MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Japanese GP

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Following Sebastian Vettel’s fourth consecutive victory in Korea last weekend, you would be forgiven for thinking that the writing team at NBC have had it pretty easy in recent weeks. In fact, three of the four writers managed to correctly predict that the German driver would win the Korean Grand Prix (and the selection of Max Chilton was nothing more than a thinly-veiled snub), but can Seb make it five-in-a-row in Japan? It would be the first time in his career that he has achieved this feat, proving that for all of his records, he still has plenty more to set.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Drive for five straight wins could see the unstoppable German lock up the title this weekend. Gotta keep picking him until he is dethroned.

Surprising finish: Adrian Sutil. Has made it in the bottom of the points two of the last four races and should thrive on a circuit he knows well. His only Japanese GP points were the first of his career in Fuji 2007; I’ll say he gets his first Suzuka scored on Sunday.

Most to prove: Max Chilton. If for no other reason than it would be a huge surprise to see him outqualify Bianchi on a true driver’s track, and with Bianchi having got his Marussia deal already wrapped for next year, time for the unheralded Briton to do something memorable in an otherwise forgettable rookie season.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Will the champagne party finally begin for the soon-to-be four-time World Champion? Barring a engine/mechanical disaster, I’m not expecting Fernando Alonso to finish in the back so perhaps the party will be put on hold for now. Still, I reckon Vettel will be on the top step again this weekend.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. The Hulk turned a lot of heads at Korea with his strong fourth-place finish for Sauber, which hasn’t had a relatively great year. I’m interested to see what he’ll do for an encore and wouldn’t be surprised if he came through again.

Most to prove: Esteban Gutierrez. With Hulkenberg’s improved pace, his Mexican teammate needs to start breaking into the points. He missed out by one spot at Korea, but if he can qualify well this weekend, he should be on target to finally hit the board in 2013 (he’s one of six competitors that have not scored yet).

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Four straight wins, three wins in four years at Suzuka, calls it his ‘favorite’ circuit, RB9 is suited to the track, gunning for a fourth straight title… need I say any more? On talent and pace alone, there is no chance of Seb losing this one.

Surprising finish: Jenson Button. JB has struggled all season thanks to the pace of the McLaren MP4-28, but Suzuka has treated him well over the years. A few retirements here and there and the Briton could yet return to the top five in Japan.

Most to prove: Paul di Resta. Paul’s luck of late has been lacking to say the least. Five straight retirements and no points since June means that he needs a good result in Suzuka to prove that he still has what it takes to compete in F1.

Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. He owns Suzuka. You can’t argue with four poles, three wins and a championship in four many years. I expect Mercedes will be closer than they were in Korea, and could even break his stranglehold on pole position, but the race will be his.

Surprising finish: Mark Webber. His run of misfortune simply has to come to an end soon. He always a bit handy around ‘proper’ tracks like Suzuka, and this is the last time he’ll get to play on this fabulous track for a while as the World Endurance Championship races at Fuji.

Most to prove: Esteban Gutierrez. Now that Nico Hulkenberg is bringing home serious points for Sauber, Gutierrez must at the very least start raking in the lower points finishes.

Prost stresses importance of keeping Formula E on city streets

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MONTREAL, Canada – Four-time Formula 1 world champion and Renault Formula E team chief Alain Prost has moved to clarify comments regarding this weekend’s event in Montreal, stressing the importance of it taking place on the streets of the city instead of a permanent circuit.

The all-electric Formula E championship visits Montreal for the first time this weekend, with a course being created using the city streets instead of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve that hosts Formula 1 race annually.

The Montreal ePrix acts as the season finale for Formula E’s third campaign, with Prost’s Renault e.dams operation in contention for both championships.

Formula E has enjoyed a strong ethos of racing on city streets instead of typical race circuits in a bid to promote electric vehicles and technology in the areas they are most needed for the future.

Reports in the Canadian press earlier this week claimed that Prost had said Formula E should have used the F1 track, but the Frenchman has moved to counter these comments and stress the importance of racing on inner-city street courses.

“I’ve never said that we should have gone to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, even if I love this place and I love the circuit. I think it is not adapted to the kind of race that we are doing at the moment,” Prost told NBC Sports.

“Obviously it’s too long and we need a shorter track, but most importantly we need the concept that we have from the beginning, supported by the FIA, that we want to be in the center of the cities. That is very important and I really support that.

“From the beginning that we heard about the project and we met the mayor two or three times, we were very happy and very positive to be in Montreal because we know the place, we know the fans that they love motor racing, and that will be something very different.

“We obviously give credibility to the electrical technology. We bring new people to watch the race. Maybe they are not interested by another sort of motor racing.

“We need a younger generation, maybe some children, they can see what is the car and technology for the future. So I’m very positive about that.

“I feel a bit sorry that I could be in the middle of a polemic. We want to be here for racing and we want to win the championship and celebrate in one of the best cities in the world.”

WEC ‘regrets’ Porsche’s LMP1 exit, working on plan for 2018 season

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The FIA World Endurance Championship has issued a statement following Porsche’s decision to close its LMP1 program at the end of the season, saying it “regrets” the departure of one of its most important stakeholders.

