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.

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

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
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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.”