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.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/