F1 Grand Prix of Austria - Previews

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Austrian GP

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Formula 1 returns to Europe this weekend for the first Austrian Grand Prix since 2003, and the stage is set for another great battle at the front between the two Mercedes drivers just south of the team’s homeland.

Nico Rosberg took advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s DNF in Canada to move into a 22 point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship, but he missed out on victory after developing a similar problem on his car. The Briton has vowed to strike back, and this weekend could see him cut the gap with his first win since the beginning of May.

With this circuit being new to the current era of F1, our writing team’s predictions are a little harder to make this weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Toss of a coin between Lewis and Nico once again this weekend, but my money is on the Briton to fight back in Austria. It’ll be another close run thing though, that’s for sure.

Surprising finish: Kimi Raikkonen. By surprising, I mean something in the top five. As one of just four drivers on the grid to have raced an F1 car around this track before, he might be well placed. In Monaco, he showed signs of improvement, but Canada was nothing but disastrous.

Most to prove: Ferrari… and Sauber. Ferrari was awful in Canada, and Fernando Alonso will need to run well if he is to regain third place in the drivers’ championship from Daniel Ricciardo. And Sauber? Well, I always say Sauber, and I’ll continue to do so until the team bucks its ideas up and scores some points.

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Sebastian Vettel is a tempting pick, but after his near-miss in Montreal, I like Rosberg to get the Silver Arrows back on the board at Red Bull’s home race.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Experience should pay dividends for the veteran Brazilian, who took a mid-pack Sauber to P7 on the grid here in his only prior start (2002). At another track heavy on straights, perhaps this is Massa and Williams-Mercedes’ elusive breakthrough weekend.

Most to prove: Ferrari. At both Bahrain and Canada Ferrari has pulled off the rare “both cars in the points, but neither one of them anywhere near close to earning them on merit” distinction. They’re in the news more for di Montezemolo’s comments and possible sports car program instead of their actual F1 team’s efforts. Here’s hoping they’ve made strides upon the return to Europe following an anonymous Canadian Grand Prix.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. A win at the Red Bull Ring will help Hamilton take back the momentum his teammate Nico Rosberg has gained in the last two Grand Prix – and even more important, he’ll take it back before heading into his home race at Silverstone.

Surprising finish: Sergio Perez. Perez has Force India’s lone podium of 2014, but his overall form has paled compared to his steady teammate, Nico Hulkenberg. But with this track appearing to favor Mercedes power, Perez should capitalize and get a good result on the board after back-to-back DNFs.

Most to prove: Sebastian Vettel. So it would appear that the defending World Champion has finally come around after a podium finish in Canada. Now comes the tough part: Bringing the fight to Montreal winner Daniel Ricciardo, who has been leading the way at Red Bull this year.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Jenson Button. The return of F1 to Austria for the first time in over a decade makes this a wild, wide-open affair. It’s the perfect track for drivers who have gotten off to rough or winless starts to take chances they normally might not. Button certainly falls into that category. He’s long overdue for a podium finish.

Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. Along the same lines of Jenson Button having nothing to lose in a race like this, Massa is also in a similar position. He needs a big boost that comes with a big finish, and Sunday’s race may very well prove him that chance.

Most to prove: Austria. We’re going to take a different tact here and not focus on a driver, but rather on the country of Austria. F1 fans there have fought hard to bring the series back to within their borders and Sunday’s sanctioned race will be the culmination of their efforts. But all the hard work to date doesn’t end now. If anything, it’s just getting started. Austrian F1 fans (and those from surrounding countries) need to turn out en masse to prove to F1 officials that they made the right decision bringing the race back to their homeland. It will be especially heartening to see Austrian native Niki Lauda there.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Gabby Chaves

Gabby Chaves
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver field in the Verizon IndyCar Series. In 15th and the rookie-of-the-year for 2015, was Gabby Chaves.

Gabby Chaves, No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda

  • 2014: Indy Lights champion
  • 2015: 15th Place, Best Finish 9th, Best Start 12th, 0 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 31 Laps Led, 19.3 Avg. Start, 14.4 Avg. Finish

Some drivers finish better than their performances show. Some drivers have performances better than their results show. The latter statement applied to Gabby Chaves in his rookie year, in what was an impressive first season after making the step up from Indy Lights, which deservedly earned him rookie-of-the-year honors.

The best comparison I’d make for Gabby is of Josef Newgarden in 2012 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, a first-year driver on a single-car, newish team to the series.

Chaves rarely dazzled in qualifying but that wasn’t his fault; he and engineer John Dick worked well together and Chaves recounted multiple times this year that a tweak here or tweak there, the wrong way, on the aero kit would send them down the wrong setup path.

Results in races didn’t measure up either but again that was through almost no fault of his own. The only time Chaves looked truly like a rookie was at St. Pete, when he had several collisions. Otherwise he was ahead of eventual winner James Hinchcliffe at NOLA before getting punted off, reliable through the month of May in Indianapolis, finally able to break through for a ninth place in Detroit race two, overachieving in Texas, 11th at Milwaukee after some great wheel-to-wheel racing with series winners and champions, and then phenomenal at Pocono as he was on course for a first career win or podium before late-race engine issues – his first DNF of the season.

For both Chaves and Herta, you’d love to see them together for another season, and the results and confidence for both parties will grow as a result. Those who’ve seen Newgarden’s rise over four years with Fisher and now CFH will note the long-term stability, and that’s what Chaves could do if he gets the time.

He planted the seed of being a great IndyCar driver, and he became pretty versatile during the year too with additional appearances in the DeltaWing prototype, a short-track midget and one of Herta’s Red Bull Global Rallycross cars. To boot, he’s a smart, great kid who is mature beyond his years, and someone you should be buying stock in now. Anyone who saw Chaves in the Mazda Road to Indy should not have been surprised by his rookie season in the big cars.

Off The Grid: Monza preview (premieres Saturday 10/10 on NBCSN)

F1 Grand Prix of Italy
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Having already taken you behind the scenes in Barcelona, Budapest, Singapore, Melbourne and Silverstone, Will Buxton and Jason Swales now head to one of Formula 1’s most iconic venues for the latest episode of Off The Grid.

Monza has appeared in all but one F1 season since the formation of the world championship in 1950, and is a firm favorite among drivers, teams and fans alike.

However, there is far more to the Italian Grand Prix than meets the eye, as we find out in Saturday’s premiere of Off The Grid: Monza at 9:30am ET (follows Russian GP qualifying).

Having honed his talents in go-karts as a kid, Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo is now trying to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of racers. But can he teach Will or Jason a thing or two?

We also catch up with Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and get a feel for life on the road as he takes us for a tour of his lavish bus in which he travels in for the European F1 races.

Have you ever wondered just how the suits F1 drivers wear are made? We go behind the scenes at Alpine Stars’ factory in Italy and find out.

Off The Grid: Monza premieres on Saturday at 9:30am ET on NBCSN following Russian GP qualifying.