Vettel dominates qualifying to claim pole at Monza

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Sebastian Vettel has continued his searing pace from practice by securing his fourth pole position of 2013 for tomorrow’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The German driver finished fastest in every session as his dominant spell of form continued on Saturday as he locked out the front row for Red Bull alongside teammate Mark Webber and surprise package Nico Hulkenberg in third. For Ferrari, Saturday was less fruitful as Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso could only finish fourth and fifth respectively despite playing the tactical game in qualifying.

Q1 began in hot and sunny conditions with Nico Rosberg coming out early in order to make up for the time lost in FP3 due to his car overheating. The German driver soon moved to the top of the timesheets ahead of Esteban Gutierrez early on, but Toro Rosso proved that their good practice pace was no one-off, with Vergne enjoying a good spell in P1 on the hard tire. However, he was soon displaced by Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with the two former winners at Monza both showing signs of good pace ahead of the race tomorrow. The German driver left it late to put in his first time, but he finished the session a full two-tenths clear of Nico Rosberg in P2. Further down the order, Force India and Williams scrapped to avoid the dropzone, and a last-gasp lap from Pastor Maldonado was enough to secure the Venezuelan driver a place in Q2. Less fortunate was Valtteri Bottas, whose could not improve and was eliminated alongside Esteban Gutierrez, Giedo van der Garde, Charles Pic, Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton.

Keen on continuing his fine performance from Q1, Ricciardo was the first driver out in Q2 and he immediately laid down a benchmark that his teammate could not match. It wasn’t until home favorite Alonso posted his first time that the Australian driver was displaced, with the Spaniard moving almost half-a-second clear of his teammate, Felipe Massa, who was in P2. Webber finally emerged from the pits with six minutes remaining, followed by Vettel sixty seconds later. When they finally posted their first times, the Red Bulls looked strong once again with Vettel moving two-tenths clear of Alonso, whilst Webber trailed the Spaniard by just 0.036 seconds. Lewis Hamilton nearly went off on the exit of Parabolica, and the Mercedes driver could only go P9 with his first competitive time. However, it wasn’t enough as the Briton dropped out in Q2 for the first time this season, and he was joined by Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean as Lotus appeared to struggle. Sergio Perez did enough to make it into Q3 with a late lap, whilst Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg performed admirably to finish fourth and fifth.

Keen on making up for his teammate’s failure, Nico Rosberg was the first driver out in Q3 along with Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari were also quick to send their drivers out, lining up once again to try and give Alonso greater straight line speed thanks to Massa’s tow. However, neither driver could match Webber’s benchmark time, a full four-tenths behind the Australian. Vettel resumed normal service by going quickest of all with five minutes remaining, with his teammate for 2014, Ricciardo, going fourth with his first time despite a mistake on the exit of turn five. Webber could not topple his teammate late on, but Massa managed to outqualify his illustrious teammate to line up fourth. Nico Hulkenberg upset the odds to finish an incredible third, but it was his compatriot, Vettel, who went quicker still on his final lap to lock out the front row for Red Bull.

This result marks Vettel’s fortieth pole position in Formula One and fourth pole of the season, and this result is made all the more sweeter by the failings of his championship rivals. Qualifying also marks a return to form for Sauber, with Hulkenberg securing the team’s best result of the season for Sauber, but home favorites Alonso and Massa will be frustrated not to have finished in the top three.

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.