How has Vettel been so good? NBC F1 team attempts to answer

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It’s been the story of the year, on track, in Formula One: how has Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull been so dominant?

A viewpoint form NBC’s Formula One analyst David Hobbs, himself a former driver:

“Sebastian Vettel is an outstanding young kid, from the time he was winning go-kart championships,” Hobbs said during today’s teleconference leading up to this weekend’s United States Grand Prix in Austin (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra).

“He was fortunate enough to be picked up by Red Bull. Then he was the youngest polesitter and youngest winner. Then he joined Red Bull and Adrian Newey.

“I’m not convinced Newey has brought Vettel up. I think Newey has used his genius and coupled it with Sebastian’s genius – somewhat like Colin Chapman, Jimmy Clark did 60 years ago. He used it to suit Sebastian’s driving style. Now he’s winning the championship by 200 points nearly.”

From Steve Matchett, fellow analyst and a former mechanic for the Benetton F1 team (now Lotus) when Michael Schumacher won the first of his two World Championships:

“The sport always throws up an incredible talent, be it a (Alain) Prost, (Juan Manuel) Fangio, Michael Schumacher again, and we now have another one,” Matchett said. “I worked with Schumacher, (Ross) Brawn at Benetton. That was 10-plus years ago. Now he’s come along in a heartbeat; now the sport’s ready for another incredible talent.

“He’s taken a lot of good advice from Michael. How to become a part of the team; become an intrinsic part. Schumacher did it with Benetton and Ferrari, and Vettel is doing exactly the same with Red Bull. The car is tailored toward his style – why wouldn’t they?”

Will Buxton, NBC’s F1 insider and pit reporter, sees Vettel on the ground at every event. He’s a humble individual out of the car, and unflinchingly focused in it.

“What makes him such a superstar? He’s humble, funny, engaging who’s enjoying every facet of life outside the car. And he’s a ruthless operator in the car,” Buxton said. “He’s likeable outside it. But he’s unflinching in his determination to obliterate the competition. He’s physically on top, mentally unchallenged, and from a driving perspective, a joy to behold week in and week out.”

Perhaps Hobbs and Matchett’s booth mate can sum it up best.

“It’s a question only Red Bull and Sebastian can answer,” NBC Sports Group lead F1 announcer Leigh Diffey surmised. “Steve used the Tiger Woods analogy. How does Sebastian put two seconds on the field after every lap? How does he win by 31 seconds? Is he that much better? The car? The team? That’s the allure and attraction, and people are in amazement.”

Vettel seeks his eighth straight win – which would be the most in a row in a single season (the all-time mark of nine, set by Alberto Ascari, was done over two seasons from 1952 to 1953) – this Sunday in Austin. It would mark his first win at the track and end Lewis Hamilton’s run of back-to-back USGP victories.

You can see him go for it starting at 1 p.m. ET on NBC on Sunday, with an hour pre-race, and lights out at 2 p.m. 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.