The Milwaukee Bucks' blockbuster trade for star point guard Damian Lillard could give them a "new spark" in what promises to be a thrilling race in the NBA's Eastern Conference this season.

That is the view of Chicago Bulls center Andre Drummond, who also expects another strong showing from the Boston Celtics following their acquisition of former Buck Jrue Holiday.

Milwaukee brought in seven-time All-Star Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers in arguably the biggest trade of the offseason earlier this month, with the Phoenix Suns also involved in the three-team deal.

Since capturing their second NBA Championship – and first in 50 years – in 2021, the Bucks have endured a frustrating time of things in the postseason, losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2022 before failing to advance beyond the first round last season.

However, the addition of Lillard – who averaged 32.2 points per game in his final year with Portland – has seen Milwaukee touted as genuine contenders to win it all in 2023-24.

The team also agreed a three-year extension with two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo this week, ahead of Thursday's season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Asked about the Bucks' prospects, Drummond told Stats Perform: "I think it'll be interesting, the Bucks acquiring Damien Lillard was a very unique trade for a few reasons because Dame is eager for a championship. 

"I think his mindset now is about being on a contending team alongside one of the best players in the NBA, I think it's going to give them a new spark. 

"I think it will give him a new light to really push hard because I didn't realise, he's a lot older than I am! 

"His window is not as big as mine, so I think he's trying to get it right now and I think that Eastern Conference is going to be tough.

"You've got to pick your poison, when he comes off a pick and roll with Giannis, you're going to trap him and he throws a ball to Giannis, he goes and dunks the ball, or you back up and he shoots the three. I'm looking forward to the matchup and how we plan on defending those guys."

Milwaukee's deal for Lillard involved Holiday being sent to Portland, but the All-Star guard was swiftly traded on to Boston as they look to improve on last season's defeat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Celtics are expected to be among the Bucks' main rivals in the east this season, and Drummond believes Holiday could even prove an all-round upgrade on modern-day icon Marcus Smart.

"I think that's what Boston was missing actually. Boston was missing a point guard that can do both, defend the ball and score," Drummond said. "I think that's what was missing with Marcus Smart when he was there. 

"He was a great defender, but a very streaky shooter and Drew Holliday is very seasoned, he's been around for a long time and I feel like he just doesn't age. 

"I feel like every time I see him, he looks the same, so whatever he's doing to himself to keep his body right is why he's been around for so long, and he's a trusted point guard."

LeBron James may have lost some explosiveness due to his injury struggles, but Andre Drummond believes the NBA's all-time leading scorer is as good as ever and can excel again this season.

James and the Los Angeles Lakers began their 2023-24 campaign with a defeat on Tuesday, with the Denver Nuggets opening their first-ever NBA title defence with a 119-107 win.

The four-time NBA MVP scored a team-high 21 points while shooting 10-of-16, also adding five assists and eight rebounds, but his limited time on court was the major talking point after the game.

James played just 29 minutes in Los Angeles' 2023-24 opener, with the team looking to manage his workload over the coming weeks after he missed 27 games with a foot injury last season.

With James into his 21st season in the league, Drummond – who played alongside the 38-year-old during a brief spell with the Lakers in 2021 – says his game may have changed, but not necessarily for the worse.

Asked what fans should expect from James this season, Drummond told Stats Perform: "Well, if he's anything like he's been the past couple of years, I guess the same thing.

"He's still averaging 25 points, still playing 30-plus minutes, and it looks like he hasn't slowed down. Well, I feel like he's lost a step, but he's still him, he's still him at the end of the day. 

"He's still the same player, he's still able to be aggressive and get to the basket. 

"Is he dunking over people all the time as he used to? No. But is he playing smarter now? Yeah, I think he's still just as good.

"LeBron James has been special for the NBA from the first day he came in, the amount of things that he's done for the community, not only just for basketball, but for his community and for every city he's been in… you have to respect the guy that does that."

Reflecting on his time as a team-mate of LeBron's, Drummond said the opportunity to see how the four-time NBA Champion prepared for games was invaluable.

"He's somebody I got a chance to play alongside, so to have that opportunity to see his greatness up close is something I didn't take for granted," Drummond said.

"It puts a lot in perspective, because when you see this guy do the things he does in games, you're like, 'I wonder what he does when he's not playing'. 

"I always talk about preparation with guys and his preparation, what he does and how he takes care of his body, how hard he works each and every day, really shows why he's one of the best players to step on this court.

"I just have a lot of respect for him. It was an honour for me to be alongside him and see him be him. I wish we got more time together, but it was definitely excellent playing alongside him.

"I asked him what he does with his body because I'm in year 12 now, and obviously your body starts to break down, you start feeling it more when you get hurt, it lasts a little bit longer. 

