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What to watch for: Austrian Grand Prix (CNBC, NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET)

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With the tension of their clash in Baku two weeks ago apparently defused, Formula 1 title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are set to write the latest chapter of their rivalry in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix (CNBC, NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET).

Vettel arrived in Austria leading the drivers’ championship by 14 points, and will be keen to extend his advantage after Hamilton hit trouble earlier in the week.

A gearbox change meant that Hamilton was forced to drop five places on the grid, leaving him eighth for the start in Spielberg.

All the while, Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas was quietly going about his business, building confidence with every lap en route to his second F1 pole position in qualifying.

Following his breakthrough win in Russia earlier this year, Bottas will be looking to follow it up with a second success on Sunday and strengthen his case for a 2018 seat with Mercedes.

You can watch the Austrian Grand Prix live on CNBC and the NBC Sports app from 7:30am ET on Sunday. CLICK HERE to watch via live stream.

Here’s what to watch for in today’s race at the Red Bull Ring.

2017 Austrian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Bottas and Vettel set to fight it out up front

Valtteri Bottas has been pretty much perfect for Mercedes since joining the team as a late replacement for Nico Rosberg in January. Not only has he defused much of the tension at Brackley lingering from the previous rivalry, but his on-track displays have shown the F1 world what he is truly capable of.

Quick and dependable, Bottas came good for Mercedes in qualifying on Saturday by denying Ferrari pole, ensuring that Sebastian Vettel will not have it all his own way at the front of the pack as Lewis Hamilton tries to claw his way back up the order.

With Hamilton seemingly out of the picture for victory, the race should boil down to a battle between Bottas and Vettel at the front, the pair appearing to have a clear step over the remainder of the field.

We saw in Russia just how good Bottas can be under pressure. But with the stakes even higher as his teammate bids to avoid losing more ground in the title race, the Finn arguably faces one of the most important races of his career today.

Can Hamilton fight back?

Hamilton’s not had much luck in recent weeks. From his headrest coming loose in Baku to the lack of severe penalty for Vettel for his side-swipe, the three-time champion hasn’t had a great deal fall in his favor.

His struggles continued when he was hit with a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change earlier in the week, and when he only took P3 in qualifying after failing to match Bottas or Vettel for pace, eighth place on the grid was his final standing.

The silver lining for Hamilton was his alternate tire strategy. He will start on the longer-lasting super-softs, with his rivals all on ultra-softs.

With most noting an insignificant difference between the compounds this weekend, Hamilton may be in the box seat to make some gains, even if the pack between him the leaders will make victory difficult.

That said, throw in a safety car or two, and Hamilton’s luckless run may finally turn around.

Home race hopes look dim for Red Bull

Since the Austrian Grand Prix rejoined the F1 calendar back in 2014, Red Bull hasn’t enjoyed the best record at its home race.

A fortuitous podium for Max Verstappen is as good as it has got, and judging by the team’s pace through qualifying on Saturday, it seems unlikely that a top-three finish under regular circumstances will be in reach on Sunday.

Daniel Ricciardo will start fourth ahead of Verstappen in P5, both gaining a spot after Hamilton’s grid drop, and both will know that their chances of a stand-out result really hinge on another crazy race like the one we saw in Baku two weeks ago.

The grandstands may be packed with Red Bull fans, but it is unlikely they’ll have a great deal to celebrate on Sunday night.

One-stop race in store, but many different options

The more conservative nature of Pirelli’s tires in F1 this year has made a one-stop race the norm, and while another is due in Austria today, drivers will have a number of different options.

The ultra-soft is the fastest compound, but not as long-lasting as the super-softs or the softs despite the latter two not appearing to offer an enormous pace advantage as at other tracks.

So will ultra-soft/super-soft, ultra-soft/soft or super-soft/soft be the best strategy? The numbers will have been crunched overnight by the engineers – and all of it might not even matter if rain falls.

Rain could spice things up

The weather in Spielberg has been weird all weekend long. In the surrounding area, conditions seem to vary from valley to valley between the hills and mountains, making showers sharp yet fleeting.

Rain has been brewing for much of the weekend, with only a smattering falling on Thursday, meaning that we could be set for a deluge come the race if some of the forecasts are to be trusted.

A wet race on such a short, challenging circuit would be particularly entertaining and give Hamilton a good chance to battle his way back up the order, something Mercedes team boss Mr. Wolff will be keen to see.

Toto will blessing the rains down in Austria…

2017 Austrian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes
2. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
3. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
4. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
5. Max Verstappen Red Bull
6. Romain Grosjean Haas
7. Sergio Perez Force India
8. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes*
9. Esteban Ocon Force India
10. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
11. Nico Hulkenberg Renault
12. Fernando Alonso McLaren
13. Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren
14. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso
15. Kevin Magnussen Haas
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault
17. Felipe Massa Williams
18. Lance Stroll Williams
19. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
PL. Pascal Wehrlein Sauber**

* Lewis Hamilton received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, confirmed on Friday.
** Pascal Wehrlein is to start from the pit lane after Sauber broke parc ferme rules after qualifying to change an engine.

VIDEO: Celebrating Mexico’s motorsport culture and racing history

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Since returning to the Formula 1 calendar in 2015, the Mexican Grand Prix has already established itself as one of the sport’s most exciting and vibrant races, with hundreds of thousands of fans flocking to the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

In order to get a flavor of Mexico’s rich racing heritage, NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton took time out of his summer break to explore Mexico City and also take part in the famous Carrera Panamericana road race.

The Carrea Panamericana is Mexico’s equivalent of the Mille Miglia, initially acting as a border-to-border sportscar event before being cancelled in 1955.

