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

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.