F1 Primer: The tracks

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There are 19 races on the 2013 F1 schedule from Austin to Abu Dhabi. Here are some of the highlights.

The fastest: Monza, Italy

The nearest thing F1 has to an IndyCar or NASCAR-style oval. Built just outside Milan in 1922, Monza is essentially four quick corners connected by long straights, interrupted by three chicanes to slow the cars down.

The latter means the classic slipstreaming races Monza used to see are a thing of the past. But it remains F1’s quickest track. The fastest ever F1 race took place here in 2003, won by Michael Schumacher at an average speed of 153.843mph.

Video: Lap of Monaco with Michael Schumacher in 2003

The longest: Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium

Like Monza, the Spa circuit in the Ardennes forest in Belgium featured in the first ever world championship in 1950. Then an 8.7-mile monster, even in its reduced form the 4.3-mile track remains the longest in F1.

It’s also one of the most popular among the drivers as it is fast and flowing, with few of the many slow corners found on modern tracks. Eau Rouge, Pouhon, Stavelot and Blanchimont are some of the evocative names of the thrillingly fast corners to be found on the track.

The most glamorous: Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Holding a race around the streets of the tiny principality of Monaco is preposterous and marvelous. Were it not for its prestige and heritage there is no way a similar race could be envisaged today.

Monaco generally does not produce great races because overtaking is practically impossible. But its narrow confines are a stern challenge for the drivers and when combined with a sprinkling of rain it’s one of the toughest events in motor racing.

Video: Lap of Monaco with Ralf Schumacher, 2004

The original: Silverstone, Britain

The world championship began at Silverstone in 1950 and although the circuit has been transformed almost beyond recognition since then, it still features some of F1’s quickest and most challenging corners.

Video: Lap of Silverstone with Jenson Button, 2011

The drivers’ favorite: Suzuka Japan

Along with Spa, the sinuous Suzuka circuit with its unique crossover is regularly named by drivers as one of their favorites.

Not just because of the demanding opening sector, the high-speed corners and the enthusiasm of Japan’s fans. But because it is one of a dwindling number of circuits where a mistake is punished by contact with a barrier instead of a long drive through a wasteland of tarmac run-off.

The newest: Circuit of the Americas, USA

The home of the United States Grand Prix was an instant hit when it held its first race last year. The complex opening sector is among its best features – and of course the warm welcome from American fans who’d gone five years without a race of their own.

The rest

The city of Melbourne welcomes the teams to round one. The opening flyaway tour includes Malaysia, China and Bahrain before heading to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix.

Canada’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve often provides exciting races. The German Grand Prix returns to the (short) Nurburgring this year.

A hectic sequence of final races begins with the Singapore night race and takes in Korea, India and Abu Dhabi. The United States Grand Prix on November 17th begin a double-header finale which concludes with the Brazilian Grand Prix in the feverish atmosphere of Interlagos in Sao Paulo.

F1 Primer

Street race in Vietnam could lead Formula One’s Asia expansion

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TOKYO (AP) — Formula One is expected to add more races in Asia, including a street circuit in the capital of Vietnam, a country with little auto racing history that is on the verge of getting a marquee event.

“We think Hanoi could come on in the next couple of years, and we’re working with the Hanoi government to that end,” Sean Bratches, Formula One’s managing director of commercial operations, told the Associated Press.

There is even speculation it could be on the schedule next season, which Bratches rebuffed.

Vietnam would join countries like Azerbaijan, Russia and Bahrain, which have Grand Prix races, little history in the sport, and authoritarian governments with deep pockets that serve F1 as it tries to expand into new markets.

“This (Hanoi) is a street race where we can go downtown, where we can activate a large fan base,” Bratches said. “And you have extraordinary iconography from a television standpoint.”

A second race in China is also likely and would join Shanghai on the F1 calendar. Bratches said deciding where to stage the GP will “be left to local Chinese partners” – Beijing is a strong candidate.

Bratches runs the commercial side of Formula One, which was acquired last year by U.S.-based Liberty Media from long-time operator Bernie Ecclestone.

Formula One’s long-term goal is to have 24-25 races – up from the present 21 – and arrange them in three geographical segments: Asia, Europe and the Americas. Bratches said the Europe-based races would stay in middle of the calendar, with Asia or the Americas opening or ending the season.

He said their positioning had not been decided, and getting this done will be slowed by current contracts that mandate specific places on the calendar for several races. This means eventually that all the races in Asia would be run together, as would races in Europe and the Americas.

The F1 schedule is now an inefficient jumble, allowing Bratches to take a good-natured poke at how the sport was run under Ecclestone.

“We’ve acquired an undermanaged asset that’s 67-years-old, but effectively a start-up,” Bratches said.

Early-season races in Australia and China this year were conducted either side of a trip to Bahrain in the Middle East. Late in the season Formula One returns to Asia with races in Japan and Singapore.

The Canadian GP this season is run in the middle of the European swing, separated by four months from the other races in the Americas – the United States, Mexico and Brazil. These three are followed by the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi, which means another trip across the globe.

“With the right economics, with the right structure and cadence of events across territories, 24 or 25 is probably where we’d like to be from a longer-term standpoint,” Bratches said.

Big changes are not likely to happen until the 2020 season ends. This is when many current rules and contracts expire as F1’s new owners try to redistribute some income to allow smaller teams to compete.

“There’s more interest than we have capacity in the schedule,” Bratches said, firing off Berlin, Paris or London as potentially attractive venues. “We want to be very selective.”

“Those cites from an economic impact standpoint would find us value, as do others around the world,” Bratches added. “It’s very important for us as we move forward to go to locations that are a credit to the Formula One brand.”

An expanded schedule would have to be approved by the teams, which will be stretched by the travel and the wear-and-tear on their crews. The burden will fall on the smaller teams, which have significantly smaller revenue compared with Ferrari, Mercedes or Red Bull.

Bratches also envisions another race in the U.S., joining the United States Grand Prix held annually in Austin, Texas. A street race in Miami is a strong candidate, as are possible venues like Las Vegas or New York.

“We see the United States and China as countries that could support two races,” he said.

Liberty Media has reported Formula One’s total annual revenue at $1.8 billion, generated by fees paid by promoters, broadcast rights, advertising and sponsorship. Race promotion fees also tend to be higher in Asia, which makes the area attractive – along with a largely untapped fan base.

In a four-year cycle, F1 generates more revenue than FIFA or the International Olympic Committee, which rely almost entirely on one-time showcase events.

Reports suggest Vietnamese promoters may pay between $50-60 million annually as a race fee, with those fees paid by the government. Bratches said 19 of 21 Formula One races are supported by government payments.

“The race promotion fee being derived from the government … is a model that has worked historically,” Bratches said.