the club would have wanted following his £67.5m arrival from Ajax last summer.

Moreno believes the Holland international would undoubtedly strengthen United’s back line.

But he believes, despite the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January, the Red Devils would still have to have a like-for-like replacement for Pogba if he were to leave.

Moreno said: “Well that’s assuming that you actually have a player in mind and player in place that is going to take that position in the middle of midfield for Manchester United because, well, De Ligt yeah would solve a problem in the backline alongside [Harry] Maguire but then you still have a Pogba-sized hole in that middle of midfield.

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“You have Bruno Fernandes who has done a wonderful job but you also have to then address that situation.

“If there’s no Pogba, if there’s no box-to-box midfielder, who is that guy going to be?

“So if you have that player in mind and you have a plan in place in order to acquire that player, then so be it.

“But until then, you have to resolve what the Pogba issue means to you long term.

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“So if you just want to get rid of the guy, yeah sure get value in return in Matthijs de Ligt.

“But you also have to address what you’re doing in the middle of midfield.”

United were interested in signing De Ligt before he chose to join Juventus.

There were rumours circulating as to why United did not sign the centre-back but he has since ridiculed some of those.

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“A lot has been said and written and it seemed that I made a decision overnight, but of course that wasn’t the case,” De Ligt told Voetbal International.

“It was very annoying that so much was speculated. I tried to shut myself off, although with all those social media that is never entirely possible

“I have been laughing at such messages for a long time, but it also makes you tired at some point.

“There was something every day. Suddenly even my father was too fat, which is why a club [United] would not want me.

“Then you think ‘Come on man…’. At some point it gets annoying.”

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Tennis

Serena Williams issues two-word response to news of 2020 Wimbledon being cancelled

Serena Williams had a short response to seeing the breaking news that the 2020 Wimbledon tournament has been cancelled altogether. The All England Club released a statement last week insisting a decision would be made on whether the Grand Slam would go ahead as planned.

There is year-round planning that takes place in order to get the courts at Wimbledon ready for the popular sporting event.

But that preparation has clearly been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in the UK, resulting in a decision to cancel the event altogether.

It’s the biggest event on the tennis calendar to cancel operations for 2020, with the French Open being moved to later in the year.

And the news clearly came as a shock to Serena Williams, who is still bidding to win her first Grand Slam since giving birth to Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

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Replying to Wimbledon’s statement on Twitter, Williams wrote: “I’m shooked.”

Martina Navratilova was equally heartbroken at the news, tweeted: “This is gutting…. and no, this is not an April Fools joke…

“Hope we can all be there in 2021!!!!”

British No 1 Johanna Konta took a more positive outlook on the news, choosing instead to look ahead to 2021.

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“Here’s to seeing you in 2021 @Wimbledon,” she tweeted.

With no tennis events taking place for the foreseeable future, British doubles star Jamie Murray believes the decision to cancel Wimbledon was inevitable.

“It was the obvious decision in the end, which is a shame,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.

“Obviously Wimbledon means a lot to a lot of people but nothing compares to what’s going on around the world just now.

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“Certainly in Europe, no-one is able to get out on court and prepare and Wimbledon is the focal point of the tennis calendar and they want to show tennis in its best light.

“I assume that if the Tour did start up, that would be the next tournament that players would compete in and obviously preparation would be all over the place.

“And also they don’t know whose borders are going to be open to who, some players might not be allowed to travel out of their country or travel to the UK, there are just way too many unknowns.

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Soccer

Cesc Fabregas snubs Guardiola, picks Arsenal legend Wenger and Mourinho as best coaches

Cesc Fabregas has overlooked Pep Guardiola in favour of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho as the top two coaches he has worked with during his career. The Spanish midfielder was reluctant to pin his colours to the mast but eventually opted to snub former Barcelona boss Guardiola in favour of the Premier League legends.

Fabregas has enjoyed a dazzling 16-year playing career in senior football, picking up a heap of trophies during his time at some of the most iconic clubs around the world.

The 32-year-old started out at CE Mataro before joining the Barcelona youth academy at the age of 10.

Fabregas honed his talents at the famous La Masia but moved to Arsenal without playing a senior game at the Nou Camp.

His decision was rewarded as he went on to spend eight years with the Gunners under the tutelage of Wenger, emerging as one of the most highly-rated midfielders in the world.

While Fabregas arrived too late to participate in the ‘Invincibles’ season, he did help lift the FA Cup in 2005 while just missing out on a Champions League winners’ medal the following year.

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During that spell, he was part of an all-conquering Spain side that won Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.

A return to Barcelona beckoned in 2011, with Fabregas joining a star-studded squad managed by his childhood hero Guardiola.

Fabregas won six trophies during his three-year stint in Spain, but Guardiola still does not count among the midfielder’s top coaches – despite masterminding the majority of those successes.

Instead, Fabregas has named Mourinho as one of the best he worked under during his career after joining the Portuguese boss at Chelsea in 2014.

