MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Spanish GP

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MONTMELO – After a three-week break, the Formula 1 paddock reconvenes at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on the outskirts on the city this weekend for the Spanish Grand Prix, marking the start of the European season.

With the first four flyaways now in the books and the early pecking order shaping up, the teams will be looking to take a stride forwards with the first raft of updates on the 2015 cars this weekend, serving to spice up the battles up and down the grid.

As a result, the predictions have become slightly more difficult to make for the Spanish Grand Prix, given that the teams may be further forward or back from where they were last time out in Bahrain.

Nevertheless, here’s the verdict that the MST team is delivering ahead of the race weekend.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s impressive start to the season could well continue in Spain, given that a number of updates are due on the SF15-T car. That said, there appears to be little that can stop Lewis Hamilton at the moment. A fourth win in five races would make for even more ominous reading.

Surprising FinishDaniel Ricciardo. Red Bull has endured a thoroughly miserable start to the 2015 season, but this could be set to change. A raft of updates on the RB11 could allow Ricciardo and his teammate, Daniil Kvyat, to work their way further up the order and perhaps on to a level playing field with Williams.

Most to ProveMcLaren. McLaren may have a fierce new livery, but the real focus will be on the performance of the MP4-30 with its first major upgrade package. Despite making great strides so far this year, the team needs to end the rut and get on the scoreboard.

Additional Storyline to WatchForce India’s form. Given that the team enjoyed just two days of running with the new car ahead of the new season, Force India’s early season form has been mightily impressive. However, with the rest of the field now introducing a raft of updates, the team may be hit hard as it waits until Austria before making real changes to the VJM08, suggesting a backslide could be on the cards.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Nico Rosberg Mercedes

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. Mercedes dominated on the long runs here in winter testing and there’s no reason to think the domination won’t continue here in the regular season. Rosberg still hasn’t shown he can beat Hamilton in a session that counts yet this year; I don’t think that changes this weekend.

Surprising FinishFernando Alonso. McLaren Honda is certainly talking of big gains heading into the weekend and Alonso was mightily impressive getting as close as he did to points and Q3 in Bahrain. It would be both a popular and improved result if Alonso cracks the top 10 and delivers the team’s first points of the season.

Most to ProveNico Rosberg. I’ll say Rosberg here more than others due to the fact this is the European season and a good spot for him to hit his stride and take the fight to his teammate. He’s won in Monaco before and a win here in Spain would do wonders for his confidence, psyche and the championship battle if he can put one over on Hamilton. I don’t see it happening, as mentioned above, but it would be good to see him exceed the expectations placed on him at the moment.

Additional Storyline to WatchBattle of the upgrades. The European season traditionally marks the start of upgrade season for all teams and manufacturers. Will any one team make a major performance jump or suffer a setback as a result?

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari

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For full broadcast information on the Spanish Grand Prix, click here.

F1: Russian Grand Prix post-race interviews (VIDEO)

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The Russian Grand Prix is in the books, with Valtteri Bottas scoring his first career victory at Sochi.  Bottas had both a dynamic start and a dynamic defense for Mercedes against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel to win in his 81st career start, and fourth with Mercedes since changing over from Williams.

NBCSN F1 pit reporter Will Buxton caught up with a number of drivers either during or after the race. Those interviews are below.

More videos will come in the fourth and final weekend installment of Paddock Pass, the NBC Sports Group original digital series. Stay tuned for that in the next day or so on NBCSports.com.

Anyway, Russia post-race interviews are below:

WIN. Valtteri Bottas

2. Sebastian Vettel

4. Lewis Hamilton

5. Max Verstappen

9. Felipe Massa

DNF. Daniel Ricciardo

DNS. Fernando Alonso

Hinchcliffe endures tough night in Phoenix to finish 12th

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James Hinchcliffe, off to one of the best starts he’s ever had in the Verizon IndyCar Series (certainly his best since his two wins in four races to start 2013) endured possibly the most frustrating race of his 2017 season Saturday night at Phoenix.

Down on pace to the Chevrolet cars, particularly those from Team Penske, Hinchcliffe had resigned himself to aim for “best in class,” and he had enough speed to run solidly in the top ten. However, as he explained, poor fuel mileage saw him be the first driver to pit during green flag pit stops, which elongated his final stint and forced him to make a late stop for fuel, dropping him to 12th at the end.

