MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: German GP

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The Nurburgring is nicknamed the ‘green hell’ as it pushes the drivers to the limit on top of the Eifel mountains, and it has become a firm fixture on the F1 calendar as it alternates hosting the German Grand Prix with Hockenheim. Having last hosted the race in 2011, there isn’t much of a form guide for the race, making the MST picks all the more difficult for this weekend…

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Mark Webber. Webber’s on good form at the moment and at a track where he scored his first Grand Prix win in 2009, he follows up his British GP podium comments and wins on his teammate’s home turf.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. Of the Germans in the field, the Force India is the car that could punch above its proverbial weight and grab a result, and Sutil seems the guy to do it if he’s on the right tire strategy.

Most to prove: Romain Grosjean. Four straight races without scoring points; he needs a result, desperately.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Both he and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg should have an advantage with the Kevlar-belted tires at the Nurburgring, but it’s time for Hamilton to get on the board in 2013.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. I keep waiting for Force India to get on the podium, and they’ve been very close this year. You have to think support from the home crowd can help Sutil, who has shown solid race pace during the season.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. Four crashes in the last three weeks is tough on anybody, but even more so for Massa, who could be causing Maranello to lose patience with him. However, he just needs to worry about his own confidence and getting that righted with a solid result.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Never won a race in July and never won his home GP – that ends here. Seb could pounce as the slightly softer compounds brought to the race by Pirelli play against Mercedes, giving him a slightly belated 26th birthday present.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Massa has shown good pace at the Nurburgring before, coming 2nd in 2007 and scoring a podium in the final race before his accident in 2009. Ahead of the tire blowout, he was running 3rd at Silverstone, so the Brazilian driver could be onto something this weekend.

Most to prove: Fernando Alonso. Essentially, he has to prove whether or not Ferrari can still win the world championship. There is no denying his great ability to pull a dog of a car through the field, but Mercedes and Red Bull just look too quick right now.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Whether by fair means or foul Mercedes are definitely getting into the swing of things at the moment. I reckon the more conservative tyres we’re going to see in the next few races will swing the pendulum further towards them.

Surprising finish: Paul di Resta. Will finally get through Saturday without some misfortune confining him to the back rows.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. At the beginning of the season he seemed to be back at his best but he’s been a temperamental performer since then. Think of the pillorying a rookie driver would get if they crashed as many times as he has in the last three weekends.

Vettel refusing to be misled by Mercedes’ F1 practice pace in Russia

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Sebastian Vettel is refusing to read too much into Ferrari’s impressive Formula 1 practice pace in Russia on Friday, saying it is easy to be “misled” by rival team Mercedes.

Vettel arrived in Russia for the fourth round of the season after making the best start to a campaign by a Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher in 2004, winning two of the first three races.

Vettel continued Ferrari’s impressive showing to start 2017 by dominating second practice on Friday at the Sochi Autodrom, finishing over half a second clear of Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.

However, Vettel is refusing to take too much from the result, citing Mercedes’ jump in pace from Friday to Saturday in Russia last year as a reason why not to.

“I think Mercedes will be fine. It’s a circuit that suits them, so they will be strong tomorrow,” Vettel said after practice, as quoted by the official F1 website.

“I don’t want to make this personal but I think last year people expected Williams to be the fastest after Friday if I remember right, and obviously it turned out Mercedes were.

“That’s how sometimes you can be misled. I think there are a lot of things we can play with in the car, loads, engines modes. At this track especially there are a lot of things you can show or not show.

“I think the most important [thing] is that we talk about ourselves, our balance, and I think we improved throughout the session so I’m reasonably happy.”

Vettel will be chasing Ferrari’s first pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday, with qualifying live on CNBC from 8am ET.

Hamilton endures ‘difficult’ Russia F1 practice, impressed by Ferrari

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Lewis Hamilton was left disappointed by a “difficult” day of Formula 1 practice in Russia on Friday for Mercedes as Ferrari stole a march on the field.

Hamilton arrived in Sochi looking to take his third win in Russia and claw back the championship lead after falling seven points behind Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the standings.

The Briton was left to settle for fourth place in the final timesheets in FP2 as Mercedes struggled to match Ferrari’s one-lap pace, finishing over half a second back from Vettel in P1.