Porsche confirmed in the early hours of Friday morning that it would be pulling out of the WEC’s LMP1 class at the end of 2017 despite having one year remaining on its contract.

The German marque’s decision to quit and focus on a future Formula E entry leaves Toyota as the sole LMP1 Hybrid manufacturer on the grid for 2018, raising concerns about the future of the class.

Here is the WEC’s statement in full following Porsche’s bombshell.

Porsche, which recently confirmed its participation in the FIA LMP1-H World Endurance Championship as a manufacturer up to the end of the 2018 season, and which has been actively involved in the development of the technical regulations that will come into force in 2020, has just announced the withdrawal of its LMP1 hybrids from the end of the 2017 season.

The Automobile Club de l’Ouest, promoter of the WEC and organizer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, regrets this precipitous departure, as it does the abruptness of the decision from one of endurance racing’s most successful and lauded manufacturers.

However, the ACO and the FIA, guardians of the existence and quality of the FIA World Endurance championship, have immediately set to work to put forward to everyone involved in endurance racing the outline of the 2018 season – a season which promises to be quite exceptional thanks to the introduction of new innovations.

Clearly, the reduction of costs and stability, but also inventiveness and audacity, will be vital in making it possible to stage an increasingly spectacular and attractive championship with the sport of endurance racing at the forefront.

This unprecedented 2018 World Championship will, without doubt, excite and enthuse competitors, partners and fans of endurance racing alike.

We look forward to seeing you in Mexico on September 2 and 3 for the next WEC event when further information will be given.

A spokesperson from the WEC also confirmed that, regardless of LMP1’s future, the series will retain its world championship status for 2018.

“The WEC will still have three world championship titles in play, even if there are fewer than two manufacturers in 2018: World Drivers title (for which LMP1 and LMP2 drivers are eligible), GT Manufacturers and GT Drivers,” said the spokesperson.

“The WEC’s world championship status is therefore not in doubt.”

Sauber announces multi-year F1 engine deal with Ferrari

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Sauber will continue to race with Ferrari power units in Formula 1 next year after announcing a new, multi-year deal on Friday morning.

Sauber has enjoyed an engine supply from Ferrari since BMW pulled its factory support ahead of the 2010 season, but announced in April that it would be working with Honda from 2018.

The deal was thrown into doubt when CEO Monisha Kaltenborn left the team following a dispute with its owners, with ex-Renault F1 chief Frederic Vasseur drafted in to replace her.

Reports suggested that the Sauber owners were not keen on working with Honda in 2018, leading to the deal being canceled, as announced by the team on Thursday.

Less than 24 hours later, Sauber confirmed that a multi-year deal to use up-to-date Ferrari power units had been agreed, starting in 2018.

“I am very pleased to confirm that we will continue to work with Scuderia Ferrari as our engine supplier in form of a multi-year agreement,” Vasseur said.

“The shared experience between the Sauber F1 Team and Ferrari has built a strong foundation, which will allow us to move forward swiftly and efficiently, also in terms of the development of the 2018 car.

“I am convinced that together we can achieve the results which reflect the passion and determination that is, and always has been, behind the Sauber F1 Team.”

The confirmation of Ferrari power may open up a possible seat for one of its junior drivers for 2018, with Charles Leclerc and Antonio Giovinazzi both making strong cases to step up to F1.

It does, however, not appear to bode well for Mercedes-backed Pascal Wehrlein, who has led Sauber’s charge alongside Marcus Ericsson. The latter is understood to have links to the team’s owners, making his seat secure.

Ricciardo quickest as Red Bull leads opening Hungarian GP practice

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Daniel Ricciardo made a flying start to the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend by topping the opening Formula 1 practice session at the Hungaroring for Red Bull, beating rivals from the Ferrari and Mercedes teams.

Red Bull has been running as the third-fastest team for much of the F1 season so far behind Ferrari and Mercedes, but hoped to make up some ground in Hungary given the tight and twisting nature of the circuit on the outskirts of Budapest, suiting the RB13 chassis.

Ricciardo was able to live up to the hopes through FP1 by soundly beating the rival teams, recording a fastest lap of 1:18.486 to finish two-tenths of a second clear at the front of the pack.

The Australian was tailed by Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen in second place, with five-time Hungarian Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton taking third for Mercedes ahead of Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull.

Valtteri Bottas took fifth for Mercedes, while championship leader Sebastian Vettel wound up sixth, more than a second behind Ricciardo at the front.

McLaren enjoyed one of its strongest sessions of the season so far as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne made the top 10, taking P7 and P8 respectively.

Renault was also able to get both of its drivers up into the top half of the order, with Nico Hulkenberg and Jolyon Palmer ending up ninth and 10th. Palmer did suffer a late crash that meant FP1 ended under a red flag, continuing his recent plight.

The session saw Alfonso Celis Jr. and Antonio Giovinazzi, development drivers at Force India and Haas respectively, get some track time, but things did not go entirely as planned.

Giovinazzi suffered a shunt that cut his session short, forcing the Italian to return to the paddock on foot and leave the Haas team with a quick repair job to complete ahead of second practice later today.