The race was revived in the 1980s, and continues to this day, offering drivers a gruelling, week-long challenge against the clock at high speed on public highways through the mountains of central Mexico.

2017’s Formula 1 race is set to be a poignant one for Mexico following the devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that struck earlier this week, claiming the lives of over 200 people.

With the race set to go ahead as planned, it will be an important statement of unity from Mexico when it welcomes F1 at the end of October, the grand prix taking place on October 29 and acting as another chapter in the nation’s steeped motorsport history.

Mexico’s only F1 driver, Sergio Perez, has set up a fund through which donations can be made to help those affected by the earthquake with full details below.

Donations can also be made via PayPal by clicking here.

F1/IndyCar clashes frequent for 2018 as schedules shape up

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The latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council may not have yielded much in the way of groundbreaking news, but the confirmation of Formula E and the World Endurance Championship’s 2018 schedules did help us get a grip on next year’s racing calendar.

Perhaps the most notable thing with next year’s schedules is the heavy reduction in clashes between the FIA’s three premier track championships – F1, Formula E and WEC – next year, making good on its plans for calendar harmonization moving forward.

WEC confirmed its ‘super season’ schedule earlier this month, stretching 13 months from May 2018 to June 2019, and added Silverstone last week, with the calendar gaining FIA approval in Paris.

Of the 2018 WEC rounds, there is just one clash with another FIA track championship: between the 6 Hours of Fuji and the F1 United States Grand Prix on the October 21 weekend.

While the more pressing worry for drivers is between WEC and Formula E after the July 16 debacle this year, no WEC and F1 clashes is good news for Fernando Alonso, who could well appear at Le Mans next year as part of his Triple Crown bid.

Formula E does have a number of F1 clashes, albeit not until the sixth event of its season, with the Rome race being held on the April 15 weekend where the Bahrain Grand Prix also sits (for now – China is due to swap dates).

Other Formula E and F1 clashes come on April 29 (Paris/Azerbaijan), June 10 (Zurich/Canada) and July 29 (Montreal/Hungary), although by shifting the New York City ePrix back one week to July 14-15, a gap has been found in the schedule.

For those operating across all three series (including yours truly), there is now a busy run between the start of the F1 season in Australia and the start of the summer break in Hungary with just three empty weekends.

As for IndyCar clashes? The condensed nature of the series’ schedule and the expansion of F1’s calendar to 21 races means they are inevitable. That said, as IndyCar is outside of the FIA’s realm of control, it was never really in the mix for its harmonization plans.

Yet again there is a clash between the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, sadly something we have become accustomed to in recent years, but over half the IndyCar calendar faces an F1 clash next year. There may be further ones to come when a couple other race dates get announced.

Here’s a full run-down of the F1/IndyCar double dip weekends thus far:

April 7-8: Chinese GP, Phoenix Grand Prix
April 14-15: Bahrain GP, Grand Prix of Long Beach
May 12-13: Spanish GP, Indianapolis GP
May 26-27: Monaco GP, Indianapolis 500
June 9-10: Canadian GP, Texas 600
June 23-24: French GP, Road America GP
July 7-8: British GP, Iowa Corn 300
August 25-26: Belgian GP, Gateway 500
September 15-16: Singapore GP, Sonoma GP

Bahrain, China ‘on-track’ to swap F1 race dates for 2018

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Next year’s Formula 1 races in China and Bahrain are “on-track” to swap dates in order to maximize their local exposure, according to the sport’s commercial chief, Sean Bratches.

The provisional F1 schedule for 2018 lists the Chinese Grand Prix as the second round of the season, taking place on April 8, with the Bahrain Grand Prix taking place one week later on April 15.

However, plans are afoot to swap the races around due to the Qingming national holiday that is set to take place in China on the April 8 weekend, potentially having a negative impact on crowd numbers at the Shanghai International Circuit.

“We’re trying to take into account global events, local events, religious holidays and things to ensure we’re maximizing the opportunity for fans to attend the grands prix,” Bratches told Reuters.

“We’re talking to both of them to that end and if we can reach a mutually agreed upon solution, which appears to be on-track to happen, you’ll probably see that,” he said.

No updates were made to the F1 schedule for 2018 at the latest meeting of the World Motor Sport Council in Paris this week, meaning no switch between Bahrain and China will be ratified until the start of December at the earliest.

NASCAR America: Scott Speed’s quest for Red Bull GRC three-peat

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Red Bull Global Rallycross points leader Scott Speed is going for his third consecutive championship next month (Saturday, October 14, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC from Los Angeles) for the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team.

Prior to that, he joined Thursday’s edition of NBCSN’s NASCAR America, checking in with his former Red Bull Racing teammate Brian Vickers, show host Carolyn Manno and analyst Steve Letarte.

Speed talked teammate dynamics – he and Tanner Foust have been the class of the Red Bull GRC field for several years – and what it takes to succeed in the diverse championship that features racing on both pavement and dirt.

“Tanner comes from more of a more rally background and I come from more of an open-wheel, road course background,” Speed explained. “You have to meet in the middle and often times that creates success. Our personalties are polar opposites and that’s a good thing.”

One other thing Speed addressed was Austin Cindric’s couple notable incidents in the last month or so. Going for his maiden NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win, Cindric hit Kaz Grala at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to move for the lead and ultimately the win.

Cindric then made his GRC Supercars debut at the most recent weekend in Seattle and the two collided after a miscommunication in a preliminary race, prior to the Joker section of the course.

“He’s a young kid with not a lot of experience. He’s made a couple big mistakes. He came in like a wrecking ball,” Speed laughed.

“I was more mad because the car couldn’t restart at first. But it did, and we got going.”