Tony DiZinno

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 29: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Rosberg leads as Ricciardo debuts new Aeroscreen in Russia FP1

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Like in preseason testing, Mercedes AMG Petronas topped the timesheets in first practice for the Russian Grand Prix but the story of the session was elsewhere as one of the new cockpit enhanced devices made its debut at the start of practice.

Nico Rosberg was fastest in the W07 at 1:38.127 on Pirelli’s supersoft compound, while Daniel Ricciardo introduced Red Bull Racing’s new Aeroscreen to the world for an installation lap.

The device was installed on Thursday and Ricciardo rolled out with it to start practice. Following an installation lap it was back to removing the device and running in standard configuration. The Aeroscreen is one of two cockpit enhancement devices to have made its debut this year, Kimi Raikkonen having rolled out the “Halo” concept at Barcelona for preseason testing.

Alas in practice, several drivers spun on the low-grip Sochi Autodrom circuit – Lewis Hamilton at Turn 2, Jenson Button at Turn 15 and Sebastian Vettel at the same corner shortly thereafter, and local hero Danill Kvyat later in the session at Turn 17. Jolyon Palmer also had a spin at Turn 17 just after the checkered flag.

Further down the grid Manor Racing had a difficult start to the session with a floor change on Pascal Wehrlein’s chassis and an unspecified technical issue for teammate Rio Haryanto. Both made it out for some laps later in the session.

Rosberg topped Hamilton by 0.722 of a second with Vettel third, Raikkonen fourth and Felipe Massa fifth. Ricciardo was sixth in his usual car configuration.

Two drivers stepped in for race drivers this session, with Russian Sergey Sirotkin ending a respectable 13th in his debut with the team in FP1.

That being said, his number choice of 46 inspired Kevin Magnussen, who was sidelined for the session, to throw a bit of shade on Sirotkin after getting the Romain Grosjean treatment in sitting out.

Alfonso Celis Jr. also ran for Sahara Force India in place of Nico Hulkenberg and propped up the timesheets, 5.305 seconds off Rosberg and a full 3.1 seconds and change behind teammate Sergio Perez in ninth.

Times are below. You can see FP2 live on NBCSN from 7 a.m. ET, and also via live stream on NBC Sports Live Extra.

Ricciardo debuts Aeroscreen in FP1 in Russia (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 29, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo has rolled out with the team’s new Aeroscreen, the windshield cockpit device making its formal debut during FP1 for the Russian Grand Prix.

The Australian started the session with the device, ran an installation lap and then brought it in the pits. Once under normal chassis conditions, he ended sixth.

The device is one of a couple being tested in preparation for possible 2017 enhanced cockpit protection, which go along with the regulations, to see the driver cockpit area continue to be improved for safety purposes.

Quick photos of Ricciardo’s rollout are below, along with a couple videos released by Red Bull of the Aeroscreen being tested:

More to follow later today.

Hawksworth’s team’s labor hasn’t yet borne fruit of better results

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Photo: IndyCar
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What do Jack Hawksworth and Allen Iverson have in common?

Practice, man.

“The Answer’s” famous – or perhaps infamous – “We talkin’ ‘bout practice, man” riff a number of years ago remains the go-to line whenever practice comes up in conversation.

It’s practice where the seeds of success are sown for a team when it comes to game day.

And for Hawksworth and the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda team, it’s been practice where the team has starred in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series.

But thus far, following practice, it’s been a case where the rest of the weekend has gone downhill for a variety of small but niggling reasons.

“If it was based off practice one I’d be leading the points!” Hawksworth told NBC Sports Thursday, and the thing is, he’s not joking.

In the three road or street course races this season, Hawksworth has ended second (St. Petersburg), third (Long Beach) and second (Barber) in first practice.

He’s followed it up with fellow top-10 runs in second practice of eighth, ninth and second again, respectively.

But come qualifying, it’s gone awry.

Starts of ninth, 20th and 14th have followed and in the races, it’s gone even worse with results lower than his grid spot: 11th, 21st and 19th. Toss out the Phoenix oval, because that was a nightmare weekend for him.

