MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Australian GP

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The 2014 Formula 1 season gets underway this weekend in Australia, marking the beginning of a new era in the history of the sport. Gone are the old V8 engines, and in come turbocharged V6 power units, whilst a number of other technical and sporting changes are set to shake up the pecking order. However, this means that the predictions for this weekend’s race are perhaps the hardest the team at MotorSportsTalk has ever had to make…

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Judging by testing, it has to be a Mercedes, doesn’t it? Lewis Hamilton will storm to pole on Saturday, but I can’t see him continuing this into Sunday. 2014 suits the ‘thinking’ driver: this is Rosberg’s race for the taking.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. After a few bad years with Ferrari, Felipe Massa looks like a changed man at Williams. Once again, the team was quick in testing, and he’s my pick to push the Mercedes drivers hard in Australia. He’ll reach the podium.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. I can’t believe I’m actually putting this… but Seb has a lot to prove this weekend. The Red Bull RB10 has been blighted with problems throughout the winter. All of the sport’s greats have proven themselves in a rubbish car – maybe it’s finally Vettel’s turn to do so?

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Translate the Mercedes’ reliability with Hamilton’s raw pace and record in Melbourne, and you have the ingredients for the guy who was the last non-Sebastian Vettel winner last July to break the four-time world champion’s streak.

Surprising finish: Kevin Magnussen. A sneaky podium contender if the McLaren is there. Has been seriously impressive in preseason testing and could well back it up on debut.

Most to prove: Daniel Ricciardo. With Red Bull’s miserable preseason and the pressure of his home race facing him in his Red Bull debut, “Aussie Dan’s” smile may not make too many appearances this weekend. But if he and the team make a leap this weekend, good on them.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. A lot of people are making his teammate the favorite, which is understandable. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Rosberg seizes the opportunity and makes them go: “Oh yeah, Nico’s pretty decent, too…”

Surprising finish: Kevin Magnussen. McLaren appears to have picked up a decent young colt in Magnussen to pair up with their ex-World Champion, Jenson Button. It won’t be easy but I think the son of sports car ace Jan will turn in a solid result in his inaugural GP.

Most to prove: Every team with a Renault engine! Single out four-time world champions Red Bull (Sebastian Vettel/Daniel Ricciardo) if you want, but Lotus, Toro Rosso and Caterham are behind the 8-Ball on reliability as well. 

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. After winning the last nine races of the 2013 season, and 13 overall, how can you pick against Vettel. If anything, he’s gotten stronger. The key is to get a big jump at the start of the race. If he does that, Vettel takes this one with ease.

Surprising finish: Pastor Maldonado and Romain Grosjean. The Lotus drivers enter this season like the Rodney Dangerfields of F1, getting very little respect. Now is their time to show that they’re not going to be also-rans in 2014. 

Most to prove: Lewis Hamilton. Most oddsmakers are picking Hamilton to win this race, not Vettel, who is around an 18-1 longshot (Hamilton is around 5-2). Does Hamilton deserve to be ranked that high coming into the season opener? We’ll find out Sunday.

F1 Mexican Grand Prix on NBC, NBCSN, App this week

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Lewis Hamilton is poised to wrap his fourth Formula 1 World Championship early at this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix, as NBC Sports covers the 18th of 20 rounds this season from the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Expanded TV coverage comes this weekend on NBC, NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

All sessions will air live. Both Friday practice sessions are live on NBCSN at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET. Saturday third practice airs live via the NBC Sports App at 11 a.m. ET with a practice replay show at 12:30 p.m. before live qualifying at 2 p.m. ET, those two on NBCSN.

On Sunday, race day, F1 Countdown starts at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC leading to lights out and the race at 3 p.m. ET. Post-race coverage continues on NBC for one hour, from 5 to 6 p.m. ET.

Mercedes AMG Petronas has won both Mexican Grands Prix since the race was reinstated in 2015 after a 23-year hiatus. Nico Rosberg won in 2015 a race after Hamilton had clinched that year’s title, while Hamilton won last year in a 1-2 with Rosberg continuing to close on his first title.

Controversy reined about third place in Mexico last year with all of Sebastian Vettel, Max Verstappen and ultimately Daniel Ricciardo ending in third, Ricciardo getting the podium after post-race penalties were assessed to the other two. Valtteri Bottas is the other active podium finisher in Mexico, having come third in 2015 with Williams.

Vettel enters Mexico 66 points behind Hamilton and can only keep the title alive to Brazil if he gets the gap under 50 points; any top-five finish for Hamilton will ensure the Englishman equals Vettel on four titles. So if Vettel doesn’t finish first or second, he can’t score enough points (either 25 or 18) to get that gap under 50 markers.

Last year’s race featured a bit of a “Noah’s Ark” finishing order with just the top five teams in the championship scoring points at this race, almost in descending order of just two-by-two. It was two Mercedes, then two Red Bulls, then two Ferraris, then Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India before the two Williams, and finally hometown hero Sergio Perez in the second Force India.

Perez is the lone home favorite this race with Esteban Gutierrez not on the grid this season.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Oct. 27, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Oct. 27, 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Oct. 28, 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 3 (Replay): Saturday, Oct. 28, 12:30 p.m.-2 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Oct. 28, 2 p.m.-3:45 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 2:30 p.m.-3 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 3 p.m.-5 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Oct. 29, 5 p.m.-6 p.m. ET (NBC)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

The next race is the Brazilian Grand Prix, on November 12.