“Man, we just weren’t getting the mileage the other guys were. It’s too bad because the ARROW Electronics car was actually pretty strong,” he told NBC Sports. “We survived that first turn thing; it was unfortunate to see Mikhail (Aleshin) caught up in that.

“And we had decent pace, we were kind of hanging with Scott (Dixon) there in the first stint and ended up just having to pit way before anyone else. And five or six laps a stint compounding, we just never got the yellow at the right time to equalize the field and put us on the same page as everyone else. And at the end, we had to come in for that splash and go.”

Of course, the night could have been much worse, as he barely avoided the first turn pileup that collected five cars after teammate Mikhail Aleshin spun in Turn 2. “It was close, man. I saw Mikhail start to spin and come down, and then Marco (Andretti) hit the brakes and locked up and went around. I was lucky to avoid it, to be honest,” he said of the incident.

Despite finishing 12th, Hinchcliffe held onto fifth place in the standings, 39 points behind new championship leader Simon Pagenaud.

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Newgarden finishes ninth after two wing changes in Phoenix

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The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix had a promising beginning for Josef Newgarden, who rocketed up to second on the opening lap after starting fourth. However, a pair of front wing changes put paid to any chances of a win, and the Barber Motorsports Park winner was relegated to ninth at race’s end.

“It was a rough night, pretty much as rough as it can be for the No. 2 car,” he told NBCSN’s Robin Miller after the race. “The good news is I think we had speed, I think all the Penske cars did. Simon (Pagenaud) was awesome tonight so congrats to him for getting the win. It’s a victory for all of us at Team Penske, so I’m happy to see that. Will (Power) was good too, and obviously Helio (Castroneves) starting the race up front.”

It was unclear what caused the initial damage, which was on the left-front end plate and happened in the early laps. But, a lap 138 caution when Takuma Sato crashed allowed the team a chance to replace the wing.

From there, Newgarden charged back toward the front and was battling for a podium finish when contact with the lapped car of Ryan Hunter-Reay damaged the new wing, this time on the right-front end plate.

Newgarden described the incident and revealed that there was nothing he could do to avoid contact. “I was following Scott (Dixon), and I had Helio breathing down my neck. We were just trying to ride and catch a podium to recover for the day, essentially. Scott got on the inside of Ryan into (turn 3), they went two-by-two and so I followed Scott through. But as soon as Scott got clear, Ryan wanted to get back down immediately. And I just had a head of steam coming with Scott. I didn’t have any time to check up, I tried to check up and hit the brakes, but I’m in the middle of the corner, so I couldn’t really do much to miss him.”

Hunter-Reay described the view from his vantage point to NBCSN’s Marty Snider: “It’s just very frustrating. I couldn’t do anything with the car all night, because I love short ovals. Survived the start. Then we get a puncture or whatever. Dixon came up behind me, stuck his nose in, I was worried I might have turned across him. I went into the gray and two guys got by me. The car wouldn’t turn at all. Bent the right rear toe link. It was a really tough ride today. It was way too complicated.”

Newgarden pitted a second time for a new wing and ended up finishing ninth. He now sits third in the championship, 26 points behind teammate Simon Pagenaud for the lead.

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Hamilton struggles to fourth in Sochi after ‘very tough weekend’

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Lewis Hamilton endured one of his toughest Formula 1 races in recent memory in Russia on Sunday, finishing fourth at the Sochi Autodrom as Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas took his maiden grand prix win.

Hamilton qualified fourth on Saturday, almost half a second back from Bottas and the Ferrari pair of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen who locked out the front row of the grid.

Bottas was able to pass both Ferrari drivers on the first lap en route to victory, but Hamilton struggled to keep up with their pace, finishing some 36 seconds behind his teammate.

“It’s been a very, very tough weekend. I can’t remember having as difficult a weekend,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“Probably the last time I remember is Baku or something like that. Just ultimately not quick enough, not got the car where I was comfortable, and then in the race I was overheating so just had to settle for fourth.”

Bottas’ success came in just his fourth race for Mercedes, having replaced F1 world champion Nico Rosberg for 2017 following the German’s shock retirement.

Hamilton has spoken warmly of Bottas on a number of occasions, and was full of praise for the Finn after his success in Sochi.

“Big congratulations to him. He’s done such a great job,” Hamilton said.

“Fantastic teammate to work with. It’s an amazing feeling to win your first grand prix. It will mean a lot to him and his family.”

With title rival Sebastian Vettel finishing second, Hamilton is now 13 points adrift of the championship lead ahead of the fifth race of the year in Spain on May 14.