Formula 1 heads to Russia this weekend in a somber state as we continue to send all of our prayers and support to Marussia driver Jules Bianchi following his accident at the Japanese Grand Prix last Sunday.
Bianchi is currently in hospital with severe head injuries, and remains in a critical condition as per the last official update on Tuesday. The F1 field is set to run with messages of support for the Frenchman on the cars and helmets this weekend.
As per usual, the MotorSportsTalk writing team has made its predictions for this weekend’s race as the battle for the championship heads to Sochi for the first race to be held on the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)
Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Momentum has been everything in this year’s championship, and with three wins on the bounce, Lewis will be gunning to make it four-in-a-row for the second time this year on Sunday.
Surprising finish: Jenson Button. After a great drive to fifth at Suzuka, JB will have been boosted as he continues to fight for his F1 career and place at McLaren. The Briton has a knack for tire saving, which could be crucial at a new circuit like this one.
Most to prove: Ferrari. After a record run of 82 races in the points, Suzuka saw Ferrari score nothing at all. If the Italian team is to finish in the top three of the constructors’ championship, a good result in Sochi is needed.
Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)
Race winner: Daniel Ricciardo. At a new street track, and one I’m guessing won’t place the same optimal focus on outright power unit performance as other circuits, the Red Bull-Renault should thrive. I think Daniel could well keep the Mercedes pair at bay this weekend; he’s won three other times this season, so why not at a new track.
Surprising finish: Daniil Kvyat. A new track represents the best opportunity for a rookie to enter on equal footing, and what better place for the Russian to score a top six or seven result than at Sochi. Will be motivated by having received the Red Bull promotion for 2015, and keen to produce a big result on home soil.
Most to prove: Ferrari. The points scoring streak is over. Fernando Alonso’s now heading for the exits. Kimi Raikkonen hasn’t produced the giant-killing performances this year as he did with Lotus. Put up or shut up time at a track where Ferrari, like the rest of the field, isn’t entering with a data disadvantage or a past history there… and thus could deliver a big result if they hit it right first time out.
Christopher Estrada (@estradawriting)
Race winner: Nico Rosberg. After seeing Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton seize momentum in the World Championship with wins, a fourth consecutive loss in Russia is not an option for Rosberg.
Surprising finish: Daniil Kvyat. The Toro Rosso pilot is coming home, and coming off a 2015 promotion to Red Bull. His five points hauls so far this year have been relatively small, but I think his growing confidence has him in line for a bigger one this weekend.
Most to prove: Jenson Button and Kevin Magnussen. With Fernando Alonso aiming for a return to Woking in 2015, McLaren’s ex-World Champion and promising rookie have to do all they can on the track to save their respective seats.
Race winner: Lewis Hamilton. Given that this is the first F1 race in Sochi, who wins it is up for grabs. It’s a great place for guys who’ve struggled this season to make some headlines for themselves, drivers like Jenson Button, Nico Hulkenberg, Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen. But with the way he’s been going the last few races, really, how can you pick against Lewis Hamilton, even if this is his first time racing at Sochi?
Surprising finish: Felipe Massa. We see Massa perhaps earning a podium finish at Sochi, again because it’s a brand new track. It’s what folks in NASCAR call a “wild card track” because of its newness. Massa has had an up and down season. As we close in on the season finish, what better way than for him to try and go out on a high note with at least one decent finish in the season’s closing races?
Most to prove: Nico Rosberg. With the F1 championship slowly slipping away, and having gone from three to 10 points back after Suzuka, Rosberg has one last big chance to try and close the points gap that has arisen between himself and teammate Lewis Hamilton. Can Nico do it, or is this where Lewis essentially starts putting the title away in his back pocket?