"I've been blessed to not be hurt severely. I've had bumps and bruises but nothing crazy. 

"I definitely asked him what he does when he's not playing, how he takes care of his body and some of the things he does to keep himself engaged when he's not on the court."

James is the oldest player in the NBA. The Lakers star will now have his eye on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's record for the highest scoring average managed by the league's oldest player in any season (23.4 points in 1985-86, when Abdul-Jabbar turned 39).

While 30-year-old center Drummond clearly respects James' longevity, he will only continue his own career for as long as he feels able to make a valuable contribution.

"Playing as long as I have now is a blessing," Drummond added.

"I feel like I'm going to play as long as I can, until I just feel like I don't need to anymore, or I'm not as serviceable. 

"I don't want to be someone that isn't playing, I have a family that I would rather hang out with than sit on the bench. I'll play until I'm not playing any more, or I'm not being played any more."

New upcoming NBA star Victor Wembanyama must "remember to be a kid" as expectations grow on the San Antonio Spurs' 19-year-old, who has already been likened to LeBron James.

That was the message from the Chicago Bulls' Andre Drummond, who is well qualified to offer such advice given he has his eyes on a significant milestone of his own.

Drummond is just 37 boards away from reaching 10,000 rebounds in his impressive NBA career, having initially started at the Detroit Pistons with expectations on his shoulders, too.

The Bulls' 30-year-old has been in basketball long enough – and from a similar young age as well – to feel capable of offering advice to the exciting Wembanyama.

The Chicago center told Stats Perform: "For Victor, if I had to give him some advice, I would always tell him to just remember to be a kid.

"I feel like that is something that I didn't take advantage of coming in at 18 years old.

"I feel like I'd stepped into this realm of basketball and like, instantly became a man.

"I had to do everything as a man when I still had my mom and my sister, I still had a family base too, and I think that's the best thing I did do, was bring them out.

"I was so focused on, 'Alright, how do I fit in?' So, I will just tell him to always be himself."

Drummond was rated as the number-one pick of the 2011 class by ESPN after featuring in a gold-medal winning United States team at the Under-17 World Championship.

Having experienced similar pressures in his early career, Drummond sees aspects of his own challenges in Wembanyama.

"Similar to him, I came in and played right away," Drummond added. "I had to figure it out on the fly.

"I was going to a team that was rebuilding and a lot of pressure was on me too, along with him.

"He has a lot of pressure on his back too, because now they're looking at him to be the guy to bring the Spurs back to the calibre that they were.

"For me coming into Detroit, it was like 'well, you have to bring us back to the playoffs, you got to bring us to being a contending team' because all they know in Detroit is winning, they are a blue-collar city.

"So similar stories, different guys. We're all going on the same path at the end of the day, we want to win a championship and we want to be the best we can be."

While likening his experiences to what Wembanyama will face, over a decade on from his NBA introduction Drummond now has milestones in his sights.

"Being 37 away from 10,000 rebounds," he continued, "it puts a lot of perspective for myself and just for the public because I always tell everybody, I feel like I'm the best ever to do it, [regardless of] me having, or about to have 10,000 rebounds.

"I think just my body of work and my percentages and numbers help prove that and honestly, for me it just shows the amount of work I put in.

"Every year I set a goal to be the best rebounder each and every season and to have the honour of reaching 10,000, not too many people have the chance to do that. I am with a group of high-calibre guys."

While delighted to feature in a group that includes the likes of legends Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, which Drummond labelled as "truly an honour", the Bulls star wants to use his experience to help teammates now.

"For myself this year, it's just, I think it's everything away from basketball, I feel like it's just staying with it, controlling things that I could control," he said.

"Focusing on the things that matter, being a good team-mate, being there for the guys, playing hard each and every time I'm out there.

"In practice, pushing our starters to be better each and every day, being a vocal leader. I feel like that's something that I lacked last year, not using my voice for someone who's been around for 12 years now.

"I feel like I should have spoken more and said a lot more to our younger guys, so I think just being that vet that everybody sees me as I'm really showing it."

A defiant Andre Drummond suggested the Chicago Bulls can utilise an underdog mentality as his side prepare to face a host of "super teams" in the new NBA season.

The Bulls have missed out on the NBA Playoffs in five of the last six seasons, finishing 40-42 in their last campaign and failing to make the eight-seed position in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago's task in the upcoming season will be no easier, although Drummond believes the Bulls can mix with the best as numerous teams assemble impressive rosters.

"I'm looking to beat every team that we play," the 30-year-old center told Stats Perform.

"That's my mindset, but there are definitely some circles on my calendar for teams that I'm looking forward to playing. Phoenix being one of them. Denver, Boston, the Bucks, the Spurs.

