MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: German GP

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With Germany currently going World Cup crazy, the pressure is well and truly on both Nico Rosberg and the Mercedes team to keep the good times going with victory at this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

Hoping to stop Nico will be Britain’s Lewis Hamilton, who claimed an emotional home win last time out at Silverstone. His victory, combined with Rosberg’s first retirement of the season, saw the gap at the top of the standings drop to just four points in favor of the German. Having won here back in 2008, Lewis will know that a repeat result will give him the lead of the drivers’ championship for just the second time this season.

With that, plus the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen hoping to play a supporting role, the MST writing team has to think carefully for its picks this weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. As cool as a home win for Nico Rosberg would be, Lewis has the momentum right now. This is a track that he likes, and was the scene of one of his greatest ever wins back in 2008. I’m backing the Briton to become Mercedes’ first home winner since Fangio in 1954.

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. Where better to secure your first ever podium finish in F1 than at your home race? I’m tipping Nico to score his first – and frankly overdue – top three finish this weekend at a track that should suit Force India.

Most to prove: SauberAargh! Seriously! It sums up Sauber’s season that it matched its best qualifying result of the season at Silverstone despite both cars finishing in the gravel. A change must come for Sauber, surely?

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Pivotal weekend for Nico to bounce back after Silverstone DNF. He’s got everything else going for him this week, why not a home GP victory to match Lewis?

Surprising finish: Nico Hulkenberg. While Williams has done better in the “second best Mercedes power unit” class of late, the Hockenheim circuit and return to softer tyre compounds should favor the Force India. And Hulkenberg is usually my pick ahead of Perez, especially on home soil.

Most to prove: Kamui Kobayashi. In part because this might be the last time he gets picked for anything this year! The usually fearless driver hasn’t had drives reminiscent of those at Sauber. He may be on borrowed time at Caterham and could use a standout showing. Raikkonen and Sutil are also due to perform but their seats aren’t yet in immediate danger.

Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)

Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Never mind Nico Rosberg’s amazing week that has seen him get married, sign a contract extension, and see Germany win the World Cup. Hamilton’s win at Silverstone was the perfect thing to revitalize him, and he’ll ruin Rosberg’s homecoming at Hockenheim.

Surprising finish: Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard has won the last two German GPs at Hockenheim (2010, 2012). A third consecutive win at this track is probably too much to ask considering Ferrari’s overall pace, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him challenge for the last step on the podium.

Most to prove: Nico Hulkenberg. Neither he or Force India teammate Sergio Perez had ideal balance at Silverstone, but Hockenheim and the tire compounds should be a better fit – and the Hulk will be very anxious to continue his points streak at what was his local circuit when he was growing up.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

Race winner: Nico Rosberg. Even though he leads the F1 points, Rosberg still trails Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton when it comes to wins (Hamilton has five, Rosberg has three). Plus, Nico is on home turf this weekend. We expect him to put on a dominating performance – and leave Hamilton in his dust.

Surprising finish: Sebastian Vettel. Again, we’re going with homeland edge. Sebastian Vettel will rise to the occasion in front of his countrymen and comes “home” – so to speak – with a podium finish. Vettel has struggled far too much and far too long this season. He needs a homecourt advantage and he gets one Sunday.

Most to prove: Felipe Massa. Who doesn’t have a lot to prove heading into the 10th race of the season? Teams and drivers that we expected to do well heading into the 2014 season have been like fish out of water and floundered miserably. We could probably pick a dozen drivers that fit in this category, but we’ll go with Felipe Massa. While Massa has dipped to 10th place, his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, has had a strong season with a solid fifth-place ranking. Since their cars are so similar, obviously the shortcoming in the difference between the two has to be the individual talent behind the wheel.

Giovinazzi impresses as Sauber sub, finishes 12th on F1 debut

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Antonio Giovinazzi continued his impressive last-minute showing in the Australian Grand Prix weekend by finishing 12th for Sauber on his Formula 1 debut.

Ferrari junior and 2015 GP2 runner-up Giovinazzi was drafted in by Sauber on Saturday to replace Pascal Wehrlein, who withdrew from the race weekend due to an ongoing back injury.

Giovinazzi qualified 16th on Saturday, narrowly missing out on a place in Q2, and then enjoyed a trouble-free race en route to 12th at the checkered flag, two laps down on race winner Sebastian Vettel.

“It was a good race, and I am happy with my performance today,” Giovinazzi said.

“My objective was to gain more experience and collect mileage in the car. I will sit together with my engineers to analyze areas where I can improve.

“I want to thank the Sauber F1 Team and Scuderia Ferrari again for this opportunity. It was an amazing race weekend for me.”

Sauber team principal Monisha Kaltenborn was full of praise for Giovinazzi: “A very impressive performance from Antonio during his first Formula 1 race. He showed his potential as well as what the car is capable of.”

