2013 Indian Grand Prix Preview

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There may still be four more races to go in the 2013 Formula One season, but everything that truly matters – that is, the championships – looks set to be decided this weekend in India. Sebastian Vettel has to finish just fifth or higher to secure his fourth consecutive world title, whilst Fernando Alonso must hope that his fierce rival’s unlikely demise coincides with his own top-two finish, although even that may not be enough for the Spaniard. For Red Bull, the constructors’ championship is already in their back pocket with Ferrari requiring a remarkable performance to keep the title alive heading to Abu Dhabi.

Indian Grand Prix Talking Points

Will Seb settle for less?

He may only need to finish fifth on Sunday, but Sebastian Vettel has underlined his intention to go out and win the Indian Grand Prix for the third time. However, should he find himself embroiled in a battle for the win as he did at Suzuka, would the German driver risk a mechanical failure or crash purely for that record?

Lotus look to continue good form

Besides Vettel, Lotus have been the stand-out performers in the last few races, outracing nearest-rivals Ferrari and Mercedes as the battle for second place in the constructors’ championship hots up. If Romain Grosjean’s form continues and Kimi Raikkonen can find some pace, the team could be well-placed to push Vettel and perhaps force him into submission at the front of the field.

Force India’s ‘home’ race to signal reprisal?

Despite being based in England, Force India – as the name may suggest – will be celebrating their home race this weekend. However, having picked up just three points in the last seven races and with the resurgent Sauber now bearing down on them in the race for P6 in the constructors’, now is the perfect time for Paul di Resta and Adrian Sutil to get back on track and pick up some much-needed points.

The shop window gets busier and busier

Following Daniil Kvyat’s surprise confirmation at Toro Rosso for 2014, the seats on next year’s grid are slowly beginning to fall into place. For the likes of Felipe Massa, Paul di Resta, Max Chilton, Giedo van der Garde and Charles Pic, a good final quartet of races is imperative if they are to secure a spot on next year’s grid.

Farewell India – for now or for good?

With growing uncertainty surrounding the future of the race, this could prove to be the final Indian Grand Prix. The race officials have opted to skip 2014 in favor of an early-season slot on the 2015 calendar, and race organizer Vicky Chandhok was adamant to NBC Sports’ Will Buxton that this would not be the last we see of Buddh International Circuit. Nevertheless, what we do know is that this will be the last time until spring 2015 that F1 visits India.

Track: Buddh International Circuit
Laps: 60
Corners: 16
Lap Record: Sebastian Vettel 1:27.249 (2009)
Tire Compounds: Medium (option); Hard (prime)
2012 Winner: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
2012 Pole Position: Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull) 1:25.283
2012 Fastest Lap: Jenson Button (McLaren) 1:28.203
DRS Zones: Main Straight (T16 to T1); T3 to T4

Friday – Free Practice 1: 00:30am ET
Friday – Free Practice 2: 04:30am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Saturday – Free Practice 3: 01:30am ET
Saturday – Qualifying: 04:30am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)
Sunday – Race: 05:30am ET (LIVE on NBCSN)

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.