"I'm really looking forward to [facing] these teams that are being formed, like these super teams everybody's talking about.

"I love when the underdog team beats them."

While the Bulls once again failed to make the postseason, Drummond took some comfort in seeing his former teammates win the championship with the Denver Nuggets.

"The Nuggets winning almost feels like I won because it's kind of personal for me," he continued.

"Four of my former teammates play for that team – Ish Smith, Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown – and the fact those guys have done it [makes it feel personal because of] how much work we all put into our games.

"We played for Detroit together, and to see them win it almost felt like I got a piece of that championship to see that success for them."

The Nuggets are tipped as a potential repeat champion, which has happened on just three occasions since 2010, with the talent of Nikola Jokic a key to their success.

In 20 postseason games, Jokic accumulated 600 points, 269 rebounds and 190 assists. Never before in NBA history had a player reached those numbers over a 20-game span.

Jokic also became the first player in NBA history to have 25+ points and 15+ rebounds on 75 per cent shooting in a championship-clinching win after the Game 5 victory over the Miami Heat.

Those record-breaking numbers were no surprise to Drummond, who is preparing to face a new era of NBA stars.

"It is the new age of basketball now with guys like Jokic, Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and the new kid Victor [Wembanyama] who is taking the league by storm right now," he added.

"The game is changing and changes every year, something new happens and it becomes a wave, and everybody wants to follow that trend for that year until the next wave goes on.

"I always say history repeats itself at some point in time, the true center position is going to come back around, which it already kind of has due to everybody getting out-rebounded.

"I just think it's unique man, Jokic is a unique basketball player, the way he sees the floor, he thinks like a guard and plays like a guard, but is 6'11 and almost 300 pounds.

"He's just a really smart, a great decision maker, great basketball player overall and he's very, very fun to watch and play against."

Having started with the Detroit Pistons in 2012, Drummond believes the game has changed – and will continue to evolve – albeit perhaps not for the better.

He said: "I've been a part of a lot of good basketball, and to like where it is now, where it's a little bit softer, you can't touch anybody and everybody is free flowing.

"Everybody's there for the show instead of the game of basketball, I feel like it's a lot easier now because you can't touch anybody, so it makes the game a lot easier for both the offense and defense."

Andre Drummond accepts the legacy of Michael Jordan's legendary exploits with the Chicago Bulls puts additional pressure on the team.

However, ahead of the new NBA season, the two-time All-Star center is relishing being part of the Bulls' attempts to recapture their former glories, saying he and his team-mates have a unique standard to uphold.

All six of Chicago's NBA championships were captured with the help of Hall of Famer Jordan, who helped popularise the league on a global scale by leading the team to two three-peats, the first coming between 1991 and 1993 and the second between 1996 and 1998.

While Jordan helped make the Bulls one of the NBA's most iconic franchises, they have struggled to hit anything close to those heights in recent years.

Chicago has missed the playoffs in five of the last six years, failing to build on an encouraging 2021-22 campaign. Last season they were beaten by the Miami Heat in April's play-in tournament.

With the Bulls hoping to fare better when the new season tips off this week, Drummond needs no reminder of their illustrious history.

"Michael Jordan's name is known everywhere," he told Stats Perform. "No matter where you go, no matter what country you go to, if you say the name Michael Jordan, someone knows who he is.

"You can say the same thing for LeBron [James] too. I feel like LeBron is up there now with one of the most notable people in the world.

"But Michael Jordan, his name rings bells. Not only as a basketball player but just how he was as a person. He has brought a lot of hope to this city, he brought a lot of championships here, and he's brought in a lot of money here, too."

Asked whether Jordan's achievements put a unique level of pressure on Chicago, Drummond said: "I've only been here a year and a half, so I don't really understand the gravity of how much it means. 

"But I feel like this year, I'll feel it more because I have my feet wet, being here and seeing the fanbase and how they really love Chicago basketball.

"Whether we are good or not, they are still coming out every night, so it is starting to set in a little bit.

"As I look around the arena, I'm like, 'some great players have stepped on this floor, man'.

"I feel like you have a standard to uphold as a Chicago Bull, and I feel like that's the pride that we need to walk with.

"Chicago Bulls are one of the most celebrated teams in the world. You go around the country and see people wearing the Bulls attire. 

"You may see some Lakers, you may see some Knicks or Boston maybe, but the Bulls, everybody loves the Bulls. I don't know what it is or why it's like that, I don't know what it is. 

"Even as a kid, I would see people all the way in Connecticut wearing Chicago Bulls gear, and they've never been to Chicago in their life. Everybody just loves the Bulls! 

"I think it's just a very celebrated team and a celebrated city and you have to uphold that standard."

