MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Spanish GP

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Formula One returns at the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Catalunya, with the race being part of NBCSN’s 13 hours of motorsport coverage this weekend. With on-track rivalries set to resume, the MST team re-kindles its own prediction battle. Who are our hot picks for the race on Sunday?

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. It seems hard to imagine the Spanish GP has had seven different winners in the last seven years, but right now, it’s hard to pick against the driver who’s riding the hot hand.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. Yes, Raikkonen has the chance to win this race for a third different team (McLaren and Ferrari before). But with Lotus technical director James Allison leaving the team just before the race, it is likely to have a negative impact both on Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean at least in the short term.

Most to prove: Pastor Maldonado. Williams plans to improve this race based on some new upgrades. And for defending Spanish Grand Prix winner Pastor Maldonado, improvement will be merely scoring both his and the team’s first points of the season.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Barcelona is a proper all-around test for a car’s performance, and that plays right into the three-time defending World Champion’s hands (not to mention teammate Mark Webber’s). One also wonders if Pirelli’s decision to tweak its hard compound tire will benefit the Red Bulls as well…

Surprising finish: Charles Pic. Gonna go toward the back of the grid on this one. Pic was able to get the better of Marussia rival Jules Bianchi in Bahrain, and this weekend, he’ll get more updates on his CT-03. Could bigger gains be on tap for him and Caterham?

Most to prove: Fernando Alonso. After his DRS disaster in Bahrain, Alonso is 30 points back of Vettel in the driver’s championship as he heads to home ground. His countrymen will be counting on him for a big result that can start him toward closing that gap.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Mark Webber. Multi-21 aside, Webber will certainly be in the running for some big points in Spain. The Aussie will be keen on answering his critics, and having won in 2010, he is one to watch at the Circuit de Catalunya.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. A quiet start to the season for Sauber, but Hulkenberg has shown signs of brilliance (e.g. leading in China). Relying the upgrades come, he could produce another good performance to finish in the top six or so.

Most to prove: Jenson Button. After being given a reality check by his teammate in Bahrain, JB needs to respond fast. McLaren’s upgrades are crucial to him responding well, and he appears to be in a good frame of mind, although the importance of this weekend will not be lost on him.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Fernando Alonso. Always dangerous on home ground, he’s bound to qualify inside the top four and from there I reckon he’ll make another of his trademarks fast starts to take the lead and control the race.

Surprising finish: Daniel Ricciardo. He’ll prove Bahrain was a blip and get another solid points finish.

Most to prove: McLaren. If they’ve going to have any chance of competing for the titles this year they’ve got to do what Ferrari did at this race last year: Halve the performance deficit to their rivals.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.