MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Russian GP

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The Russian Grand Prix moves forward from its usual October date – hard to call something “usual” if it only has been on the calendar two years – but it’s still now this weekend in late April and the start of May as a switch in the calendar order.

The only winner in Sochi thus far has been Lewis Hamilton, and if Hamilton wins his third Russian Grand Prix on Sunday, that will be a switch in the racing order thus far in 2016: he’s in dire need of a victory to stop the surge of momentum Nico Rosberg has entering the race.

My MotorSportsTalk colleague Luke Smith and I have, as usual, made our picks for the weekend which are below. Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments.

The Chinese Grand Prix weekend is live across NBCSN, CNBC and Live Extra this weekend, with CNBC airing live qualifying and the race:

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton – Rosberg may be on a roll, but I’m tipping Lewis Hamilton to finally chalk up his first win of the season this weekend in Sochi. The Briton has never been beaten around the street circuit, winning in 2014 and 2015, and will have a point to prove. A clean weekend should see him come roaring back into the title race ahead of F1’s return to Europe.

Surprise Finish: Daniil Kvyat – Kvyat’s charge to third place in China two weeks ago did a great deal to dispel any concerns about his ability as we saw him stoke the fire of an unlikely rivalry with Sebastian Vettel thanks to an aggressive pass at Turn 1. With Red Bull flying high and home support to cheer him on, let’s see Kvyat lead the charge behind the Mercedes-Ferrari edge up top.

Most to Prove:
Lewis Hamilton – Picking the same person twice is allowed on the MST picks, right? Hamilton arrives in Russia with so, so much to prove. Sochi has been one of the biggest turning points in his title chases the past two years, and it needs to be again here. A seventh straight defeat to Rosberg and slipping more than 40 points behind in the drivers’ championship may leave him with a mountain that it too big to climb.

Additional Storyline: Haas tries to fire back – China proved to be the end of the honeymoon for Haas in F1. After two outstanding races to start life in F1, both Esteban Gutierrez and Romain Grosjean struggled last time out to finish well outside of the points. As life on the grid begins to bite, it’ll be interesting to see how Haas responds this weekend.

Predict the Podium

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

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton – Since I’m batting 0-for-3 this year in the “race winner” predictions and since I’m sure Nico Rosberg is reading this (sarcasm mode off), you can go ahead and pick Rosberg to make it four in a row. So why am I going with Lewis? I’ll sound like a broken record but it’s almost desperation time for the three-time World Champion as he cannot afford to lose further ground this weekend. The only driver to have won in Russia does so again.

Surprise Finish: Sergio Perez – The driver who made the podium last year here is optimistic that he and the Sahara Force India team will halt their early season skid; it’s the 100th Grand Prix weekend appearance for both he and teammate Nico Hulkenberg. I doubt there will be a podium encore but a solid sixth or fifth seems achievable. That would be a good result for Perez and the team.

Most to Prove: Daniil Kvyat – For the first time in his three home Grands Prix, the now 22-year-old Russian actually has the weight of expectation on his shoulders heading into Sochi. A star qualifying turn with Scuderia Toro Rosso two years ago didn’t bring points and last year the Red Bull package wasn’t up to par. With a good car and the momentum of his first podium this year in China, will Kvyat rise to the expectations?

Additional Storyline: Intra-team battles starting to emerge – With the midfield as close as it is, it’s starting to be interesting who’s emerging within teams as we get to Russia and then to the heart of the European season. Felipe Massa has finished higher than Valtteri Bottas, for instance, in all three races for Williams and the Max Verstappen vs. Carlos Sainz Jr. battle is one to watch at Toro Rosso.

Predict the Podium

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

Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”