2013 Chinese Grand Prix Preview

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The three week break has done little to extinguish any talk about “multi 21” and the internal battle at Red Bull Racing, but as we return to the far east for the Chinese Grand Prix, the stage is set for a thrilling race on Sunday.

Chinese Grand Prix Talking Points

Webber requires a strong result

Just when you thought the multi 21 debate was over, Sebastian Vettel has today said that Mark Webber didn’t deserve to win in Malaysia, reigniting the battle within Red Bull. Webber will be keen on beating Vettel to silence the critics and, most importantly, his teammate. If there ever was a time for the Australian to pull a result out of the bag, then this is it, although the head-to-head stats between the drivers in China during their time at Red Bull together reads 3-1 in Vettel’s favor.

Ferrari and Mercedes look to bridge the gap

Fernando Alonso’s retirement in Malaysia has been seen as an embarrassing event for both the driver and the team, but Ferrari will need to move on in China. Typically, the team struggles in the early season, yet Felipe Massa’s two strong scores will give them hope of a good result in China. Mercedes will look to move on from their own team orders debacle, and the track will provide many happy memories from the team’s first win last season.

Who is leading the early season development race?

The three week break has given teams their first chance to work on upgrades and new parts for their cars. McLaren claim they have made steps forward following their worst start to a season in over a decade, whilst Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg is confident that his team has made big strides during the break. Alternatively, Williams have written off China and Bahrain, claiming that they are waiting until Spain for their first major package: news that both Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas will undoubtedly grimace at.

Dry running could finally reveal the pecking order

Both Australia and Malaysia saw an element of wet running over the race weekend, masking the true pace of each team in places. However, the forecast for Shanghai does not mention any rain, meaning that we could finally see where each team stands in 2013 – could being the key word.

A big weekend for Chinese motorsport and Ma Qing Hua

The 2013 Chinese Grand Prix will be the tenth running of the race, but this year’s event is particularly special: Ma Qing Hua will become the first Chinese driver to compete at his home grand prix, deputizing for Caterham’s Charles Pic in Free Practice 1 on Friday. If he can impress, and if the rumors about Pic’s financial stability are vindicated, then it may not be long until China has its first full time Formula One driver.

Track: Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai (5.451km)
Laps: 56
Corners: 16
Lap Record: Michael Schumacher 1:32.238s (2004)
Tire Compounds: Soft (Option); Medium (Hard)
2012 Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2012 Pole Position: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
2012 Fastest Lap: Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber) – 1:39.960
DRS Zones: Main straight (T16 to T1); T13 to T14

Friday – Free Practice 1: 10:00am local/10:00pm ET (Thursday)
Friday – Free Practice 2: 14:00pm local/02:00am ET
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 11:00am local/11:00pm ET (Friday)
Saturday – Qualifying: 14:00pm local/02:00am ET
Sunday – Race: 15:00pm local/03:00am ET

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.