What to watch for: Australian Grand Prix (NBCSN, Live Extra from 12am ET)

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The new Formula 1 campaign is finally upon us. Today’s Australian Grand Prix kicks off what will be the longest season in the history of the series, featuring 21 races across five continents.

Lewis Hamilton enters 2016 chasing a fourth world championship, and got his bid off to a perfect start on Saturday by taking pole position in Melbourne.

Hamilton’s massively impressive display proved to be the high point in an otherwise farcical qualifying session that saw the new format fall flat, prompting a possible rethink ahead of the next race in Bahrain.

Regardless of Saturday’s issues, Sunday is set to offer a memorable race with lots of stories up and down the grid.

Here are a few things to watch for in the Australian Grand Prix, live on NBCSN from 12am ET (lights out at 1am ET).

More Mercedes magic in Melbourne?

If anyone seriously believed that Mercedes would not be the team to beat once again this year, qualifying on Saturday would have made them think again.

The W07 car remains a cut above the rest of the pack, setting the scene for another fight between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg on Sunday in Melbourne. Rosberg has made a number of mistakes so far this weekend, appearing to hand Hamilton the chance to start his title defence in perfect fashion with his 44th career victory.

Ferrari in no man’s land

Sebastian Vettel may have finished as the best of the rest once again behind Hamilton and Rosberg, but Ferrari appears to be stuck in no man’s land this weekend. The only way that Vettel could conceivably win the race would be down to some fortunate safety cars, with the raw pace of the SF16-H not looking capable of matching Mercedes up front.

Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen, starting fourth, will know that much of the race depends on the start. If they can get in amongst the Silver Arrows off the line, then maybe a surprise result could be on the cards. Alas, for now, it seems unlikely.

Mayhem in the midfield

Behind Mercedes and Ferrari, the pack looks tantalizingly close. Toro Rosso had the upper hand in qualifying as Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz Jr. finished fifth and seventh, marking the former’s best starting position to date in F1.

However, with Red Bull, Williams and Force India lurking just behind, and the likes of McLaren and Renault also doing better than expected in qualifying, the battle to fill out the points is set to be a fierce one.

Qualifying may have failed to shake up the grid, but it did at least give us two drivers out of position. Valtteri Bottas starts 11th for Williams, while Daniil Kvyat will have to fight his way forward from 18th.

Radio silence

The Australian Grand Prix marks the first race in which the new stricter rules on radio communications will come into force, with the idea being that it will put a greater onus on the drivers and leave them to determine their own races instead of being reliant on their engineers.

In principle, it should work well. Drivers will no longer have all of the information they need at all times, and will instead have to use the data on the steering wheel dash and from what they can see.

It is perhaps a bit like being given a school assignment but not being allowed to use the internet.

America returns

When Gene Haas set out a few years ago to set up an F1 team, many thought today would never come. But here we are. In just a couple of hours, for the first time in 30 years, an American team will be racing in F1.

It’s a momentous achievement not only for Haas and his team, but also for the sport in the USA. Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez may stand little chance of debut points judging by Haas’ dry practice pace, but in Australia, races of attrition are common.

The goal remains getting to the finish line. But frankly, getting to the starting grid is the bigger success here.

2016 Australian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari
4. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari
5. Max Verstappen Toro Rosso
6. Felipe Massa Williams
7. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso
8. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull
9. Sergio Perez Force India
10. Nico Hulkenberg Force India
11. Fernando Alonso McLaren
12. Jenson Button McLaren
13. Jolyon Palmer Renault
14. Kevin Magnussen Renault
15. Marcus Ericsson Sauber
16. Valtteri Bottas Williams*
17. Felipe Nasr Sauber
18. Daniil Kvyat Red Bull
19. Romain Grosjean Haas
20. Esteban Gutierrez Haas
21. Pascal Wehrlein Manor
22. Rio Haryanto Manor**

* Bottas received a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change on Sunday morning.
** Haryanto received a three-place grid penalty for a pit lane infringement in FP3 on Saturday.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 12am ET on Sunday.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media
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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit. Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome in 1974. Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
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Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
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Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list
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Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2