Daily Digest: Valtteri Bottas sets pace for Mercedes at Abu Dhabi GP practice

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Good morning!

David Cooper here with our key sports headlines on Saturday.

As ever, get in touch with us via Twitter and Facebook throughout the day.

TOP STORY

Valtteri Bottas topped the times, but it was Red Bull who were happiest yesterday after a surprisingly tense day of opening practice for Sunday’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

After a so far winless season, Bottas is desperate to repeat his victory of 2018 for Mercedes at the Yas Marina Circuit and proved his speed and determination with a strong showing under the lights in the second session.

His best lap of one minute and 37.236 seconds was good enough to lift him 0.044 seconds clear of Max Verstappen with Renault-bound Daniel Ricciardo third-quickest in the second – a performance that endorsed their morning practice showing when they were the two quickest.

Action continues at Yas Marina today with free practice three at 14:00. Qualifying will start at 17:00.

FOOTBALL

Real Madrid have launched a staunch defence of captain Sergio Ramos after it was alleged he was involved in a breach of anti-doping regulations.

A report from Der Spiegel last night said the Madrid captain returned a positive test for the glucocorticoid dexamethasone after the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff, but that no action was taken as it was deemed to be due to an ‘administrative mistake’.

Elsewhere, Pep Guardiola insists champions Manchester City will not be adding to their squad in the January transfer window.

That rules out the prospect of City moving for another defensive midfielder after losing out on Jorginho to Chelsea last summer.

In the pick of today’s games, Man United take on Crystal Palace, Man City are away to West Ham, Tottenham entertain Chelsea and Watford are home to Liverpool.

CRICKET

Pakistan captain Sarfraz Ahmed won the toss and opted to bat in the second Test against New Zealand in Dubai today.

Both the teams are the same as in the first Test, which New Zealand won by a narrow four-run margin in Abu Dhabi.

Follow the action with our live ball-by-ball coverage here.

FEATURE OF THE DAY

Ousmane Demeble is a risk not worth taking for Liverpool, writes our man Brendon Netto.

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Audemars Piguet CEO Francois-Henry Bennahmias on why golf and the Swiss manufacturer are a perfect match

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Audemars Piguet have a lot of time for sport. Their watches have always been distinctive since the company was founded by Jules Louis Audemars and Edward Auguste Piguet in 1875. They are award-winning mechanical masterpieces with impeccable finishing so the fit is perfect, whether it be for golfers, where the Swiss manufacturer are currently one of the most respected players in the game, or the modern gentleman.

As a global company focusing on exclusivity they are also incredibly particular about who they use to promote their brand, but they have a knack of picking quality players at the right time with fine examples including major winners Henrik Stenson, Darren Clarke, Louis Oosthuizen and Danny Willett.

Since 1989 Audemars Piguet’s association with golf has grown spectacularly. Former world number one Nick Faldo became the company’s first ambassador, and during his association with the brand, went on to become one of the greatest players in the world with six major wins.

It took another fifteen years before their next major deal came when Francois-Henry Bennahmias, then working as CEO in America, was invited to the 2004 Ryder Cup in Michigan by Frenchman Thomas Levet.

The Paris native is the current CEO of Audemars Piguet having started out working in the marketing and sales department of the company back in 1994.

The ebullient 52-year-old was a former golfer himself and was even ranked in the top-25 in France during the height of his playing days. Now, in his seventh year at the helm of the 143 year old family-owned company, he has seen the brand and its association with golf continue to develop and evolve.

“I was in the team for a long time. I found a lot of great things and a few bad ones,” he tells Sport360. “We focused on where we were good at for the next few years to help improve.

“Everything came out of quality. Quality about everything we were doing. Quality about watches. Quality about communications. Quality at the relationship among people in the company. Quality about customer experience. Quality at every level.”

He adds: “I got to meet a lot of the players from the European team. Thomas (Levet) invited me along and I got to follow the Ryder Cup for the weekend. Here, I met Darren (Clarke), Lee (Westwood) and Ian (Poulter) and we signed them up straight away.

“That what the bigger birth of golf and Audemars Piguet.”

Since then, the luxury brand and their association with golf has increased and they now have 21 ambassadors competing on both the European and PGA Tours, including new ambassador Matt Wallace – one of the stand out players this season.