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Two titles in three years followed for the 32-year-old at Stamford Bridge, although the second of those was not achieved while Mourinho was at the club.

Speaking live on Instagram with former Chelsea defender Mario Melchiot, Fabregas initially refused to say who he believed were the best coaches he has played for.

“I had the best in the world, so I cannot complain,” Fabregas said.

When pressed, he eventually settled on two: “Wenger and Mourinho.”

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Guardiola was not the only manager to be overlooked with no mention of Vicente del Bosque, who oversaw Spain’s 2010 World Cup triumph followed by victory at Euro 2012.

Fabregas has recently spoken about Mourinho in glowing terms, with the Monaco midfielder revealing it took just one conversation to convince him to join Chelsea.

“After the week [without an offer from Arsenal] I had to take my chance, I had Manchester City, United and then I spoke to Mourinho – which I didn’t think would ever happen,” Fabregas told the Arsecast podcast.

“To be honest, after I left the room with Mourinho I said “that’s it, I don’t need to talk to anyone else, I’m going to Chelsea.

“What he told me, the team he wanted to make, what he thought of me, how he wanted me to play, this is what I wanted.”

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Soccer

Aston Villa goalkeeper Pepe Reina reveals harrowing experience of coronavirus scare

Aston Villa shot stopper Pepe Reina says he struggled to breathe for 25 minutes as he lifts the lid on his coronavirus symptoms.

The worldwide coronavirus pandemic has forced the Premier League to suspend all football until April 30 at the very earliest.

However, the UK has yet to reach its peak so that date is expected to be pushed back even further.

But Villa keeper Reina believes he may have the killer virus after a terrifying ordeal which left him gasping for breath.

“I was isolated after the first symptoms of the virus – fever, a dry cough, a headache that would never leave, a sense of fatigue,” he told Corriere dello Sport.

“The only real scare was when I was missing oxygen for 25 minutes, just like my throat suddenly closed up and the air could not go through it.

“I spent the first six to eight days locked up in a room. I’m getting out of it now.”

Reina moved to Villa Park on a six-month loan deal from AC Milan in January.

The 37-year-old is hoping to use his Premier League experience from his time with Liverpool to help Dean Smith’s side avoid relegation.

Villa are 19th in the table and two points from safety, although they have a game in hand on those above them.

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A UEFA meeting is taking place today to discuss how European football should move forward with their respective seasons.

One suggestion to minimise the risk of contracting the virus is to play the remaining fixtures behind closed doors.

But Reina warned that is the only outcome which should be avoided.

“Everyone’s wellbeing goes above anything else,” he said.

“I will be a supporter of playing when everything is in the best conditions, that everyone is safe.

“We have to be careful when talking about dates or deadlines. I understand that there are economic interests and a lot at stake, but as in any other sector.

“There’s no point in playing without fans. People have to enjoy it. We feel more fulfilled with fans. Beyond that, whatever is healthier and safer will be done.”

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Racing

Max Verstappen verdict dropped by esports chief after F1 Virtual Grand Prix series snub

Max Verstappen’s decision to turn down the chance to take part in the F1 Virtual Grand Prix series might be reversed if he starts to see his pit-lane rivals perform well in it. That’s the hope of Codemasters chief Paul Jeal, whose company are behind the F1 2019 game used in the official series.

Red Bull ace Verstappen is a big believer in the positive impact simulator racing can have on the careers of real-world drivers.

But last month he decided to snub the virtual series F1 set up to make up for the first eight Grands Prix of the season being axed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Verstappen put his decision down to being unfamiliar with the F1 2019 game being used in the series and has since been competing with Team Redline on other platforms.

Jeal, who is F1 franchise director at Codemasters, believes though that the Dutchman may be won round if he sees his real-world rivals shining in the official virtual series.

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And he’s left the door open for Verstappen to get involved with the series if he changes his mind.

“When you race in or play any video game, each one’s got its own unique way of playing, I suppose, and you can only devote a certain amount of practice to any game,” Jeal told RaceFans.net.

“So I know he’s very, very serious with a lot of his iRacing and rFactor stuff that he does with Team Redline. So he’s probably in virtual championships and wanted to dominate that.

“I think probably a small part as well, he probably thought that the esports guys were going to be involved. I think the quote I read was that he didn’t want to be rattling around at the back.

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“We were hoping, once we go through these first few races and you’re seeing, actually, it’s the F1 drivers at the front, all of the ‘real motorsport’ guys at the front.

“So I hope over time that people will see that and start to gravitate more towards it because, what we’re not trying to do is we don’t want them to get destroyed by egamers. That’s certainly not what we wanted in our series.

“I think if you’re a fan tuning in and Max Verstappen is in 16th place, that’s not really what you’re tuning in for. So I hope over time, actually, he’ll be more inclined to take part.”

The latest round of the official esports series – the F1 Vietnam Virtual Grand Prix – will take place on Sunday at 8pm.

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