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