Sao Paulo flashback: 2010 season starts with a bang

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The start of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season in Sao Paulo, Brazil was anything but a smooth one.

Prior to the race, the Sambadromo main straight on the all-new street circuit needed an overnight grinding job to provide more grip for the drivers; the repairs forced qualifying to be staged on race morning. Then, just after the green flag, a multi-car wreck ensued at Turn 1 and culminated with Brazilian racer Mario Moraes somehow driving up and onto the top of Marco Andretti’s machine.

No one was seriously injured in the accident, but it nonetheless set the tone for perhaps the craziest race of the campaign. On Lap 30, a short but powerful storm soaked the 2.5-mile Anhembi Park circuit, knocking out all communications for an extended period and eventually bringing out the red flag to stop the race.

Following a delay of 36 minutes, leaders Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power decided to go to slick tires to try and take advantage of a drying circuit. Dario Franchitti would inherit the lead at the restart on Lap 38, but would pit five laps later. That set up a battle between Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe took the lead from Hunter-Reay on Lap 50 and the two would trade it over the next several laps until Briscoe locked up and went into the tire barriers at Turn 7 on Lap 54 to bring out a full-course caution.

The green came back at Lap 56 — and more importantly, with six minutes remaining in the event — but Hunter-Reay was unable to hang on as Power passed him in the Turn 11 hairpin on Lap 58. That would prove to be the winning moment, as the Australian pulled away to a 1.85-second victory (Lap 61).

Power, who was making his first start since breaking two vertebrae in a practice crash the year before at Sonoma Raceway, would later call the event “probably the most mixed-up race that [he had] ever been in.”

Nonetheless, it was a highly memorable affair for the Brazilian fans, who proved their heartiness by waiting out the storms in the stands. They were rewarded with a wild race and a third-place showing from countryman Vitor Meira, who beat out another Brazilian, Raphael Matos, for the final spot on the podium.

Catch this year’s Sao Paulo Indy 300 on Sunday, May 5 at 11 a.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network, and NBC Sports Live Extra for your online and mobile devices.

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.