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MotorSportsTalk’s Predictions: 2016 Japanese GP

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Formula 1 makes its annual visit to Suzuka this weekend for the Japanese Grand Prix as title rivals Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton look to continue their ongoing brawl.

Hamilton looked poised to reclaim control of the championship when he enjoyed a 20-second lead over the field in Malaysia last weekend. After Rosberg was tagged at the first corner and left to fight his way back up the order, everything appeared to be ‘coming up Milhouse’ for Hamilton.

Alas, it wasn’t to be. An engine failure with 17 laps remaining forced Hamilton to retire from the race, while Rosberg finished third to extend his points lead to 23.

With five races to go, the battle for the title is finely poised, making the MST picks as devilishly difficult as ever.

Luke Smith (@LukeSmithF1)

Race Winner: Nico Rosberg. I’ve backed Hamilton for the last few races, believing that he will dig himself out of his rut and finally return to the top step of the podium. He didn’t put a foot wrong in Malaysia, yet I believe that with the scars of that defeat still fresh, he’ll falter at Suzuka. Rosberg for victory.

Surprise Finish: Sebastian Vettel. Seb always goes well at Suzuka, having won the race four times in the past. That said, it’s perhaps a rather damning reflection of Ferrari’s season that picking Vettel to finish third may be deemed a surprise…

Most to Prove: Lewis Hamilton. Time is running out in the title race…

Additional Storyline: Haas’ ongoing malaise. A double DNF in Malaysia was a tough pill for Haas to swallow, particularly when it came as a result of two mechanical failures. The pointless run dating back to Austria is still going, while the Japanese Grand Prix marks three years since Esteban Gutierrez’s last F1 point. Time for those droughts to end.

Predict the Podium

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

Tony DiZinno (@tonydizinno)

Race Winner: Lewis Hamilton. After engine failure in Malaysia, the champ makes an important bounce back weekend, which is needed to sustain any realistic title hopes. This is a pivotal weekend for him with Austin to come after this.

Surprise Finish: Jenson Button. This is a spiritual home race for Button given his ties to Japan and long-standing relationship with Honda. So I’ll peg him for a strong points finish here.

Most to Prove: Sebastian Vettel. Vettel’s inconsistency this year in the wake of Kimi Raikkonen’s consistency hasn’t helped matters in terms of the constructors’ championship. Rare to ever need to put the 4-time World Champion under the microscope but he needs a good weekend here.

Additional Storyline: The rain. Suzuka’s often entertaining anyway and more rain would only serve to spice it up.

Predict the Podium

1. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes
2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes
3. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”