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.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”