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2015 Russian Grand Prix Preview

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Two weeks on from Lewis Hamilton’s crushing victory in Japan, the Formula 1 paddock arrives in the former Olympic city of Sochi for the Russian Grand Prix.

Despite holding two non-championship grands prix in the years preceding the First World War, Russia only welcomed F1 back in 2014, marking the accomplishment of a long-term goal for the sport’s CEO, Bernie Ecclestone, who had long-craved a race in eastern Europe.

As Sochi works to build a legacy following the Winter Olympics in the spring of 2014, the Russian Grand Prix is a focal point, with the Sochi Autodrom incorporating many of the games’ biggest venues and landmarks.

Last year’s race did leave a great deal to be desired as Hamilton eased to victory, but the sport returns this weekend anticipating an even bigger and better event as the end of the season draws near.

2015 Russian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Lewis seeks the knock-out blow

Lewis Hamilton arrives in Russia with a 48-point lead over Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship, making it more a case of ‘when’, not ‘if’ he clinches a third world title. Should the Briton win again this weekend and see his teammate retire, victory in Austin at the end of the month would see him crowned with three races to spare.

Even if Rosberg does finish the race, a ninth win of the season for Hamilton would see his lead surpass two victories, increasing his chances of an early wrap-up. Rosberg will be eager to make up for his mistake at the second corner in 2014 that forced him into a fightback drive and ended his hopes of beating Hamilton, but time is running out for the ailing German.

This weekend should also see Mercedes wrap up its second straight constructors’ championship – but that has been very much a case of ‘when’ since the beginning of the season.

Can Ferrari spring another Singapore surprise?

Sebastian Vettel’s victory for Ferrari in Singapore last month was arguably the first time since the end of 2013 that Mercedes had been beaten purely on pace. The German marque’s troubles were attributed to the tire allocation that weekend, so with the same choice from Pirelli arriving in Sochi – super-soft and soft – Ferrari may fancy its chances.

For Vettel, there is still quite a bit to play for. He may stand next to no chance of beating Hamilton to the title, but beating Rosberg into second place is still very realistic. It would be a major scalp for the German, and victory in Russia would only increase his chances of claiming it.

Red Bull’s engine saga continues

Following the decision to split with Renault at the end of the season, Red Bull has been left scrambling to find a new engine supplier for 2016, but the suggestions at Suzuka were that an announcement would be made by the time we arrived in Russia.

Alas, no announcement has been made. Team advisor Helmut Marko has had his two cents worth over the matter, accusing Ferrari – the only possible supplier for 2016 – of “playing games” in an interview with the German press. The saga is only set to rumble on this weekend, one would imagine.

That said, it will be an important weekend for Daniil Kvyat. The young Russian has made a great impression on F1 in 2015, and he will be keen to convert this into a good result on home soil on Sunday, particularly given his struggles last year.

No going hungry for Lotus this time around

Since the last race in Japan, Lotus has finally agreed a provisional deal with Renault regarding its takeover at the end of the season, saving the team from administration and hundreds of jobs at Enstone.

As a result, the entire Lotus operation will arrive in Sochi with a spring in its step, knowing that the future looks far, far brighter than it did two weeks ago when it could not even open its hospitality unit, relying on the goodness of the rest of the paddock to ensure that the team members were fed.

Romain Grosjean will undoubtedly be garnering a great deal of attention following his decision to leave for Haas at the end of the season, but the identity of his replacement remains a mystery. Perhaps we will see some more pieces of the 2016 driver market puzzle come into place this weekend.

Merhi returns at Manor as Rossi switches to GP2

Following two highly impressive outings for Manor in Singapore and Japan, American driver Alexander Rossi returns to GP2 this weekend as he continues his bid to become vice-champion at the end of the season.

Roberto Merhi will return to his seat with the team as a result, and the Spaniard will be hoping to further his case for a place on next year’s grid with an impressive display. Merhi recently said he was in talks with two teams about a seat in 2016, and with this being his final opportunity to impress before Abu Dhabi, time is running out to convince the watching paddock.

2015 Russian Grand Prix – Facts and Figures

Track: Sochi Autodrom
Laps: 53
Corners: 19
Lap Record: Valtteri Bottas 1:40.896 (Williams, 2014)
Tire Compounds: Super-soft (Option); Soft (Prime)
2014 Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
2014 Pole Position: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:38.513
2014 Fastest Lap: Valtteri Bottas (Williams) 1:40.896
DRS Zone: T1 to T2; T10 to T13

2015 Russian Grand Prix – TV Times

Free Practice 1: NBC Sports Live Extra 3am ET 10/9
Free Practice 2: NBCSN 7am ET 10/9
Free Practice 3: NBC Sports Live Extra 5am ET 10/10
Qualifying: NBCSN 8am ET 10/10
Race: NBCSN 6:30am ET 9/11

Michelin appoints new North American motorsports director

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Michelin North America has named Tony Ménard as director of motorsports, effective Jan. 1, 2020.

Ménard is succeeding Chris Baker, who has held the role for the past eight years. Baker is scheduled to retire in March of 2020, ending a lengthy career that began with Michelin in 1982.

“Chris has played a vital role in the growth and success of our motorsports program, both for BFGoodrich and Michelin in North America,” said Matthieu Bonardel, global director for Michelin Group’s motorsports business entity. “His passion and understanding for motorsport fueled growth in the organization and established credibility in the market. Chris’s leadership propelled the Group, which experienced tremendous success with race wins, and advanced the way the brands leveraged our motorsports participation to benefit the overall business.”

A native of Le Mans, France, Ménard has served in several positions during his 30-year career with Michelin, most recently serving global business leader for Michelin brand in the passenger-vehicle category. Ménard has worked closely with the North American motorsports team since early July in preparation for the transition.

Baker oversaw the development of the motorsports function for Michelin and BFGoodrich Tires brands as a single business unit in North America. He also directed the expansion of Michelin’s involvement in IMSA sports-car racing as the “Official Tire of IMSA” and BFGoodrich Tires partnership with SCORE International Racing as the “Official Tire of SCORE.”

During Baker’s tenure, BFGoodrich achieved an unprecedented 650 off-road class wins, including five overall victories in the Baja 1000. The brand also demonstrated performance in the Battery Tender Global Mazda MX5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires, Lucas Oil Off Road Racing, Ultra4 King of Hammers, and provided strong support of grass roots racing across North America with the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), National Auto Sport Association (NASA), and Super Production Challenge in Canada.

“I am incredibly grateful to Michelin for the opportunities and support throughout my career, and to all the folks that I have worked with and continue to work with,” Baker said. “I want to thank all the teams, partners, officials and fans who have made our relationships so successful and are essential to the brands’ successes. I look forward to witnessing the continued success of our motorsports programs under Tony’s leadership, as well as the contributions of the Michelin Motorsport North America staff and volunteers, who are completely dedicated and invested in representing our brands in competition.”