The Bulls begin their 2023-24 campaign with back-to-back home games, facing the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday before the Toronto Raptors visit United Center on Friday.

The Philadelphia 76ers' wantaway guard James Harden is just "looking to find happiness" after requesting a trade and engaging in a bitter war of words with Sixers president Daryl Morey.

That is the view of Chicago Bulls center and former Sixer Andre Drummond, who hopes Harden joins a team where he feels wanted. 

Former MVP Harden requested a trade after exercising his player option for the 2023-24 season in June, the third time he has asked for a move since leaving the Houston Rockets in January 2021.

Having grown frustrated with Morey's handling of his contract situation during the offseason, Harden labelled the Sixers president a "liar" in August, declaring: "I will never be a part of an organization that he's a part of".

Harden reportedly expected to be offered a long-term deal after Philadelphia were beaten by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. 

He has since skipped practice on two occasions as the Sixers work towards their NBA season opener, which comes on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

While some have criticised Harden's conduct, Drummond, who joined the Brooklyn Nets as part of the trade which took Harden to Philadelphia last year, has sympathy for his position.

"I don't really get into the whole gossip aspect of the NBA," Drummond told Stats Perform. "I mean, with James, it's not his first time doing this.

"I think he's just going to try to find a way to make sure that he's happy and he goes into the best situation. I don't really have much else I can say on that.

"He's just looking to find happiness, so hopefully he gets to go where he wants to."

The Sixers' hopes for 2023-24 will be carried by reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid, who recently announced his intention to represent the United States at next year's Olympic Games in France. 

Embiid averaged a career-high 33.1 points to lead the NBA last season, but the 29-year-old is yet to win a championship.

Drummond, who played alongside Embiid while with the Sixers in 2021-22, believes Philadelphia need to give the center a championship-winning team sooner rather than later.

Asked about Philadelphia's title hopes, Drummond said: "I think for Joel, they have to do it now. Now's the time.

"They've waited a long time, a lot of pieces have been added to their team that maybe aren't working out. 

"I hope he does it. I hope he doesn't win against us, but I hope for the best for him. I really want him to win. I've got to play alongside him for a year and he deserves it. He works really hard."

The Chicago Bulls have "unfinished business" after missing out on the NBA Playoffs in five of the last six seasons, according to Andre Drummond.

The Bulls were expected to improve on a promising 2021-22 term this time last year, but they finished 40-42 for the regular season before missing out on the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

Chicago were beaten by the Miami Heat in April's play-in tournament, bringing a premature end to an inconsistent campaign in which they never once posted a four-game winning streak.

Their woes were compounded by seeing guard Lonzo Ball sit out the entire season with a knee injury which has now required multiple surgeries. Having last taken to the court in January 2022, Ball will also miss the 2023-24 campaign after being forced to undergo a cartilage transplant.

Despite Ball's absence, Drummond believes Chicago can look forward to a more positive time of things this season, having kept a familiar core intact. 

"It's definitely been one of my better offseasons, I feel like I got a lot done," Drummond told Stats Perform. "I got some good insight into what is expected of me, so that's what I worked on this summer.

"With the Bulls I feel like we have some unfinished business, which is one of the reasons why I ended up coming back here to Chicago, picking up my player option. 

"We started off really good at the beginning of last year, and I feel like we let a lot of things slip, some due to injuries and some due to just not really having any real chemistry yet.

"Losing Lonzo, a lot of our decision-making has been spread out throughout our team, for guys that aren't used to doing it.

"I think with a year under our belts now, we know how each other play and we know each other a little bit better, we will be able to really build that chemistry."

In June, two-time All Star Drummond exercised his $3.36million option to remain with the Bulls, who open their season at home to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday.

He will again be teaming up with Nikola Vucevic, who signed a three-year, $60m contract extension with Chicago in June, and Drummond is enjoying working with his fellow center.

"The relationship I have with Vuch is unique because he's somebody I've battled against for almost a decade, just playing against this guy year in, year out," Drummond said.

"Then being team-mates with him now and just seeing him on a day-to-day basis, I just really formed a new respect for him, watching how hard he works and how he prepares for each and every game. 

"Being here with him has been a lot of fun. We have two different games, which is why our games work together on the same team. 

"He's more of the outside shooter and I'm more of the brute force down low that gets all the rebounds and does all the dirty work, so our games clash very well."

Vucevic averaged 17.6 points, 11 rebounds and 3.2 assists while playing in all 82 games throughout 2022-23, also shooting 52 per cent from the field, his highest rate since 2014-15.

Mario Andretti has come to the defence of Sergio Perez, claiming that the Mexican is "very valuable" to Formula One champions Red Bull.

