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Sport

The tennis star who vanished

Peng Shuai at the French Open in 2018. Xin Li/Getty Images

Earlier this month, tennis player Peng Shuai accused former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Then she disappeared, says Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph. All that has emerged since is an “absurdly unconvincing” email, purportedly from Peng, that withdraws the allegations and claims “everything is fine”. Steve Simon, head of the Women’s Tennis Association, “has shown integrity and no small amount of courage” in questioning the email – the WTA has much to lose by upsetting the Chinese Communist Party, not least the “lucrative tour finals” it’s contracted to stage in Shenzhen.

By contrast, the International Olympic Committee has meekly said it is “encouraged by the reassurances” that Peng is safe. She’s a three-time Olympian and the IOC should feel “duty-bound” to defend her. Yet it’s terrified of doing anything that might jeopardise the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. The IOC has form: when entire neighbourhoods were bulldozed in Beijing before the 2008 Olympics, it did nothing. And this time round there’s not been a peep from its president, Thomas Bach, about the persecution of Uighur Muslims. “The only hope is that the more savage the backlash to China grows, the more untenable the IOC’s spineless reluctance to engage with Peng’s situation becomes.”

Lewis Hamilton’s great straight escape

Lewis Hamilton at the Brazilian Grand Prix last Sunday. Mark Thompson/Getty Images

Lewis Hamilton’s victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday has set “the title race on fire again”, says Giles Richards in The Guardian. Former Formula 1 champion Damon Hill, typically a measured judge, felt moved to acclaim it as “one of the best drives I’ve ever seen – by anyone”. After a series of penalties, Hamilton’s Mercedes started a lowly 10th on the grid in Sao Paulo, yet he fought his way into first place. His Dutch title rival Jos Verstappen, the most committed defender of track position in the business, proved powerless to resist the Mercedes looming in his mirrors, falling behind with 12 laps to spare. Hamilton counted it among the “the best weekends – if not the best weekend – I have experienced in my whole career.”

There’s one nagging question, says Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph: “How on earth did Mercedes do it?” In Mexico just seven days before, Hamilton had trailed home more than 16 seconds adrift of Verstappen. This time, when he passed the Dutchman’s Red Bull, he was moving almost 19mph quicker. True, he had a new engine in the car – but attention focused on the rear wing of his Mercedes, which Verstappen pointedly patted in the pits. Red Bull boss Christian Horner raised doubts about whether Mercedes’s improvements were within the rules “He felt something different.” The sport’s governing body fined Verstappen £42,680 for touching his rival’s car – and gave Hamilton a qualifying penalty because of a technical infringement.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff replied: “F*** them all.” Clearly the team intend to use the incident as psychological fuel for the three races that remain. What’s more, the season concludes at a trio of circuits with long straights – including two, in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, never visited by F1 before – which suggests that Hamilton’s speed supremacy in Sao Paulo will prove less an anomaly than a telling shift in momentum. “If it was not the greatest drive of Lewis Hamilton’s life, it was surely the most astounding.”