“Bit of a difficult day for us,” Hamilton admitted. “We managed to complete everything that we needed to do on our runs, but in terms of the balance of the car, the Ferrari seemed very, very fast on the long runs.

“So we need to work out how we can improve our pace. But there’s still everything to play for. The tires feel very peaky, so it’s easy to drop out of the window of performance, but when they’re working they seem to be good.”

Teammate Valtteri Bottas finished third-fastest in FP2 for Mercedes, and said the team had work to do overnight to ensure it could get the maximum out of the ultra-soft tire for qualifying.

“It’s been an interesting day. It’s a very different situation here with the asphalt and the temperatures compared to what we experienced in Bahrain,” Bottas said.

“We were learning about the tires on long runs and short runs and it seems like over one lap we still have work to do to get the maximum out of the ultra-soft tire – that’s our focus tonight. But we can’t forget how important the race is.

“We have started the weekend in the right way. The car feels good and the balance is there. A good start but we definitely need to work hard to find some lap time for qualifying.”

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 8am ET on Saturday.

Stoffel Vandoorne set for 15-place F1 grid drop in Sochi

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Stoffel Vandoorne is set to receive a 15-place grid penalty for this weekend’s Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix after exceeding the number of permitted power units components for the season.

McLaren’s problems with engine supplier Honda have been well-documented, with a revision of the design of the power unit by the Japanese manufacturer backfiring to create further reliability and performance issues.

Vandoorne has taken the brunt of the issues in 2017, failing to score a point and recording just one classified finish – P13 in Australia, two laps down on the lead car – as well as being forced to change a number of components on his power unit.

Drivers are only permitted to use four of each power unit component across the course of the season before triggering a penalty, but Vandoorne’s usage has been so high that he is set to receive a grid drop for the Russian Grand Prix – only the fourth round of the season.

By taking an all-new power unit for the event in Sochi, Vandoorne has moved onto his fifth MGU-H and fifth turbocharger of the year, combining for a 15-place grid penalty on Sunday.

For every other ‘fifth’ component Vandoorne takes this season, he will receive another five-place grid drop. His first ‘sixth’ component will be worth 10 places; every remaining ‘sixth’ is five places; his first ‘seventh’ is 10 places and so on.

Ferrari dominates Russian GP second free practice

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Once Pirelli’s softest compound, the ultrasoft tires, came out to play in second free practice for this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom, Scuderia Ferrari dropped the hammer compared to Mercedes AMG Petronas.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen ran at 1:34.120 and 1:34.383, respectively, in the pair of SF70H chassis – which easily eclipsed the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. This followed Raikkonen’s leading FP1 this morning.

It’s only practice but the thinking going into the race weekend was with a couple long straights, it would play to Mercedes’ strengths and its top-end speed. But Ferrari’s fired a warning salvo into that thinking in this session.

Bottas and Hamilton were six and seven tenths adrift on the same ultrasoft tires, before long runs commenced for the final 35 to 40 or so minutes of the 90-minute free practice. The Russian Grand Prix is expected to be a one-stop race.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were next, far off the top four and far ahead of the midfield. Verstappen’s session ended early inside of 20 minutes, as he parked his car with an apparent loss of power just before pit lane.

Williams’ Felipe Massa, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg, Haas’ Kevin Magnussen and Force India’s Sergio Perez – making it four teams in as many positions from seventh through 10th in the crowded midfield. In fact while 1.790 seconds covered first to sixth, just 1.18 seconds covered seventh to 18th, covering all remaining teams!

Romain Grosjean, who tries new Carbon Industrie brakes this week, made several radio transmissions noting he wasn’t yet satisfied with the new supplier. There’s still been a lot of brake dust released from the fronts on both his and Magnussen’s car.

Meanwhile further down the grid, McLaren Honda has made yet another power unit change to Stoffel Vandoorne’s car, which cost him the opening minutes of the session. This will resign the Belgian to his fifth turbocharger and MGU-H of the season, and see him saddled with a grid penalty.

FP3 is next up, streaming online live on Saturday morning from 5 a.m. ET. Qualifying commences at 8 a.m. ET live on CNBC.