Despite being in the best car on the grid, Perez has struggled since last tasting victory at the Azerbaijani Grand Prix back in April.

While his team-mate Max Verstappen was crowned champion for a third successive year after the Qatar Grand Prix, Perez fell to a disappointing tenth-placed finish.

It continued his recent run of poor performances following a mistake-laden performance in Japan – in which he ultimately failed to finish – and an eighth-place finish in Singapore the week prior. 

Perez's contract with Red Bull runs until the end of the next season, but a host of other drivers have been linked with the seat to partner Verstappen.

However, the 1978 drivers' champion Andretti believes Perez still has the ability to partner the Dutch driver moving forward.

"He has shown moments of brilliance, there are times when Max had some issues, and he picked up the ball and ran with it, and he won some great races," he told Stats Perform.

"We've seen his speciality in street races, for instance. So he brings something very valuable to the table. 

"And I think, to me, from where I stand, as a driver, that's a perfect team. Actually, they don't get into each other's way."

Perez has admitted to being frustrated by his own performances, particularly after his display in Japan, and Andretti believes the 33-year-old needs to look inward and make the necessary adjustments to get back to his best.

"There may be setups or something not totally to his liking," he added. 

"But it's a matter of adjusting, for every driver, that's the whole trick, to be able to adjust and compensate for some of the things that don't always go your way."

While Perez and Verstappen have combined to retain the constructors' championship, the latter has emerged as the clear star and number one driver in the Red Bull team.

Other teams have opted not to keep both drivers on an equal footing, but Andretti is unsure if such a system breeds the “optimal” environment for success. 

"There are teams that have got two number ones, and that's fine. I don't know if that's the optimal situation. But nevertheless, that's the way it goes, nothing is defined," he ended.

"They should give equal attention, equal commitment and everything is equal opportunity. But it's really up to the individual to earn the position of number one."

Ferrari have the capability to threaten Red Bull's recent dominance in Formula One, so says 1978 champion Mario Andretti.

Red Bull secured their second successive constructors' championship last month, with their number one driver Max Verstappen cruising to his third successive title at the Qatar Grand Prix shortly after.

Despite the poor form of Verstappen's team-mate Sergio Perez's, Red Bull have still accrued more than double the amount of points of the second-place team, Mercedes.

However, tentative signs in recent weeks have begun to hint at a long-awaited shift away from Red Bull’s dominance.

In Singapore, both Verstappen and Perez struggled - finishing fifth and eighth respectively - as Ferrari's Carlos Sainz claimed victory.

Ferrari were tipped to be serious title challengers this year and, despite their poor start to the season, Andretti is encouraged by their performances as of late.

"Well, they've shown the capability," he told Stats Perform. "There were two successive races where they were on pole, and then the one where Max Verstappen had some issues which they won. 

"So, they're there and can cause some issues for Red Bull. You're seeing Ferrari and McLaren also annoying Red Bull quite a bit. And that's the interesting part as well."

McLaren have been the surprise package in the second half of the F1 season, having struggled with their car earlier in the year.

The British team have bounced back superbly, with Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri both finishing on the podium in back-to-back races in Japan and Qatar and Andretti believes the future is bright for the young duo.

"It's been really interesting to watch how much McLaren has really improved in every way," he said.

"Obviously, they've given their drivers the equipment and the improvements that they needed to be competitive. 

"They've been right there, annoying the very top and Red Bull quite a bit. Two young drivers, one being a total rookie. There's a future there and no question, something to be built on. 

"Lando has shown that he is capable and between the two of them, it seems like they really get along very well. There seems to be a lot of harmony within the team."

McLaren's rapid rise has seen them put daylight between themselves and rivals Alpine this season.

Alpine pipped the British team to fourth in the team standings last season but have endured a disappointing season in 2023, with drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly only able to secure one podium each so far this year.

They sit sixth in the standings and a considerable 129 points behind McLaren with six races remaining, but Andretti believes the team will soon rediscover their winning formula.

"You never know why some teams all of a sudden they fall behind; there are many reasons for that," he said.

"I wish you could say 'do this and that, and you'll be right back where you were, or even better', but there's always a reason somewhere.

"That's nothing unusual in this sport. And sometimes the team just have to reboot, but their competitive capability is there. No question. They've shown that before."

Lewis Hamilton can bounce back from a difficult three years to win a record-breaking eighth Formula One drivers' championship, eclipsing Michael Schumacher's achievements.

That is the view of 1978 champion Mario Andretti, who does not believe Hamilton has made a mistake by committing his future to Mercedes.

Hamilton equalled Schumacher's record haul of seven world titles in 2020, but he has failed to surpass the German great amid three years of dominance from Max Verstappen.

