Author: Luke Smith

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 08:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP speaks with members of the media in the paddock during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 8, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Mercedes set to clinch F1 constructors’ championship in Russia

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For the second year in a row, Mercedes is poised to wrap up the Formula 1 constructors’ championship in Sochi at this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix.

Mercedes won its first F1 teams’ title in Russia last year, having returned to the sport as a works constructor in 2010. When it last enjoyed such status in the 1950s, there was no championship for the teams.

Just as it did in 2014, Mercedes has dominated proceedings in F1 this season, winning all but three races and sweeping to eight one-two finishes to leave drivers Lewis Hamilton (pictured) and Nico Rosberg battling for the drivers’ title for the second straight year.

Now, Mercedes seeks the knock-out blow in the constructors’ title race by officially wrapping it up in Sochi this weekend.

To do so, the team must simply outscore rivals Ferrari by three points this weekend. The lead currently stands at 169 points, with 215 still on offer. After Sochi, there will be 172 remaining.

“We return to Russia with positive memories from last season, when the team sealed the first constructors’ title for Mercedes-Benz with a one-two finish,” team boss Toto Wolff said.

“A repeat performance in Sochi would be fantastic and this is absolutely the target – but we are under no illusions that it will come easy. The job is not done yet.”

The tire allocation for this weekend’s race could pose problems to Mercedes just as it did in Singapore, potentially allowing Ferrari to spoil the party and delay the victory celebrations at Brackley.

However, if the form book is to be trusted, Sochi could be playing host to another Mercedes party on Sunday night with a second world title in the bag for the Silver Arrows.

MotorSportsTalk Predictions: Russian Grand Prix

xxxx during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 8, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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The 2015 Formula 1 season is slowly nearing its conclusion with just five races remaining, and this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix could see the first silverware of the year be decided.

Mercedes is within touching distance of a second constructors’ championship, knowing that if it outscores Ferrari by just three points in Sochi, the title will be sewn up in Sochi for a second consecutive year.

Lewis Hamilton is also continuing his march to the drivers’ title, and knows that victory in Russia will give him the chance to be crowned a three-time champion next time out in Austin or – more realistically – Mexico.

Ferrari will be hoping to delay the party for as long as possible, though. The tire allocation for this weekend’s race at the Sochi Autodrom – super-soft and soft – does appear to favor the Italian marque, setting up a great battle at the front of the field.

Here’s what the MST writing team had to say ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which is live across NBCSN and Live Extra. For full broadcast details, click here.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race WinnerSebastian Vettel. I’m going to be a bit different and tip Vettel to put the softer tire allocation to good use at Sochi and win a fourth race of the year. Ferrari’s recent engine updates appear to finally be coming good, and, most importantly, a fourth win would force team principal Maurizio Arrivabene to make good on his pre-season promise that he would run barefoot up the hill to Maranello – and who doesn’t want to see that?

Surprising FinishFelipe Massa. Williams’ recent form hasn’t been overly impressive, but I reckon Massa and teammate Valtteri Bottas could buck the trend here in Russia.

Most to ProveNico Rosberg. 48 points behind, and defeat to Hamilton here would give the Briton the chance to wrap it up four races early at the United States Grand Prix. It’s time for Rosberg to show a bit of fight.

Additional Storyline to WatchYear two for Sochi. Last year’s race was something of a drab affair both on and off track. The facility in Sochi is very shiny and brand new, albeit a little lifeless. Let’s see how things develop this time around.

Predict the Podium

1. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
3. Felipe Massa Williams

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. Peerless here last year and back on form at Suzuka a couple weeks ago. He’ll move closer to the title with another triumph this weekend.

Surprising FinishFelipe Massa. I’ll say the Brazilian bounces back from his debacle here last year where he was bounced in Q1 and missed the points to a podium finish this weekend. The Mercedes-powered cars should be strong and I like Felipe to capitalize.

Most to ProveNico Rosberg. With fading title hopes and after his faux pas last year on the start, must perform in both qualifying and the race if he is to have any hope of snatching the title from his teammate.

Additional Storyline to WatchSochi, year two. The debut last year of the race felt a bit muted anyway given it was a week on from Suzuka and the emotional overhead of Jules Bianchi’s accident was first and foremost. The race debut came during an Olympics year, as well, so it wasn’t even the biggest storyline in Sochi during 2014. In year two, will the race be any more interesting? Will the interest in the race from the locals carry much weight?

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Felipe Massa Williams

Alonso vows to see out three-year McLaren contract

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 08:  Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren Honda looks on at a press conference during previews to the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 8, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Fernando Alonso has dismissed speculation about an early departure from McLaren by confirming he will see out his three-year contract with the team, ending in 2017.

At the last Formula 1 race in Japan, Alonso publicly vented his frustration with the team’s Honda power unit that has limited the performance of its MP4-30 car throughout 2015.

The Spaniard’s future was immediately brought into question amid rumors of a possible exit for teammate Jenson Button, but both now appear to have firm futures at McLaren.

Speaking in Thursday’s press conference ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, Alonso clarified his tweets following the race in Japan, affirming his future with McLaren.

When asked if he would “100 per cent be with McLaren” in 2016, Alonso replied: “And ’17, yes.”

Alonso admitted that his radio comments at Suzuka were not a dig at McLaren, but instead simply the frustration of a racer giving his all and still falling short.

“It’s the frustration of battling hard and being a competitive sportsman,” Alonso said. “When you are in a car, in a race and you try to give it all and you are fighting lap after lap and you keep losing positions easily on the straight, even before the braking point, you get some frustration out there on the radio.

“I’m happy it was only broadcast in Suzuka because if you hear all the races, all the radio messages from me or from Jenson or whatever, you will be even more surprised.”

Alonso said that he believes radio messages should not remain public and instead be restricted to just the team, the driver and the FIA.

“What you talk on the radio should remain private because you are talking with your team not publicly,” Alonso said. “I think publicly, as I said, we have been very, very positive all the time.

“You know sometimes it’s normal and understandable, talking to the team, you know the level of frustration and the level of commitment that I have for racing and Jenson has for racing as well, when you are battling and you cannot hold anyone behind and you are losing positions is normal.

“But as I said, this is a very unique sport, that we have a microphone in our helmet and it goes live on television. Imagine in NBA or football players or something like that what we can find. This is normal and it’s just talking to the team, it’s understandable the frustration with the car.”