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Hamilton showcased all his GOAT credentials in his 92nd win



If you still need proof that Lewis Hamilton can lay claim to Formula One GOAT status, look no further than his performance at the Portuguese Grand Prix.

Strip away the fact that it was his record 92nd win — that’s simply a number that will continue to go up as long as he races in F1 — and instead focus on how he caught, passed and extended a 25-second lead over Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. In difficult and changeable conditions, Hamilton simply crushed Bottas and showcased the talent that has seen him surpass Michael Schumacher’s record of 91 wins.

Similar, and in many cases more spectacular, performances can be found dotted through Hamilton’s 14-year career, but Sunday’s win was perfectly timed to illustrate the talent that is now making history on a weekly basis.

What made the win so special?

First off, let’s deal with the seemingly unshakable counter argument that he’s only winning because he’s in the best car. While it’s true that the Mercedes is the class of the field, we still have a useful barometer of Hamilton’s performances in Bottas.

It’s fair to say Bottas is not a candidate in F1’s GOAT debate, but he is still a very competent and talented driver. He consistently qualifies within a few tenths of Hamilton — and on occasion ahead of him — but over the course of a season he has been comprehensively outperformed by his teammate for four years running. Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix was a great example as to why.

On lap 19 Bottas was leading the race. He was running the same strategy as Hamilton and had the same car with a very similar setup at his disposal. Yet when the flag fell 47 laps later, he was a third of a lap — or one mile — behind Hamilton.

That gap, and how it came about, tells you all you need to know about the difference between a great driver and a good one.

The difference between Hamilton and Bottas

While it may not make for the most thrilling narrative, the gap between the two was all about tyre temperature. Only by understanding what was happening with the tyres can you gain a full appreciation for Hamilton’s performance, so stick with it.

From a tyre perspective Portimao was an anomaly. Usually drivers are fighting a constant battle to keep their tyres from overheating, but at the Portuguese Grand Prix, a smooth track surface and a relatively low track temperature, meant the key to success was generating tyre temperature.

“We spend 90 percent of races where we actually have too much of tyre temperature and you are trying to keep the tyres cool, but we were in the opposite situation here in these cold conditions, which was made worse by a bit of light rain,” Mercedes’ chief trackside engineer Andrew Shovlin explained. “If you can create tyre temperature your grip goes up.

“For the first few laps at the start, you could see that we were struggling with the warm-up and in that stage you don’t know if it is all going to come to us when we get up and running.

“If you looked at the tyre temperatures, they just weren’t building and the risk is you get trapped in this region where you can’t generate the grip to generate the temperature to generate more grip.”

On the face of it, such a scenario should have played to Bottas’ strengths. The Finn’s natural driving style generates more heat in the tyres, which is part of the reason he is often so competitive at circuits like Russia and Baku, where the track surface is smooth and the temperatures low.

It was no surprise, therefore, that he had a better opening lap and passed Hamilton with ease at Turn 8.

“Valtteri seemed to get that going a bit quicker and with Lewis it took a bit longer,” Shovlin added. “But it’s also a balance of how much risk do you take in those difficult conditions and I think Lewis was being a bit cautious.”

It’s testament to Hamilton’s supreme self-confidence that he let the race come to him. Even his pass on Carlos Sainz, who had managed to generate serious temperature in the soft tyres on his McLaren at the start of the race and take an early lead, was a low-risk affair using DRS on the pit straight.

But throughout those early laps, Hamilton was using his innate ability to understand what the tyres needed and how best to extract performance from them. Mercedes’ data showed that Bottas was hammering around generating front tyre temperature, but Hamilton was adapting his driving style to shift more workload to the rears and gain more a more balanced temperature across the four tyres.

He did so without any prompting from the pit wall, using his own initiative to learn the car’s weaknesses and tailor his driving style around them. After picking up his winner’s trophy, he said he wasn’t sure how much information he should divulge in the post-race press conference, but in the end couldn’t help providing an insight.

“Ultimately it’s no secret, I think today was about tyre temperature,” he said after the race. “I felt through the race that I was learning, lap on lap, more about the circuit.

“I was trying lots of different lines and discovering new lines that worked well. The wind direction was very, very tricky today — lots of crosswinds, headwinds and tailwinds — and there were some positions that you could utilise to your favour and others that kind-of get in the way.

“I think the key is the times when you have a tailwind, it’s minimising the loss through those stages”

On laps 16, 17 and 18, Hamilton put his learnings from the opening laps into action and set a succession of fastest laps. The gap to his teammate shrank from 2.3s to 0.4s as Bottas clearly struggled for rear end grip, and by the time Hamilton started lap 20 the overtake was already a formality.

“Today was one of those days where you saw Lewis at his best,” Shovline added. “And it was the more recent version of Lewis where he was calm losing places at the start, didn’t take any risks and acknowledges that he was a bit cautious in those conditions, but knew it would all come back to him.