Having edged out Hamilton for the 2021 title in controversial circumstances, Verstappen has dominated the last two seasons while his rival has struggled. 

Verstappen clinched his third straight title with six races to spare by finishing second in the sprint race in Qatar last Saturday, and the Dutchman followed that up with another triumph on Sunday – his 14th victory in 17 Grands Prix this year.

While Verstappen holds an unassailable lead over Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez in the drivers' standings, Hamilton has found himself battling Fernando Alonso for a top-three finish, having ranked sixth last year.

Despite rumours linking him with Ferrari, Hamilton extended his contract with Mercedes until 2025 in August, and Andretti believes the 38-year-old made the correct decision. 

Asked if Hamilton needed to move to boost his chances of winning another title, Andretti told Stats Perform: "Why would he go anywhere else? 

"With Mercedes, that is probably the best possibility to resume his winning ways and win another title. No question. He's young enough. 

"He certainly still has the desire to be at the top. After being a multi-time world champion, you don't lose that ability.

"Right now, he equalled a record that I thought would never be approached, not in my lifetime anyway. He's still young enough that he could go for the eighth title. 

"It's going to take a long time for anyone to reach that and surpass that. So yeah, he's definitely one of the greats, for sure, deservedly so."

Hamilton sits 11 points clear of old rival Alonso in the standings ahead of next week's United States Grand Prix, with the Spaniard enjoying a resurgence since leaving Alpine for Aston Martin ahead of the 2023 season.

Having won four IndyCar championships during his own career, Andretti has a particular admiration for Alonso, who himself competed in the IndyCar Series during a two-year stint out of F1.

"Oh, Fernando is timeless," Andretti said. "I just love to see how much energy he still has and how much desire is still within him. 

"After taking a sabbatical from Formula One, I thought, 'I don't know, he'd better be careful about coming back'. Here he is, coming back as strong as ever. 

"I think he brought Aston Martin to a level that they almost did not expect. They certainly are giving him equipment which is capable, but he's taking it there.

"Fernando's legacy is that of a very ambitious driver, to try to conquer different disciplines. He ventured into IndyCar at Indianapolis. I respect somebody like that. 

"That's pure love for driving and the sport, to be curious like that, not just to drive, but to try to win in a category that's not your speciality."

Mario Andretti has moved to allay fears that Max Verstappen's dominance of the drivers' championship might put fans off Formula One, asserting there is "nothing boring" about the Dutchman.

Verstappen sealed his third consecutive world title on Saturday, finishing second in an incident-packed sprint race in Qatar to ensure he can no longer be caught by Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez.

After subsequently capping his title by winning the Qatar Grand Prix on Sunday, the Dutchman has won 14 races in 2023, leaving rivals including seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz trailing in his wake.

He also put together an unprecedented sequence of 10 successive victories earlier this year, leading to suggestions the one-sided nature of this campaign may impact F1's popularity.

The sport enjoyed a surge in popularity amid Verstappen's dramatic 2021 title tussle with Hamilton, while the Netflix documentary Drive To Survive helped engage a new generation of fans. 

However, 1978 drivers' champion Mario Andretti does not believe Verstappen's supremacy will have a negative impact on how the sport is perceived. 

"There's nothing boring about Max Verstappen," Andretti told Stats Perform. "The only thing is, the next thing that is obviously of interest is who can beat him? 

"That's the point, and that's interesting. You look forward to that every weekend, whenever the race is coming on, you say, 'I wonder if he's going to still be dominant?' 

"The other teams are not sitting still with the other drivers. But right now, Max is in a very enviable position to just really keep going."

Red Bull retained the constructors' title in September, with the team boasting a massive lead over Mercedes in the team standings. Andretti, though, does not feel changes are required to make things more competitive.

The team has won 16 of the 17 races so far this season.

"I personally love Formula One the way it is because, let's look at it on the technical side, you look at the grid and sometimes there are 10 to 12 drivers inside a second [of one another]," Andretti continued. 

"Each car, each team has different engineering, and the car looks different. Everybody obviously follows the same rules, but it's like a lawyer. A good lawyer obviously interprets a law maybe just a little bit better than the next one. That's what it's all about.

"I think Formula One has it all, it's got the technical side, but also, there's something to be appreciated there as to how close they come. I think that interest is there and will be prevalent."

Max Verstappen's third successive Formula One drivers' championship is "only the beginning", says 1978 title-winner Mario Andretti, who feels the Dutchman could go on to break records in the sport.

Red Bull star Verstappen wrapped up his third world title in as many years by finishing second in a dramatic sprint race in Qatar on Saturday, having left his rivals in the dust throughout a dominant 2023 season. 

Verstappen capped off his championship triumph in style on Sunday by cruising to victory at the Qatar Grand Prix.

