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.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

Follow Kyle Lavigne.

Vilander replaces Bird at AF Corse for Nurburgring WEC round

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AF Corse has confirmed that Toni Vilander will race the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE in next month’s FIA World Endurance Championship round at the Nürburgring in place of Sam Bird, who is tied up with Formula E commitments in New York.

Vilander currently races full-time in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Risi Competizione, and appeared at the 24 Hours of Le Mans two weeks ago.

The Finn won the WEC GT drivers’ title in 2014 and last raced full-time in the series in 2015, but will return at the Nürburgring in place of Bird, who confirmed on Monday that he would be prioritizing his Formula E commitments on the July 16 weekend.

Vilander is relishing the opportunity to race alongside Davide Rigon in the No. 71 Ferrari, and is eager to bounce back from an early retirement at Le Mans.

“I’m happy to be able to return to the FIA WEC with the 488 GTE of AF Corse team. This is my chance to cancel the disappointment of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as soon as possible,” Vilander said.

“Car number 71 is in the top places of the championship standings, and I will give all I have to achieve the best possible result at Nürburgring, to help Ferrari in the manufacturers’ championship and Davide Rigon in the drivers’ ranking.”

British GP expands to four-day schedule, F2/GP3 practice set for Thursday

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The British Grand Prix weekend will expand to a four-day schedule next month as Formula 2 and GP3 practice running gets shifted to Thursday.

On-track running for all Formula 1 events traditionally takes place across three days – Friday to Sunday, bar Monaco, where practice is on Thursday – with support events following a similar format.

Silverstone has confirmed its schedule of events for the British Grand Prix weekend, with F2 and GP3 practice slated for Thursday July 13.

F2 practice will run from 15:30 to 16:15 local time at Silverstone on the Thursday, followed by GP3 running from 16:45 to 17:30.

Both support series will hit the track again on Friday for their respective qualifying sessions, taking place after F1’s second practice in the afternoon.

The remainder of the race weekend will go ahead as usual for F2 and GP3, having one race each on both Saturday and Sunday.

The F1 schedule for the weekend remains unchanged, with FP1 and FP2 on Friday, FP3 and qualifying on Saturday, and the race on Sunday.

Both Renault and Williams will take part in special show-runs during the grand prix weekend as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations.

You can see the full British Grand Prix schedule here.