MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: Chinese GP

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If F1 was sick and in need of a doctor in Australia, then it must have taken some amazing medicine to get back on its feet for what proved to be a thrilling Malaysian Grand Prix last time out.

Sebastian Vettel’s shock victory for Ferrari rocked the Formula 1 paddock, which had resigned itself to another year of unchallenged Mercedes dominance as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg shared the wins among themselves.

Instead, we now have a fascinating dynamic to take into the rest of the season. Ferrari’s pace could well prove to be nothing more than a ‘flash in the pan’ – a circumstantial victory – but in reality, it appears that Vettel is well-placed to keep the Silver Arrows checking their mirrors in 2015.

So for this weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, MotorSportsTalk’s Luke Smith and Tony DiZinno have some tough calls to make in their predictions. Will Mercedes resume normal service, or can Ferrari pull the same trick for the second race in a row?

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. Mercedes may have suffered a heavy defeat in Malaysia, but you can expect normal service to resume here. The cool conditions in China should work in the favor of the Silver Arrows, but it will be interesting to see whether Mercedes’ tire woes crop up again this weekend.

Surprising FinishRomain Grosjean. Grosjean’s luck so far this season has been rotten (to put it mildly), but the baseline pace of the Lotus E23 Hybrid is very good indeed. You can expect the Frenchman to finish inside the top ten if he can have a trouble-free race weekend in China.

Most to ProveNico Rosberg. Is this the same Nico Rosberg that challenged Lewis Hamilton for the title in 2014? It doesn’t look like it. The German driver has done very little of note on track, and hasn’t given his illustrious teammate a great deal to worry about. He must hit back this weekend, or risk going 3-0 down in the intra-team battle.

Additional Storyline to WatchRed Bull versus Toro Rosso. Being beaten by your supposed B-team is pretty embarrassing. Red Bull looks to be in disarray at the moment, but usually runs well in China. All eyes will be on Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat this weekend to see if they can get back on their feet, but don’t hold your breath.

Predict the Podium

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

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race WinnerLewis Hamilton. I don’t think Mercedes will screw up the strategy twice in a row. Hamilton has three prior wins at China and he’ll be poised to get back on form this weekend.

Surprising FinishRomain Grosjean. This should be a good circuit for the Mercedes-powered Lotus, and I could see Grosjean breaking through for his first points score of the year. An eighth or ninth seems realistic, perhaps seventh if all the stars align.

Most to ProveForce India. Compared to the other Mercedes-powered teams, Force India is a bit on the back foot. At present, the team’s goal of points seems optimistic, and both Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez have yet to star this season.

Additional Storyline to WatchFerrari’s intra-team battle. Sebastian Vettel’s win stole the headlines in Malaysia, but Kimi Raikkonen’s run to fourth was just as impressive. Is this the weekend where Kimi gets ahead of Seb? Both are past race winners and on current form, should be in contention for podium positions.

Predict the Podium

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

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For full broadcasting details of the Chinese Grand Prix, click here.

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.