Vettel takes pole in wet-dry qualifying for Malaysian GP

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Sebastian Vettel has claimed pole position for tomorrow’s Malaysian Grand Prix after mastering the tricky conditions in qualifying to finish quickest.

A short rain shower during Q2 meant that the drivers were forced to use intermediate tires during the final qualifying session, and it was a question of who could post the last lap time to take advantage of the drying track.

Vettel got to grips with his intermediate tires, finishing almost one second ahead of closest challenger Felipe Massa. The Brazilian driver outqualified Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso, who finished in third place.

Mercedes finished a solid fourth and sixth, with Lewis Hamilton edging out Nico Rosberg, whilst Mark Webber could not match his teammate’s front row start, qualifying down in fifth. Kimi Raikkonen finished P7 ahead of Jenson Button, and McLaren will be thankful for the rain after getting both of their cars into Q3, although Sergio Perez could only finish P10. Adrian Sutil failed to repeat his form from practice, qualifying ninth.

Q1 saw the Sepang International Circuit basking in bright sunshine, and Red Bull were very nearly caught out as Vettel and Webber left it late to set a time, only just avoiding the drop. Less fortunate was Jean-Eric Vergne, who joined Valtteri Bottas in the drop zone alongside Marussia and Caterham. Jules Bianchi outqualified Pic, Chilton and van der Garde once again, finishing just 0.5s off a place in Q2.

Paul di Resta was the biggest loser in Q2, opting to abort an early lap to take on fresh tires. Once the rain fell, it was too late, and the Force India driver ended up in P15. Romain Grosjean was also caught out by the weather, and he will not have the advantage of fresh tires due to the wet Q3 session, meaning that the top ten can also start on new Pirelli tires.

Red Bull will be pleased with their pace in the wet conditions, and with the forecast suggesting that rain could fall during the race, they will be hoping for Mark Webber to make a better start in order to support Vettel during the race. With Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes also in the running, the race tomorrow is set to be a close affair.

1 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:49.674

2 Felipe Massa Ferrari 1:50.587

3 Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:50.727

4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:51.699

5 Mark Webber Red Bull Racing-Renault 1:52.244

6 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:52.519

7 Kimi Räikkönen Lotus-Renault 1:52.970

8 Jenson Button McLaren-Mercedes 1:53.175

9 Adrian Sutil Force India-Mercedes 1:53.439

10 Sergio Perez McLaren-Mercedes 1:54.136

11 Romain Grosjean Lotus-Renault 1:37.636

12 Nico Hulkenberg Sauber-Ferrari 1:38.125

13 Daniel Ricciardo STR-Ferrari 1:38.822 12

14 Esteban Gutierrez Sauber-Ferrari 1:39.221

15 Paul di Resta Force India-Mercedes 1:44.509

16 Pastor Maldonado Williams-Renault No time

17 Jean-Eric Vergne STR-Ferrari 1:38.157

18 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Renault 1:38.207

19 Jules Bianchi Marussia-Cosworth 1:38.434

20 Charles Pic Caterham-Renault 1:39.314

21 Max Chilton Marussia-Cosworth 1:39.672

22 Giedo van der Garde Caterham-Renault 1:39.932

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.