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What to watch for: Russian Grand Prix (CNBC, Live Extra from 7am ET)

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If Nico Rosberg thought that all of his good luck had been used up in the first three races of the season, he was sorely mistaken.

The German driver arrived in Russia with a 36-point lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in the drivers’ championship thanks to his own flawless displays and the Briton’s tough start to the year.

Hamilton said in China that he wanted the “dark cloud” hanging over him to pass, but it showed few signs of doing so on Saturday in Sochi when a repeat of his power unit failure in China left him P10 on the grid.

With Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel also dropping to seventh on the grid, two of Rosberg’s biggest rivals are realistically out of the picture for the race win.

Standing on the brink of a 40+ point lead in the championship and a seventh straight victory, can Nico handle the pressure?

2016 Russian Grand Prix – What to watch for

Nico’s race to lose

With tire wear typically low at the Sochi Autodrom and overtaking coming at a premium around the tight layout, it seems impossible to think that Nico Rosberg won’t win the race.

Relying he makes a good start and can stay ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen around him, Rosberg should be able to storm to his seventh straight victory. Mercedes’ pace has been well clear of its rivals all weekend along too.

Rosberg’s biggest strength is being calm under pressure; simply getting the job done with little fuss. If he can just do it again on Sunday, his championship lead will be over 40 points – a big mountain to climb for Hamilton.

Who can beat Rosberg?

Realistically? Only Rosberg himself. Mercedes’ reliability has been a big talking point in recent weeks given Hamilton’s struggles, so it is likely that keeping Rosberg’s car running will be a worry for the German marque.

Hamilton is a fighter and will hope to battle his way into contention for the race win, but without a safety car, it is hard to see him being able to rival his teammate.

Otherwise, Raikkonen and Bottas will hope to get the jump at the start, yet with both Ferrari and Williams struggling to keep up with Mercedes so far this weekend, any advantage may be short lived.

This is Rosberg’s race to lose.

Damage limitation the focus for Hamilton… again…

“If he didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all” is a cliched, meaningless saying – yet it applies quite well to Lewis Hamilton at the moment. His start to the season has been miserable, with incident after incident stopping him from even thinking about a race win.

Hamilton has not gone wheel-to-wheel with Rosberg yet this season, but it makes no difference mathematically. He still trails by 36 points, and will likely trail by even more by the end of the day.

As a result, Hamilton will be focusing on damage limitation once again. The podium should be within reach considering the pace of the W07 Hybrid, but he’ll need a clean race to get there.

On-track battles key with lack of strategy variety

Tire wear around the Sochi Autodrom has always been low, and this year is no different. With Pirelli opting against bringing the ultra-soft tire to the race, we look set for a one-stopper yet again with the super-soft and soft compounds.

As a result, we are unlikely to get the kind of variety that we have seen in the opening three races with strategy. Track position will be key in the on-track battles, but with the midfield still so tightly knit, there will hopefully be no shortage of action in today’s race.

Haas hopes to bounce back

Haas’ F1 honeymoon came to an end in China two weeks ago when Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez endured miserable races, with the setup of the VF-16 car never quite gelling with the track.

Both struggled once again in qualifying in Sochi, ailing to P15 and P16 on the grid respectively. Strategy has been a big strength for the American team so far this year, but again, this is unlikely to be worth much in Sochi.

With a few surprises, perhaps Haas will bounce back. But it seems somewhat unlikely should we have a ‘normal’ race.

2016 Russian Grand Prix – Starting Grid

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

* grid penalty

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

IndyCar entry lists for Harvest GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

IndyCar entry lists Indianapolis
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There are 25 drivers on the NTT IndyCar Series entry lists at Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a few new yet familiar faces for the Oct. 2-3 race weekend.

Four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais will make his season debut in the No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet (shifting Dalton Kellett to the No. 41) with AJ Foyt Racing, which he is joining full time next season. James Hinchcliffe, who had run three races with Andretti Autosport, will return in place of Zach Veach in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda. Helio Castroneves will drive Arrow McLaren SP’s No. 7 Dallara-Chevy for Oliver Askew, who is out with concussion-like symptoms.

Sage Karam, who has two IndyCar starts this year at IMS (the road course on July 4 and the Indy 500 on Aug. 23), also will return to the series in Dreyer & Reinbold’s No. 24 Dallara-Chevrolet.

HARVEST GP ENTRY LISTS: Friday l Saturday

Friday and Saturday of the Harvest GP presented by GMR will mark the second and third races this season on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. While the July 4 race on the circuit was 80 laps, Friday’s distance is 85 laps, and Saturday will be a 75-lap event.

Championship leader Scott Dixon led 26 of 80 laps to win the July 4 race at the IMS road course. With three races remaining in the series, the five-time series champion enters with a 72-point lead on Josef Newgarden.

Click here to see who’s on the IndyCar entry lists in Race 1 and in Race 2 for the Harvest GP presented by GMR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.


START TIMES AND TV INFO FOR INDYCAR AT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY ROAD COURSE (all times ET):

Thursday

IndyCar NTT Series practice: 2:25-3:40 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying, Race 1: 6:20 p.m. (two groups/12 minutes apiece), NBC Sports Gold

Friday

—IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix, Race 1: 3:30 p.m. (green flag, 5 p.m.), USA Network, NBC Sports Gold

Saturday

—IndyCar qualifying: 10:20 a.m. (two groups/12 minutes apiece), NBC Sports Gold

—IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix, Race 2: 2:30 p.m (green flag, 2:31 p.m.)., NBC, NBC Sports Gold