If ever there was a case where stats are misleading, it’s here, because Hawksworth and the team are clearly better than what they’ve been able to produce results-wise this year, and also far more gelled as a unit now compared to where they were 12 months ago as a new collective group.

“Our team is full of good people; we really believe in the 41 garage,” he said. “We did a lot of hard work over the winter. We haven’t seen the fruits of it yet.

“It looks like we’re a long way away, but we’re incredibly close. It’s a few small details, little tweaks and we’ll be at the front. It’s imminent. We’ve not shown it yet but we know it’s coming.”

The big change occurred this weekend was seeing Daniele Cucchiaroni promoted to lead race engineer on the No. 41 car, replacing the departed Dan Hobbs.

Hawksworth and Cucchiaroni worked together at Bryan Herta Autosport in 2014 and he joined the Foyt team last year with Takuma Sato’s effort. Hawksworth called him one of the brightest minds in the paddock.

He said it’s not the operating window of the Honda aero kit that the team has missed, but it has just missed getting the setup right for the qualifying and the race, where mere thousandths of a second make a difference.

“The cars are sensitive to track temperature… the conditions… it’s easy to get outside the window, but our problem hasn’t been balance or anything,” he said.

“You’re completely right in that we’ve had very quick cars at times. We haven’t understood the (Firestone) reds yet. Really, it’s just executing the qualifying and the race, with having a quick car and right car. It sounds crazy, but it’s worked out that way.

“There’s many reasons for that. We’re narrowing them down for the next couple races. It’s just small but vital things that have tripped us up. It’s been frustrating. Different at each race as well.”

Hawksworth also said he was doing everything possible to get out of the way at Barber when leaders Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud were trying to overtake him in the final stages.

“What happened there was a funny deal. To be honest, with the day we were having, the last thing I want to do is get in the way of leaders,” he said.

“I really don’t care who wins if it’s not me. But for courtesy, you don’t want to wreck the leaders.

“So I ducked out of Turn 5 to go to the left, that was the only place I could go. I saw Graham and Simon were side-by-side. If I’d have gone to the outside or stayed in the middle I’d have caused a crash. The only place to go was the inside. Rahal tried to get a tow off of me but he misjudged it and clipped my rear pods. That’s just racing.”

Hawksworth’s race was compromised to begin with when Mikhail Aleshin on the start clipped him, after Carlos Munoz clipped Aleshin. All three had to restart at the back of the field.

“The problem is mate, when you qualify (poorly), you’re in the middle of the pack. So we were on the bad side of the 26 and the 7, then you go to the back and toss around all day… much the story of our season.

“I spoke to Brian (Barnhart, Race Director) about it. The rule is, if you don’t reclaim your position by start of the pace lap, you automatically start at the back. With me being at the back, but going onto the grass to avoid running into the side of Aleshin, they deemed that the pace lap. It was a rules thing.”

Hawksworth said he’d like to see the gray areas of the rulebook examined for future use to try to remove warnings and unclear calls as best as possible.

“I’d beat on the drum of making it as black and white as possible. If you cross a line, you cross a line. We need to simplify the rules as much as we can to where things are a straightforward decision. There still seems to be a bit of the gray area.

“Still, it’s up to the series. It’d be easier for them too (to go black and white).”

Heading into May, Hawksworth sits 20th in points (50 points) while Takuma Sato is 40 points ahead, but in ninth.

Hawksworth’s season to date:

	FP1	FP2	FP3	QUAL	WU	RACE
STP	2	8	2	9	21	11
PHX	22	21	-	17	-	19
LB	3	9	11	20	17	21
BAR	2	2	11	14	8	19

MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Russian GP

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 10:  Daniil Kvyat of Russia and Scuderia Toro Rosso drives during practice ahead of the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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The Russian Grand Prix moves forward from its usual October date – hard to call something “usual” if it only has been on the calendar two years – but it’s still now this weekend in late April and the start of May as a switch in the calendar order.

The only winner in Sochi thus far has been Lewis Hamilton, and if Hamilton wins his third Russian Grand Prix on Sunday, that will be a switch in the racing order thus far in 2016: he’s in dire need of a victory to stop the surge of momentum Nico Rosberg has entering the race.

My MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith and I have, as usual, made our picks for the weekend which are below. Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments.