The 26-year-old has a long way to go to match the accomplishments of the sport's all-time greats, however, with Michael Schumacher's record haul of seven titles being equalled by Lewis Hamilton in 2020.

However, Andretti – who captured the world crown when driving for Team Lotus in 1978 – feels those are the names Verstappen will be looking to hunt down in the coming years.

Speaking to Stats Perform, Andretti said of Verstappen: "There's no question that he fits the category of the greats, and it's ongoing.

"Like you say, it's three championships in a row and he's still going. There's no sign anywhere that he has reached a peak. 

"It's really fun watching someone like that, because he's just taking advantage of every single ounce that's at his disposal under any circumstance.

"The way I look at it, records are made to be broken. I never thought that Schumacher would have any rivals, not in my lifetime.

"I think Lewis Hamilton disproved that by tying that record, and Max is on his way, no question. 

"I mean, if there's anyone that you could consider to be a record-breaker, it's going to be Max Verstappen. At 26, it's only the beginning."

Verstappen has won 14 races this season, including an unprecedented run of 10 successive victories starting with May's Miami Grand Prix and ending after he triumphed at Monza last month.

Andretti recalled Verstappen's very first race win – which came as an 18-year-old at the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix – as he heaped further praise on the Dutchman for his dominant displays.

"What makes Verstappen a great driver is that he is something special," Andretti continued.

"As a matter of fact, when you say 'special', that's understating what this man is all about. He has shown something right from the very beginning. 

"I remember in 2016, what he did that day, he revealed himself. After that, obviously the rest is history. 

"He has been dominant and is taking advantage of every possibility in the best possible way. I think for any team on the grid, they're all envious of the fact Red Bull has a contract with this guy."

Lionel Messi's World Cup success with Argentina should be enough to win him the upcoming Ballon d'Or, says former England striker Jermain Defoe.

Messi finally achieved World Cup glory with La Albiceleste in Qatar last year as Argentina beat France on penalties in the final to win international football's top prize for a third time and the first since 1986.

Messi won the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, finishing with seven goals and three assists from seven appearances, playing every single minute of Argentina's campaign to lead them to silverware.

Defoe believes Messi's talismanic displays in Qatar make him the rightful winner of the upcoming Ballon d'Or, having already claimed the coveted award seven times before, two more than any other player has managed.

Speaking to Stats Perform at the Legends of Football event, in aid of Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, Defoe said: "Messi won a World Cup, so it's difficult to see past that.

"I think what he's done for the game – him and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, and other players as well – but because he's won a World Cup, and not only winning the World Cup but the way he performed in the tournament.

"Because the pressure was on, and it's probably his last, so to do that, go out the way he has, in terms of World Cups – I think you just have to give it to him."


Messi's World Cup heroics cap glittering career

Many felt Messi needed to win the World Cup to confirm his place as the best football player of all time, and he responded with a magnificent campaign in Qatar before Argentina ultimately took the crown.

Messi scored twice in the final, finishing just one goal behind Golden Boot winner Kylian Mbappe, who netted a hat-trick on the losing side as his side finished runners-up.

His extraordinary tournament saw him score in the group stage, round of 16, quarter-final, semi-final and final, the first player to ever achieve that feat at a World Cup, while his 26 appearances at the tournament is also a record, after he surpassed Lothar Matthaus.

Messi's goals made him the first ever South American player to score in both the World Cup and Champions League final, and he joined his idol Diego Maradona as the only two players to score five or more goals and create 20 or more chances in a single World Cup tournament.


The now-Inter Miami forward became the first player to win the Golden Ball at two World Cup editions, while his 26 goals for Argentina at major tournaments is the most of any South American player in history.

Whether all that will be enough for Messi to win the Ballon d'Or will be revealed on October 30 at a ceremony in Paris, with the likes of Manchester City's Erling Haaland and Real Madrid's Vinicius Junior expected to challenge.

Harry Kane will still have the support of Tottenham fans despite his decision to leave the club, according to fellow Spurs favourite Jermain Defoe.

Kane signed for Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich for an estimated €117million (£100m) in the most recent transfer window, leaving North London having overtaken Jimmy Greaves as the club's all-time record goalscorer.

Kane scored 280 goals in 435 appearances in all competitions before ending his 19-year association with Spurs, and he has started life at Bayern in similarly prolific fashion, netting eight times in six Bundesliga outings while also getting off the mark in the Champions League.

Though Kane decided to leave in pursuit of the silverware that eluded him at Spurs, Defoe believes the club's fans will continue to back the England captain in his new surroundings.

Speaking to Stats Perform at the Legends of Football event, in aid of Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, Defo said: "For Harry, it's amazing for him and his family. It's a new challenge.