Giovinazzi is now set to return to his reserve driver duties at Ferrari, with Wehrlein expected to be back at full-fitness for the Chinese Grand Prix in two weeks’ time.

Maverick Vinales wins MotoGP opener in Qatar after rain delays start

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Maverick Viñales made a flying start to life with Yamaha in MotoGP by winning on his debut with the factory team in Qatar on Sunday night.

Rain throughout the weekend had already forced qualifying to be cancelled on Saturday, with Viñales claiming pole by virtue of setting the fastest time in practice.

Officials decided early on Sunday that they would not be amending its schedule for races, with the Moto2 and Moto3 events going ahead as planned.

Just minutes before the MotoGP race was set to get underway at 11pm local time, rain started to fall once again over the Losail International Circuit, prompting the stewards to delay the race start after a number of riders went off during an installation lap.

A 45-minute delay followed as a number of officials from both MotoGP and the teams remonstrated on the grid before being asked to take their discussions inside, away from the cameras and the watching world.

With the rain easing to a light drizzle, the stewards confirmed the race would start as planned, albeit reduced to 20 laps.

On a moist track, Viñales made a tentative start from pole, dropping to fifth as Suzuki’s Andrea Iannone made the best getaway to lead into the first corner.

Iannone was quickly passed by Tech3’s Johann Zarco, who completed his first lap in MotoGP as the race leader, and soon began to forge a lead over the chasing pack.

Zarco’s hopes of a debut win were dashed when he slid off the track in the tricky conditions, allowing Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso to assume the lead ahead of Iannone.

When Iannone fell and third-placed Marc Marquez began to drop off the pace as his tires faded, Viñales and Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi began to close on Dovizioso, setting up a grandstand finish.

Viñales found a way past Dovizioso, only to lose the lead a couple of laps later, before then taking it back with two laps to go, curbing the Ducati’s straight-line speed advantage as they headed into Turn 1 for the final time.

From there, Viñales was able to keep his cool and cross the line half a second clear of Dovizioso to record his second MotoGP victory, his first coming with Suzuki last year at Silverstone.

Rossi crossed the line a close third, much to his surprise after a torrid pre-season, while Marquez was left to settle for fourth place to begin his riders’ title defence.

Dani Pedrosa finished one place behind his Honda teammate in fifth, while Aleix Espargaro was one of the unsung heroes of the race, crossing the line sixth for Aprilia.

Scott Redding wound up seventh ahead of Jack Miller and Alex Rins, while Tech3 debutant Jonas Folger rounded out the top 10.

Three-time MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo had a forgettable debut with Ducati, finishing a lowly 11th after an off-track excursion on the opening lap.

The MotoGP season continues with round two of the season in Argentina on April 9.

Ocon picks up maiden F1 point in Australia, finishes as top rookie

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Esteban Ocon picked up his first point in Formula 1 during his maiden outing for Force India in Australia on Sunday, finishing the race 10th and as the top rookie.

Ocon made his F1 debut in Belgium last year with the backmarker Manor team, completing the final nine rounds of the season before moving into a seat with Force India for 2017.

Embarking on his first full season of F1 (and therefore still a rookie) in 2017, Ocon qualified 14th in Australia on Saturday before spending much of the race battling with Fernando Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg, the trio going three-wide down the main straight at one point.

Ocon was able to come out on top, clinching the final point on offer in Melbourne by finishing P10 to complete a double-points finish for Force India after Sergio Perez ended up seventh.

“Very happy with today. It’s been a tough weekend but a great reward at the end,” Ocon told NBCSN after the race.

“Fighting with Alonso made things difficult. It was side by side. Then I had the better pace with him. It’s so much harder to overtake, but I made the pass and got the point.

“I’m learning all the time. It’s good what we’ve done here. This is good for the team. We hope we can score many more for the championship.”

Ocon emerged as the top rookie in Melbourne, with Antonio Giovinazzi and Stoffel Vandoorne finishing 12th and 13th respectively. Williams’ Lance Stroll – making his first start in F1 – retired due to a brake disc issue.

F1 Paddock Pass: Australian Grand Prix post-race (VIDEO)

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And so, the 2017 Formula 1 season is officially underway with the Australian Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari are on top, having beat Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes both on strategy and on pace to kick off this new era in the sport’s history.

A recap of the day from the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne occurs below in the latest edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series, Paddock Pass, as F1 pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales go into the paddock to run down the stories of the day.

MORE: Full Australian Grand Prix event replay; Mosaic replay

The podium saw Vettel ahead of Hamilton, with Mercedes’ new driver Valtteri Bottas coming third on debut for the team.

Other interviews that occurred during NBCSN’s post-race coverage on F1 Extra included with Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen, who came fourth and fifth respectively, with Force India’s Esteban Ocon who scored his first career point, and with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who doggedly dragged his McLaren Honda into a potential points-paying finish before a late-race retirement.

Paddock Pass is in three parts and can be viewed below.