With so many golfers performing at such a high level in 2018, naturally the pool of talent to pick from is quite deep.

The Audemars Piguet selection process is one of thorough consideration as Bennahmias explains: “The ambassadors go through an interview like I would hire anybody else in the company.

“I want to meet them. I want to assess them. I want to know what they know about life. Golf is great but you need much more than that, what they know about boats, trips, cars, watches.

“We have lots of people that have become ambassadors who were already wearing the brand. They were already in love with the brand, passionate about the brand and it’s much more genuine and organically good to work together.”

With golf being an individual form, players form will change a lot throughout their careers. Some brands and sponsors may decide to choose a different path for their clients if enduring a long run of bad form, but Audemars Piguet remain loyal and stick with their ambassadors through thick and thin.

Willett is one such example of Audemars Piguet’s loyalty. After winning the Masters in April 2016, it looked like the only way was up for the Englishman. But a loss of form, injuries and confidence saw him spiral down to as low as 462 in the world rankings.

Despite his struggles, Audemars Piguet stuck with the 31-year-old and he broke a 953 day win drought to clinch the DP World Tour Championship title at the weekend, a sweet victory for both brand and ambassador.

“Being part of the Audemars Piguet company means you are with us good times and bad,” Bennahmias says.

“Danny won the Masters, his wife gave birth and then he’s on a new road of parenthood which is a new experience for anyone. Somehow it did affect his game and now he is starting to get back. We would have never let him down.

“It’s a very difficult game. You can go through waves of success and failure and that’s part of being human which we love at Audemars Piguet.”

Willett, Stenson and Wallace are just some of the supreme athletes Audemars Piguet align themselves with.

But apart from golf the Swiss manufacturer are also visible in other sporting arenas. On the west coast of America NBA superstar LeBron James wears AP with pride.

Bennahmias first met the LA Lakers king fifteen years ago in New York and the fact that a positive relationship remains today is a testimony to the gratitude, loyalty and family-orientated nature of Audemars Piguet.

“I’ve known LeBron since he was 18,” says Bennahmias. “It’s a long time. I had dinner with him in Paris one month ago. The relationship is still there. Sometimes we will not see each for three, four of five months but it is still very much there.”

“He’s not an ambassador but he wears it with pride. There is a connection that has existed for a long time and it’s still there. That’s what it is all about when it goes back to being authentic, original, genuine.”

Today, Audemars Piguet produce around 40,000 units per year and they employ 1,450 staff at the company base in Le Brassus, Switzerland. The production may be low compared to other luxury brands but it remains one of the most exclusive and best on the market.

Bennahmias adds: “When we increase again by a little bit. It’ll be 42,00 or 43,000. We will do it very slow.

“What we are building now, we want to be exclusive because that is the true definition of luxury. We want to keep surprising people with the best of the best that watch making can bring.”

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Daily Digest: Countdown to Sunday's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix begins

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Good morning! The Sport360 Team is in place to bring you our top stories on Friday.

As ever, get in touch with us throughout the day on Facebook and Twitter

TOP STORY

Formula One makes its final stop of the year in Abu Dhabi for the 21st and concluding race of the season.

Lewis Hamilton was crowned world champion for the fifth time after beating Sebastian Vettel with two rounds remaining.

The action gets underway on Friday with free practice one (13:30) and two (18:00). On Saturday, qualifying takes place at 5pm and then the race starts at the same time on Sunday.

Read our talking points ahead of race at Yas Marina Circuit.

FOOTBALL

Sadio Mane has agreed terms on a new long-term contract with Liverpool, the Premier League club have announced.

Mane joined Liverpool from Southampton in the summer of 2016 on a five-year contract and has gone on to score 40 goals in 89 appearances for the Reds.

The 26-year-old Senegal forward told liverpoolfc.com: “I am very happy, very happy to extend my time at Liverpool.

CRICKET

Left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel led New Zealand to a superb win in the first Test against Pakistan and is eager to maintain pressure on the opposition.

The second Test takes place in Dubai on Saturday and Patel has vowed to follow up his excellent start to his Test career with another good performance.

Confidence is high for the spinner who claimed 5-59 in Abu Dhabi to collect the man of the match award.

FEATURE OF THE DAY

Read our feature on the Top 100 players 21 and under from Man United’s Diogo Dalot to World Class PSG star Kylian Mbappe

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