MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Malaysian GP

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It would be wrong to say that the V6 era of Formula 1 “roared” into life two Sundays ago in Australia, but the new season began in dramatic fashion as the favorites struggled and the newbies flourished. Now, the teams are ready for this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit, but has the fashion in which Nico Rosberg won the last race made these predictions any easier for our experts? Don’t count on it…

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. He did it in Australia, and he’ll do it again this weekend. I felt rather smug after picking him for Australia, truth be told, but he proved that he has what it takes to dominate races; I expect him to impress once again this weekend.

Surprising finish: Sebastian Vettel. Despite Red Bull’s disastrous start to the season in Australia, there is no denying that the RB10 is a quick car. Maybe not ‘Mercedes-quick’, but still quick. Expect the three-time Malaysian GP winner to bounce back this weekend.

Most to prove: Sauber. Did anyone actually notice Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil in Australia? Both drivers need to show what they can really do in Malaysia. Or, you know, actually get on TV. That helps.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Jenson Button. Making a bit of a surprise pick here, but here’s my rationale: it’s notoriously hot in Malaysia but could rain too. Both play into his advantage; he’s good on conserving tires and has also been decent in the rain. A past Malaysian GP winner when it ended early too, and the McLaren seems a better prospect this year. 

Surprising finish: Valtteri Bottas. Going with the Williams driver to score his first career podium finish at the same track where fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen won his first GP.

Most to prove: Lotus. Double Q1 elimination at Melbourne and with little time to upgrade before Malaysia, here’s hoping that Romain Grosjean and Pastor Maldonado are closer to the ballpark this weekend.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis HamiltonMercedes says it has spent its downtime post-Australia focusing on the W05’s reliability. That’ll be good news for Hamilton, who was forced to bow out in the opening laps at Melbourne with an engine problem. He’s never won at Malaysia but he’s been close in recent years with a pair of thirds in 2012 and 2013. This year, he ascends to the top step.

Surprising finish: Sergio Perez. Checo’s race in Oz was altered dramatically by first-lap contact that forced him to race from behind all day. If he can get a clean start this weekend, the Mexican could be in good shape to be higher up in the points-paying bracket.

Most to prove: Kevin Magnussen and Daniil Kvyat. Both had a successful first Grand Prix, with Magnussen hitting the podium and Kvyat earning some points. But Malaysia’s heat and humidity are going to be a big challenge for them and fellow greenhorn Marcus Ericsson. Should their equipment hold up, it’ll be interesting to see how they themselves will do that in the cockpit as the race wears on.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. Yes, he had a bad start to the season at Australia, but it’s hard to pick against a guy who has won 3 of last 4 in Malaysia. But watch out for Fernando Alonso, he’s just as good there, too. 

Surprising finish: Daniel Ricciardo. After being disqualified at Australia, Daniel Ricciardo will come back with a vengeance at Malaysia. I expect nothing less than a podium finish, if not a win.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel, again. With all the negative press Red Bull got in the preseason, plus Vettel’s poor run at Melbourne, he needs to prove he’s still the best in F1. Also, don’t forget Louis Hamilton; he’s in the same boat as Vettel when it comes to bouncing back from Australia.

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.