“He clearly had pace in hand behind Valtteri, who relatively early on in that stint thought the car was quite inconsistent. As Valtteri started to struggle with the tyres a little, Lewis was suddenly just behind him, and as Valtteri struggled with the balance, Lewis was able to make that pass.”

On the face of it the overtake looked easy, but it was the end result of a weekend of hard work. As early as Friday practice, Hamilton had recognised the issues that might emerge in the race and worked with his engineers to find a solution with the car set-up.

“Set-up was something that I really focussed on,” he added after the race. “It was less about qualifying set-up, and more for the race set-up and I think today that enabled me to go one better, I guess, than before.

“I just felt like I was generally getting faster and faster throughout the race — but I had to keep up the pace for these tyres. That was really the key.”

Shovlin offers a little more insight into Hamilton’s set-up choices.

“He’s talking about how he got the balance of the car to not use the tyres too hard on either end,” he added. “Qualifying was more about warm up, getting the temperature there and in the race, the left tyres really get a hammering here, and it was about not working the front or the rear too much because then the balance starts to get away from you.

“Lewis is naturally good at managing the tyres and his this really good feel for where he is hurting them and how to keep the rubber on them.

“After the overtake, he just managed the race and his pace was incredible at times — just how much he had in hand. It was definitely one of his races where it was fitting to go to the top of the all-time winner’s chart with a performance like that.

“It was just impressive how calm he stayed under what were really tricky conditions.”

Hammering home his advantage

Hamilton wasn’t alone in benefitting from getting the tyres up to temperature. It was clear from the opening lap that the two McLarens, which ran first and third at one point, and Kimi Raikkonen, who jumped from 16th to sixth, also managed to hit the sweetspot.

But there were very few examples — perhaps Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari and Pierre Gasly in the AlphaTauri — of drivers who were able to master the tyres over a race distance.

Hamilton’s pit stop on lap 40 was actually earlier than planned due to Bottas suffering vibrations from his tyres. Vibrations are often a warning sign of an imminent tyre failure, so Mercedes took no chances by pitting both its drivers.

At that point of the race Hamilton held a comfortable nine second lead over Bottas, and even though it was Bottas who was struggling the most, Mercedes stuck to its standard procedure of pitting the lead car first. Bottas pitted a lap later on lap 41 but emerged in traffic, worsening his situation as Hamilton continued to up his pace.

“[The gap between the two drivers] was most evident on that hard tyre transition, Lewis managed to get it to work quite well, quite quickly, but Valtteri dropped into some backmarker traffic, which meant he had to run at their pace and not the natural pace,” Shovlin said. “At that point there was about ten degrees Celsius difference in tyre temperature and you could see that it was manifesting itself in, near enough, a second in lap time.

“The key is all in of that performance gap was temperature difference and it’s why you suddenly found at stages in the race there was quite a big gap between the two cars. But in terms of race time, during that period on the hard tyre Valtteri lost quite a lot of race time there by not being able to carve through as quickly as if he had warm tyres.”

Bottas asked for soft tyres rather than the hards for his final stint, but with 25 laps to go all the data was indicating he would have struggled towards the end of the race.

“We have done it on other occasions, but it is always a difficult situation,” Wolff said of Bottas adopting a different strategy. “If you ask the lead driver to put the hards on because you think it’s the right choice but the second driver tries to convince you about the other thing, it is very difficult to explain if you basically reverse the order. So we don’t want to interfere too much, and while there will be times when we allow these calls, we were pretty convinced the hard was the better tyre.

“All the data we have seen from other cars out there showed the hard outperformed the medium and the soft. And when you look at Esteban [Ocon] and Checo [Perez] out there at the end on the softs, it didn’t function at all and was actually the weakest tyre at the end of the race. So we were pretty robust in our decision because we knew or expected it to be the better tyre.”

Everything about Hamilton’s race was superior to Bottas’ and it was no coincidence that he ended up dealing with the change of tyres and evolution of the race more successfully than his teammate.

It tells you an awful lot about the talent he has in reserve and his ability to adapt to any given situation on track. That’s what makes him one of the — if not the — greatest F1 driver of all time and it’s a key reason why he has won more grands prix than any other driver.

“When you look at the names on that all-time winners list, we can’t believe that we have been part of it, as a team, getting him to the top,” Shovlin added. “His achievement is just phenomenal and he doesn’t show any signs of giving up or slowing down either, so I suspect he will go on and hit some more milestones.

“It’s just a phenomenal achievement and the way that he works; he’s just driven to win and driven to improve. He improves by putting a lot of hours in outside the car and tries to learn everything from every difficult day that he ever has.

“When you see how he works, it is almost not surprising that he’s achieved it. It’s a phenomenal number of races.”


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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