The Chinese Grand Prix weekend is live across NBCSN, CNBC and Live Extra this weekend, with CNBC airing live qualifying and the race:

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton – Rosberg may be on a roll, but I’m tipping Lewis Hamilton to finally chalk up his first win of the season this weekend in Sochi. The Briton has never been beaten around the street circuit, winning in 2014 and 2015, and will have a point to prove. A clean weekend should see him come roaring back into the title race ahead of F1’s return to Europe.

Surprise Finish: Daniil Kvyat – Kvyat’s charge to third place in China two weeks ago did a great deal to dispel any concerns about his ability as we saw him stoke the fire of an unlikely rivalry with Sebastian Vettel thanks to an aggressive pass at Turn 1. With Red Bull flying high and home support to cheer him on, let’s see Kvyat lead the charge behind the Mercedes-Ferrari edge up top.

Most to Prove:
Lewis Hamilton – Picking the same person twice is allowed on the MST picks, right? Hamilton arrives in Russia with so, so much to prove. Sochi has been one of the biggest turning points in his title chases the past two years, and it needs to be again here. A seventh straight defeat to Rosberg and slipping more than 40 points behind in the drivers’ championship may leave him with a mountain that it too big to climb.

Additional Storyline: Haas tries to fire back – China proved to be the end of the honeymoon for Haas in F1. After two outstanding races to start life in F1, both Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean struggled last time out to finish well outside of the points. As life on the grid begins to bite, it’ll be interesting to see how Haas responds this weekend.

Predict the Podium

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

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton – Since I’m batting 0-for-3 this year in the “race winner” predictions and since I’m sure Nico Rosberg is reading this (sarcasm mode off), you can go ahead and pick Rosberg to make it four in a row. So why am I going with Lewis? I’ll sound like a broken record but it’s almost desperation time for the three-time World Champion as he cannot afford to lose further ground this weekend. The only driver to have won in Russia does so again.

Surprise Finish: Sergio Perez – The driver who made the podium last year here is optimistic that he and the Sahara Force India team will halt their early season skid; it’s the 100th Grand Prix weekend appearance for both he and teammate Nico Hulkenberg. I doubt there will be a podium encore but a solid sixth or fifth seems achievable. That would be a good result for Perez and the team.

Most to Prove: Daniil Kvyat – For the first time in his three home Grands Prix, the now 22-year-old Russian actually has the weight of expectation on his shoulders heading into Sochi. A star qualifying turn with Scuderia Toro Rosso two years ago didn’t bring points and last year the Red Bull package wasn’t up to par. With a good car and the momentum of his first podium this year in China, will Kvyat rise to the expectations?

Additional Storyline: Intra-team battles starting to emerge – With the midfield as close as it is, it’s starting to be interesting who’s emerging within teams as we get to Russia and then to the heart of the European season. Felipe Massa has finished higher than Valtteri Bottas, for instance, in all three races for Williams and the Max Verstappen vs. Carlos Sainz Jr. battle is one to watch at Toro Rosso.

Predict the Podium

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

F1 Paddock Pass: 2016 Russian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 11:  Felipe Nasr of Brazil and Sauber F1 drives during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 11, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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In Russia, “Paddock Pass” comes to you.

And today it does, for the latest episode in the NBC Sports Group original digital series, following paddock activity and the usual Thursday FIA Press Conference in advance of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix from Sochi.

In part one of the two-part episode, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton catches up with the Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates, Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Rosberg has the first three wins of the year while Hamilton is the only past winner in Sochi. He also catches up with Mexican drivers Esteban Gutierrez of Haas F1 Team and Sergio Perez of Sahara Force India, the latter of whom scored a memorable podium finish last year.

In part two, Buxton looks at how Williams failing to advance has leveled the midfield, and chats with McLaren’s Jenson Button and Red Bull’s Daniil Kvyat, the latter of whom races in his home Grand Prix this weekend.

Even more notable: get a glimpse at the new aero screen in front of Kvyat’s teammate Daniel Ricciardo, which makes its debut this weekend.

You can catch all the weekend’s sessions from Russia live on CNBC, NBCSN or NBC Sports Live Extra.