What to watch for: Chinese Grand Prix (NBCSN, Live Extra from 1:30am ET)

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If Nico Rosberg’s bid for a first Formula 1 world championship looked good following his victories in Australia and Bahrain, it is now arguably stronger than it has ever been following Chinese Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday.

After curbing the threat posed by Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel to take his 23rd career pole position, Rosberg is now in a prime position to claim his third win of the year and sixth in a row.

The usual battle he engages in with Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton wasn’t to be in qualifying as an engine issue sidelined the Briton before he could even post a lap time.

As a result, Hamilton will start Sunday’s race from the very back of the grid, arguably making it Rosberg’s race to lose.

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1:30am ET on Sunday. Here’s what to watch for in the race.

2016 Chinese Grand Prix – What to watch for

History beckons for Nico

In the 66-year history of F1, only three drivers have won six races in a row: Sebastian Vettel, Alberto Ascari and Michael Schumacher. Nico Rosberg can become the fourth on Sunday.

All three of those drivers were world champion and, to make matters even better for Rosberg, anyone who has on the opening three races of a season has gone on to win the title at its end.

History is very much on his side relying he can keep his cool. Rosberg’s biggest strength has always been capitalizing on Hamilton’s off days or – in this case – bad luck. China could be the biggest test of that yet, because given he’ll be starting on the more durable soft tire, it seems unfathomable that he cannot win.

Hamilton up for a fight

Despite being relegated to the back of the field and having his grid penalty just to add to matters, Hamilton has kept his head high after qualifying. The Briton knows that the race is about damage limitation, yet is a big result really out of reach?

The last time Hamilton failed to make it past Q1 came in Hungary 2014. In the race, he had caught up with Rosberg before lap 20 and eventually beat the German to third place. It was a remarkable comeback that goes down as one of his very best drives.

This time around, Lewis may find the midfield to be more problematic to pass, not to mention to less favorable tire picks. Strategy will be all or nothing in Shanghai, giving Hamilton and Mercedes plenty of thinking to do overnight.

Two versus one in Ferrari’s favor

Ferrari has been oh-so-close to Mercedes oh-so-often so far this season, yet we’ve never really seen it come to much in the race.

Qualifying showed another glimpse of what might be possible when Kimi Raikkonen took provisional pole after the first set of Q3 runs, only for both he and Sebastian Vettel to put in an error-strewn second lap to leave them P3 and P4 respectively.

With Hamilton out of the way, Ferrari could be clever and split the strategies of its drivers. By getting one of its runners to go longer on the first stint and get ahead of Rosberg – admittedly difficult on super-softs – said driver could then back the German up. Teamwork will be key on Sunday – as will getting both cars to the flag, something Ferrari is yet to achieve so far in 2016.

Strategy set to define the race

The addition of the third tire compound for races has so far proven to be a stroke of genius, offering excellent races in both Australia and Bahrain.

In China, it will be more key than ever. The most abrasive of the three tracks so far, Shanghai could leave teams scrambling if they get their strategy even slightly wrong.

Predictions are that the super-soft tire which most of the top 10 will be starting on will last around five laps, paving the way for a three-stop race. Rosberg got through Q2 on softs, so may have an advantage at the start, but will Mercedes go with the mediums or the super-softs as his second compound?

The race will be won or lost on strategy tomorrow. And with so much stacked in Rosberg’s favor, a defeat would be embarrassing for all involved.

A bon anniversaire for Grosjean?

Romain Grosjean enters Sunday’s race keen to continue his impressive run of points for Haas from the opening two races, having picked up a sixth and a fifth so far this year for the rookie team.

Tomorrow is a big day for him as he leaves his twenties behind and celebrates his 30th birthday. Cake has been promised in the morning, although one would imagine he isn’t going to be having too much of it before the race.

Starting 14th, it will be a big ask to continue the points streak, but the strategists at Haas haven’t put a foot wrong so far this year. You’d be wise to tip them to get China right.

2016 Chinese Grand Prix – Starting Grid

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

The Chinese Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 1:30am ET on Sunday.

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

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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 during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

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

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