MotorSportsTalk’s predictions: Bahrain GP

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After another wet qualifying in Malaysia last weekend, the pecking order is still rather tricky to define and decipher as the Formula 1 circus moves to Bahrain. One constant that might make predicting the result of this weekend’s race a bit easier is that Mercedes has been the all-conquering force so far in 2014. Will this trend continue under the lights in Bahrain, though?

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. As much as I play up Nico Rosberg (and I do still believe he will win the title this year), the fashion in which teammate Lewis Hamilton dominated the Malaysian Grand Prix makes him my tip for this weekend’s race. It won’t be by much, though.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Williams has shown good pace so far this season, and Massa’s record in Bahrain is impressive with wins in 2007 and 2008. A dry qualifying will play into the team’s hands, so I can see him reaching the podium this weekend.

Most to prove: Ferrari. Some good results, but a pretty average pace. Alonso once again appears to be outperforming his machinery, whilst Raikkonen has been quite unlucky. The Italian team needs to turn it all around sooner rather than later, though.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Mercedes seem unassailable at the moment and dominated testing in Bahrain – roll on again with the silver and teal.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Off the top five in Malaysia, the Force India driver carries that momentum into Bahrain by going either one better to fourth or capturing his elusive first podium finish.

Most to prove: Sauber. Double DNF in Malaysia, two nondescript Grands Prix when they have been on track, we’ll see if within the week turnaround the Swiss team can make a step forward in competitiveness. Lotus seem closer to its first points than does the Monisha Kaltenborn-led squad, at the moment.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Truthfully, you could flip a coin between him and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg right now, but momentum can certainly count for something and the former World Champion’s got it right now after Malaysia. The Red Bulls will be lurking, but their time to strike has not arrived – yet…

Surprising finish: Valtteri Bottas. The Finn has earned points in each of the first two Grand Prix but each of his runs have had issues – the run-in with the wall at Australia and his team orders controversy with Felipe Massa in Malaysia. I think another solid result is coming for him in the desert, but this time, it’ll be a bit more tidy.

Most to prove: Kimi Raikkonen. Although his problems in Malaysia wasn’t his doing, Raikkonen’s off to a relatively slow start. Granted, everyone at Ferrari’s dealing with the lack of pace in the F14 T, but he needs to make like Fernando Alonso and net as many points as he can before the expected upgrades come in.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Sebastian Vettel. It’s hard to pick against the guy who has won the last two races in Bahrain. Plus, with the way Vettel jumped up 11 places in the standings after Malaysia, he’s primed for a third consecutive trip to victory lane this weekend. But it won’t be easy. Look for Kimi Raikkonen to be right on Vettel’s tail, looking to win after finishing second there the last two races — both behind Vettel.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. Call it a gut feeling, but he could very easily win this race. He’s finished runner-up the last two years in Bahrain, which is a significant accomplishment considering he missed the 2010 and 2011 races there. Overall, in eight starts there, Raikkonen has an outstanding record: six top-three finishes, including three runner-ups and three other third-place showings. If ever there was a win waiting to happen, it’s Kimi in Bahrain.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. A two-time winner in Bahrain, Massa needs to build on the momentum he gained last week in Malaysia, climbing 10 spots in the F1 standings, from 20th to 10th. Even though it’s still very early in the season, Massa needs another strong run to get him fully back into the championship mix.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.