"Everyone at Tottenham wants to wish him the best – we always knew he was going to do well anyway because he's a world-class player. He'll score goals anywhere. Nothing changes in terms of goals.

"We just want to wish him the best because Harry as a footballer is special but he's a special guy and he deserves everything he gets."


Kane the final piece of Bayern's puzzle?

Bayern have claimed 11 Bundesliga titles in a row, but the trophy they really want to lift is the Champions League having not made it past the quarter-final stage since last winning European football's elite competition in the 2019-20 campaign.

Kane has hit the ground running at Bayern, giving fans hope that he can be the man to lead them back to European glory.

The England international has scored eight goals in his first six Bundesliga appearances, with only Erling Haaland scoring more in his first six games in the league, while he has surpassed some of Bayern's greatest strikers in terms of their starts at the club.

His seven goals in his first five Bundesliga games for the club is more than Bayern legends such as Miroslav Klose and Robert Lewandowski managed, while his 10 goal involvements during those games is also the most in a player's first five Bundesliga appearances.

Kane is second behind only Serhou Guirassy (10) for Bundesliga goals this season, finding the net every 66 minutes on average while converting 34.78 per cent of his shots.

His three assists indicate he has also been a key facilitator for Bayern, while he is tied for fourth in the Bundesliga in terms of big chances created (four).

It is still early days, but Kane's excellent start suggests he could be the one to help Bayern back to the very top of European football.

Former FIFA referee Duarte Gomes has leapt to the defence of VAR amid the furore surrounding Liverpool's Premier League defeat to Tottenham, calling the technology's introduction "the best thing to happen to football". 

The use of VAR is a hot topic in the English top flight again after Luis Diaz was incorrectly denied a goal in Liverpool's 2-1 loss to in-form Spurs.

Darren England – the VAR official on duty at the time – misunderstood the on-field call to chalk the goal off for offside, inadvertently clearing an incorrect decision.

Liverpool have reacted furiously to the incident, which played a part in their first defeat of the season, with boss Jurgen Klopp suggesting the game should be replayed on Wednesday.

However, Gomes – a retired Portuguese referee who officiated in FIFA and UEFA competitions between 2002 and 2016 – says the ability of those using the technology is the issue, not the technology itself.

Speaking to Stats Perform at the Thinking Football Summit, Gomes admitted officials were still adapting to the technology but said it had already righted "thousands" of incorrect decisions.

"I don't have the slightest doubt that it's the best thing that's happened to football and to referees for decades," Gomes said.

"I know that we have a big, long way to run yet. It's not perfect, far from that. People who work with VAR are also learning and they are focused always on their careers as a referee on the pitch. 

"The process of decision-making was completely different, and then you put them in a room with many screens and tell them to decide in a different way they have to adjust. 

"As with everybody, there are some people who have more competence than others. We are now on that trail to try to be there. 

"Nevertheless, in factual decisions, let's say, for example, offsides or with goal-line technology, I believe that around the world, thousands and thousands of goals have been saved or cancelled correctly after VAR. 

"So yes, it's good for football. It's a Ferrari, you just have to have the right driver to be there.

"I've made many mistakes with the human eye; penalties, decisions, yellow or red cards, things that I missed. VAR could help me a lot. I would have been a better referee if I had it."

Gomes also believes, however, that technology cannot become all-invasive in football, emphasising the need to preserve the emotional nature of the sport.   

"I'm a little concerned about AI in the future, of course also in refereeing matters. I believe it will have an important role," he added.

"Sitting here right now, I don't know if I will have a different way of thinking in 10 years. We are always adjusting, but I believe technology should always help until the point that humans decide.

"Human first, technology after, not the other way around because football is for people. It's played for people, with people, and refereed with people, and that's what gives the emotion.

"If you become very technological, it's very difficult to have an emotional sport and then it will lose many of its values, so yes, technology is always to help, not as a substitute for the referee."

Gomes also feels the rise of social media has had a major impact on the levels of abuse received by officials. In a high-profile incident from last season, Roma boss Jose Mourinho was given a four-match ban by UEFA for angrily confronting referee Anthony Taylor after his team lost the Europa League final.

"I believe it's getting worse because social media gives the right to everybody to criticise, especially the ones who didn't do it with a public voice before," he said.

"Football is a social phenomenon and it's unique because it can put you in a very emotional state, sometimes an irrational state, which is worse. 

"You cannot ask people to be reasonable when they have their emotions so strongly attached to their teams and their competitions. 

"Sometimes you have to let the balloon go down a little bit and then ask them for some tolerance again. Nobody wants to hear the explanation of law one or law two, [but] you have to do it slowly, you have to try and try."

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