MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Russian GP

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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.

Jerry Bonkowski (@JerryBonkowski)

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?

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”