With contenders for his seat breathing down his neck, this is the year Valtteri Bottas has to push Lewis Hamilton all the way

If pre-season testing is anything to go by then Valtteri Bottas could finally capitalise on both his car and potential this season, pushing Lewis Hamilton to the bitter end.

In Barcelona earlier this month, the Finn ended testing atop the pile, setting the fastest overall time with a scorching 1:15.732 lap and looking sharp in the new W11.

But while the 30-year-old doesn’t want to draw too many conclusions from his prowess around Circuit de Catalunya, he does expect the usual battle at the front when the season gets under way in Australia this weekend.

Last season was the finest year of Bottas’ career to date with four wins, 15 podium finishes and five pole positions, results that enabled him to finish second in the championship, 87 points behind Hamilton.

A championship contender for long stretches, his tilt faded when he was unable to prevent the Briton from securing his sixth world crown at the US Grand Prix.

You have to go back to 2016 when a Mercedes team-mate has properly challenged Hamilton until the season’s end. Nico Rosberg beat the Stevenage man to the title by five points in Abu Dhabi – and even then, Hamilton was curtailed by reliability issues. Bottas has only once come within 60 points of the defending champion – back in 2017.

In 2019, Bottas looked like a genuine challenger for the title, however he was unable to sustain that same level of performance across the 21-race season.

He opened the year with a commanding win in Australia, adding to further victories in Baku, Suzuka and Austin. And while he continued to push hard and earn podium places, Hamilton proved too strong in those key pressure moments.

Germany was the campaign’s nadir as Bottas clipped the curb in wet conditions and ran into the

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Ceres keeps Group G lead, blasts Bali United in empty venue

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines — Playing a closed door match for the first time in club history hardly put a dent on Ceres-Negros’ performance.

The Busmen prevailed in the battle of league champions as they dumped Bali United of Indonesia, 4-0, Wednesday night to keep top spot in Group G of the AFC Cup at Rizal Memorial Stadium.

Bienve Marañon bagged a second half brace after OJ Porteria opened the scoring, while Robert Lopez Mendy finally found the back of the net late on as Ceres stayed unbeaten in three matches, jacking up its tally to seven points.

With three away matches coming up, the Busmen seem primed to reach the knockout stage for the fourth straight season. Than Quang Ninh drubbed Svay Rieng of Cambodia, 4-1, in the other Group G match which also meant the Vietnamese side moved up to second spot with four points after the first round of matches.

Ceres had to play its match without spectators in line with a government directive that came after growing concerns on the spread of the corona virus (Covid 19) in Metro Manila.

Bali set out to stop Ceres’ high powered attack that has already netted six goals from the first two matches. But the visitors’ defense was finally unlocked in the 35th minute by captain Stephan Schrock’s penetrating run into the area. The initial effort by Schrock was parried away by Nadeo Winata only to the path of Porteria who smashed the ball into the back of the net.

Seven minutes after the restart, Ceres doubled the lead with Marañon scoring from the penalty spot after Schrock was fouled by Willian Pacheco. Marañon made it 3-0 with a header off Schrock’s corner in the 63rd minute before Mendy finally opened his AFC Cup account with a clinical strike

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After Marcial, Magno also clinches Olympic berth

FILE – The Philippines’ Irish Magno, right, hits Singapore’s Leona Hui during their women’s flyweight (51kg) boxing match at the 30th Southeast Asian Games in Manila, Philippines on Wednesday Dec. 4, 2019. Magno won the match. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines — Irish Magno gave 19-year-old Sumaiya Qosimova a neat boxing clinic in the Asia and Oceania Olympic Boxing Qualification Tournament in Amman, Jordan Wednesday night to seize a spot in the coming Tokyo Olympics.

Asserting herself at the onset, Magno was hardly threatened by Tajikistan’s national flyweight champion to dominate their qualification box-off and claim the sixth and final Olympic slot in her division.

Qosimova, visibly slender than the 28-year-old Filipina, had a spirited performance in the next round, but Magno, a heavy-handed hitter, again found her mark as the round went on, giving the judges no reason to doubt the outcome.

But instead of letting her guard down, Magno pressed on and pummeled Qosimova with heavy shots as her confidence grew when the closing minute of the final round came.

Carlo Paalam, likewise vying for an Olympic berth, wasn’t as fortunate after the country’s finest slugger in the flyweight division fell short against a rangy Saken Bibossinov of Kazakhstan.

Bibossinov, easily three inches taller than Paalam, maximized his length and gave the Filipino a difficult time to connect with his fists.

Trailing after two rounds, Paalam went on a rampage, throwing punches in wanton abandon in a bid to stop Bibossinov, but time, sadly, wasn’t on his side.

Magno thus joined fellow boxer Eumir Felix Marcial, pole vaulter EJ Obiena and gymnast Carlos Yulo in the Tokyo Olympics.

Paalam, the reigning Southeast Asian Games champ, still has a chance to secure a spot in the Olympics through another qualifying meet in the World Boxing Championships in Paris, France

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