An anti-climactic race in China ahead of F1’s return to Europe

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After the furore of the exhilarating Bahrain Grand Prix two weeks ago, expectations were high in China. Nico Rosberg was keen on avenging his defeat at the hands of Lewis Hamilton under the lights in Sakhir, whilst the likes of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel were hoping to be in a place should disaster strike the German team.

Practice also suggested that it wouldn’t be such an easy weekend for Mercedes, who had literally not put a foot wrong in Bahrain. FP1 saw Fernando Alonso finish fastest, and although Hamilton hit back to top FP2, he complained that the car was still not to his liking.

A wet FP3 gave Daniel Ricciardo a chance to finish quickest as most chose to limit their running, and although he qualified an excellent P2 in the spray later on Saturday, he still trailed pole-sitter Hamilton by six-tenths of a second. With rain threatening to hit during the race and questions about how Hamilton was feeling with the car over the weekend, it appeared that there could yet be another stunning race on the cards.

However, all of these storylines were pretty much diffused within the first few laps of the race on Sunday.

Nico Rosberg made a poor start to drop down to seventh place, and the rest of the grand prix was largely about his fightback. One by one, he picked off the cars ahead to eventually bring his car home in second place behind race winner Hamilton. Fernando Alonso had ran well to fend off the squabbling Red Bull drivers and secure Ferrari’s first podium finish of the season.

In fact, the biggest talking point of the race came when Sebastian Vettel appeared to flout team orders and refuse to give way to Daniel Ricciardo at first, telling his team it was “tough luck.” He eventually saw sense and put up little resistance to the Australian driver, and eventually finished over 20 seconds down in P5.

A number of drivers went largely unnoticed on Sunday but did have a good race. Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas came home in P6 and P7 respectively, whilst Sergio Perez bounced back from a disastrous qualifying to make up seven places and finish ninth. Daniil Kvyat also continued his good start to the season, picking up points for the third time in four races.

In fact, it was such an anti-climax that an embarrassing error with the checkered flag that inadvertently ended the race two laps early went without too much of a protest, with Kamui Kobayashi being the only driver to lose a position because of the mistake.

The teams now have three weeks to regroup ahead of the first European race of the season in Spain at the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona. At this race, we should see the first set of major upgrade packages and developments for the teams, which could once again alter the pecking order.

However, the way things are going, it’s set to be a to-and-fro battle between either side of the Mercedes garage for the 2014 Formula 1 drivers’ championship.

Dakar Rally Stage 13: Carlos Sainz has second overall victory in sight

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Editor’s note: Check out expanded video highlights of Stage 13 Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Carlos Sainz is nearing his second Dakar Rally victory while Nasser Al-Attiyah strengthened his bid for second by winning Friday’s 13th stage of the endurance race.

Sainz finished sixth in his Team Peugeot ride and holds a lead of 46:18 over Al-Attiyah’s Toyota.

“I tried to play it safe, even if there were plenty of tricky parts,” said Sainz, who won the Dakar Rally in 2010 but had failed to finish the past five races because of mechanical problems. “Since the start, there has been a lot of drama in this race and it’s not over until we’ve crossed the finishing line. It’s not a crazy Dakar, but it’s very difficult. I hope everything will go OK (Saturday).”

Defending race winner Stephane Peterhansel is in fourth overall, trailing by 1:28:08 after crashing and finishing 20th in the penultimate stage. The Frenchman has a record 13 overall wins in the Dakar but is unlikely to earn another despite rebounding well from a crash in the seventh stage that had knocked him from the overall lead.

In other divisions, Eduard Nikolaev (trucks), Matthias Walkner (motorcycles), Ignacio Casale (Quads) and Reinaldo Varela (SxS UTV) are on the cusp of capturing overall wins entering the final stage.

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STAGE 13 RESULTS, CARS

  1. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota, 5:02:22
  2. Argentina’s Lucio ALvarez, Toyota, 5:13:38
  3. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, Toyota: 5:15:28
  4. Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, X-Raid, 5:17:29
  5. Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen, X-Raid, 5:21:46

OVERALL 

  1. Spain’s Carlos Sainz
  2. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, 46:18 behind
  3. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, 1:20:00 behind
  4. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, 1:28:08 behind
  5. Poland’s Jakub Przygonski, 2:46:32 behind

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TRUCKS

  1. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, Kamaz, 5:59:02
  2. Russia’s Airat Mardeev, 5:59:52
  3. Czech Republic’s Martin Kolomy, Tatra, 6:05:08
  4. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, 6:26:47
  5. Czech Republic’s Dmitry Sotnikov, 6:31:56

OVERALL 

  1. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev
  2. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, 3:53:59 behind
  3. Russia’s Airat Mardeev, 5:21:05
  4. Czech Republic’s Martin Kolomy, 9:01:18
  5. Czech Republic’s Dmitry Sotnikov, 10:04:29

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MOTORCYCLES

  1. Australia’s Toby Price, KTM, 4:48:33
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Honda, 4:50:36
  3. France’s Antoine Meo, KTM, 4:51:17
  4. Austria’s Matthias Walkner, KTM, 5:00:05
  5. Spain’s Juan Pedrero Garcia, 5:03:45

AMERICAN RIDERS

15th: Mark Samuels (Honda), 5:19:40

18th: Shane Esposito (KTM), 5:27:14

37th: Andrew Short (Husqvarna), 5:58:14

68th: Bill Conger (Husqvarna), 7:16:00

OVERALL 

  1. Austria’s Matthias Walkner
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, 22:31 behind
  3. Australia’s Toby Price, 27:45
  4. France’s Antoine Meo, 50:17
  5. Spain’s Gerard Farres, 1:01:19

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QUADS

  1. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 5:55:16
  2. Paraguay’s Nelson Augusto Sanabria Galeano, 5:58:34
  3. Chile’s Ignacio Casale, 5:59:19
  4. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 6:02:22
  5. Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 6:02:23

OVERALL

  1. Chile’s Ignacio Casale
  2. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 1:37:16 behind
  3. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 2:05:12
  4. Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 4:25:26
  5. Peru’s Alexis Hernandez, 4:34:37

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SxS UTV

  1. France’s Patricie Garrouste, Polaris, 6:29:40
  2. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, Can-Am, 6:39:39
  3. France’s Claude Fournier, Polaris, 7:33:17
  4. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, Polaris, 7:41:200

OVERALL 

  1. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela
  2. France’s Patricie Garroueste, 53:28 behind
  3. France’s Claude Fournier, 10:02:12
  4. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, 10:06:01

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SATURDAY’S SCHEDULE

Champions in all five classes will be crowned Saturday after the 14th and final stage concludes in Cordoba, Argentina.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

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